“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
If being a Christian doesn’t do something to fundamentally change us, why should we be so concerned about it? If giving one’s life to Christ does not make a difference in us, why should it make a difference to us? Why evangelize and preach hope to a lost world if, after they have believed our message, their life continues essentially as it went before. In short, what difference does it make whether or not I’m a Christian? What is the difference?
To some, becoming a Christian is like making a resolution to be a good person. This, of course, may mean a thousand and one different things, depending on your definition of good, which seems to be up for grabs in our modern society. To others it’s really more of a cultural designation. We sometimes hear the term “Christian America,” and certainly there are plenty who would be considered cultural Christians, meaning that they assent to the fundamental precepts of the Faith, but fail to allow their convictions and behavior to be informed by its truth.
Actually, some may be surprised to discover that the word “Christian” is hardly used in the scriptures at all; maybe three times or so. However, the world “disciple” is used over two-hundred and sixty times. Jesus did not call us to go and make “Christians” as such. He called us to make disciples (see Matthew 28:18-20). A disciple is a learner. More particularly, a disciple is one who adheres to what he learns. A good term for this would be “Christ follower.” Still, what does it really mean to be an imitator or follower of Christ? We don’t have to wonder. The scriptures clearly tell us the essence of who Christ is and what we are to be and do in order to follow Him.
The Bible says that God is love (see 1 John 4:8, 16). Jesus, who came to reveal the Father, was love personified (see John 1:18 & Hebrews 1:3). He was the living, breathing expression of God in the earth. That is essentially what He has called us to be and to do; to be the walking expression of the love of God, both to our fellow man, and particularly to our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s not that God wants us to love one another in the Church at the expense of loving the lost world, but He wants us to demonstrate a loving family, in fact, HIS loving family; caring, giving, and preferring one another’s interests over our own. Sound difficult? It’s not. It’s impossible! That is, it’s impossible apart from Him!
The reason we can’t love like God loves is because man is a sinful being. “Sin” is not just something we do when we blow it, it’s the principle nature, the “inner operating system,” we run on as beings alienated from God through a fallen nature. We inherited this from our first father, Adam. “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned” (Romans 5:12 NLT). As our representative before God, when our father, Adam, sinned, we sinned since we were all “in him,” so to speak. We call this original sin, and it’s every bit the bummer it sounds! It means that we have a fallen, sin nature, alienating us from God, His life, and His nature.
“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44 NLT)
When Jesus said those words, He was not talking to a bunch of “heathen” as we would think of them. These were very religious people who followed the law of Moses. They would be the equivalent of our Sunday “church-goers,” but as we all know, just going to church doesn’t make one a Christ follower any more than a mouse in the cookie jar makes it a cookie! Jesus wasn’t trying to be nasty or insult these people. He was simply diagnosing a very real condition they suffered from, which the Bible calls spiritual death. He revealed that the two primary characteristics of this fallen nature are murder and hatred of the truth. While we cannot go as far with this in a short article as I would like, we can certainly see that truth, as defined by the Bible, is under tremendous assault in our culture today. But for now, I want to focus on this issue of murder. What does it mean when the scripture says that the devil was “a murderer from the beginning?” The answer is in another of John’s writings.
“This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another. We must not be like Cain, WHO BELONGED TO THE EVIL ONE AND KILLED HIS BROTHER. And why did he kill him? Because Cain had been doing what was evil, and his brother had been doing what was righteous. So don’t be surprised, dear brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.” (1 John 3:11-15 NLT).
The fallen nature is exemplified in Cain, who murdered his brother to protect and promote his own interests. The sin nature always champions self and self-interest, even at the expense of others. The extreme expression of that is murder. Tragically we see this all to often in our society today when even family members are taking one another’s lives in high profile murder cases to advance their own interests. While many might not take it that far, we can certain see how selfishness is the rule of the day as people seek to promote themselves at the expense of their fellow man. Just one generation from the Garden where man fell, brother was killing brother, and as we see today, not much has changed.
However, Christ came as the “last Adam” (see 1 Corinthians 15:45) to represent us before God on the cross where He died to pay our debt and reconcile us back to God. The complete antithesis to the sin nature, Christ put our interests before His own, even to the point of laying down His life for us (See Romans 5:8). The Bible teaches us that when we put our faith in Him, this name nature is imparted to our spirit through the work of regeneration (Romans 5:5 & Titus 3:5). Now, we can express and demonstrate this same love that Christ showed to us. “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us…” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
This is the difference. There are a lot of things that might be negotiable about how we practice our faith: our choice of worship music, the order, style, or length of our services, etc. These kinds of things may differ from one church to the next, but the ONE THING that Jesus said would distinguish us from the world would be our love for one another. If we get this wrong, nothing else we do matters. If we get this wrong, our light goes out, and the world is left without a clear witness of the life transforming power of God in Christ. Now more than ever, it’s time to make the main thing the main thing, and let our light so shine that others might see Christ in us.