Confusion can come in many forms. For me it has not been over whether the Bible is true, or whether Jesus really did miracles. It came in fuzziness about what the Gospel is.
I took imperatives from the Bible and didn’t ground them in the indicative. I thought my role was to try with all my might to do, to behave, to be as perfect as possible, and that God would judge that try, and it would be how I achieved standing in his sight.
Now I understand that God does judge that try, and it is for condemnation. My try isn’t the good news, but there is really good news.
Many of us get confused like I did. We say something like “you must love God and love people.” This becomes our functional statement of Christianity.
We look at the gospels, and see how Jesus affirmed that the two greatest commandments were exactly these: first, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; second, to love your neighbor as yourself (i.e. Matthew 22:37-38, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27).
But we miss that this was Jesus affirming something very particular: that these commands are the summary of the Law, the capital-L-law, the Law of Moses.
Keeping the law is not what it means to be Christian. Plenty of other religions (Judaism, right?) would affirm this, but not Christianity. We hold that the Law isn’t kept by us, and that the effort to do so isn’t enough.
That’s because this is the same Law that uniformly and rightly condemns us. This is the same Law by which no person will ever be justified in the sight of God (Romans 3:20). The whole point of what Jesus is saying in the Gospels is that the listener is nowhere near keeping the perfect law; we need another to do so. In the Luke 10 passage, for example, he gives the parable of the incredible love of the Samaritan. No human being loves like that!
Thankfully, we have another who has done so. His name is Jesus. He kept the Law perfectly. He was righteous all the way through. He loved God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. He loved other people as himself. So much so that he died for us.
So keeping the law is not what it means to be Christian. Trusting Christ is what it means to be Christian. Trusting that he took those requirements of the law and nailed them to the cross (Colossians 2:14). Trusting that we are dead to the law, but alive in his perfection and power (Galatians 2:19-20).
Interestingly, when you actually do this, remarkable behavior can result. If you see the wonder of a savior who died for you, who loves you this much, if you trust him instead of your own self, you are alive. You get the Holy Spirit. You start to bear fruit, which is the downstream effect of believing this incredible Jesus. Love, joy, peace, patience… you get to see glimmers of these things in your life. But they’re never the summary of the Christian. They’re the downstream fruit of believing the truth: that Christianity is critically only about trusting in Jesus Christ.
That’s why the new commandment that Jesus gives in John 13:34 is “as I have loved you, love one another.” Life now is a response to what Jesus did; our life is grounded in trusting him.
Don’t be confused. Make this your center: Trust Jesus Christ.