Friday, August 25, 2006

By this all men will know....

One topic which has come up on here a bit (and understandably so) is how people know, or come to know, that Jesus is God. And yes, there are plenty of intellectual arguments we could go down, and I've been down some of them on here and pointed people to others.

But what is striking in the Bible is that by and large, they aren't what persuades people. Yes, there's evidence that some of them were used (Acts 9:22, 18:28). It's not what persuades most people in real life either, because at the end of the day, I don't think we're very good at debating stuff that really matters in an abstract way. We want to see it affect us and affect other people.

Here's some of what Jesus said:

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
John 13:35, NIV

May they [Christians] be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you [God the Father] sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
John 17:23, NIV

In other words, the key evidence for the world that Jesus came from the Father, the key evidence that God loves people, the key evidence that "Christians" are following Jesus is that we (Christians) love one another.

That's not love in a sexual sense or in a "I love New York" sense. It's love in the sense of laying oneself down for another.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
1 John 4:10-11, NIV

Now I find this immensely challenging. So Christians, are you living in such a way that you are pointing people to Jesus? I think sometimes some of us get too complacent or too busy contending to be loving properly. Non-Christians, if you want evidence that Jesus is who he said he is, then look at the lives of Christians and at their attitude to other people.

[Yes, I accept there's an element of self-authentication - that Christians are those who love and that love in Christians is evidence for Jesus. But the point is that Jesus says there are Christians who love in a way that non-Christians, in general, do not. That's not because we're better than other people, it is because we have known God's love, which in't deserved and which transforms us.]


Anonymous said...

Reminds me of that instruction of St Francis of Assisi: "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words"

John said...

Which is of course important and true.

The danger with many people who quote that, in my experience, is the danger of not using words at all.

1 Peter is very good on this - lots on living in a loving way, then the assumption in 1 Peter 3:15 that this will cause people to ask us for the reason for the hope that we have, and that we need to be ready for it.

Anonymous said...

The philosophy of loving others is hardly unique to Christianity. Anyone can practice it, Christian or not.

My own experience with Christians (in the US) is that they are some of the meanest, most narrow-minded and (when challenged) most UNloving people I know. If you're part of their sect, then it's all love and champagne bubbles. If not, watch your back.

John said...

The extent of the love expected is somewhat unique - love to the extent of laying down oneself for one's enemies...

And yes, I largely agree about the situation in the US. There seem to be far fewer Christians there than statistics suggest. As it used to be in the UK.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the stats are not overstated. The Xians are thick on the ground here. In fact, where I live I think it is about 95% Christian. Haven't you seen our own Ann Coulter's new book "Godless"? The worst thing that can be said of anyone, according to many here. I'd say the US is more Christian than it has ever been in my nearly 50 years. And the Christians tend to be at the forefront of our military actions, BTW. Witness our fearless leader. Perhaps the difficulty here is that they tend to believe in the old testament version of god.

I agree laying down for one's enemies probably goes further than other philosophies. But is that necessarily good advice or a good way to live one's life? How many enemies do you actually have IRL? If you do have one (which seems unlikely given that you seem like a fairly rational and kind person), it is probably for a perfectly valid reason. So why should you lay down your life for some nasty bugger who hates you?

Oh well, that's just a rhetorical question...I don't really expect an answer.

Anonymous said...

Re: living in a loving way...too bad Xians can't just take it at that and forget about all the other mythical fantastical bits of the Gospels. Just be kind to others. Wouldn't that make for a nice world?

Anonymous said...

Oops, 1st sentence should be "I don't think the stats are overstated."

John said...

I agree that there are lots of people who call themsevles Christians in the US. Lots and lots and lots of them. But if I call myself a Pakistani (for example), it doesn't make me one.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:8

And if people are being put off Christianity by people who call themselves Christians yet fail to love, then God will hold those "Christians" accountable.

John said...

Let's save the discussion about "mythical fantastical" bits of the Bible for another time, shall we?

I have a feeling I'm going to have to do a mini series on science and stuff...

Steven Carr said...

I am always inspired by the words of love that the Son of God said in Revelation 2 - 'I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds'

This loving your enemies stuff can be taken too far by some Christians, but the words of Jesus act as a gentle reminder that we must not always forgive immoral people.

Steven Carr said...

'The extent of the love expected is somewhat unique - love to the extent of laying down oneself for one's enemies...'

I think you misread the Bible. Jesus laid down his life for his friends.

John 15:13 'Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.'

Steven Carr said...

Custard makes a good point 'It is the 99% of Christians who give the other 1% a bad name'.

John said...

Thanks for those thoughts Steven. Plenty of issues there...

On the John 15:13 issue, yes, Jesus is laying down his life for his friends. I was alluding to Romans 5:6-11

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

As you rightly point out, sin does make us enemies of God. But it is really really cool that Jesus is willing to die for sinners who are by rights his enemies, even calling them friends!

And yes, those who ultimately reject that will remain God's enemies and will suffer his judgement, and it won't be especially nice for them.

Anonymous said...

custardy said I agree that there are lots of people who call themsevles Christians in the US. Lots and lots and lots of them. But if I call myself a Pakistani (for example), it doesn't make me one.

This is the "no true Scotsman" fallacy. Sorry but these people are Christians. The fact that Christianity is open to a broad range of interpretations, which generally involve being mean to people who are "outsiders" is evidence of its basically flawed nature. Of course you will argue that it is man's flawed nature. Round and round we go...There are hundreds if not thousands of Christian sects. What are the chances YOUR version is the one that will get you into heaven?

John said...

Yes, it probably does come across as the no true Scotsman fallacy.

Perhaps I'd better stick merely to asserting the following:

* Jesus said that anyone who followed him would love other people
* Jesus said the key way of telling whether people followed him was by their love for other people who followed him
* the Bible says that people who don't love other Christians aren't followers of Jesus and don't know Jesus' love.

Anonymous said...

And then of course Jesus also said "Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's enemies will be those of his household." (Matthew 10:34-36)

BTW, the reason that Jesus has such a split personality (now loving; now vindictive and judgmental), as you may know, is because the writers of the 4 gospels (actually mostly Mark since the later Gospels were based on that story) were taking two separate philosophical traditions - one which was based in the Jewish messianic tradition and the OT stories, and one which was based on a more Cynic greek tradition - and combining them to make up new stories, pseudo-biographical background stories to fill in the blanks in Paul's new religion.

John said...

That idea perfectly explains the thematic unity of each individual gospels, the way that the early church agreed that they were written by people who were in a better position to know than Paul was and the fact that the people who wrote them were willing to die to defend their authenticity. It all makes perfect sense.

On the other hand, I find it very interesting how that is the fulfilment of major themes in the Old Testament. God's people as loving but as being hated. God as creating a division between those who follow him and those who do not that is far greater than ethnic or whatever divisions. God making one new people for himself so that the difference between me and my non-Christian sister is greater than the difference between me and a stone-age kalahari bushman who I've never met but who is a Christian. God as loving and redeeming his people, offering people chances to be saved, but in the end pouring out judgement on those who reject his people.

Quite remarkable that all the fulfilment of Hebrew Scriptures should come though a pseudo-biographical account written by Jews to appeal to the Greek Cynics.