Christian Fundamentals: Love Marks Christian Reality

1John

We have considered God’s love in us from a negative perspective in a previous post, Walking in God’s Light, and found:

  1. Whoever hates his brother…walks in the darkness.” (1 Jn.2:9) In the Christian life we don’t refuse fellowship with others.
  2. If we claim to be without sin we deceive ourselves…” (1 Jn.1:8) In the Christian life we don’t deny our sinful nature.
  3. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar…” (1 Jn.1:10) In the Christian life we don’t deny our sinful actions.

This time we look at the positive side: what are the marks of Christian reality? If a person claims to be a Christian it should show in their life. We are not perfect but the direction of our lives must make our Christian profession real to others.

John Newton declared, “I am not what I ought to be; but I am not what I once was. And it is by the grace of God that I am what I am.”

(1) Christians know Who Christ is (1 Jn 2:1)

When John Wesley left home, his mother, Susannah, is said to have written these words in the flyleaf of his Bible: “Sin will keep you from this book, but this book will keep you from sin.”

The psalmist wrote: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Ps.119:11)

There are times when we are defeated by sin.. The book of Hebrews talks about, “the sin that so easily entangles.” (Heb.12:1) It is then we need to know who Christ is and turn to our advocate with the Father. The Greek here is parakletos and means one who comes alongside (1Jn.2:1) The same word is used to describe the Holy Spirit in John’s gospel where he writes of “one of the same kind” (Jn.14:16)

(2) Christians trust what Christ did (1 Jn.2:2)

The word translated “atoning sacrifice” in the NIV is hilasmos better translated “propitiation” (ESV, RV) or “expiation” (RSV) It is used only one other time in the New Testament in 1 Jn.4:10)

In the Septuagint, the 3rd Century BC translation of the Old Testament into Greek, it is used to translate the Hebrew word for sin offering, (Ezekiel 44:27) As the priest was accepted before God because of the sin offering so we are accepted because of Christ’s propitiation. It is here that, “Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.” (Ps.85:10)

Does the fact Christ died, “for the sins of the whole world” mean everyone gets saved in the end? A kind of Universalism?

The best way to look at this is to consider that, at the time of the crucifixion the curtain in the temple was torn in two (Mk.27:51), signifying the barrier between man and God was torn down. It is as though God was saying, “You may come in now.” But the question remains – will we?

(3) Christians do What Christ Commands (1 John 2:3-6)

Are we denying grace when we speak of works? Is this a form of legalism?

In John 15 we read the parable of the vine and branches. Here Christians are represented in the branches and Christ is the vine. If we abide in him then his life flows through us and the fruit we bear (lives we live) will reflect the new life flowing through us. We are, therefore, not working for our salvation, but, “working out [our] salvation…” (Philippians 2:12)

If his life is in me what will my life look like?

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 Jn.4:10-11)

God first loved us, we love him, his life shows in our lives and then, “God’s love is truly made complete in [us].” (1 John 2:5)

True fellowship with God is marked by an increased consciousness of sin (1:6-10) and a growing likeness to Christ (2:1-6) God’s light shines in God’s law and in Christian love and conviction. John writes in 1 John 2:7-8 of God’s command to love. Two things we need to realise about this law.

  1. God’s law is not like our law, restrictive and inhibiting.
  2. God is love and his law reflects his love.

God’s law is enabling, making us what we were created to be. It isn’t simply a list of “Thou shalt nots” given to spoil our fun but it is a set of instructions telling us “live like this and you will be totally free and fulfilled.” For instance, we were made for community and so God’s law says, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” This is a law of love and liberation.

A New Command?

God’s law of love is found as far back as the time of Moses: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18)

Jesus summed up as the greatest commandment in law, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

The New Testament leader Paul echoed the Lord, declaring, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbour as yourself.”(Galatians 5:14)

How, then, is this “a new command” as John writes? Perhaps because:

  1. It is revealed most clearly and completely in Jesus and renewed through him
  2. Believers are now able to live it out as never before because the promise of Jeremiah 31:33 is fulfilled in the New Covenant established through and in Christ:

This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Hebrews 8:10)

Christ’s resources and divine power are in us now and a new age has dawned in which, “The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” (1 John 2:8)

His light shines in Christian love (vv 9-11) We are commanded to love one another and John uses extreme language to emphasise we cannot be indifferent to our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we do not love them we hate them! Ours cannot be a reclusive piety that draws apart from the world and the church. Rather, God’s love is communal and practical, working itself out in society. It has been said:

A selfish religionist is sure to become either morbid or stupid. It is by sympathy and brotherhood that the fire of personal Christianity is fanned.” (Robert S Candlish)

John describes this kind of morbid self-regarding religion as a stumbling block (v10) (skandalon gk) a hidden danger. Light and love go together. If we love people we avoid sinning against them, or causing them to sin. We encourage and build one another up.

The light that is ignored soon ceases to strike us. The conscience that is habitually silenced soon ceases to speak. If we lack love, we are in the darkness.” (David Jackman commenting on this passage)

His light shines in Christian conviction (vv 12 -14) There are differing views on who John is talking about when he writes of dear children, fathers and young men but we can say he includes the whole Christian community, male and female. Here we explains his purpose in writing: “I write to you because…” and he offers words of assurance. The true Christian is characterised by these things:

christian-brotherhood-bonhoefferYou know your sins are forgiven.

You know Jesus

You know the Father

You are strong in the faith

You have overcome the evil one

You are filled with God’s word

If these things mark our lives then God’s love truly shines through us as it shines through Christ. Then we know we are Christians.

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