The scene starts in Mark 12 when a first-century lawyer asks Jesus a question. “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” The question seems to be motivated by a pretty good instinct. (Just because he’s a lawyer doesn’t make him the bad guy in the story!) He notices that Jesus is giving some great answers to all the trick questions that the religious leaders are peppering him with.
So he goes for the CliffsNotes! Remember those? You’d have a test coming up about, say, Moby Dick, except you were only on page fourteen of the book and the test was the next day. So you’d grab one of those black-and-yellow lifesavers, and an hour later you’d be set! That’s similar to what the lawyer is doing. He must be thinking to himself, This teacher knows all the answers. Let’s take a short cut through all the extra stuff to see if he can answer the question that actually matters!
It’s our question too. How are we meant to live? With all the distractions and different ways of living, what’s the main thing . . . and then how do we actually live it out?
Upward, Inward, Outward
Jesus’ answer is deceptively simple: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength . . . [And] love your neighbor as yourself” (verses 30–31).
Heart, soul, mind, and strength.
These make up your control center, your emotions and will, your intellect, and your bodily abilities—pretty much all of you!
During the time when Jesus was ministering, faithful Jews would have recited part of the greatest commandment every day. Some of them would even have carried it around on index cards in their pockets or had it displayed on the lock screens of their phones. It was a big deal . . . but Jesus did something even bigger with it.
See, there’s a movement to what Jesus talks about here, and the movement defines our lives.
Upward, inward, outward.
That’s the movement described in the greatest commandment. Loving God takes us up, learning how to love ourselves takes us in, and then we go out and love our neighbors.
And what’s fascinating about Jesus’ answer is that we already live upward, inward, and outward. We can’t help it. All of us relate to God in a certain way, all of us treat ourselves a certain way, and all of us treat others a certain way.
Jesus isn’t telling us to do something no human has ever done. He’s not saying, “Fly like a bird!” or “Run at the speed of light!” or “Live life from old age to infancy!” Rather, he’s saying we need to make sure that what we’re already doing, naturally, is properly oriented.
And why do we naturally live upward, inward, and outward? Because we were created to! But what if I told you that the needs you feel on a moment-by-moment basis are designed to draw you into a new way of living?
Let that land for a moment.
The needs you experience are invitations.
Let me explain. All of us are created with deep, profound needs, so naturally we seek to satisfy those needs. But unfortunately, we often seek to satisfy those needs in ways that are not only unsatisfying but also sometimes downright harmful.
We often mistake distraction for satisfaction! But a need deferred or ignored is not the same as a need fulfilled. That’s why Jesus invites us into God-designed ways of living that will meet our needs as nothing else ever can.
But it’s up to us to respond to this invitation to join him on the journey.
And don’t miss the fact that God’s way of living is also the way of loving. We don’t just live in three directions—Jesus invites us to love in three directions.
Your deepest, most fundamental needs are invitations to love upward, inward, and outward.
And to properly respond to that invitation, we must be intentional about God and how we satisfy our needs. Instead of drifting through life or merely reacting to whatever happens to come our way, we need to figure out what’s best . . . and then do that!
Jesus understands that we need to know what life is about. All of it, and not just a single season, because our seasonal answers are insufficient.
When we’re teenagers, for example, we think life is all about the superlatives. We hope life grants us an identity such as smartest, coolest, funniest, hottest, fastest. That’s how it was for me, anyway, at Cedar Ridge High. When the yearbook came out, the first section we’d flip to was the class awards. And in 1994 I was finally immortalized with my own superlative: Most Unique.
For a former baseball jock who was too cool (and stoned) to play senior year, this was the pinnacle. Sure, student representative to the district school board was nice. Homecoming king was sweet. Student council president didn’t get me a lot of dates, but it would look good on my college applications.
But doing all those things in plaid pants and dreadlocks? Most. Unique. Ever.
What I didn’t understand at the time was that I wasn’t the most unique . . . and neither was anyone else!
All of us at Cedar Ridge High were just kids trying to find our place in the world. However we tried to construct that, we were still searching for meaning and purpose. We wanted to understand the art of living, but our methods were about as helpful as trying to empty a swimming pool with a coffee cup.
Too often we humans are satisfied with small definitions. Over the years I’ve inhabited many different roles: athlete, prep, stoner, musician, wanderer, pastor. None of those roles is the answer to life for me. The answer, in all those roles, is to practice the art of living.
To embody the greatest commandment and satisfy my God-given needs by living upward, inward, and outward.
Which takes us right back into the scripture we’re looking at. Reread the second half. The scribe considers Jesus’ answer, and he’s like, “You’re right, teacher. I agree! What you’ve said is the most important thing in the world!”
And then what Jesus doesn’t say is, “You agree? Great, it’s a done deal.”
Instead he thinks about the scribe’s wise answer and then says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (verse 34).
In other words, outside the Kingdom of God. Not yet living there, as an insider.
But here’s the astounding part: Jesus’ words are an invitation, not a condemnation. Jesus is saying, “Come closer. Don’t be far away. Let me work in your life. You’re almost home.”
Taking the Next Step
So how do we bridge the distance between “not far” and “close to” Jesus?
By living in sync with the way we’ve been created.
God designed us completely, so he knows what it means to truly and fully live. That kind of living requires us to have a close connection to our Creator, which is the exact reason God has placed such deep needs within each of us. Without that connection, we’ll still find ourselves living upward, inward, and outward—except in all the wrong ways.
That’s why Jesus is so insistent we draw near. That we come closer. If we recognize how we’re created, then our upward, inward, outward lives will work how they’re designed to. We’ll be living in step with the God who loves us deeply. God also understands the best ways for us to love him and others.
Being that close to Jesus is when life becomes not only rich and real but also transformational.
Do not miss how critical that upward movement is. Loving upward drives us to life as God intended. If we are far from the Lord, then we will always love ourselves wrong, which will always lead us to love others wrong as well. If we are not loving upward, nothing else works.
That’s why we’ve got to live it! We’re not after the “art of thinking about God a little differently.” This is the art of living.
I love to call that art of living “Jesus spirituality”—which is ordinary people, like us, living in the deeply transformational way of Jesus.
See, information isn’t enough. Not even the right information can save us by itself. We have to act on that information. This is the definition of wisdom, by the way—acting the right way because we have the right information.
That’s why you’re reading this book: because you want to integrate what you learn with how you live.
God gives us the key in the greatest commandment, but we’ve got to do this stuff in the right order. Imagine I invite you to my sweet cabin by the lake. To start hanging out in that cabin, you need to get the key from me, pack your car, follow the GPS to the lake, and so on. There’s a natural order to it.
It’s the same with the greatest commandment.
We begin upward, with loving God. The God. God of the Old Testament, God of the New Testament. God the Trinity—Father, Son, Spirit. We continue inward, with understanding our true identities in Jesus. And when we get those things right, God’s Spirit sends us outward, on mission into a hurting and wonderful world.
Three movements that mirror the greatest commandment.
Movement One: Upward
This will focus on God the Father through the lens of our need for meaning, connection, intimacy, and reflection.
Movement Two: Inward
This will focus on Jesus through the lens of our need for honesty, self-control, intentionality, and humility.
Movement Three: Outward
This will focus on God’s Spirit through the lens of our need for justice, self-expression, relationship, and compassion.
Discovering the art of living is a journey into the longings we were created with—and how God designed those longings to be met.
But we don’t travel alone. We walk alongside the God who made us and our needs, stepping forward in thought and action, belief and works. Life is hard. It can be tough and unrelenting and catch us by surprise. And since we get only one shot at it, let’s follow Jesus. Let’s do it right. Let’s live Jesus spirituality.
Let me ask you: What would your life look like if you started to love God with every part of who you are? If you based your identity on the truth of Jesus? If God’s Spirit gave you the power to go out into the world, in God’s name, and transform it?
If you can honestly read those questions and go, “Meh, who cares?” then you should probably give this book to someone else. You could also use it as kindling the next time you go camping or as a paperweight, or you could leave it outside for the birds to make nests with.
But if those questions stirred something in you, then let’s take this journey together. Listen to what Jesus says in John 10:10: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
That’s a serious statement. He’s saying his life—birth, ministry, death, resurrection—exists for us. That’s insane.
And insanely hopeful. The greatest commandment leads us to a life that is full, satisfying, and joyful beyond anything we can imagine.
But we only get that life by living it. Day in and day out, at street level.
And remember, the clue about how to really live all of this is right there in the first word of Jesus’ answer to the scribe: love. If we’re supposed to love God and love ourselves and love our neighbors, then that’s got to be something we live out and act out. Like, no parent would say, “I can tell I love my daughter because I believe certain things about her.” That’s not how love works. First John 3:18 says, “Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” Loving a kid means cleaning up vomit and holding your tongue when they’re fourteen and think you’re the enemy. It means combing hair and teaching Bible verses and driving to practice and doing laundry and the million other things we parents do out of love.
Jesus’ invitation is getting at exactly that.
Love God, love ourselves, love others . . . with actions and in truth.
Jesus is promising us a life that is filled to overflowing with good things: joy, community, creativity, love, justice . . . pretty much the greatest hits of being alive. He says these things will permeate our lives and spill over into the world.
This is the life offered to those willing to simply respond to Jesus by taking the next step.
You’ve been reading Daniel Fusco’s Upward, Inward, Outward: Love God, Love Yourself, Love Others. Daniel is an expert on illustrating how Jesus is at street level with you and me. In this book he unpacks how the greatest commandment Jesus gave us is to be lived out today. We only have one life, so we need to live the most meaningful life possible!
- Keep reading an excerpt from Upward, Inward, Outward here.
- Get the book now at 20% off.
- Learn more about Daniel’s first book, his ministry, jazz music, and more at his website. Daniel also delivers great 2 minute messages on facebook almost every day.
 If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then just substitute “Google” for “CliffsNotes.”
 Let the reader understand.
 Full disclosure: I do not have a cabin of any sort. It is on my bucket list, though! But I do know how to hike to a lake and pitch a tent. Which is still pretty sweet.