The abbot of Glenstal Abbey was being interviewed on last week's Saturday night show. Brendan O'Connor asked him, 'Do you think there is heaven ... And will we be going there if we are good people?'
This is how the abbot answered, '... The only question we will be asked when we get to the other side is "did you love? How much did you love?" And that is the examination, and that is all there is to it.'
Brendan seemed glad with this reply. Presumably he believes that he is loving enough to meet God's standard of love!
In one sense the abbot has a point. We will be judged by the fruit of our salvation, and love is a key element of that fruit. However, in a whole load of ways the abbot has missed the point.
Firstly, the abbot seems to think that we can make it to heaven without Jesus. Yes, Jesus showed us the way of love, but Jesus came to rescue us from the fact that we have failed to love. Jesus died that we may be forgiven. I am confident that I am going to heaven, not because I am loving, but because Jesus died for my sin (including my lack of love).
Secondly, think of Jesus' standard of love. He reaffirms the commands to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and to love our neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). God's standard of love exposes my guilt. If all you need to do is love, then I am doomed. I have failed. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that any one who says, 'you fool', is on danger of the fires of hell (Matthew 5:22).
Please don't tell people all they need is love in order that they might earn their way into heaven. That is to leave us hopeless. Don't get me wrong! Love matters. The love that caused the Father to send his one and only Son to die that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life(John 3:16). Love matters. The love that comes as a grateful response, to being loved ('we love because he first loved us', 1 John 4:19). Love matters. When we put our trust in Jesus, he gives us the person of the Holy Spirit, and enables us to love like we have never loved before (the fruit of the Spirit is love, Galatians 5:22)..
Michael Horton writes,
Those who think that they can wrap themselves in the fig leaves of their loving intentions and actions toward God and neighbour are in for a big surprise. "Just love God and people" is not the gospel; it is precisely that holy demand of the law that we have grievously failed to keep ... Our love toward God is the essence of the law; God's love toward us in Jesus Christ is the essence of the gospel. "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10).