In our Forge Bible study, we have been talking about what it means to live unashamed lives for the gospel of Christ. The foundation of our study is Romans 1:16 where Paul says “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” My challenge for us has been to live in such a way as to bring notice and glory to God. Lately, I have been feeling as if I left out a crucial step in our pursuit of living unashamed lives. What I realized that I should have started with was the question that all of us need to answer, “Do I love Christ?” On the surface, it may seem like I'm asking a rhetorical question, as if I'm expecting everyone to answer, “Of course I love Christ!”, but I want you to wait before you answer. I want you to read what I have to say before you give a definitive answer.
First of all, before I ask if you love Christ, I must first ask if you have given your life to Christ. It may seem as if those two realities cannot be separated. If you've given your life to Christ, then you love Him, right? Well, it is possible to be a Christian and have fallen out of love with Christ. In fact, that was the problem with the church at Ephesus, one of the seven churches John to whom John was writing in Revelation 2 and 3. In that letter, John commends them for a lot of good things that they were doing (good works, testing false prophets, not bearing those who are evil), but his one problem with them was that they had lost their first love, namely Jesus. So yes, it is possible to have a relationship with Christ yet not love him. I'm going to address that in a moment, but I want to get back to my first question, have given your life to Jesus? What that means is, you have recognized that you are a sinner and the only hope for being forgiven of that sin, and the only hope for eternity in heaven and escape from hell, is to give your life to Jesus and live for him. Maybe that's where you are and maybe you need to take care of that first. If that is you, I would encourage you begin praying to God, reading Scripture, and find someone who can help you understand what it means to be a follower of Christ.
Now I would like to get back to the premise of this article, do you love Christ? The reason I felt that I had neglected this crucial step is because the study that we are going through in Romans about being unashamed, hinges on that question. You are not going to live an unashamed life if you do not love Jesus. You are not going to be bold in your faith, to stand up for what you believe, to tell other people about Jesus (at least not do them well) if you do not love Christ. In order to answer that question, we need to answer two more questions
Why should I love Christ?
That question can be answered with three statements. First of all, we should love Christ because of who He is. In John 1:1-5, we find the apostle John’s preamble to his gospel where he tries to inform us of who Jesus is. He begins by telling us that Jesus is God, He and the Father are one and they have existed from the very beginning. Then if we go over to Paul’s letter to the Colossians, in chapter 1 and verses 15-20 we read, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” We read that Christ is the firstborn of all creation. That doesn't mean that he was the first thing created, it means that he is above all things created and everything is under his rule and authority.
So simply because of who Christ is we should love him, but as if that weren't enough we have another reason, and that is because of what he did for us. In John 10:11-18, we read Jesus’ statement about being the Good Shepherd, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father." Jesus was talking about his death and he was telling his disciples that he was going to die for them, for all of his sheep. He was going to willfully lay down his life, not out of obligation to us or even to his Father, but out of love for His sheep.
The last reason we should love Christ is because he loved us first. In John in 15:13, Jesus tells his disciples, Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” and then later John wrote in one of his epistles (are you picking up on the fact that John wants us to know that Jesus loves us) in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” We don't even have the capacity to love Jesus until we believe in him and understand that he loved us first. So, we’ve tackled the “why,” let's move on to the second question.
How should we love Christ?
This is where the rubber meets the road, where our words become actions because if you say yes, then the following are going to be true. Again, we are going to find our answer by looking in the gospel of John, 14:15, “"If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” There is really no other test of our love. We can give answers of things we do for God because we love him, but all those things we do, are things we are commanded to do. We could just start with the basics and go to the big 10, the Ten Commandments. Go down the list and ask yourself, “Am I trying my best to keep those commandments.” I am not saying that if you break a command of God, that it means you do not love God. That is the beauty of grace because God knows we will fail. But we have to ask ourselves, are we really trying?
God has told us to have no other gods, but are there things that we value more than God? If you want to know if you value something more than God, just look at the time spent with God and the time spent with that other thing. Are there people in your life who have become idols, people who get more of your time than God does, or you cherish more than God? Speaking of people in your lives, what about your close friends or your boyfriend/girlfriend. We have been commanded to not be unequally yoked, and while that usually refers to marriage but it also refers to people you closely align yourselves with. Meaning, if your closest friends or your boyfriend/girlfriend are not followers of Christ then you are unequally yoked and you are disobeying God.
Are you spending time in devotion to God, reading your Bible, praying, worshipping? These are commands of God. There is no set amount of time or specific days other than the Sabbath, but are we making an effort to know more about Christ and learning to love him more?
Are you sharing your faith? If you love God, you can't help but tell people. We will feel compelled to, we won’t be able to contain it. That is why we call our monthly mission project, Overflow Oroville. Just like the dam was spilling over, so should our love for Christ spill over into the lives around us.
And do you love others? That kind of goes along with what I just mentioned about sharing your faith because if you love others, you will be sharing your faith. But what about your regular interactions with people? Are you known as a loving person? There was a hymn written in the ‘60s titled “They'll Know We are Christians by Our Love.” That means our love for Christ and our love for others
So let me conclude by asking the same question I asked at the beginning, the same question Jesus asked Peter at the end of John's gospel, Do you love Christ? In John 21, we have Jesus coming to Peter after his resurrection. This is of course after Peter denied even knowing Jesus. John tells us that after about a week or so after Jesus’ resurrection Peter decides to go fishing. This wasn't just a leisure activity, Peter was going back to his old life. He felt like a failure and decided to go back to what he knew best. Jesus appears to Peter and some of the others, performs a miracle and then sits down for a chat with Peter and we have the famous discussion where Jesus asks “Peter, do you love me?” The word he used was “agapao” which means the deepest love possible. Peter responds “yes, Lord, you know I love you” but he uses the word “phileo” which means a warm affection. Jesus asks again and Peter responds the same way. Jesus then asks and he takes it down to Peter’s level and asks “Peter, do you even truly have warm affections for me?” He was cutting to Peter’s heart and challenging him to make sure that he truly did love Him Jesus then told Peter to take care of his followers. You may not be called to be a pastor or even a teacher, but you are called to love Christ. Can you say that you do? Do your actions suggest that you do? Do how you spend your time and who you spend it with suggest that you do? Does your passion for knowing Jesus more suggest that you love him? If you do love Christ, you won't be able to get enough of him, you will be around other believers as much as you can, you will want to be in as many bible studies as you can, you will start to give up other things so you can spend more time with Him. So I will ask it one last time, “do you love Christ?”
Soli doe gloria,