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This quote has been attributed to St. Augustine, referring to what he said in a sermon on 1 John 4:4-12:

See what we are insisting upon; that the deeds of men are only discerned by the root of charity. For many things may be done that have a good appearance, and yet proceed not from the root of charity. For thorns also have flowers: some actions truly seem rough, seem savage; howbeit they are done for discipline at the bidding of charity. Once for all, then, a short precept is given you: Love, and do what you will: whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.

It's been paraphrased as:

Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.

I've heard people just use the first half without the full expression, usually in a flippant way, but I think Augustine may be onto something here. We certainly get enough discussion about what God wants us to do or things along that line. Augustine seems to think that if we love God we aren't going to offend him and so don't need any "rules". Jesus seems to me to agree with him when he said:

Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

I'd like to hear the scripture that is used to support this quote of Augustine's.

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Isn't John 14:15 sufficient: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments"(ESV)? –  Paul A. Clayton Mar 28 '13 at 15:31
Really good question; I have been thinking about this a lot myself. –  user1477388 Jul 11 '13 at 14:30
Have you considered that if a person loves God and seeks him, the things that please the person are the very things that please God? –  Andrew Jun 5 at 2:44

10 Answers 10

Firstly, what is "to love God"? When you love God, probably you won't do things, which can harm him. To love God really is so big love, that maybe is better to give you another example also.

When you love your kids, you'll try to please them, help them, protect them and so on. Some laws to protect children in your country are totally unnecessary. You need no laws. Because you're trying best as you can. You won't cause bodily injury, you won't let them without food. On the contrary, when your kids are for you just molecules stack, no laws in your country help. You will harm them and they will go to the foster family very soon.

Another example, when you love you wife (or husband if you're woman), you won't rob her, maltreat her, abase her and so on. You'll give her everything you have, without some knowledge about quote:

Love your neighbor as yourself.

These laws become natural for you, without some knowledge about them. Because you can't know everything what Jesus and all the saints said, probably is better just love your God and love your neighbor best as you can, and each law will become natural for you.

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Though not fully Biblical but you have given a most suited parallel from everyday life. –  Seek forgiveness Mar 28 '13 at 15:48

St. Augustine was referring to the mind that has been "conformed to God" as described in Reading "Mere Christianity" and having a hard time with book III, chapter 12.

This is based on established doctrine, common to most denominational views, of Sanctification.

Progressive sanctification

"Indeed, the more sanctified the person is, the more conformed he is to the image of his Savior, the more he must recoil against every lack of conformity to the holiness of God. The deeper his apprehension of the majesty of God, the greater the intensity of his love to God, the more persistent his yearning for the attainment of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, the more conscious will he be of the gravity of the sin that remains and the more poignant will be his detestation of it....Was this not the effect in all the people of God as they came into closer proximity to the revelation of God’s holiness.

The doctrine of Sanctification has Scriptural support in Romans 6:22, 1 Corinthians 6:11, 2 Corinthians 3:18, 2 Corinthians 7:1, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Hebrews 6:1, Hebrews 12:14, James 1:4, and others.

Th most clear Biblical passage, however, which directly answers your question is Romans 12 (the following from the NASV) It starts by telling us to be conformed to God, and then expands on what a conformed mind produces for fruit, showing that a conformed mind does good, naturally.

1Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

3For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.4For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function,5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.6Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith;7if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching;8or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

9Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;11not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;12rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,13contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.15Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.16Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.17Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.18If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.19Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.20“BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.”21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

It cannot be applied to the natural, sinful mind; only to the mind that has been conformed and the Christian that is in agreement with God.

Romans 8:7-11

7because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so,8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.10If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.11But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

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'Progressive sanctification' itself fully answers this question and was very helpfull. –  Seek forgiveness Mar 28 '13 at 15:50

we always at all times do what we will and most prefer,(see jonathan Edwards freedom of the will), I think a great deal of folk try to dissect this quote from Augustine because they think it sponsers antinomianism in the same way many people tend to dice up or ignore romans 9 when referring to election. I think Augustine really meant the exact thing you first thought it meant when you read it without prejudice. personally I find that rendering God my WILLING service and resting in his finished work not a hinderance to my obedience to God, but actually causes me to love him more, cling to him more closely and makes me more thouroughly active in his service, anything else in my opinion is man trying to finish the work that Christ already accomplished which certainly is legalism and very dishonouring to God. Remember that the apostle paul was accused of antinomianism-anyone who really preaches grace will...sola deo Gloria...

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Welcome to C.SE. I'd invite you to see how we are different. I'm having difficulty seeing how this actually answers the question. –  Affable Geek Jul 9 '13 at 17:41
While the formatting and punctuation are bad, it is clearly an Answer about the issue of Antinomianism raised in the Question. –  pterandon Jul 10 '13 at 11:48

As far as biblical answers about keeping the law, consider how Jesus responded to the rich young ruler:

20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” 21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. Luke 10

When someone comes to Jesus thinking their behavior meets the law, Jesus points out their complete rebellion. Same thing happened with the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

Jesus furthermore states that the standard is to "be perfect". Not "get yourself on an asymptote that eventually (and had better be continually) approaches perfection, but to "be perfect."

What I am saying is that you must be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

Our hearts are "saddened" at this news: "I cannot love my neighbor that way! I cannot give that much away! I am so far from perfect, that sounds like I deserve hell!" It is a call to conversion, to seek the imputed righteousness of Christ.

Now consider Augustine:

"Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved."

The one who has imputed righteousness cannot please or offend God any more than Christ's perfect works and righteousness have pleased God. God looks at your sins and sees Christ's perfect works. Theologically, I have shown this to be true. Psychologically, there is a worry expressed in the question that telling people the truth will make them bad. This kind of worry over whether the doctrine of free grace is what Luther rebelled against in the Reformation

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Jesus said, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind and strength. Also love your neighbors, love your enemies"

If you love God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind and your strength, you will do nothing that offends God.

That said, you need to Love God above all and everything else to walk in His commandments that are not burdensome.

Ask God to help you love others just like He has loved you and forgiven you.

Everyone falls, but God picks us up.

Glory to God

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There are exceptions. King David was a man who loved God, and when he had it in his heart to build God a house, he told Nathan the prophet (2 Samuel 7). Nathan told David, "Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you" (7:3).

However, although David loved the Lord supremely, the Lord forbid David to do this thing (1 Chronicles 28:3).

So there are exceptions to this idea; one still needs to ascertain God's will about the matter.

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The quote is radical, but yes it is scriptural and is definitely helpful to those who are scrupulous about things, as I myself am.

Sanctity is definitely biblical (for those Protestants who hold the Bible as the only authority). Just read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. These are not suggestions, but commands by our Lord to be holy, as our father in heaven is holy. "You have heard it said, 'love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." "You have heard it said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you, that whoever looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery in his heart." And then in Matthew 23, Jesus says plainly, "Truly truly I say to you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you cannot enter the Kingdom of God." I don't think Jesus could have been any more clear.

Yet Augustine is pointing out that sanctity is not possible without inward conversion first. The reason the Pharisees were condemned in Matthew 23 was precisely because they viewed outward acts as the measure by which they were holy. That's why Jesus says they were "whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness." They were outwardly loyal to the Law of Moses, but detested the lowly and the poor and despised sinners in their hearts. Only when internal conversion leads to outward beauty is God pleased, because you are fulfilling the greatest commandments: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself."

Notice also, that "Love God" comes before "do what you want." You can't flip this sentence around: "Do what you want, and love God" is patently unbiblical and heretical. The reason why the sentence as it stands fits is because the reason you can do what you want is precisely because you want to love God, thereby making everything you want centered on your relationship with God. If you flip the order around, then that is saying that God loves whatever you do, sinful or otherwise, and you want what you desire more than you want a loving relationship with God. That is why Augustine's phrasing is key, and that is also why I agree with his position.

It was said that Augustine couldn't have meant that because of the incident with David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11, but I reject that. Why? Because David could not have possibly thought that these acts (the affair with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah) were what God wanted for him. David sinned and disobeyed God, not because he thought he was doing God's will but precisely because he knew he wasn't and did it anyway.

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The process of sanctification is scriptural, but the quote is imperfect in its description.

While it is true that the more sanctified the person is, the more conformed he is to the image of his Savior. However, because of the weakness inherent in our fallen nature, temptation will always be apart of our lives and must be resisted. This lifetime is given to us so that faith can be perfected.

So then, it is not so much

"Love God and do whatever you please"


"Love God, resist the devil and he will flee from you"

Or better yet

"Love God and not my will be done, but His will be done"

Jesus had the perfect character of man. He came as the first Adam, without a sinful nature. Yet He still inherited the weakened flesh of fallen men. Hebrews describes that He "was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb 4:14). So in the garden of Gethsemane, because of the enormity of the sinfulness of sin upon His weakened human nature, Jesus cried out "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will." (Matt 26:39).

If we are to follow the example of Jesus, then we must always be watchful, always distrustful of self, even if we eventually reach the point where we have successfully reflected the character of Jesus. Inherent in the love that a Christian has for his Savoir is the spirit of self-denial, and it is only through a constant connection with God, minute by minute, second by second that it can be maintained. Because until this life is over, and this body be transformed from corruptible to incorruptible, we are still being tried, and our faith must be tried and perfected.

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We as believers are called to imitate Christ and we know that Christ loved the Father but did not presume on that love. As a man, he learned obedience from the things he suffered (Hebrews5:8). If Christ could do as he pleased, he would not have gone thru' the agony of the garden of Gethsemane. He would not have to say " Yet not my will but yours be done" Luke 22:42. The Holy spirit has been given to us to help us to know and do the will of God so that we don't depend on our own understanding. Such obedience is through godly submission to Christ. Such submission is only possible if Christ is not only savior but Lord of our lives.

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The first thought that came to my mind regarding this is a quote by English writer G. K. Chesterton:

The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted; precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden. (G. K. Chesterton).

I think the spirit of what St. Augustine and Chesterton are saying is the same: that "love, and do what thou wilt" is the freedom given to the Children of God.

A Scripture quote I find related to this idea is:

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

When St. Augustine is thinking is that Grace, which is God "placing His Spirit within you" moves us to follow God's Commands not with "wailing and grinding of teeth," but with Joy and praise giving! Grace completely changes us from within to the extent that it becomes unthinkable (although we can still be tempted) to even consider breaking His Commands, just as it's strange for us to contemplate whether we should put our arm on a burning stove. As such, because we will possess such an internal state, and thus will follow God's laws on purpose, we are then free to do what we wish, and become what each of us as individuals were meant to become, based on our free will. God wants us to enjoy this freedom.

Christi pax,


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