Christian Compliance or Stubborn Love?

I fear that too often Christianity is the product of social compliance rather than the fruit of Christ’s love in us. Wherever this is true the church loses her impact on the world. The solution? We need more stubborn lovers who are ready to dismiss a life of safe compliance in favor of a risky passion for Christ.

Compliance comes when we focus on training in the doctrines of the faith and treat an affective love for Christ as optional. The assumption is that sound training will ensure a proper orthodoxy. And if we have enough trained people we can then fix the world. More training, more well informed people, more fixing: and then Christ will at last have a world he can be proud to call his own.

There are of course proof texts to support this venture in fixing, especially if we extend childhood training into the sphere of training adults. Moses, for instance, called on the Israelites to “teach [God’s commandments] diligently to your children . . .” (Deuteronomy 6:7); and in Proverbs 22:6 we read “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

These are, of course, key truths for parents to heed in getting children to the front porch of adulthood with a solid orientation to God and his ways . . . but they do not by themselves ensure a love relationship with God. And love is what God desires from us.

Jesus, we recall, offered his own love by disclosing his bond with the Father. His mission was to call us to the Father with whom he lives in the unity of eternal selfless love. His coming also revealed the Father’s heart to share that love, even at the expense of the Son’s crucifixion. It was the overflow of God’s communing heart.

So in John 5 Jesus spoke of his equal standing with the Father and told his audience that “the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing” (verse 20). But the theologians of the day—Bible scholars who could match wits with the best teachers of our own day—rejected Jesus.

Was it because they lacked evidence? Or that Jesus was less than credible in his claims to be able to forgive sin—even when he supported that claim by lifting a lame man out of his paralysis? Or unconvincing when he gave sight to a man born blind? Or impossible to take seriously when he raised Lazarus from the dead?

No. It was that Jesus refused to conform to a faith that had no appetite for God’s love. They were all about compliance; and the underlying love that moves a compliant person is approval: to be told, “good, you’re one of us”. The horizon of such training is much too low—one that fails to keep God himself in view. Truths about God are enough.

Jesus exposed the problem in John 5. He reviewed a variety of testimonies in support of his deity with the hostile audience, but without expecting the compliant theologians to respond. Instead he highlighted the real issue: “I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. . . . How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one and only God?” (John 5:41-42, 44).

The problem is still alive. I can think, for instance, of a bright but pre-packaged student I once worked with. He came with a heritage of creedal correctness, spiritual duties, and with God’s love reconfigured as an “enabling grace”—that is, as a newly created human capacity given by God so that we can become more and more godly with God’s help.

It sounded good but it didn’t take too long for me to realize that his focus was on his system of faith rather than on Christ himself; and that to him my call for a response to Christ’s love as the starting point of any proper theology was just so much chatter. In his final paper he ignored the course survey of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and others who all spoke of God’s love in Christ as central. It was as if he had never attended the class: God’s love was never mentioned in his term paper. He came with the approval offered in his prior training and that was enough.

I can also think of a church I once visited that offers pristine doctrine and has a great training program, yet when I spoke to a pair of long-time members about God’s compelling and captivating love in Christ it was as if I was speaking a foreign language. Their silent response was clear: “from what you’re saying we know you aren’t one of us”. My thought in turn: their nicely packaged but disaffected faith will only reach a local pool of compliant personalities in search of social acceptance.

Love is what God really wants of us. God’s heart is that we respond to his love and then overflow with it to others who are starved for something greater than the sawdust of a human-focused-faith. So if we find our churches don’t grasp the point, please feel free to import some of God’s stubborn love. You may get crucified for it, but never mind. It’s happened before.

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9 Comments

  1. Brian Pestotnik

    Dr. Frost, I so appreciate your expression of Biblical truth in a humble and clear manner. Your teaching kindled my heart towards affective theology over a decade ago and reading your posts like this one is so edifying. I miss Multnomah more with these posts. Those were deep and fruitful years. May God richly bless you and Peter in your new ventures of sharing these rich Biblical truths in new avenues.

  2. Scott Douglass

    It seems that stubborn love is loving and confrontational. Jesus’ confronted the Pharisees but He did this out of love for them having their right actions but in the wrong place. Maybe that is what you are referring to. However, confrontational and assertive love seems to irritate many people in the church because they want to have a “status quo” church where no one is offended and the truth is watered down or disregarded. It is almost like personal convenience is more important than biblical truth bordering on a veiled moral relativism.
    One may have the right doctrine and have everything in place but if they do not have love it is not worth much. Doctrine is a tool but not to be worshiped. God is only to be worshiped but it seems that more emphasis is put on having the right doctrine than having a heart that loves God.
    Loving God is meeting Him on His terms not on my doctrinal stance. Loving God transcends my doctrinal stance and can be used as a springboard for discussion and evangelism but not to be placed on the wall and admired.
    Maybe it could be stated that if one loves God the doctrine of truth that one holds true is lived out and manifested in the flesh rather than in a black and white statement on a wall.
    This is a good question and from my point of view needs more thought on my part.
    Grace and peace to you Ron.

  3. Bethany Winters

    Thank you Ron! What an encouragement your passion for Christ is to me and my family.

  4. matt mormance

    Great post Ron.

    So true how we / I mistakenly fall into the ancient trap of compliance.

    Next time you can just say my name, you don’t have to be veiled in” the student.” But thanks for the “bright” comment its totally undeserved.

    May God have more and more “stubborn lovers” in Slovenia.

  5. R N Frost

    I just hope you have a chance to be sharing that stubborn love in Slovenia as soon as possible, Matt! What a treat it was in your student days to have you & Sharon host me and others for those occasional meals just to talk more about the implications of God’s love for us in Christ.

  6. andrew

    I really appreciate this post. I have been wrestling with the implications of Christ’s love. Last night my wife and I watched a movie called “The Soloist” about an LA Times reporter who befriends a homeless man. In one part of the movie the reporter is about to get in his car and drive away from the LAMP community center where he met his friend and then, instead, he gets out of the car and walks through skid row to spend the night sleeping in a doorway with the homeless man he is getting to know. He sits in the squalor of skid row to understand the world his friend in habits. That scene stuck with me, because that is what Christ did for us.

    When Christianity becomes about theology and orthodoxy instead of about that stubborn love, we respond to the suffering and sin of the world with the proper policies and procedures, sterile arguments about what ought to be…but it takes stubborn love; like the love of Christ which brought Him to our corner of skid row, to sit with us in the dark of the vile night and, eventually, to die in the muck and of our depraved world, for there to be redemption and reconciliation. All the arguments in the world cannot bring in the kingdom of God; it is Christ’s love, played out in our lives, that brings reconciliation between God and man.

  7. Adrienne

    Dr. Frost,
    Thank you for your work! I value the impact your teaching has had in my life and the way you’ve refreshed my worldview and work even today as I plan my lessons.
    Adrienne

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