Do You Love Me?
Over Christmas break I was watching a TV show with my wife where one of the story lines included a dating couple at a crossroads in their relationship. Standing at the intersection of “Where Do We Go From Here?”, this once-infatuated pair found themselves dazed and confused. Wrestling with the reality of the most important question that must be answered in a relationship, they knew it was time to either move forward or go their separate ways.
Every woman wants to hear from her fiancé or husband, “I love you.” The words are more than a sentiment. They symbolize the commitment that in all things related to that relationship, he would act in her best interest. Saying “I love you” is a reminder of that commitment to both of them.
Christianity has established a litmus-test question to determine if one is a Christian. It’s simple: Do you believe in Jesus? Many of the New Testament writers emphasize the importance of faith (trust) and believing in Christ as evidence of salvation. The word “believe” in Greek carries with it the understanding of “living according to.” Someone who says she believes in Jesus is therefore living according to him, his life and his teachings. She is being obedient to him.
In John 21 we see Jesus and his disciples together after his resurrection. He fed them breakfast and then began a conversation with Peter that seemed confusing. As was his habit, Jesus started with a question. “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him (v. 15).
This discourse was repeated two more times with Jesus telling him to take care of his sheep in the second discourse. What wasn’t said is just as important as what was. Jesus didn’t ask Peter if he believed in him. He didn’t ask if he was being obedient to Jesus. Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, if he was committed to putting Jesus’ interests first and to always acting on behalf of those interests. Those interests were the spiritual nurture and care of others.
Believing in Jesus or an idea of Jesus isn’t a bad thing. Being obedient to Jesus’ commands is good too. He wants us to do that. More important than belief and obedience, Jesus wants to know if we love him. Are we willing to commit ourselves to living in such a way that his interests are the most important thing to us and we’ll sacrifice everything to serve them?
If this isn’t quite the understanding of Christianity you have had, you’re not alone. “When Christ is understood in terms of a cohesive theological system, Jesus becomes subordinate to a human description. We are hindered from growing in His life…tied down to a frozen construction of Him…insulated from the challenges posed by the reality of Jesus, which always exceeds our present description of Him” (Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet in Jesus Manifesto, p. 81).
The person of Jesus is bigger than our theology of him. He wants to be more than a description or system of belief. Standing at the crossroads of “Where Do We Go From Here?”, he asks, “Do you love me?” What do you say?
Jack Radcliffe is a husband and father of four, coach (www.redwoodcoach.com), ministry trainer and speaker, Dean of The Youth Ministry Institute of the Tennessee Conference UMC, and adjunct professor at Martin Methodist College. He has an MDiv from Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio and a DMin in Practical Theology, Adolescent Development and Culture from Fuller Theological Seminary.