So you call yourself a Christian?? Show me!
We have identity cards to prove we are who we say we are. Everywhere we go, people are asking for proof of who we say we are. Our word is not longer enough.
The Apostle John was one of the last apostles to pass to heaven. He had lived with Jesus in person, he had spread the news of salvation through Jesus, and he had lived long enough in the newly-formed church to witness some hypocrisy. Out comes all manner of “ID cards” to prove we are “Christians.” Fraudulent forms of ID are everywhere…including in Christian circles.
We’ve been studying one of John’s letters…the first of three. And in I John 3:11-18, the Apostle lays things out very, very clearly.
“So, you call yourself a Christian, do you? You want all the blessings, the inheritance, the joys, the comfort, the good things of belonging to God? You want others to think well of you as a ‘Christian’? Well, let me tell you something. You are not a Christian just because you label yourself such. A self-applied label means nothing. Let me see your love for the brethren…let me see your active involvement in the needs of your fellow-believers…and then I will know you are a Christian.”
John is very blunt. “No sharing the needs of fellow believers…No true Christianity.”
Where do you think John got this message from? From the mouth of Jesus himself! “They (unbelievers, folks on the outside) will know that you are My disciples (“Christians”) if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
Simple, huh! Simple to understand….but everything in us rebels at the message. We don’t like lines in the sand. We don’t like litmus tests. We want to fudge just a little. We want to escape responsibility. But the love of God will not let us escape. Notice some clear things about this message from the Apostle.
1. The test is about love for the people of God. It is not about love for non-believers, or nature, or doctrine. We have a prior obligation to our Family, God’s family, our brothers & sisters in the faith.
2. Love for the brethren is *the* mark of a Christian…not an historical event (baptism, walking the aisle, lighting a candle, etc)… not wearing special jewelry (WWJD wrist band, cross necklace, etc)… not having an “I belong to Jesus” tattoo… not a denominational name (“I’m Baptist”) or church membership… not certain dress… not church longevity or activity. All of these marks are misleading; they readily give false-positives. But the mark of love for the brethren is a true mark.
3. The love is different from non-believer’s love. Godly love is not self-centered, it seeks other’s well-being, it has holy motives, it is supernaturally empowered, it is sacrificial. Unbelievers have love; there is no doubt about it. But it is limited by prejudice, ulterior motives, sacrifice, etc. God’s love, which is only in His people, knows no limitations…in expression, in duration, in sacrifice.
4. The model of a Christian’s love is Christ Himself. And what is that model? The Scriptures say clearly that He willingly laid down His life…it wasn’t taken from Him…He voluntarily gave it up. His beatings & killing was not against His will & His power. Rather, it was with His consent because of His love for us. He suffered harshly, but in His mind, He was filled with joy, knowing what His suffering would accomplish. His focus was not upon His suffering, but upon the benefit for us. Look at John 3:16 and Hebrews 12:2.
5. Christian love is impossible without Him living in us. Utterly impossible! When we experience His love, then we are changed by His love, and only then can we love our brethren as His loves them. “We can’t leave the message this morning & determine to love. Only those born of God can love like God! His seed in us makes us to love!” Pastor-teacher Joel put it plainly to us. It is because of this simple fact that love-of-brethren is the identifying mark of a true Christian. The Gospel is powerful! And that power is demonstrated in supernatural love for the brethren.
6. True Christians understand the moral obligation they have to love their brethren. They understand that this is not simply a good idea. They know it is not optional for them! But this obligation is an obligation that grows from desire. It’s not like our obligation to obey the traffic laws or risk getting a ticket. No, this obligation to love our brethren is born in our heart after we experience a change in our hearts when we experience God’s love for us. Joel explained it clearly: “God never expects me to do what He Himself will not empower me to do. The Apostle John is not expecting us to do what God will not empower us to do. The life of faith is trusting Him to empower obedience.”
7. We must *continually* exhibit sacrificial love. It is a lifestyle of recognizing need, feeling the need & then taking action on the need of our brothers & sisters. The unbeliever, who doesn’t know God, will recognize the need intellectually, but he will shut his heart to compassion. He says to himself “I can’t help that person; I need to save what I’ve got in case something happens to me. Rainy Days come to everyone & I need to save my stuff for a Rainy Day.” But Jesus says to His disciples today, “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things (food, clothes, money, shelter) will be given to you.” (Matthew 6:33) The attitude of “I’ve got to worry about my own first” is totally un-Christian. We are to worry about the needs of our fellow believers first. The needs of the whole world is not what Apostle John is talking about….he’s talking about the needs of those who are fellow Christians.
• It’s time to stop faking our identity as a Christian.
• It’s time to stop discussing love.
• It’s time to accept the truth of who we are individually.
When was the last time that you noticed a fellow believer needed their electric bill to be paid, or could use some gas money, or had a leaking roof, or needed dead trees in their yard removed, or had kids who needed school supplies. When was the last time you looked at a young couple and volunteered to keep the kids, and even paid for a restaurant meal so they could put body & soul together again? When was the last time you volunteered to take someone to a doctor’s appointment?
When was the last time you did this for someone who is not your blood family or immediate neighbor?
When was the last time that you did something that was truly sacrificial, inconvenient, costly to you for someone who could never do something for you?
Is such giving, such loving, such companionship & connectedness with fellow believers a lifestyle with you?
The Apostle John wrote “Let us…” He changed from “you” to “us.” We never outgrow the need to demonstrate love to our spiritual family. We all have ways that we can sacrifice for fellow believers! It is an on-going issue, even for mature Christians….even for Apostles.
We need to take what we have to meet the needs of our brothers & sisters in the Lord. By doing this, we are showing to everyone that we truly are Christians. To say we love them is not enough…we must actively involve ourselves in their need.
There are many non-believers who are doing good works. Mormons, Jehovah Witness folk, Muslims, Buddhists…many religious groups are going good things. But they are not motivated by the Gospel. The Apostle John says we must love “in Truth”, meaning the truth of the Gospel. Humanitarian work without the Gospel is of no eternal good; it is only a little stop-gap measure for temporary benefit.
“It is absolute disobedience to see the need of our brothers & sisters and to shut off our compassion.”
It is not enough to pray. We must move with compassion to meet the need. And we are shown to be the church of the Living God, the blood-purchased ones belonging to Jesus Christ, by our sacrificial giving in meeting the needs of our brothers & sisters. A lifestyle, an on-going attitude, a looking for opportunity is as natural as breathing for the true Christian. It is the automatic response of the person who has himself experienced the love of God. It is the true mark of a genuine Christian.