Surely the most staggering thing about the Lord, and the manner in which he chooses to love, is his seeming indifference to our failure to love him in return. John says the principle of loving God is command-keeping (“this is love for God, to obey his commands” 1 Jn 5:3). Yet this is also the principle we betray again and again. It is a betrayal that so discourages and defeats us that D.M. Lloyd-Jones was convinced it was the ground of depression. Through watching my own cycles in walking with God, I’ve come to agree with him. (If you are depressed, you may want to begin to explore this in prayer.)
In our betrayal of God we build a barrier that isolates us from him. The enemy attempts to convince us that the barrier we feel is God’s righteous judgement of us, but this is a lie: the barrier is of our own creation, the largest part of it a pride that does not want to admit we have failed, again, to do something we genuinely long to do. We sin and then we avoid God because it allows us to postpone facing our failure until some of the pain has subsided.
When Jesus comes to Peter after the resurrection, the pain has not yet subsided. This pain is the exasperation you hear when he says, “Lord you know all things; you know that I love you.” The immense barrier looming before Peter in that moment is the unspoken question: “If I love him, why did I betray him?” or the fear “am I someone other than the person I thought I was?” Here is the genius and the love of Jesus. By making Peter speak a truth he can hardly still believe, “Lord, you know that I love you,” he settles all matters before the court. What Jesus is forcing him to see is something almost too good, and too simple, to believe: he really does love Jesus, he’s just bad at it.
We are all bad at loving Jesus — not to mention our parents and kids. But God did not ground his relationship with us on our performance under the law, but on his own love, a love so vast that betrayal is reckoned as nothing. The only healthy obedience — and obedience does remain the sign of love — comes in this freedom and new understanding. It is an obedience born of, and powered by, the love and grace of Jesus Christ. The person who lives in this is rare, and almost always on the other side of some tragedy/epiphany similar to Peter’s.
Love covers a multitude of sin — your sin. The Lord intended for it to be this way. To honestly face your betrayal is not the same as embracing mediocrity; it is embracing the excellence of Christ as your righteousness and going forward trusting in, depending on, him alone. I’ll have much more to say in weeks to come, but this was the essence of the Reformation and Luther’s real revolution. Remember, if the Son has set you free, you are free indeed.