Is “Love your Neighbor as Yourself” the core message of Christianity?

Several weeks ago President Obama set off a small storm when he used the National Prayer Breakfast to give an ill-considered lecture on comparative theology. In his speech the President declared the message of Christianity is the message “Put on love.” Is this an accurate statement? Is love for one’s neighbor the primary message and tenet of Christianity?

The Bible elevates the command “love your neighbor as yourself” as the second most important commandment, inferior only to the command to love God above all else. This great command is found in multiple places in the Bible, first appearing as a summation of the laws of behavior towards others in Leviticus 19:18. Jesus Himself declares the importance of this command when answering a skeptic’s question about the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-39; Mark 12:29-21). Paul teaches that this command encompasses the entire law. (Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14) James calls it “the royal law.” (James 2:8) No one can deny love for others is a crucial component of Christianity. Despite all that, love for others is not the central message of Christianity.

The command to love your neighbor as yourself is a command that flows out of the primary message of Christianity. The Bible offers a single message as it’s core teaching. This message can be found in the first pages of Genesis, is repeated throughout the entirety of Scripture. All other messages come after this ultimate message. The core message of Christianity is the message of the gospel. The gospel is the message that Jesus is God the Son, the One promised in the Old Testament to deliver men from the curse and consequences of sin. The gospel declares every person on the planet is guilty before God, condemned by God to eternal suffering and separation from Him. Jesus is God the Son who died to take on Himself the full punishment of mankind’s guilt. Jesus died and was buried. He was dead, but did not remain dead. Early one Sunday morning, God restored Jesus to life. Jesus is now physically and spiritually alive for ever. He is reigning in heaven and will reign without opposition through all eternity. The gospel message is a call to believe these core truths about Jesus, sin and salvation. The gospel calls all men to acknowledge their sin and guilt before, to admit their own inability to pay the penalty for their own sin, to believe Jesus is God who died in their place and now lives forever, and to call on God to be merciful and forgive their sin. The gospel is the core message of Christianity. Without the gospel, there is no Christianity.

The gospel is the first command that must be obeyed. Once the gospel is believed and a man is saved, then the other commands can be obeyed in a fashion that pleases God. Christianity does not go into the world preaching love for others, but preaching faith in Jesus for forgiveness and salvation. Apart from becoming a child of God, the command to put on love is of little value. Yes, loving one another will make the world a better place. Love may stop hunger, end abortion, house orphans and bring about world peace, but apart from the message of the gospel, love for your neighbor is of no eternal value. “Love one another” without the gospel is just going to send a lot of really nice people to hell and make their journey more comfortable. Change the message of the gospel or change the message away from the gospel, and you change Christianity into something that is not Christian.