AGAPE VS EROS AND IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL
The majority of the Greek philosophers believed that one was an atheist if they did not believe in the natural immortality of the soul, simply because they believed that the soul yearns to return to the god from whence it originally came. Thus Greek Logic declares that the good deeds which one does during their life contributes toward the soul remembering that which it forgot.
But the dualism of Greek philosophy also teaches that the body is evil and weighs down the soul, thus preventing the soul from remembering this hidden knowledge (gnosis) – of its own divinity. Therefore, only the philosopher or the priest possessed the necessary heavenly credentials which could assist them in finding the path to their own salvation. As a result, salvation was depicted as a difficult and arduous path, with only few lucky enough to find it – for God was forever playing hide and seek game with imperfect human beings, and would only deign to look at them if their deeds and character mirrored his perfection.
Death, therefore, was regarded as a friend which came to release the soul from the confines of the body and allow soul to reunite with the pantheistic god from which it originated, before it descended to earth and became trapped in a human body.
The immortal soul was thought of as temporarily residing on the body as in a kind of shell, garment or “dwelling-place”. The famous Platonic dualism of the immortal soul incarcerated or entombed in the body is the consequence. In one way or another, all ancient Greek and Roman anthropology and ethics is based on this dualism. Since Socrates, “caring for the soul” became the basis of intellectual and ethical life, implying also the devaluation of anything related to the body, with its desires and pleasures.’ (`The Concept of the Inner Human Being’, D. Betz, p. 323.)
Thus `Eros’ in fact establishes a subtle form of disguised selfishness; for the only reason the Greeks did anything to benefit others, was so that these `good works’ would serve to purify the soul as it strived to achieve Godhead – which is almost identical to the various disciplines that are taught in New Age philosophy today – just as the Roman philosopher Seneca (c. 4 B.C – 65 A.D), who was a disciple of a branch of Greek philosophy which is known as Stoicism wrote:
`Need you refuse to believe that there’s something divine in one who is a part of God? All the world that contains us is one, and is God: we are his colleagues and his members. Our spirit is able: it arrives there, if its blemishes don’t hold it down. As our body stands erect, its eyes fixed on the sky, so our spirit, free to expand as far as it will, is formed by nature to desire equality with godhead.’ (`Seneca’s letters to Lucilius: Volume 2′, Lucius Annaeus Senceca.)
At about the same time that Seneca was writing to Lucilius about the divine principle of `Eros’ that resides in the souls of men, the apostle Paul was contrasting this thought with the ultimate demonstration of love – Calvary; for in Romans 5: 7 & 8, he contrasts the principle of Eros with that of Agape, by telling us in verse 7 that while it is natural for a good man to lay down his life for friends (for this epitomises Eros); he then tells us in verse 8 that this form of love is as far removed from heaven as it is from earth, for the agape of God is such that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners; or enemies to him:
`For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet possibly for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Roman 5: 7,8.)
In another places within his epistles, he notes that Christ `became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross’; 1 thus indicating that the nature of agape is such, that it dares to die the second death! This totally astounded the Greeks and turned them on their heads, for as far as they were concerned, only the good were worth saving!
Plato had sought to remove the life generating principle of Eros from the mire of sensuality and depravity which it had fallen into, and referred to it as a `Heavenly Eros’; where all motivation is free of the encumbrages of the material world in which we live, so that the soul can be perfected through the contemplation of the intellect, which is manifested in the performance of good works which are the outward evidence of the soul `becoming’ God. “This Heavenly Eros,” declared the Greeks, “is the very elixir of life which the gods themselves have drunk from, for it compels men to marry and have babies!”
Thus Eros worked like a divine Tsunami; it washed away everything before it, for it was so compellingly irresistible, that the Greeks believed that to drink of this elixir of the gods was to imitate their divine action of procreation, which is a force so potent that it motivates men to imitate the divine action of the gods by marrying, producing families of their own and aspiring to all that is good. Thus, the Greek god `Eros’ found his equivalent in the Roman god Cupid, who shoots his arrows into our hearts.
Plato’s noble and grand idea that the ultimate form of love is typified by a man laying down his life for his friends was in reality like water finding its own level; for essentially the Greeks believed that as God is `good’, then only the good are worth saving, and it is the duty of every man to `take care of his soul’ by being `good’ by outwardly demonstrating good works, so that ethical behaviour might predominate in society at large. What really happened, is that the principle of self-exultation was `lifted up’ through the principle of tamid paganism finding expression in this perverted conception of the character of God, where the minding of `self’ predominated in the pretence of thinly disguised urbane sophistication.
Yet when the Bible speaks of `love’ it predominantly speaks of the unconditional love which the Father and Son have for us. But this love is so utterly beyond `natural’ human comprehension, that it took Calvary to demonstrate it to us, so that we might first begin to understand it; for In the first century, the disciples of Christ `turned the world upside down’ (Acts 17: 6) with a completely new concept of love which was so breathtakingly refreshing, that it instantly made enemies of you or disciples of you, for there was no common ground. It revealed that the noblest human aspirations of love were best described as non-love, or disguised selfishness, for the `agape’ of Christ starkly contrasts all human ideas of love with the cross, for the `agape’ of Christ reaches out to all men – especially the unlovely, for `when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, we shall be reconciled by His life’ (Rom. 5; 10).
In Plato’s vision of a perfect society – only the good are worth saving, which is at complete odds to the gospel, for Christ came to save the sinner. Yet it is this conception of love that was `lifted up’ from paganism, and straight into the Catholic Church, when Augustine attempted to synthesize `Eros’ with `Agape’ and called it `Caritas’, or charity. Thus Catholic dogma teaches that `Eros’ (works) plus `Agape’ (faith) equates to salvation, and the principle of the self-exultation of the `continual’ tamid paganism is perpetuated.
This conception of Greek philosophical love is reflected in Pope Benedict XVI’s First Encyclical Letter, which is about the Catholic perception of the love of God, and how this translates to our lives. Pope Benedict called this Encyclical `Deus Caritas Est’; which literally means `God love is’. But Pope Benedict did not use the word for love which the disciples used; which is `agape’, but instead used the word `caritas’ – which in the King James version of the Bible translates to `charity’ and `loving -kindness’.
Pope Benedict gives the argument that while there is only one kind of love, it exists in two different dimensions, which are respectively called `Eros’ and `Agape’:
`The point of this early section of the encyclical is to insist that, although the terms eros and agape may set into relief two different aspects of love, in the end they do not represent different kinds of love. Rather, as the pope states forcefully at the outset of the encyclical, there is ultimately just one love, with a variety of dimensions that are all necessary in order to sustain the full meaning of love.’ (`The Redemption of Eros’, D.C. Schindler, p. 378.)
The reason why the Pope stated this, is because the dogma of the Catholic Church teaches that there is only one form of love, which is an amalgamation of agape and Eros, and this forms the foundation of Catholic faith. Pope Benedict’s Encyclical did not open up to humanity a new ground-breaking idea on the greatest form of love there is; but instead reaffirmed that which has been the basis of Catholic faith for over one and a half millennia – which is a philosophical conception of love that is rooted in Greek philosophy. Ironically, there are few who realize this, nor understand the implications of it:
`Agape is often contrasted with eros, which is not found in the New Testament though it is prominent in Greek philosophy. Eros can refer to a vulgar, carnal love, but in the context of Hellenic thought it takes the form of spiritual love that aspires to procure the highest good. Eros is the desire to possess and enjoy; agape is the willingness to serve without reservations. Eros is an ascending love that proceeds from the earthly to the heavenly. Agape is a descending love that proceeds from the heavenly to the sinful. Eros is attracted to that which has the greatest value; agape goes out to the least worthy. Eros discovers value wheras agape creates value. Agape is a gift love whereas eros is a need love. Eros springs from from a deficiency that must be satisfied. Agape is the overflowing abundance of divine grace. For Plato eros is not found in God, for God is devoid of passion. Plotinus, on the other hand, made a place for eros in God, but this was simply God reflecting upon his own goodness. (`God the Almighty’: Power, Wisdom, Holiness and Love’, D. Bloesch, 2006, p. 147.)
Anders Nygren (1890-1978), a Swedish Lutheran bishop, documented the biblical and historical aspects of Eros and Agape in his monumental two volume epic, entitled `Eros and Agape’. Nygren concluded that agape, or unconditional love is the only true Christian kind of love, while Eros is an expression of need which ultimately manifests itself as disguised selfishness. Moreover, Nygren made the point that belief in the doctrine of the natural immortality of the soul serves to distort the true nature of `agape’; which is the outpouring without measure of the unconditional love which the Father and Son have for us – and dares to `taste death’ for us; so that we might not `taste’ it ourselves (Heb. 2:9).
This is directly opposed to Pope Benedict’s First Encyclical Letter, for it is reemphasizes the philosophy which was set out by Augustine one and a half millennia ago – that there is one love only; and that is `caritas’; for `caritas’ is Eros synthesized with Agape. And it is this point upon which the Catholic conception of the character of God (and hence all Catholic doctrine) stands or falls; for Agape is the pure and unsullied essence which comprises the love of God. When adulterated with Eros, Agape ceases to be Agape, and instead reverts back to Eros; even though it might be called `caritas’; which amounts to little more than paganism tarted up in the robes of Christianity – which makes it all the more doctrinally deadly. For one drop of poison leavens the whole lump.
While Nygren demonstrated that the faith of the early church was based solely on `Agape’, he noted that by the time of Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (c. 130-202), Hellenistic conceptions of the `Eros’ motif were already entering the Church via the conduit of the Hellenistic conception of the natural immortality of the soul:
` . . . Nygren asserted: “Nowhere within the early church is the idea of Agape found in so pure a form as in Irenaeus” . . . But even in Irenaeus, Nygren detected aspects of the eros motif. Irenaeus accepted the Hellenistic concept of the natural immortality of the soul. Hellenistic influences can also be seen in his understanding of deification. Irenaeus asserted that God descended to humanity in Christ in order that humanity might ascend to God. Incarnation is the means to the Christian’s deification. Here the downward direction of the agape motif was combined with the upward direction of the eros motif. Despite the strength of the agape motif in Irenaeus’ theology, the eros motif did not remain in the background. The theologians who came after Irenaeus developed a position which began the synthesis between agape and eros – a synthesis completed by Augustine. Love was the very heart of Christianity for Augustine, but his understanding of love was neither agape nor eros. Instead, it was a totally new view, known as caritas. Caritas is neither agape expressed in Hellenistic terms, nor is it eros in the guise of the biblical language of agape. “It is neither Eros, nor Agape, but the synthesis of them. It is a true synthesis; while it contains characteristics of both motifs, it is not merely a combination of these, but a new independent unity.’ (`Gustaf Wingren and the Swedish Luther Renaissance’, M. Anderson, pp. 63,64.)
The Hellenistic influences in Ireneaus’ conception of the deification of man solidified one and a half centuries later with Athanasius, who contended with Arius about the human nature of Christ at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., and has since been reiterated by various Church Fathers, such as Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas ever since, as well as pastors of New Age Churches in the current day:
`Christ was made man, that we might be made God’. (Athanasius, `On the Incarnation’, 1: 54.)
In this, Athanasius merely followed in the footsteps of Clement of Alexandria, who had previously stated that:
`the Logos of God became man so that you might learn from a man how a man may become God.’ (Prot. 1.4.)
Thus tamid paganism was `lifted up’ into and `exalted’ by the Catholic church (Daniel 8: 11), by first lifting up the principle of Eros into it (as the above statement by Clement demonstrates), and then synthesizing it with `agape’ – as did Augustine two centuries later. This then created the hybrid which Augustine called `caritas’; which is the `continuation’ of the principle of tamid paganism – i.e the exultation of `self’, at the expense of the exultation of the character of God – which is starkly contrasted by the disciples of Christ declaring the `God is agape’ (1 John 4: 8). For if the disciples of Christ had wished to declare that God is `Eros’ – they would have stated this in the first place! But they did not, and could not – for they would not associate the character of God with Platonic paganism, which infers that it is impossible for God to come down from the lofty heights of heaven and meet us where we need it most – which is `in the likeness of sinful flesh’ (Rom. 8:3); for this would infer that God is mutable and is therefore subject to change! The Greeks regarded this as dangerous heresy; for Greek Logic deemed that this taught that God could no longer be God, for if God was subject to change – well, the notion was completely without reason and unthinkable! Indeed, it was complete foolishness! (1 Cor. 1: 23)
For this reason the pagan philosopher Celsus, who was a contemporary of Origen and debated with him over the ontological fabric of the Godhead, believed that Christianity is `a thoroughly objectionable creed’.2 Yet John, the `beloved disciple’ of Christ, regarded the idea of the immutability of God forbidding Christ to come `in the flesh’ as the Spirit of Antichrist that was already threatening the infant Church:
`Hereby know all of you the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof all of you have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.’ (1 John 4: 2,3)
It is for these reasons that the Catholic perception of the character of God is rightly condemned in the Bible as `the abomination that makes desolate’ (Daniel 11: 31).
`It is ironic that while today the church fathers are accused of Hellenizing Christianity, they themselves held that Plato had learned from the Hebrews that Christianity was the actual true heir and completion of Moses’ teaching . . . . According to this view, Greek philosophy lacked the moral strength of the gospel, but still prepared the way for its teachings by attuning the mind to the reception of God’s revealed truth.’ (`Incarnational Humanism: A Philosophy of Culture for the Church in the World’, J. Zimmerman, 2012, pp. 94,95.)
Pope Benedict’s First Encyclical Letter reveals that not much has changed since then, and the Catholic Church still drinks deeply from the wellspring of the philosophies that are found in Plato and Aristotle. Indeed, Catholic soteriology is built upon the philosophical construct that God is Eros, and grace (agape) results from the `infused love’ which makes our ascent to God possible:
`For Plato and Aristotle . . . . man is moved to seek for his origin by the divine origin of which he is in search, for man’s longing is precisely his response to the magnetic attraction of the divine, which, as Aristotle said, moves by being loved. Philosophy in the classical sense is “man’s responsive persuit of his questioning unrest to the divine source that has aroused it.”
As Anders Nygren showed many years ago, the classical doctrine of the philosphic Eros was imported through Augustine into the mainstream of Catholic thought. For Augustine, the Christian way to God is Eros; that is, the ascent of the soul fired by love to the divine. And while grace is necessary for man to ascend on “the wings of Caritas,” the end remains “the ascent of Caritas to God.” The Augustinian notion of grace as the infused love that makes our ascent possible – the former existing for the sake of the latter – constitutes the basis of Catholic soteriology. And it is the notion of man’s ascent to God through love that was so vehemently rejected by the reformers as inimical to the Christian’s passive and trusting reliance upon God’s will.’ (`Traditions and Innovations: Essays on British Literture of the Middle Ages’, D, Allen, R. White, 1990, p. 193.)
Thus, through Augustine the pursuit of `Eros’ became the basis of the Catholic doctrine of the divinization (or deification) of man, which thus reveals to us the foundation of Platonic thought upon whch it is built; i.e – that the soul is immortal because it originated in God and yearns to return to the divine home from which it originated.
Thus the leopard like beast of Revelation reveals to us in stark symbolic form that the character of Rome is Eros; for the soteriological basis of Rome is derived from the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. It is for this reason that the beast is described as `like a leopard’, for the `leopard like beast’ upon which the woman of the apocalypse sits is the same power which is depicted as the `rough goat’ in Daniel 8, the leopard like beast of Daniel 7, and the thighs of brass of Daniel 2, for the philosophical basis of the dogma whch comprises the faith of the Catholic Church is almost identical to the same philosophies which are found in the Hellenistic Greece of Alexander the Great; with the exception that Rome has modified this by stipulating that `Eros’ is vivified by `Agape’. For this reason Plato came to be regarded as `Moses speaking Greek’ and reveals to us that the character of the leopard-like beast of Revelation 13 is indeed Eros, for it reflects the philosophies of Plato and the Greek philosophers which followed after him. By extension, as the centuries passed and the infant church grew, these same philosophies became the foundation of Catholic dogma, for the `little horn’ of Daniel 8 (the papacy) was moulded in the likeness of Plato, and the influence of the Leopard-like beast of Revelation 13 directs these Platonic philosophies of Greece directly into western thought, where the greatest demonstration of love is still thought to be that a man lay down his life for his friends.
“Even unto the Prince of the host he exalted himself. And from him was lifted up the daily (continuance) and the place of his sanctuary was cast down.” (A literal translation of Daniel 8:11.)
The doctrine of the `Divinization of Man’ is more fully explained in the next article, which is entitled `The Doctrine of the Divinization of Man, and the Immutability of God’.
1 Philipians 2: 8. Hebrew 2:9 also states the Christ `tasted death’ for us; while Gal. 3:13 informs us that `Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.’ That curse was the `second death’, for Deuteronomy 21: 22 informs us `And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree.’ As the normal penalty for sin was stoning to death, then this speaks of the second death, which is the `curse’ which all who are not `in Christ’ are subject to.
2 (`The History of Christianity, from the Birth of Christ, to the Abolition of Paganism in the Roman Empire’, Vol. 1′, H. Milman, 1840, pp. 363 – 365.)
GOD’S REDEMPTIVE LOVE
By Jack Sequeira
When the Bible says that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16), it doesn’t mean that one of His attributes is love. It means that He is love. It means that love is the essence of His nature. Because of this, we need to understand everything about God and all that He does in the context of this love. Even His law and His wrath must be understood in the context of His love (see Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 1:18-32). Paul defines God’s wrath passively as a love that will not coerce, but allows us to go when we deliberately choose our own way (see Romans 1:24, 26, 28).
We must understand as well that the basis of our salvation is also found in God’s nature of love. Apart from this love there would be no gospel, no good news (see John 3:16; Ephesians 2:4-7; Titus 3:3-5; 1 John 4:9). Therefore, if we are going to understand and appreciate the good news of our salvation, we must be rooted and grounded in God’s love (see Ephesians 3:14-19).
Paradoxically, the greatest stumbling block we have to understanding God’s love is our own human love. Most of us make the mistake of projecting human ideals of love on God. We reduce God’s love to a human level, thus misrepresenting Him and distorting the gospel of His saving grace in Christ. That is why Paul urges us to understand “this love (of Christ) that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19).
Our modern languages aggravate this problem of understanding God’s love. English, like most modern languages, has only a single word for love. This makes it very difficult, when we read of God’s love in our English Bibles, to understand the full range of meaning; it makes it difficult to distinguish between God’s love and our human concepts of love, all of which are polluted with self. God’s love (agape) completely contradicts human love (philos). We cannot compare the two, only contrast them (see Isaiah 55:8, 9; Matthew 5:43-48; John 13:34,35; Romans 5:6-8).
AGAPE AND PHILOS
The New Testament writers had four Greek words to choose from when describing divine and human love. These four are:
Storge. This is family love or love for one’s own kin.
Philos. Affectionate love between two people; brotherly love.
Eros. The common meaning of this word is love between the sexes. We get the English word “erotic” from this Greek word. However, the philosopher Plato gave it a noble, spiritual meaning. He called it “heavenly eros” and defined it as being detached from sensual or materialistic interests to seek after God. Thus, for the Greeks, eros as defined by Plato became the highest form of human love. We still speak today of “platonic love.”
Agape. This is pure love untainted by any selfish motive whatsoever. In the noun form, it was an obscure word in Greek, an unusual word, perhaps because such love itself is unusual.
The New Testament writers wrote in Greek, so they had these four words to choose from in order to distinguish God’s love from human love, or even to distinguish between different types of human love. And they did. The word most commonly used in the New Testament to describe human love is philos. (The word eros does not appear in the New Testament at all.) And all the New Testament writers chose the infrequently used word agape to define God’s love. (The New Testament does use philos at times to describe God’s love, but always in the context of agape.) They took this word and infused it with new meaning based on the revelation of God’s love that they saw demonstrated in the life and history of Jesus Christ and which He displayed supremely on the cross (see Romans 5:6-10). As used by the New Testament writers, this divine agape love of God stands in complete contradiction to human love in at least three ways.
- Human love, either philos or Plato’s “heavenly eros,” is always conditional. As humans, we do not love the unlovely. We love those who love us, who respond to our love. God’s agape love, on the other hand, is unconditional. It flows from Him spontaneously, without cause, independently of our goodness or self-worth. When we understand this, God’s salvation becomes unconditional good news (see Romans 5:6-10; Ephesians 2:4-6; Titus 3:3-5). This is why the Bible so clearly stresses that we are saved by grace alone — God’s undeserved, unmerited favor (see Acts 15:11; Romans 3:24; 5:15; 11:6; Ephesians 1:7; 2:8, 9; Titus 1:14; 2:11; 3:7).
- Human love is changeable. It is a love that fluctuates and is unreliable. A good example of this, and also of the way the New Testament writers deliberately used different words for love, is John 21:15-17. Three times in these verses Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him, and three times Peter replies that he does. In our English Bibles it seems that Jesus’ questions and Peter’s answers are the same each time. But in His first two questions to Peter, Jesus uses agape, the love that will never fail. And Peter replies using the word philos, human affection. But when Jesus asks Peter the third time if he loves Him, He uses It’s as if Jesus says, “Peter, is this the only kind of love you have for Me, this unreliable human love?” No wonder Peter becomes upset! But he is now truly converted and has lost all confidence in himself. In humility, he replies, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love (phileo) you.” This changeable, unreliable philos is the only kind of love that we human beings can generate in and of ourselves.
In complete contrast, however, God’s agape love is unchanging. To the unfaithful Jews, God declared, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). In Paul’s classic description of divine love, “(agape) never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8). Jesus demonstrated this beyond all doubt on the cross when, “having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them (agapao) the full extent of his love” (John 13:1).
When we realize this unchanging, unchangeable nature of God’s love for us, we will become “rooted and established in love (agape)” (Ephesians 3:17). We will say with Paul,
“Who shall separate us from the love (agape) of Christ? …For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love (agape) of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 38, 39).
- At its very best, human love is self-seeking. Since we are by nature egocentric, everything we do or think, in and of ourselves, is polluted with self-love or selfishness. Socially, politically, academically, materially, economically, even religiously, we are all slaves to “our own way” (Isaiah 53:6; cf. Philippians 2:21). As we saw in the previous chapter, we are all shaped in “iniquity”; that is, we are bent toward self. Consequently, we all, without exception, fall short of God’s glory, His agape love (see Romans 3:23).
God’s love is the exact opposite. It is self-sacrificing, self-giving. That is why Christ did not cling to His equality with the Father, but emptied Himself and became God’s slave, obedient even to death on a cross (see Philippians 2:6-8). All during His life on earth, Jesus demonstrated His Father’s agape love. This is “the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father,” that the disciples saw in Him (John 1:14). He lived for the benefit of others; He actually became poor for our sakes, that we, through His poverty, might be rich (see 2 Corinthians 8:9).
There is no self-love in God’s love. This love, reproduced in the lives of Christians through the Holy Spirit, is the most powerful witness of the transforming, saving power of the gospel (see John 13:34, 35).
The supreme manifestation of God’s self-sacrificing love was demonstrated on the cross when Jesus Christ died the second death for all humanity (see Hebrews 2:9). The second death is the complete cessation of life; it is saying good-bye to life forever. It’s obvious that this is the death Jesus submitted to for us, since Christians who are justified in Christ still have to die the first death (the “sleep” death), but will be exempted from the second death (see Revelation 20:6). On the cross, Jesus was willing to be deprived of life forever, not just for three days, so that we could live in His place. Such self-emptying love transformed His disciples. Before the cross, they were dominated by self-interest (see Luke 22:24). After the cross, they were willing to follow Jesus’ example in sacrificing themselves for others. In the same way, when we see the self-sacrificing love of Jesus shining from the cross, we, too, will be transformed (see 2 Corinthians 5:14, 15).
In summary, then, human love is conditional; God’s love is unconditional. Our human love is changeable; God’s love is changeless. Our human love is self-centered; God’s love is self-sacrificing. Not until we recognize this three-fold quality of God’s agape love will the gospel become unconditional good news to us. And not until we become “rooted and grounded” in His agape love will we be able to cast out all fear and serve Him with unselfish motives (see 1 John 4:7, 12, 16-18).
AGAPE AND THE GREAT CONTROVERSY
Satan’s rebellion against God in heaven was, in reality, a rebellion against God’s agape love, which was the principle underlying the law (see Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:10; Galatians 5:13, 14). Lucifer found the idea that love (agape) “is not self-seeking” (1 Corinthians 13:5) too restrictive. He rebelled and introduced the principle of self-love or eros (see Ezekiel 28:15; Isaiah 14:12-14). Ever since his fall, Satan has hated the concept of self-sacrificing love. When God restored this principle to the human race through the preaching of the gospel, Satan naturally fought against it with all his might (see Revelation 12:10-12). The very first thing he attacked in the Christian church was not the Sabbath or the state of the dead. His onslaughts against these truths came later, but he focused first on the concept of God’s agape love.
After the apostles passed from the scene, the leadership of the Christian church fell into the hands of the church “fathers.” Most of these men were of Greek origin, and they felt insulted that the New Testament writers had ignored what they considered to be the highest form of love — Plato’s “heavenly eros” — in favor of an obscure agape. They felt that, because the apostles of Jesus were all Jews (with the exception of Luke), they didn’t really understand the Greek language and that a correction needed to be made.
Marcion, who died around 160 A.D., was the first to attempt a change. Next, Origen, who died in 254 A.D., actually altered John’s sublime statement, “God is love (agape)” to “God is love (eros).” However, the battle didn’t end there. It continued until the time of Augustine, bishop of Hippo in North Africa during the fourth century A.D. and one of the great “fathers” of Roman Catholic theology.
Augustine realized how futile it was simply to substitute eros for agape. Instead, he did something much more clever and dangerous. Using arguments from Greek logic, he combined the concept of agape with the idea of eros and produced a synthesis which he called, in Latin, caritas. (This is the source of our English word “charity,” which is the word the King James Version of the Bible most often uses to translate agape.)
Christendom accepted Augustine’s formulation, and caritas became the key definition of divine and Christian love in Roman Catholic theology. Since Augustine’s idea was a mixture of agape and eros, the gospel became perverted from “Not I, but Christ” (see Galatians 2:20) to “I plus Christ.” This concept of the gospel is still prevalent today. The moment the pure meaning of agape was corrupted, the gospel became perverted with self-love, and the Christian church lost its power and plunged into darkness. Not until the Reformation of the sixteenth century, when Martin Luther realized the problem and tried to undo Augustine’s synthesis, did the church begin to emerge into the light of the pure gospel once again. Unfortunately, the Christian church today is still, to a large degree, groping in the darkness, trying to understand the true meaning of agape and, thus, of the gospel.
THE THREE GOSPELS
So we see that there are three concepts of love: eros, or self-love; agape, or self-sacrificing love; and caritas, which is a mixture of self-love and self-sacrificing love. Each of these concepts of love has produced its own gospel.
The various religions of the pagans, who are steeped in eros, or self-love, are based on a gospel of works. As the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote: “Salvation is the movement of the creature toward God.” Plato, likewise, believed that God saves only the lovable. The eros gospel teaches that human beings must save themselves by pleasing God through sacrifices and good works. This is legalism, or salvation by works. It is the basis of all non-Christian religions.
The gospel based on caritas teaches that we must first show through our good works that we want to be saved, then, when God sees this evidence, He will meet us halfway and save us. In other words, we must do our best to meet God’s ideal, and Christ will make up the difference. The Galatian Christians fell into this trap (see Galatians 3:1-3), and so have many Christians today. The gospel of faith plus works, or justification plus sanctification, is at the heart of Roman Catholic theology. It is a subtle form of legalism.
The gospel of the Scriptures, however, is neither the eros gospel nor the caritas gospel. In complete contradiction to both, the apostles taught that, while we were helpless, ungodly sinners — even “enemies” — God demonstrated His agape love toward us through the death of His Son Jesus Christ, and that that death fully reconciled us to Him (see Romans 5:6-10). This is the clear teaching of the New Testament on the gospel (see John 3:16; Ephesians 2:1-6; 1 Timothy 1:15; Titus 3:3-5). The following diagram represents these three competing gospels:
Both the eros gospel and the caritas gospel can be described as only conditional good news. Each depends on our fulfilling certain conditions before God extends His grace to us. Only the agape gospel is unconditional good news, resting solely on God’s undeserved favor. That is why this gospel turned the world upside down as the apostles went about proclaiming the glorious message of salvation in Jesus Christ (see Acts 17:6). This is the same gospel that the world so desperately needs to hear today. This is the gospel that will lighten the earth with God’s glory before the end comes (see Matthew 24:14; Revelation 14:6-15; 18:1).
AGAPE AND SELF-WORTH
One of the effects of sin in our lives is that it tends to produce a sense of low self-worth. Our modern, complex world with its competitive lifestyle has magnified this problem. One result is that those in the counseling business have more work than ever. I don’t minimize the value of counseling in certain situations. However, I hope in this book to introduce you to the “wonderful counselor” (Isaiah 9:6) who alone has a permanent solution for low self-esteem.
As we have already seen in chapter 1, the Bible puts little value on our sinful human natures. Jesus said to Nicodemus, whose religion put so much emphasis on human achievement, “Flesh gives birth to flesh” (John 3:6). By this Jesus meant that our human nature of itself cannot produce anything that God considers good or meritorious (see Romans 7:18). Everything we do, in and of ourselves, is polluted with self-love. That is why there is no one who is good, no one who is righteous, apart from Jesus Christ (see Romans 3:10-12).
For this reason, Paul warned the Philippian Christians not to have any confidence in the flesh (see Philippians 3:3). Of course, all this is devastating to the human ego. It makes it very hard for us to face ourselves, much less God. The result is a poor self-image, low self-esteem. But the Bible also has good news for us, and that good news is God’s unconditional agape love. The only permanent solution to the problem of low self-esteem is a clear understanding of God’s unconditional love and His saving grace in Jesus Christ. He declares through Isaiah that, in spite of our sinfulness, He will make us more precious than the fine gold of Ophir (see Isaiah 13:12). And He has done that in Jesus Christ, as we will see in the next chapter.
Key Points in Chapter Two God’s Redemptive Love
- Love is not merely one of God’s attributes; it is the essence of His nature. God is love (see 1 John 4:8, 16).
- We must understand everything about God — even His law and His wrath — in the context of His love (see Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 1:18-32).
- The basis of our salvation is found in God’s nature of love (see John 3:16; Ephesians 2:4-7; Titus 3:3-5).
- The New Testament uses the Greek word agape to describe God’s love. God’s agape love differs from human love in at least three ways:
- Human love is conditional; God’s love is unconditional. It flows from Him independently of our goodness or self-worth (see Acts 15:11; Ephesians 1:7; 2:8, 9; Titus 1:14).
- Human love is changeable; God’s love is unchangeable. His love never fails (see Jeremiah 31:3; Romans 8:35-39; 1 Corinthians 13:8).
- Human love is self-seeking; God’s love is self-sacrificing (see Philippians 2:6-8).
- The supreme manifestation of God’s unconditional, unchanging, self-sacrificing love was demonstrated when Jesus died the second death on the cross for all humanity (see Romans 5:8; Hebrews 2:9).
- Three concepts of love have given rise to three concepts of the gospel:
- Salvation by works. This “gospel” is based on self-love, i.e., human beings must save themselves by pleasing God through good works. This is legalism, and it is the basis of all non-Christian religions.
- Salvation by faith plus works. This “gospel” is based on a combination of self-love and self-sacrificing love, i.e., we must first show by our good works that we want to be saved, then God will meet us halfway and save us. The “gospel” of faith plus works is at the heart of Roman Catholic theology; it is a subtle form of legalism.
- Salvation by grace alone. This gospel is based on self-sacrificing love (agape); that is, while we were helpless, ungodly sinners, God demonstrated His love for us through the death of Jesus Christ, and that death fully reconciled us to Him. This is the clear teaching of the New Testament (see John 3:16; Romans 5:6-10; Ephesians 2:1-6; 1 Timothy 1:15).