Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Following the Commands of God

Like a branding mark on cattle, there are certain marks that distinguish us as well. For Christians, they show our true identity and relationship to God—even when we have questions about our faith. Last time we saw the idea from Scripture that obeying God's commands marks us as genuine followers of His.

Each of us may at times have doubts about our faith. You may ask, Am I really a believer? Has God really saved me? In the book of 1 John, the Apostle wants to help provide assurance of the grace and hope available in Christ. So he describes what demonstrates the life of a real believer: the mark of faith, the mark of obedience, and the mark of love. These things will mark you for who you really are in Christ. We previously looked at the mark of faith.

When it comes to the mark of obedience, what does this look like? How can we recognize the distinctions between those who are true followers of Jesus and those who are not? John characterizes at least three distinctions.

Walking in the light, or Walking in darkness

Now this is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him. If we say, "We have fellowship with Him," yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth. But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1.5-7, HCSB)

If you are a true follower of Christ, you not only recognize that you are a sinner, you also admit it, and you choose to start living ("walking") and practicing the truth. The Apostle Paul uses that same picture. "Walking" in Scripture often simply signifies how you live, what you practice. So John tells us to walk in light, and God is the light we need.

My wife and I are in the practice of doing whatever it takes not to wake our children once they're asleep at night. Most parents can relate. One night recently, in order not to bother the kids, I tried to get to the bathroom without turning on the light. As if I haven't lived in this house for over a year and a half, I ran into a wall. Felt pretty stupid. It hurt. Among other things, John is saying here that to avoid an eternal hurt, we must start walking in the light, the truth.

It seems so many bad crimes that we hear about on the news have happened in the middle of the night. Believers in Christ should walk like they're in the daylight, not the darkness of night. That should be the standard pattern of our lives. Why? Because God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.

Love for God, or Love for the world

Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything that belongs to the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one's lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God's will remains forever. (1 John 2.15-17, HCSB)

The Bible here describes that the things of the world, in a general, secular sense, are not from God. So many of us, if we're honest, would say that we love God and we love the world. But God says that we cannot do both.

Early in the story of redemption, in the book of Genesis, we see a parallel in how Eve responds to the serpent's temptation. She determines that the fruit tree would produce great food ("lust of the flesh"), that it would be beautiful to keep gazing at ("lust of the eyes"), and that eating from it might even make her wise like God ("the pride of life"). Clearly these temptations have been around for a long time. So ask yourself, Who do I love? The Bible says you cannot love both God and the world.

Children of God, or Children of the Devil

If you know that He is righteous, you know this as well: Everyone who does what is right has been born of Him. Look at how great a love the Father has given us that we should be called God's children. And we are! (1 John 2.29—3.1, HCSB)

Little children, let no one deceive you! The one who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous. The one who commits sin is of the Devil, for the Devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose: to destroy the Devil's works. Everyone who has been born of God does not sin, because His seed remains in him; he is not able to sin, because he has been born of God. This is how God's children—and the Devil's children—are made evident. (1 John 3.7-10, HCSB)

Think of the extremes of these illustrations. One of the sweetest pictures I can think of to show us who we are in Christ is the description that we have been brought into God's family, and we are His children. At the same time, one of the most extreme and appalling pictures I can think of is that, if we are not in Christ, we are children of the Devil.

Sometimes we Christians tend to think of nonbelievers—those not in Christ—as the ones who are flagrant, obvious sinners. But nonbelievers can also be those who are self-righteous religious folks, trusting in their own accomplishments and supposed righteousness. The problem is that even on our best day, if attempted in our own strength, we can never be good enough. We can't make the standard of real righteousness.

But One has. And His name is Jesus. And everyone who trusts in Him will be saved by His perfect life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection.

So am I really a believer in Jesus? John essentially says we can ask it this way: Am I walking in the light? Am I loving God? Am I living as His child?

Whether we obey God, or at least desire to obey Him, will mark us for who we really are.