All the disciples were at the table. Jesus was speaking of how he was going to be betrayed by one of them and that the rest were going to fall away. Peter stood up and said, “Even if they all fall away, I never will!” Jesus told him the horrible news. “Before the rooster crows at dawn, you will deny me three times.”
Peter was taken back. It was even worse when he finally did what Jesus said he would do and flat out denied him three times. Peter was heartbroken and distraught. The Gospels don’t even record that he was at the crucifixion. He was so ashamed. Why? Because he loved Jesus. He really did love him; he had just screwed up.
After Jesus has resurrected, he appears to the disciples while they are fishing. (John 21) They haven’t caught anything the whole night and a stranger on the beach tells them to throw their net on the other side of the boat and they will catch some. They do so and they catch 153 fish. John realizes that it is Jesus on the beach and Peter has a jolt in his stomach. His mind has flashed back to when he began following Jesus (Luke 5) and Jesus did the same thing with catching fish. Surely this means Jesus has forgiven Peter! Like Forrest Gump seeing Lieutenant Dan on the dock, Peter jumps out of the boat and swims the length of a football field all the way to shore.
When he gets there, Jesus has breakfast with the disciples. Following breakfast, Jesus looks at Peter and says, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Jesus asks him this three times. After the third time, Peter breaks down in tears. “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
Peter loved Jesus. Peter so quickly said that he would never deny Jesus because he loved him.
Notice something here.
It is more than for a theological truth that Peter is willing to die. He is willing to die because he loves Jesus the person.
But how often is it that a Christian is more adamant about theology than Jesus? That might sound weird, but it is absolutely possible to make theology an idol. It is as possible to love knowledge about God more than God himself as it is for a husband to love his wife’s wealth or body more than her. Each is a part of the person instead of the person as a whole.
Some Christians, in a completely honest and good desire to know God more, become puffed up in their knowledge and lose track of gaining the knowledge to love God. Rather, they begin seeking just to become smarter about him. This becomes very apparent when Christians talk more about their identity as a particular theology instead of as a follower of Jesus. I am a lover and follower of Jesus 10 million times before I am any theological identity.
If we are not overflowing with love for our Savior, it doesn’t matter if we are Pre-Trib, Mid-Trib, Post-Trib, or No-Trib. It doesn’t matter if we believe in a creation that took 6 days or 600 billion years. It doesn’t matter if we are an Arminian, a Calvinist, or somewhere in between. It doesn’t matter if we believe in 7 dispensations or 6 covenants. It doesn’t matter if we use the King James Version or the Message. If we lack love, our theology is worthless.
This also becomes apparent when we aren’t overflowing with sacrificial love that goes to any means to serve people everyday. Simply talking about that kind of love doesn’t count. We are supposed to walk in love as Christ loved us. (Ephesians 5:2). Theology must fuel our love, service, and mission, but it is certainly possible to have theology without being filled with love.
Theology is awesome and it is a very good thing. But let us not get so caught up in knowledge that we lose our passion. This has been a major struggle for me in seminary. I haven’t necessarily been obsessed with theology, but I have been studying it so much that I have struggled keeping my awe of Jesus. But if I have perfect theology, if I have memorized every verse of the Bible, if I can preach every topic perfectly, if I have read every book of a 50,000 book library, but I lose my love for the Savior, I am worthless. I am nothing more than a hard drive of information.
Knowledge puffs up and makes one arrogant. Love humbles us under the beauty of Christ and makes us in awe of what he has done.
When Christ meets me on the beach and says, “Aaron, son of Ronnie, do you love me?”, I don’t want to start quoting a theology textbook to answer him. I want to look at him with tears in my eyes and say, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”