You’ve probably seen it on signs or t-shirts or stickers – “Love is love.” It’s the slogan of the LGBTQIA+ community. This little slogan reveals our culture’s confusion about love.
First, as a kid, I was taught not to define a word with the word itself. Doing this is called a circular definition. What is the Heidelberg Catechism? Well, it’s a catechism from Heidelberg. That’s not all that enlightening or helpful. “Love is love” is unhelpful in part because it’s a circular definition.
Second, “Love is love” is like many modern praise songs. It’s vague and assumes that people rightly understand love. However, people don’t understand what true love is, therefore “Love is love” is pretty vague. Circular definitions can sometimes be thought-provoking and helpful if people know the precise meanings of the words. But since most people are confused about love (because they don’t know God and haven’t experienced His love in Christ), “Love is love” is at the very least unhelpful.
Third, I’m struck by how the phrase “Love is love” communicates boldfaced godlessness. Apart from its meaning, the statement smacks of rebellion against God. What do I mean? “Love is love” sounds a lot like a familiar Bible verse. The Bible says “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8, 16). Do you think it’s coincidental that in the slogan “Love is love,” love replaces God? Love itself becomes the absolute which replaces God. “Love is love” inherently argues that love is not defined by God or understood by knowing God, but that love defines itself and is understood however you choose to understand it. “Love is love” is relativism at its finest.
God and love are distinct but inseparable terms. Though it is true that “God is love,” it wouldn’t be true to reverse it and say “Love is God.” God and love are not synonyms. We can only begin to understand love when we begin to know God. The Apostle John wrote to the church:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 Jn. 4:7-8)
John made this point clear. Love is not whatever you consider it to be. Love’s origin is God. To know love one must know God who is love. When a person knows God, they begin to accept by faith God’s definition of love and therein they begin to truly understand love. When a person rejects God, they also reject God’s definition of love and come to accept their own idolatrous version of love which isn’t love at all.
When people hear the word law, they usually don’t think of love. And vice versa. Right? The young man looks into his fiancé’s eyes and says, “I love you so much.” I doubt she’s thinking of God’s law. However, maybe she should. See, God’s law defines true love for us. If we don’t know the Ten Commandments, we certainly don’t know true love. The Bible says, “for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” and “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” and “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Rom. 13:8, 10; Gal. 5:14). God’s moral law summarized in the Ten Commandments defines true love, it gives us the specifics of how to love. Sure, 1 Corinthians 13 is often the go-to text on love, but while 1 Corinthians 13 expresses the spirit of the law, the Ten Commandments give specifics as to how to be patient, kind, and so forth.
The Heidelberg Catechism talks about God’s law in both the guilt and gratitude sections. God’s law reveals to us our great sin and misery. The guilt section doesn’t list the Ten Commandments, however, it does give Jesus’ summary of the Ten Commandments from Matthew 22. Only later in the gratitude section, in 92, does the Heidelberg give the Ten Commandments. The gratitude section explains how believers live by God’s grace in response to God’s grace. Ninety-two defines good works. It defines true love which the grace and Holy Spirit of God produce in us through faith.
Heidelberg 92 simply quotes Scripture. Read the law in Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5. Heidelberg 93 then explains that the moral law comes in two parts. The first four commandments explain how we are to love God or “live in relation to God.” The last six commandments explain how we are to love others or explain what “duties we owe our neighbor.” I want to focus on Heidelberg 94-95.
Heidelberg 94 says:
What does the LORD require in the first commandment? That, for the sake of my very salvation, I avoid and flee all idolatry, witchcraft, superstition, and prayer to saints or to other creatures. Further, that I rightly come to know the only true God, trust in Him alone, submit to Him with all humility and patience, expect all good from Him only, and love, fear, and honor Him with all my heart. In short, that I forsake all creatures rather than do the least thing against His will.
Now, you’ll notice that answer involves putting certain negative things off and putting certain positive things on. This coincides with Heidelberg 88-90 which talk about putting the old nature to death and the coming to life of the new nature. Each of the Ten Commandments tells us something to put off or put to death and something to put on or something that needs to come to life in us.
Loving God includes putting idolatry to death. Heidelberg 95 defines idolatry as “having or inventing something in which to put our trust instead of, or in addition to, the only true God who has revealed Himself in His Word.” We don’t love God when we trust in anything else; we must not trust, adore, praise, worship, venerate, love, or serve anything but God. It must not be God plus this or God in addition to that. It must be God alone upon whom we depend. Love begins with surrendering our entire self to the one true God and worshiping and serving Him alone.
While forbidding all forms of idolatry or the adoration, worship, and service of other gods, the first commandment also commands us to rightly know God as He reveals Himself to us in His Holy Word and creation. To love is to learn to trust the one true God alone. To love is to humbly, joyfully, patiently, and willingly submit to the triune God alone including His holy law. To love is to recognize that everything good in our lives is from God and to be grateful for such. To truly love is to fear and honor and adore God alone. In other words, no other creature or created thing must distract or dissuade us from knowing God rightly and living for His pleasure.
Friends, this is where love begins. Love begins with rightly knowing God according to His self-revelation in the Bible. “Love is love” doesn’t take this all-important truth into consideration. “Love is love” is actually idolatry because it is inventing a new kind of love that isn’t love at all and replacing God with it. And it is quite sad to see the pain “Love is love” creates in people’s lives.
Do you want to truly love people? If so, consider this simple thought. Direct your entire life to rightly knowing God through Christ by the Spirit, and you will become more and more loving. Love begins with understanding God’s love in the sending of His only Son as our redemption (1 Jn. 4:9). Our love begins with God loving us by sending His own Son as the propitiation for our sins (1 Jn. 4:10). John said, “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). If you are to truly love your spouse, children, parents, church, friends, co-workers, etc., you must begin by receiving God’s love in Christ by faith and experiencing the love God has for you in Christ. As God’s love is poured into your heart through the Holy Spirit, God produces love in you for others. Depend on your God because “God is love.”
Quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism and creeds are taken from Zacharias Ursinus & Jonathan Shirk, The Heidelberg Catechism: True Comfort for Life & Death (Manheim: Small Town Theologian, 2021), 395.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.