Thursday, July 28, 2011

Reality of faith, reality of love

1 John 4:20 (ESV)
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.

The pastor invited his new neighbor to church. The neighbor responded quite negatively: “Sorry, pastor, but I think the church is full of hypocrites.”  The pastor replied, “There’s always room for one more!”

Sometimes people outside the fellowship think church is just a game, where we pretend to talk to God and pretend he talks to us through the Bible.  Or perhaps they think we’re honest and well-meaning, but we’re out of touch with reality.  Reality, to such skeptics, is limited to what we can know through our senses and human reason.  To their minds, religion is just superstitious leftovers from the pre-scientific age.

Such skeptics might be surprised to learn that the Apostle John was equally concerned for reality.  He wanted nothing to do with pretense, hypocrisy, or “religious” evasions of reality and truth.  John’s concern for faith was not separated from his concern for what is real.  His letter begins by invoking the evidence of human senses in the experience of the apostles:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—
(1 John 1:1-2, English Standard Version)

Christianity is not “out of touch”!  Real Christian faith is profoundly in touch with reality—everyday reality and the deepest foundation of all reality: God himself.  John reports his personal experience of hearing, seeing, and touching with his hands the very Author of life.  John does not believe in fairy tales; he believes in the reality experienced in knowing Jesus, the life-giving Word of God who became a human and lived among us (John 1:14).

The foundation of Christianity is the reality of Jesus, who he is and what he does to give us eternal life.  Likewise the fruit of faith is located in reality.  First John exhorts us to be real as believers in Jesus.  Real faith shows itself by confession of the truth about Jesus, but also by obedience to God’s directions, and by genuine love for other people. The test of love is perhaps the greatest challenge John puts before us.  But because God’s love for us is real, he can make our love for others real—real enough to be examined even by the skeptics: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, ESV).

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