After Jim McNeely’s brilliant Romance of Grace, I wasn’t surprised to find his latest work, Grace in Community, bristling with insight and comfort. 1 John is a difficult and sometimes-neglected book, but McNeely sifts through it with responsibility, originality, and a down-to-earth approach. Below, he treats the tricky subject of “vertical” and “horizontal” love – love for God and neighbor, with his trademark honesty about the Law’s demands, leading directly to God’s grace:

Notice  John  unifies  “vertical” love  and  “horizontal”  love.  He  says,  “In  this  is  love,  not  that  we  love  God,  but  that  God  loves  us.”  He  is  talking  about  a  vertical  relationship here,  our  love  for  God.  Yet  he  goes  on  at  length  talking  about  horizontal relationships.  It  is  all  mixed  up.  When  we  have  horizontal  love,  God  is  in  it.  The  moralist  wants  to  split  these  up.  The moralist  wants  to  take the  two  laws  as  separate:  love  God,  love  your  neighbor.  John  bridges  that  gap  with  the  gospel  of  Christ  and  Him  crucified.  God  is  love,  and love  operates  in  community.  He  is  saying,  if  you  separate  these  two,  you  cannot  succeed  at  the  one  and  fail  at  the  other.  The  old  commandment to  love  presses  upon  us  the  obligation  to  love  God  and  neighbor.  You cannot  claim  success  if  you  only  do  one  or  the  other;  you  must  succeed at  both.  Jesus  loved  and  forgave  His  own  murderers  and  obeyed  His  Father  to  the  death.  Either  we  succeed  at  both  or  we  fail  at  both.  It  is  a unity  under  the  old  covenant  as  well  as  under  the  new  covenant.  The  old  covenant  presses  upon  you  the  obligation  to  do  both  and  makes  you  the  source  of  power  for  compliance.  The  new opens  the  door  to  the possibility  to  love,  and  empowers  love  through  the  grace  and  forgiveness and  mercy  which  come  to  us  through  Christ’ʹs  blood.  In  Christ,  we  do not  boast  that  we  know  and  love  God;  we  boast  that  we  cannot  know  and  love  Him,  but  He  knows and  loves  us.  We  do  not  trust  in  ourselves or  our  perfection,  but  in  Him  and  His  perfection.  His  perfection  is  that  though  we  slay  Him,  He  resurrects  to  love  us  still.  His  love  abides,  it  persists.  This  is  the  love  that  He  has  for  us,  and  it  is  the  love  that  is  at  the  heart  of  the  love  that  we  have  for  each  other.