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Main Point: Those who are righteous love.
There is a world of difference between saying “the one who loves is given righteousness” and “the one who is has been given righteousness is empowered to love.” Does love produce righteousness or does righteousness produce love? Which comes first, righteousness or love? Why do we love and where does love come from? In order to understand our short passage today, we need to remember where we have been in the book of Romans. Here is one of our guiding truths:
II. Believing the gospel empowers obedience to the law
The gospel does not destroy the law. The power of the gospel enables us to keep the law. Remember,
- God expects obedience and punishes disobedience
- The goal of the apostles’ ministries was to bring about the obedience of the faith (1:5)
- We are told, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness (1:18). It is the doing of things that brings judgment and death (1:32; 2:3, 6).
- All of Romans chapter 2 is a summons to obey the law or suffer the consequences of disobedience. The law matters but,
- Obeying the law cannot justify a sinner
- For by works of the law no human being will be justified in God’s sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin (3:20).
- The law brings wrath (4:15) and the law increases the trespass (5:20).
- Romans 9 warns against trying to earn righteousness by keeping the law (9:32). 10:4 puts it plainly, Christ is the end of the law for righteousness. Righteousness by obedience does not work. Only righteousness by faith works. Christ has worked for us, so Christ is the end of the law as a means of gaining righteousness. But this does not mean righteousness, obedience, or law keeping are inconsequential.
- The gospel transforms us for obedience
Here is the big picture. The gospel is not simply something we believe. The gospel is the power of God by which we are empowered to live life God’s way. Let’s work through the details.
If God requires righteousness according to the law, but the law cannot secure that righteousness, where does righteousness come from? Romans 3:21, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Those who trust in the righteous life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Christ for righteousness are credited with righteousness. We are justified, or declared righteous, because of faith in Jesus Christ not because of loving or any other act of law keeping. Justification is a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Justification is not a wage we earn by keeping the law. Romans 3:28, “We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” Because of Jesus’ righteousness given to us by faith, we are declared righteous.
The gospel is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes the gospel (1:16). Keeping the law cannot save. Those who believe the gospel are credited with righteousness not those who keep the law (4:16, 24-25). Salvation is received it is not earned. Righteousness is given to us it is not a mark attained by us.
A problem arises when we think about the gospel like it’s a starter and nothing more. It is more accurate to think about the gospel in terms of a starter and fuel. Put the key in your car’s ignition, or push the button, and that closes the circuit and causes the starter to fire. This is the gospel as ignition system. The gospel brings it all together, fires the starter, and gets everything going. But is that all? Does the gospel sit there like a paper weight after you have been born again? Is going back to the gospel like trying to start an already running car? No, the gospel is the starter and the fuel of the Christian life. The love of the Father, the cross and resurrection of Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit start the Christian life and fuel the Christian life. Romans celebrates the fullness of the gospel. The gospel starts the Christian life and empowers the Christian life.
What I mean is some of you are overwhelmed and crushed by Christianity because you are trying to push a dead car. The law demands that the car gets from point A to point B. The law demands love God and love neighbor. You set out to obey the law in order to earn your salvation; you start pushing the car. Sometimes it’s easy. The car rolls down hill and you love God because life is good and you love people because they do what you want them to do. But then the car shifts from the downhill-easy to the uphill-hard. God is not easy to love, and people are not easy to love. You push and push and push because you want to measure up and earn your standing with God. Eventually momentum will turn and that car you are pushing uphill is going to overpower you and run over you. You’re going to hit the point where loving God and loving neighbor are impossible in your own strength. Enter the power of God in the gospel that starts the car and fuels the car so you can run uphill and downhill. The gospel enables us to love and empowers us to love. The gospel does not merely provide salvation and justification; the gospel provides the ability to obey God’s commands.
The gospel restores us to life with God. And restored to God we are able to turn away from selfish-sin and live lives of love. “God help me to love” should be a regular prayer of the believer. “Holy Spirit give me the strength to love,” should be often on our lips.
So, Jesus earns or secures God’s love for us and the Holy Spirit is the person who delivers God’s love to us. Empowered by God’s love, secured through Christ and delivered through the Holy Spirit, we have peace with God. Not by works of the law but because of the gospel, we stand firm, rejoice in sufferings, endure, and we live lives of character (5:1-5). It is God’s love for unworthy sinners, delivered by the Holy Spirit, which empowers us to love the unworthy sinners around us. It is the gospel that gives us justification and life (5:18).
Romans 6 makes the explicit point that our union with Christ provides the power to live new lives of holiness. United to Christ, empowered by the Spirit, we present ourselves to God as instruments for righteousness (6:13). Christians obey God because we have been restored to life with God. Romans 6:17 goes as far as praising God because Christians, once united to Christ, become obedient from the heart. We are joyful slaves of righteousness.
This means we must understand the law from two different perspectives. On one hand, you have to view the law from the perspective of the unregenerate. The law crushes the unregenerate with its demands, the law condemns us with its authority, and the law stirs up more sin (read chapter 7). The command to love God and love neighbor crush and condemn those who do not have the Spirit. On the other hand, from the perspective of the regenerate, the law guides us. Empowered by the Holy Spirit we are freed and empowered to love God and neighbor. The law crushes the non-Christian and guides the Christian. We must be exceedingly careful that we use the law appropriately. We do not love one another in order to earn our salvation. We love one another, we obey the law, because we have already been given salvation.
Listen to how John Stott explains it, “Love and law need each other. Love needs law for its direction, while law needs love for its inspiration” (Stott, John. pp. 349-350).
That’s our introduction to Romans 13:8-10. Let’s stand and read our text (Romans 13:8-10).
We are a redeemed people, justified in Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to love. When we present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, we are committing to loving one another in humility and with the full force of our spiritual gifts. In this same vein, we love genuinely; hating the evil and encouraging the good. What Paul writes in 12:9-13:7 prepares us for verse 8, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
II. We owe one another a perpetual debt of love (8)
Some have taken this to mean you cannot ever borrow anything or you cannot ever be in debt to anyone. John Piper said that Romans 13:8 was George Mueller’s reason for not going into debt as he built orphanage after orphanage. It is wise to avoid debt. Proverbs 22:7 says that the borrower is a slave to the lender. The question is, does Romans 13:8 mean don’t get a mortgage or buy a washing machine on credit? I don’t think so because of two main reasons. First, from verse 7, we are constantly in debt owing honor, respect, revenue, and taxes. This debt is not a sin. I wish that it was enough to only pay taxes one year and then be done for ever, but this is not the case. After we pay our taxes on April 15 we enter back into debt on April 16. This debt is not wrong. Not paying the debt is wrong. We have debt which is not wrong. Second, from Matthew 5:42, Jesus tells us, “do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” Jesus says, “let people borrow money and be in debt to you.” Is Paul contradicting Jesus? My understanding of the unity of God’s Word leads me to say no, there is no contradiction. Here’s the point
- Pay what you owe
Paying what you owe is an act of love. R.C. Sproul says, “If we borrow our neighbor’s rake and do not return it, we are failing to love our neighbor” (Sproul, R. C. Romans p. 462). Go into debt slowly and carefully then get out of debt as quickly as possible.
Don’t be conformed to this world. Don’t lust after the things of this world. Don’t go into debt you cannot pay to buy things that will waste away. Make a budget that honors the Lord and get out of debt. Resources like Crown Financial, Financial Peace, and The Money Challenge by Art Rainer will get you started. Pay what you owe, and we owe one another love.
- We have an obligation to love
Romans 13:8, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other.” You should pay off your credit cards, mortgage, car loan, and tax bill, but you can never pay off your obligation to love your neighbor.
Think about God. God is love. God never stops loving. God has always and will always love. We were made in the image of God for the purpose of loving God and loving neighbor. God defines love and when we love we show people what God is like. This obligation to love, this debt of love, will never run out. For all of eternity we will be gladly and joyfully and fruitfully loving one another. Love never ends. Today, we are called to continually make payments according to the obligation of love we owe one another. We love because God is love and we are being transformed into his image. But there is more
- Those who love fulfill the law
This point is why we spent so much time sorting out the law and its commands with the gospel and its power. Romans 13:8 says, “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Remember, we don’t obey the law in order to earn righteousness or salvation or love. Since we are loved, made righteous in Christ, and given the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to love. By the free gift of God, we are empowered to obey the commands of God. We are not a people set free to make it up as we go. We are a people set from selfishness and sin so that we can love everyone as we go. So,
- Obey God’s law by loving
What is the most important thing that needs to happen in this worship gathering today? We must obey God’s law by loving him and loving one another. What is the most important thing that needs to happen tomorrow when we go to work? We must obey God’s law by loving him and loving one another. What is the most important thing for us to do when we go home, go to the grocery, or go out into our neighborhoods? We must obey God’s law by loving him and loving one another. This guy, who is loving well, is doing what God requires. This girl, who is loving well, is doing what God requires. That guy, who is selfish and angry, isn’t being led by the Spirit or maybe he doesn’t even have the Holy Spirit. Loving is what God’s people do. And remember, your love for your neighbor does not make you righteous. Your love for your neighbor demonstrates your righteousness. The fruit of the Spirit is love and against such things there is no law (Gal 5:22-23). But notice that love is not whatever we want to do
- God defines love
Paul, like Jesus, points us to the 10 commandments to demonstrate what God requires of his redeemed people. The 10 commandments tell God’s people how to live, and love is the unifying theme. Love for your neighbor keeps you from committing adultery. Love for your neighbor keeps you from murdering. Love keeps you from stealing and love keeps you from lying. Love protects marriages and families. Love protects life, property, and the truth. But coveting? Really? I understand why love keeps me from committing adultery, killing people, stealing, and lying but coveting? If I stand in my house, peek out of my blinds, and covet my neighbor’s things what harm is that to him? He will never know!
It is a terrible lie from the pit of hell that my sin will not hurt other people. Think about coveting, wanting what someone else has. If I am jealous of you, if I want what you have, it is highly unlikely that I will give you what you need. I’m not going to serve those I envy. And this is love; love is giving what is needed regardless of the worth of the recipient. If I am jealous of my neighbor and allow that jealousy to turn to bitterness it is highly unlikely that I will love and serve my neighbor.
Look at the end of verse 9, “all the commandments are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Do you want your neighbors to hate you and curse you and wish you evil because you have a job, a house, a car, a spouse, or a swimming pool? Do you have a job, and do you love your neighbors? Share your income and your abilities and your influence with your neighbors. What do you have and what do you enjoy? Love your neighbors by sharing it with them. This is true from the greatest love, your love for God, to the smallest pleasures like a good poem or a good fishing lure. The opportunities to love well are everywhere. Here’s our final verse, verse 10, “Love does no wrong to your neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” This is what love does.
III. Love fulfills the law (10)
Love leads to obedience in two ways.
- Love fulfills the law by doing no wrong
Love your neighbor by paying your taxes, fleeing sexual immorality, putting off anger, not stealing, telling the truth, and not being jealous. Love does no wrong. Some of us may need to start there today. We need to start loving our brothers and sisters, coworkers, spouses, children, neighbors, parents, and fellow members by stopping the wrong. We love our parents when we stop being disrespectful. We love our government when we stop cheating on our taxes. We love our church when we stop gossiping. What evil thing are you doing that is harming the people around you? Love fulfills the law by doing no wrong and
- Love fulfills the law by doing good
Imagine if God defined love simply doing no wrong, “For God so loved the world that he left us alone.” That would be our damnation! But that’s how many of us choose to love our neighbors; we simply do them no wrong while leaving off the requirement to do them good. Galatians 6:10 tells us, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” We should be the most creative as we lovingly honor our parents, honor our government, and build up the church. What positive thing can you do as an act of love for the people around you?
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son (John 3:16). God demonstrated his love for us in this, while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). God has done what the law weakened by the flesh could not do (Rom 8:3). He sent Christ to make us righteous. He gave us the Holy Spirit to enable our love. This is our high and holy calling- love your neighbor as yourself. Those made righteous by faith in Christ are enabled to love and those who love fulfill the law.
Prayer- God help us to love. Holy Spirit, give us the strength to love. We pray for those among us who are overwhelmed by the commands of the gospel. We know there are husbands and wives here today who are struggling to love one another. There are children here who are growing bitter towards their parents. There are church members who we find difficult to love. Love us o God. Forgive us and empower us to fulfill the law. Show us the glorious gift of our salvation so that we become generous givers.
We pray for the unity of this church. As we gather to pray tonight, give us unity. As we gather this week to share the gospel with our children and neighbors, give us unity. As we seek to build a building, give us unity. Make us the most loving people in this community. Make us like you.