…Charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:3–5—NKJV)

If a girl asks a guy (or a wife asks her husband), “How much do you love me?” and if he were to answer her, “I believe I can honestly say that I have a nominal love for you,” you can bet that she would be in high dudgeon and their relationship would be on the rocks! She would be well within her rights to call off the charade and demand answers. Nominal is not much of a commitment. The same is true about the lack of commitment found in “nominal Christianity.” To be nominal is to be in the state of “in name only, not in fact.” Synonyms include “token, so-called, the least possible, in form only.” There seem to be a lot of “Christians” wandering about today who deserve to be called nominal Christians.

Just because one says they love you does not mean it is so. Remember the interchange between the Savior and Peter when Christ asked, “Do you love me more than these?” Peter continued to protest that he did and was grieved because the Lord was challenging him for more than just words. How can one tell true love? How can one tell if he is in love? How can one tell if his declaration of love toward God is real? Matthew 22:36–39 reads, “’Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

I believe that Paul’s “love test” explains what was missing in the Ephesian church of Revelation 2:4–5. John writes, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place?—?unless you repent.” What does true love look like? In order to know if you fall into the category of “nominal” (in both Christianity and love) Paul shares the secrets of “the love test” in verse 5.

In our passage, Paul was giving his young protégé, Pastor Timothy, instruction in the way he was to pursue ministry. Paul reminded him that he had a responsibility to ensure sound doctrine. There was to be nothing nominal about the Christianity he was to illustrate with his life, tolerate in teachers, or observe in his personal life. He was to ensure that there be no gospel of any other kind.

People are the same in any culture. They love good stories, male and female gossip, and to waste time over rumor-promoting myths and convoluted, endless surmisings. According to verse 4, none of these things—mythical, mundane, or religious—do anything but “furnish exhaustive investigations.” Paul’s charge to Timothy was to lead in that which will promote godly edification. He was to allow no “majoring in the minors.” His task was a stewardship of the Gospel, the full knowledge of the things God has provided and purposed for His own people. Whatever tends to weaken love for God or love for the brotherhood will certainly weaken the faith, and faithfulness. The force of the Gospel is in the sincerity of your love.

Verse 5 details the “love test.” Real love, not nominal love, is characterized by three authenticities. The first is love springing from a pure heart—unfeigned love. The heart is the seat of the person at their core, their emotions, intellect, volitional will, and who they are in essence. Purity is a state. For the believer, it comes from the work of God’s Spirit exerted through the moral agency of the Bible. Purity is assayed by honest testing and accepting plain fact; there is no other way to be assured. Can God declare your love for Him and for His people is, in fact, totally pure?

The second authenticity is a good conscience—unfeigned conscience. Good means “that which is perfect in kind” and grants a sense of well-being, satisfaction, and pleasure. When applied to your conscience it is a conscience that is clear from guilt and gives satisfied well-being to you. Consciences are not infallible and only operate efficiently when they are well-acquainted with the Bible and retooled to reflect God’s demands for moral choice. Can God declare your conscience clear before Him and your fellow man?

The final authenticity is sincere faith—unfeigned faithfulness. The love test demands that there be no hypocrisy, none whatsoever. Can God declare your faithfulness to Him and for His people unhypocritical? Live so that you can never honestly be called a nominal Christian. A pure heart coupled with a conscience that is sterling, and a faith that is not assumed, but real—these three authenticities are the “love test.” Trust and obey.