Why I Can’t Love My Neighbor as Myself

A common misconception is that Old Testament Jews were saved by keeping the law. A lot of people think if those who lived before Christ obeyed all the Jewish rules and/or made all the appropriate sacrifices when they did wrong, God would let them into Heaven. Wrong.

image via Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net
image via Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

Keeping the Law never saved anyone. Paul, who kept the law faultlessly (Philippians 3:6), tells us the truth about the law, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin,” (Romans 3:20).

So the 613 commands given in the Old Testament were given, in large part, to prove how inadequate humans are. We can’t keep all the rules. We fall short daily, which proves to our prideful selves that we have a real need for a Savior.

(Note: Our friend Paul, who claims his “righteousness based on the law” was “faultless”, is prone to exaggeration. One commentator puts it this way, “Paul achieved the standard of righteousness which was accepted among the men of his day – though this standard fell short of God’s holy standard,” (Guzik).)

Knowing this about the law, fast forward to a peculiar verse in Galatians. Paul says, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Galatians 5:14).

But what do we know about our ability to keep the law? WE CAN’T!

So, putting two and two together, we CAN’T love our neighbors as ourselves. When we try, our inadequacy quickly becomes apparent. Our need for a Savior to help us love well becomes glaringly obvious.

Realizing this, I can give myself a little grace when I don’t love well. I’m human, and I can’t expect myself to have the capacity to love well given that fact.

But much more importantly, I would do well to remember how utterly dependent I am on Jesus.want to love others well. I want to consider them more important than myself (Philippians 2:3-4). And I want to please God by obeying the commandment to love my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22:39).

But I need Him to help me. And He will. All I have to do is ask (1 John 5:14-15).


3 thoughts on “Why I Can’t Love My Neighbor as Myself

  1. I don’t think Paul was prone to exaggeration, but I do think that what he meant by his “righteousness based on the Law” being “faultless” was his perception of how well he had submitted to the standard his Pharisaic party established for law righteousness. He himself tells us however in Romans 7 that his covetousness was inflamed. His external obedience was perfect but his internal obedience was not.

    Yes, we may give ourselves God’s grace for our failure to love well (internal disobedience) but we should also let it move us to pursue it all the more. Because we love Him we want to be like Him in every way. We are drawn to being in His presence in order to absorb His character and be changed by it. We are drawn to His Word for clarity about how that change should look.

    • Well put.

      Hm. Maybe exaggeration is the wrong word. But I often read Paul as “overly” passionate. Ex – telling those who want to make all believers get circumcised to go castrate themselves. Maybe I am eisegeting?

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