Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.—1 Peter 4:8
This month, I’ve been spending some time talking about the concept of “Spiritual Warfare” with my congregation. I’ve been using the book of Revelation to frame this concept, along with passages from 1 Timothy and Ephesians. That said, I think it is important to discuss this topic within the context of the greatest battleground of all: our hearts.
It is so easy, tempting, really, to talk about our spiritual travails and battle with evil in grand terms. Sometimes we point to a minor catastrophe in our lives as an example of the enemy waging war against us or, in the case of occasional fits of road rage, against our sanity. We can resort to easy talk about how we feel that faith or, in particular, the Christian faith is under constant assault. In response, we declare war against those waging wars against us: a war against Christmas, a war against decency, or the like. Pick your war, and I’m sure a well-meaning brother or sister in Christ is waging a counteroffensive.
While these “wars” easily grab attention and raise our blood pressure, what about the greater battleground of our hearts? What about our unforgiving hearts? What about the battle within us as the evil one assaults us with the poisonous lie that God hasn’t forgiven us? God doesn’t love us? God doesn’t love them? What about the battleground of the street separating you from a neighbor who offends, and against whom you whisper secret curses? What about the lie that we reside beyond the reach of grace? That our neighbor is beyond redemption?
Is this not the greater battleground? John seems to think so: “All who hate a brother or sister are murderers” (1 John 3:15). True, the world is awash in battlegrounds soaked in the blood of innocent and guilty alike. However, those battlegrounds originated long before particular flashpoints. John points to the fact that the spark of the war stems from love-starved hearts.
If we are going to fight that battle faithfully, then there is one weapon alone that we are authorized to yield: constant, enduring, unending love. Love whose source is God’s life in us through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Love that has and is and will continue to cover our multitude of sins. Love as the virtue of forgiveness because He first loved us.
But to get there, we must first hear the truth about ourselves, our neighbor, and our shared past. As Jesus tells us, “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Truth is always the necessary condition, because love isn’t magic or the power of pretend. Instead, love’s covering transforms the past and makes forgiveness possible. In a way, love becomes the lens wherein we see the truth about ourselves, our neighbor, and our shared past in a new light, tinted now with compassion and mercy. Love becomes the key to unlock the shackles that bind our hearts.
Jean Calvin put it this way:
“You see that our righteousness is not in us but in Christ, that we possess it only because we are partakers in Christ…We…hide under the precious purity of our first-born brother, Christ, so that we may be attested righteous in God’s sight…for in order that we may appear before God’s face unto salvation we must smell sweetly with his odor, and our vices must be covered and buried by his perfection” (Institutes of the Christian Faith, Book III, Chapter XII, s. 23).
Translation: We are not loved, forgiven, or embraced by God because of our own goodness but only by being covered over, bound up with, and identified with Jesus Christ. As Jesus covers our multitude of sins in His perfect love, God looks at each and every one of us and sees His beloved Son. The same goes for your neighbor. In the age to come, so shall it be with our broken past.
You want to fight the enemy? You wish to engage in the struggle? Love is your only weapon. Christ alone makes your weapon effective. The battleground is your heart, especially as it comes in contact with others in the world. Forgiveness and reconciliation are the eventual end.
Welcome to the fight.