The foundation of a Christian life is Love. This is a deep non-emotional love based on the love Jesus Christ has for us. Our aim is to become like Him, fulfilling the nature of our creation, made in God’s image and likeness. This is a life seeking unity with His Grace, the Holy Spirit, God Himself. This kind of love Archbishop Averky calls Gospel love.
Gospel love is based on what is revealed to us in Scripture, a love based on sacrifice for others. Scripture says,
“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in Him.” (1 John 4:16).
We develop this kind of love observing how God showed His love for us. When the time was right God chose to bring forth His Only Begotten Son, giving Him flesh to bring a new commandment based on love. He told His Apostles:
“A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, as I have loved you. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13: 34-25).
Love is the essential message of the Gospels. It is why God created the world. It is the creative force in all life, the underlying principle of all God created. It is this same love He desires for us, to be perfected in Love united with Him.
Think about the love demonstrated when Jesus was obedient to death, voluntarily giving up His life on the Cross. This He did for us, to free us from our sinful fallen nature. It was this sacrificial love that inspired the Apostles and early Christian’s to endure persecution, torture and even death. Their Love of Him brought thousands to believe in Him. It is this Love that enables all that is beautiful, a loving family life. All this comes from, God’s love.
We received a clear commandment from Christ about love. When a lawyer of the Old Testament approached Him asking, “What is the greatest commandment of the Law,” He answered,
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it:“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets (Matt 22:37–40).
This is frequently referred to as the “Short Gospel.” He then let them know He was God. It is only with faith in the Gospel, in Jesus as the Son of God, that we can have true Christian, selfless, unconditional love. Ours is a faith based on Love.
And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment (1 John 3:23).
This faith cannot be a passive or an intellectual one. It must be a loving living faith. One based on loving action. Saint James tells us,
If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (Jas 1:26–27).
And this commandment have we from Him: That he who loves God must love his brother also (1 John 4:21).
To gain this love in our life we must believe in His Incarnation as the Son of God, fully human and divine. We must further understand the love demonstrated in the sacrifice He made when His gave up His life on the Cross.
Understanding this Love we will be able to commit ourselves to the effort required to be worthy of His grace. It is only through His grace working in our heart, our conscience, that we will gain the same selfless love of Him and others.
The Evangelist John tells us,
We perceive the love of God “because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).
When we have this understanding then we will be able to act like Him. “If you love me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15).
Developing Gospel love begins with faith through which we gain God’s grace, enabling us to act with the same love He had for us. But, this is not the easy path. It is a narrow one that involves struggle. The easy path, following our own pleasure seeking desires, leads to eternal grief and torment, while the narrow path, making sacrifices to benefit others, leads us to a union with Him in Paradise. The main motive we should have in all our actions is this love. We are to seek no benefit, no recognition. The only motive for true Christian morality is selfless love. It is as Saint John tells us,
We love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19). And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world (1 John 2:2).
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:10–11).
If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20)?
To become like Him we need to learn His commandments. We must study the Gospel. We must develop the necessary discipline and struggle to live as He taught. Above all we need to seek the Holy Spirit. It is only with God’s help that we will be able to do this.
This requires a life of prayer and fasting, worship and participation in the Holy Sacraments. He gave us everything we need in His Church. This is what we call the Orthodox way of life.
Reference: The Struggle For Virtue, Archbishop Averky, Chapter 7