Christianity 201

July 6, 2017

On the Right Track: Love in John 13:35

Staying on the right track spirituallyby Clarke Dixon

How do we know that we are on the right track in matters of faith? How do we know that we are “good with God?” Some will point to life experiences. If everything is going well for you, and your prayers are being answered, then obviously you must be on the right track. Others will point to spiritual experiences and say that if you can speak in tongues or have experienced some form of miracle then you must be on the right track. Still others will point to religious activity, that if you are keeping up with religious observances and practices, then you must be on the right track.

But how would Jesus answer this question? Thankfully he answered it long before we asked:

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 NRSV

Notice that Jesus did not say everyone will know we are his disciples if our lives went smoothly, or if we showed ourselves to be be super-spiritually gifted, or really religious. Rather our love is the evidence we are His followers. John also links love with reassurance that we are on the right track:

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 1 John 3:18-19 NRSV

But don’t those who do not follow Jesus also love? My experience is that yes, people who have no interest in following Jesus are capable of being and often are loving people. So does this mean they are on the right track, living lives that please Jesus, and so are “good with God”?

Before we jump to conclusions we will want to remind ourselves of the important role Christianity has played in lifting up an ethic of love in our society. Thanks to the influence of Christianity our society has been “marinating” in an ethic of love. Christianity has added flavor to our nation and many others. So when the Beatles sing “All you need is love,” or when Katy Perry sings “I will love you unconditionally,” there is a Christian ethic shining through. People who have no time for Jesus are nevertheless enjoying a certain flavor he has brought to society.

There are societies which have not had so thorough a permeation of Jesus’ love ethic. You can think of areas rife with militant Islam where a strict interpretation and application of sharia law is seen as more honorable than an ethic of love. We all know where that has led and is leading. Or you can think of where a belief in karma can lead. If you are brought into life as an untouchable, born into a sorry state of affairs, you must deserve it. That’s karma. Jesus teaches grace. Jesus loves us regardless of merit and went to the cross for us. Though Christians can get it wrong, one cannot deny that Christianity has lifted up an ethic of grace and love in some societies in a way that other religions have not in others.

Still, we may be wondering if a person who rejects Jesus as Lord and Savior is on the right track by living a life of love. Actually, yes, they are on the right track. But they have not got on the train. We cannot love enough to go the distance and bring ourselves into the presence of God. We can devote ourselves to a life of love all we want, but when we refuse God’s love for us, we refuse God’s offer to carry us for the distance. We would rather walk, though the destination is far. Too far.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is powerful evidence that we are on the right track. But being on the right track is not enough. This destination requires getting on the train.

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 1 John 3:18-23 NRSV emphasis mine


If the graphic looks familiar, yes it is an Amy Grant album cover, a supposedly rare cover without her name on the front (that we can see).  This article appeared previously at C201 in April, 2015 under the title Staying On Track. Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

April 29, 2015

Staying on Track

On the Right Track: Love and John 13:35

Staying on the right track spirituallyby Clarke Dixon (Click title above to link)

How do we know that we are on the right track in matters of faith? How do we know that we are “good with God?” Some will point to life experiences. If everything is going well for you, and your prayers are being answered, then obviously you must be on the right track. Others will point to spiritual experiences and say that if you can speak in tongues or have experienced some form of miracle then you must be on the right track. Still others will point to religious activity, that if you are keeping up with religious observances and practices, then you must be on the right track.

But how would Jesus answer this question? Thankfully he answered it long before we asked:

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 NRSV

Notice that Jesus did not say everyone will know we are his disciples if our lives went smoothly, or if we showed ourselves to be be super-spiritually gifted, or really religious. Rather our love is the evidence we are His followers. John also links love with reassurance that we are on the right track:

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 1 John 3:18-19 NRSV

But don’t those who do not follow Jesus also love? My experience is that yes, people who have no interest in following Jesus are capable of being and often are loving people. So does this mean they are on the right track, living lives that please Jesus, and so are “good with God”?

Before we jump to conclusions we will want to remind ourselves of the important role Christianity has played in lifting up an ethic of love in our society. Thanks to the influence of Christianity our society has been “marinating” in an ethic of love. Christianity has added flavor to our nation and many others. So when the Beatles sing “All you need is love,” or when Katy Perry sings “I will love you unconditionally,” there is a Christian ethic shining through. People who have no time for Jesus are nevertheless enjoying a certain flavor he has brought to society.

There are societies which have not had so thorough a permeation of Jesus’ love ethic. You can think of areas rife with militant Islam where a strict interpretation and application of sharia law is seen as more honorable than an ethic of love. We all know where that has led and is leading. Or you can think of where a belief in karma can lead. If you are brought into life as an untouchable, born into a sorry state of affairs, you must deserve it. That’s karma. Jesus teaches grace. Jesus loves us regardless of merit and went to the cross for us. Though Christians can get it wrong, one cannot deny that Christianity has lifted up an ethic of grace and love in some societies in a way that other religions have not in others.

Still, we may be wondering if a person who rejects Jesus as Lord and Savior is on the right track by living a life of love. Actually, yes, they are on the right track. But they have not got on the train. We cannot love enough to go the distance and bring ourselves into the presence of God. We can devote ourselves to a life of love all we want, but when we refuse God’s love for us, we refuse God’s offer to carry us for the distance. We would rather walk, though the destination is far. Too far.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is powerful evidence that we are on the right track. But being on the right track is not enough. This destination requires getting on the train.

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 1 John 3:18-23 NRSV emphasis mine


If the graphic looks familiar, yes it is an Amy Grant album cover, a supposedly rare cover without her name on the front (that we can see).

February 25, 2013

If I Have Not Love…

Peter Enns is a highly respected academic, who currently teaches at Eastern College.  This is the first time we’ve re-blogged him here, this one because we were intrigued with the title The Most Frightening Verse in the Bible (at least for me).  As always, C201 readers are encouraged to read and leave comments at the source blog.

I can still recall a conversation I had many years ago while I was still on the faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary. A recent graduate came back to visit the campus and felt strongly that he needed to let me know, in no uncertain terms, how I had failed him in his preparation for gospel ministry.

He was a pastor now, for several months, and was called by God to “contend for the gospel,” which is sort of code for pursuing debate with fellow pastors, elders, and congregants to make sure the appropriate level of precise theological orthodoxy was being maintained.

My own teaching style and theology were not oriented toward training polemicists. I was more interested in exploring the Bible with my students and encouraging them to let the Lord surprise them through a careful and alert reading of the text–wherever that would lead.

You can see where this was going. My style was the very problem for this student, who took the time to seek me out and let me know. He became quite belligerent–even a tad condescending. I asked him to consider whether the Bible might have a thing or two to say about whether contending and debating without ceasing was the best way to spend one’s life in service to God’s people.

“What about love?” I asked.

“Love!?” he answered, “That’s what the liberals told Machen” [J. Gresham Machen founded Westminster Seminary in 1929 in opposition to liberal influence, and he was quite contentious in doing so, which has served as a model of ministry for many in that tradition.]

That brief exchange has come to mind a lot over the years. To live in a near constant state of theological vigilance, ready to strike down a brother or sister for (perceived) theological failings seemed not only a colossal waste of the one life God has given us, but at odds with what the Bible makes a big deal of.

Which brings me to my most frightening verse –actually two–1 John 4:7-8:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

This verse frightens me because when I think of that student it does not take long before I realize that I am looking at myself. I am prone to fall into the same patterns of this young, deeply troubled, student I last saw a dozen or so years ago. Hey, I’m a type A, German, analytical, intellectual guy. Bow before me as I conquer the universe.

This verse is followed by another in v. 12 that drives the point home even further:

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

I am tempted to insert “but” after the semi-colon, even though there isn’t one in the Greek. Still, I think the same point holds either way: The closest we ever get to seeing God is when we love one another, for that is when God lives in us.

I know the Bible sometimes makes absolute-sounding statements when something less threatening would do. I’m just not sure if this is one of those places. This actually sounds pretty foundational, especially since it’s hardly a minor theme in the New Testament.

Here’s what’s frightening:

  • What if this is one of those verses we are supposed to take literally?
  • And what happens if we do not love one another? Then what?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Christians should never disagree or exchange sharp words when needed. But… 1 John, and that conversation years ago, keep hanging around in the back of my head.

What if all that love business is as true and serious as it seems to be?

Peter Enns

January 24, 2013

With One Desire We Come: That You Would Reign in Us

I am continually fascinated by the concept of scripture as a multi faceted jewel which reveals, refracts and reflects with each slight turn. The geometric properties of a large diamond mean that each face is interconnected directly to several others, which in turn are attached to others. So we find as we read God’s word that many passages are connected to other passages, and that many others, even on their own, offer depths and riches of meaning and application.

But there is also the aspect that many verses are links in a chain, offering part of a whole larger imparting of God’s ways and God’s instructions on a variety of subjects. To fully grasp the mind of God — to see what is called the whole counsel of God — we need to dig deeper.

For example, what is the mark of our work and witness in the world? The first answer we would expect is love.

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  ~John 13:35 NKJV

But we all know people who, because they are created in God’s image, are very loving people, do good works, are benevolent and charitable; but they have never acknowledged Christ’s deity or given him lordship over their lives.

So we go deeper. The mark of the true Christian is the fruit of the spirit.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!~Gal 5: 22,23 (NLT)

But in addition to growing in love (and joy and peace, etc.) we are to grow in the knowledge of God.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. ~II Peter 3:18 (ESV)

But clearly there is more, as we see in Paul’s prayer — and expectations — for the Colossian church:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.  ~Col 1: 9-12 (NIV)

(We looked at this passage here.)

But clearly there is another dimension to there being evidence of Christ’s lordship over our lives — our possessions, our thought-lives, our decision making, our priorities and yes, our anxieties) and this is the idea of Christ’s rule and reign in our lives as we work toward becoming more conformed to his image.

I have no specific verse for this because there are so many. Someone once told me that the word Saviour appears 37 times in the KJV, and the word Lord appears over 7,000 times. That Jesus Christ is Lord is among the great themes of the Bible. The sovereignty of God, his ‘King-ship’ and Lordship over all creation is mirrored in the expectation that he will have rule and reign in our individual lives.

But if you want a specific reference, you do no better than the book of Romans which talks about whereas once sin ruled over us, the believer is now ruled by Christ.

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— ~Rom. 6:6 (NIV)

I’ve led this progression of thoughts in this direction for two reasons. One, as you can see below is to introduce the song, Reign in Us by the band Starfield. This song has really been on my mind all week since encountering it again in a weekend service. More importantly, the other reason is that I believe that Christ leading us and captivating all that we think and do is going to impact the world in ways we can’t imagine.

Yes, the world will know we are Christians by our love, but they will also know it because we have submitted all to Christ. I’m not there yet — I have a long way to go — but as I write this, I make this my desire.

For those of you without high speed internet, the video is a static image; this is primarily an audio file that will load in seconds.

 

You thought of us before the world began to breathe
You knew our names before we came to be
You saw the very day we fall away from you
And how desperately we need to be redeemed

Lord Jesus
Come lead us
We’re desperate for your touch

Oh great and mighty one
With one desire we come
That you would reign that you would reign in us
We’re offering up our lives
A living sacrifice
That you would reign that you would reign in us

Spirit of the living God fall fresh again
Come search our hearts and purify our lives
We need your perfect love we need your discipline
We’re lost unless you guide us with your light

Lord Jesus
Come lead us
We’re desperate for your touch

Oh great and mighty one …

We cry out for your life to revive us cry out
For your love to define us cry out
For your mercy to keep us
Blameless until you return

Oh great and mighty one

So reign please reign in us
Come purify our hearts
We need your touch
Come cleanse us like a flood
And set us out
So the world may know you reign you reign in us

writers: Tim Neufeld, Jon Neufeld, Ben Glover