I once talked with someone who had no idea who Michael Jordan was. I was shocked! I set out to describe who he was and why Michael Jordan is probably one of the world’s most well known athletes: six NBA championships, 32,292 career points, Space Jam etc. Now, pretend you meet someone who has never heard of a Christian. How would you describe a Christian to someone? For what are Christians (according to Scripture) to be most well known?
In Scripture, Christians are characterized (among other things) as those who love Jesus Christ (Matthew 22:37; 1 Peter 1:8; 1 Corinthians 16:22). This involves loving the person of Jesus – who He is – and the work of Jesus – what He has done. As Christians we love Jesus, but we know we don’t love Jesus as we should. We may look at others who seem to love Jesus more than we do and wonder how they came to love Him so much. So, do you love Jesus little or much, and what spurs a greater and growing love for Jesus?
In Luke 7:36-50 we see a woman who loves Jesus much. She perceives the worth of Jesus Christ and accordingly worships Him in tangible ways. Luke allows us to observe this somewhat awkward scene (after all how often do you have an uninvited guest come into your home and begin weeping on your guests feet?). A Pharisee has invited Jesus to his home for a meal and some Q & A with the Master teacher.
As the scene moves along a “sinful” woman (we don’t even know her name) makes her way in and finds herself at the feet of Jesus. At this point she has probably already experienced salvation (see 7:47) and wants to express her love for Jesus. She was so overwhelmed by love for Christ in the moment that she forgot about what was okay to do in public (In that culture it was shameful for a woman to let her hair down in public). For whatever reasons her emotions got the best of her and she began to weep (literally “raining tears”). She proceeds to use her loose locks to wipe up her tears on Jesus’ dirty feet (apparently there were no paper towels nearby). This would have been a very awkward moment for everyone at this dinner party.
Next she takes a very expensive perfume, worth about a years wages, and breaks it and dumps it out on Jesus’ feet (a waste to some but not to those who rightly appraise the worthiness of Jesus). This woman saw the infinite value of Jesus Christ and that He was worthy of all worship and all praise for who He is and what He has done. If this was all we had of the story, we would have a great example of devotion to Jesus. But Jesus has an important lesson to teach.
Jesus plays a little Simon says, “Simon I have something to say to you”. Simon says, “‘Say it teacher’” (7:40). Jesus then begins to tell him a story. “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both.” (7:41-42)
Five hundred denarii was about one and a half years’ wages and fifty denarii was about two months’ wages. It would be like this: one person borrows money from the bank to buy a house costing $100,000 while another borrows money for a car costing $10,000. Both of these people miss a payment and are unable to pay the bank back for their loan. The bank calls them and says, ‘Hey you missed a payment. It looks like you are not able to pay us back so don’t worry about it; we will forgive your debt.’Don’t you wish that would happen to you?
This is a wonderful story illustrating an important truth. Jesus asks, “Now which of them will love him more?” Once again “Simon says, reluctantly, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” Simon has answered correctly; what will be his prize? A priceless lesson from Jesus. Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (7:47).
We all owe a debt to God for our sin; A debt we are all unable to repay. Whether it is two months wages or two years wages, we do not have the capacity to pay it (Rom 3:20). Both of the debtors were unable to pay, that is the point. It doesn’t matter if one person has more debt than another, if neither can pay then they are both in the same situation.
Here is the point: to the extent that we understand how great a sinner we are, to that extent we will love Jesus. The level to which we understand our sinfulness and the great cost that was paid to have been forgiven by God, is the level to which we will love God. Jesus does not seem to be limiting our ability to love him based on how much we have sinned. People who have sinned much don’t have a greater capacity to love Jesus than people who have sinned less. Certainly this is not Jesus’ point. The point seems to be that to the extent you comprehend the love of an infinitely holy God and the debt He paid for your sin, to that extent will you love him.
This is very helpful for us as we grow more and more in our love for Jesus. We grow in our love for Jesus as we comprehend the greatness of who He is and what He has done, even for sinners such as us. A proper view of self and a proper view of Jesus promotes greater love for Him.
If you find yourself in a place where you do not love Jesus as He deserves, what is the cure? Evaluate how you really view yourself. People who have grown up in the church have a tendency to become complacent toward so great a salvation. Church-kids who get involved in obvious, outward sins, are blinded to their true depravity. They view themselves much like Simon the Rabbi viewed himself. If you have a high view of yourself, then you diminish the value of what Christ has done on the cross.
How do you view yourself before God? Do you understand that you are a sinner? Do you believe that with God, you are a hopeless sinner? Do you see yourself as Jeremiah described people in Jeremiah 17:9? Do you view yourself as Paul viewed himself as the foremost sinner (1 Timothy 1:15)? Do you see as David who cried out to God that he was sinful from birth (Psalm 51:5), or like Peter who recognized his sinfulness before Jesus (Luke 5:8) or like Isaiah who said “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5)?
Listen to J. C. Ryle’s thoughts:
“The true cure for self-righteousness is self-knowledge. Once let the eyes of our understanding be opened by the Spirit, and we shall talk no more of our own goodness. Once let us see what there is in our own hearts, and what the holy law of God requires, and self-conceit will die. We shall lay our hand on our mouths, and cry with the leper, ‘Unclean, unclean.’” (J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Luke, 260).
This “sinful woman” understood that she was a sinner in need of God’s grace. Realizing how great a debt you have been forgiven by God should bring much love for Jesus. Consider that if God were going to save only you, Christ would still have had to die on the cross.
Even after your Spiritual regeneration you cannot lose sight of your sinfulness. As you mature as a Christian, you will sin less but you will hate sin more. This may be why Paul described our hopeless condition first (Ephesians 2:1-3) before describing the amazing grace of God in our salvation (Ephesians 2:4-10). Our knowledge of our condition before God’s grace is fuel for our love for God because of His grace. Just like the stars in the sky shine brightest against a dark sky, so our salvation shines brightest when see it against the black backdrop of our sinful condition.
There are only two people in the world, great sinners who know it and great sinners who do not. Those who know it and have been forgiven by Jesus, love Jesus much.