Where Does True Love Come from?

Article by

Professor, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

How is love generated in our lives? The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 1:5, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”

Love Overflows from a Pure Heart

From the heart “flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). “Out of the abundance of the heart [the] mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). The heart is the factory of our soul that generates all desire, thought, emotion, and action. Our heart determines our identity, and that is why in order to become a believer we need a new heart and new spiritual influences upon it (Ezekiel 36:26–27).

Paul gets specific in this text. He says that love will flow out of a pure heart –– that is, a heart that has been cleansed; one that has no defilement. Wholehearted, life-encompassing love for God expressed in radical love for neighbor is only possible where sin is forgiven and offense is pardoned. God-honoring lovers are those who cherish Jesus –– who recognize their sin and cling to the cross, the only place where God’s wrath against sin is satisfied. May we say with Paul in 1 Timothy 1:15, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” The pure heart is not haughty because it recognizes the depth of its own depravity apart from Christ. The pure heart empowers one to love even those who are most difficult to love because it has experienced the sin-overcoming love of God itself. In fact, if we are in Christ, our failure to love others is a sure sign that our heart is not relishing enough the wonder of our salvation. Love flows from a cleansed, purified heart.

Love Overflows from a Good Conscience

Love is also fueled by a “good conscience” (1 Timothy 1:5). In the Bible, the conscience urges right and hinders wrong; it passes judgment on a decision or action; and it produces guilt or commendation in the heart (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 24). For Paul, a conscience can be “good” (1 Timothy 1:5, 19) or “clear” (1 Timothy 3:9; 2 Timothy 1:3), but it can also become “seared” or “defiled” when someone turns from the faith and rejects Christ (1 Timothy 4:1–2; Titus 1:14–15).

Love is birthed in a heart that is free from guilt and that enjoys pure motivations. Paul recognized fully his own sinfulness, but he ministered with a good conscience because he had met the wrath-overcoming, mercy-displaying, joy-bringing Christ. As he says in 1 Timothy 1:14, “The grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” Jesus alone can clear the conscience of a sinner and enable right motivation, and therefore Jesus is the ultimate source for the life of love.

Love Overflows from a Sincere Faith

The last means Paul supplies for seeing love birthed in one’s life is a “sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). By “sincere,” the apostle appears to address the type of faith –– it was authentic, genuine, the real deal (see 2 Timothy 1:5). The opposite or antonym of this kind of sincerity or genuineness is “insincerity” like that mentioned in 1 Timothy 4:2. Beginning in 4:1, Paul says, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared.” Paul is looking for an un-hypocritical faith, in contrast to a hypocritical faith.

Faith for Paul is about dependence on Jesus. It’s about radical affirmation of our neediness and Christ’s sufficiency. It is the only means by which we receive help and hope, salvation and satisfaction from God. Faith in Christ is the decisive human response to God’s saving, transforming work in our souls. And faith always works through love (Galatians 5:6; cf. 1 Timothy 1:14; 2:15; 4:12; 6:11; 2 Timothy 1:13; 2:22; 3:10; Titus 2:2). We can only serve as a channel of grace to others when we ourselves have been filled with it. Love is the fruit of faith.

Love As the Aim

The aim of all gospel proclamation is to see love birthed in the hearts of hearers, for love magnifies the greatness of God. We love God because he first loved us. And we display our love for God through radical love of others. Our love for God is to be total and all-inclusive –– a wholehearted, life-encompassing, community-impacting, exclusive commitment to our God. And this kind of love will naturally overflow in love for neighbor. Living in the joy of the blood-bought gospel sparks radical love.