Last week, we talked about our personal pictures of God and Jesus. We talked about how and why they might be different and how they might be the same. We also discussed why Scripture seems to encourage us to see Jesus as the exact representation of God which, I pray, helps us develop a better visual of God as we seek to grow deeper spiritually this Lenten season.
Today, I would like you to think about the descriptive word “Christian”. What comes to your mind, first, when you think of that word? This is probably a heavy and loaded question. But, should it be? Of course, there are so many words that might come to mind when you think of that word. Maybe the first words you think of involve political leanings or restrictive behaviors or worship patterns, etc. But, what is the true definition of “Christian”? The Greek word literally means “little christ” or “follower of Christ”. Nothing else. A Christian is one who is a “little christ” i.e. one who follows Christ. Being a Christian doesn’t describe one’s political party or one’s views on social justice or one’s views on moral issues. Being a Christian might influence those views, but those views don’t make one Christian. Following Jesus makes one Christian.
The next logical question then is, “What does following Jesus look like?” The Apostle John answers that questions, a lot, in his short epistle we’re studying for Lent.
“Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” 1 John 2:4-6 (ESV)
“Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” 1 John 2:9-11 (ESV)
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3:16-18 (ESV)
“And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” 1 John 3:23
Okay, so, if we say that we are Christian, i.e., a follower of Jesus’ which means we know Jesus, then we are to keep his commandments. So, what are his commandments? John answers that in 3:23. This is a summary of what Jesus calls the Greatest Commandment or the commandment that encapsulates all of His commandments and teachings.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV)
Therefore, if one says they are a Christian, John and Jesus tell us that means we follow Jesus’ commandments and those commandments are summarized by loving God and loving others.
John says explicitly in 1 John 2 that those who say they are “in the light” (John, in his Gospel, explains to us that the “light” is Jesus.) but hate, aren’t actually in the light but in darkness. So, if you say you are Christian but don’t love your brother (or sister or neighbor), than you aren’t actually following Jesus which we’ve already determined is what defines a Christian. A Christian is one who follows Jesus- someone who lives in the light and loves. Darkness and hate, does not a Christian make.
That leads us to my final question, “What does Christian love look like?” John tells us in 3:16-18. True love doesn’t love in “word or talk but in deed and in truth”. Love that doesn’t act, isn’t Christian love. Love that is only word and talk, is empty love. Christian love is active and truthful. He tells us that Jesus laid down His life for us and we, as His followers, are commanded to lay down our lives for others. That is Christian love.
“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 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. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” 1 John 4:8-12 (ESV, emphasis mine)
All of this has come full circle. God is love. Jesus is the exact representation of God which means Jesus is also love. So, in turn, as Christians, followers of Christ, we are also to be love. Loving God/Jesus and loving others. Our love. That is the first word that should come to mind when people think of the word Christian. Nothing else.
“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” 1 John 4:19-21 (ESV)