Flights of Faith

Monday, January 07, 2008

Love as Obedience, Belief as Action

(QT, quiet time reflection, I sent to my church on 1 John over winter break as part of our QT swapping)

16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. John 1 3: 16-24

1 John is a sweeping reiteration involving the fact of Jesus’ death for our sins and His resurrection, the salvation into Christ that comes from that belief, and a reminder that the greatest commandment of loving God and loving our neighbors is expressed through obedience and an active display of love in Christ through emulation of His life. In addition to this, John draws portraits of people without a belief in Christ in order to expose false teachers.

I read this book during the last days of Fall semester, and I was completely struck by it. I’ve been thinking of it ever since because, to me, it provides the stuff of healing, urgency, and security for communities that seek to follow Christ.

Alice Lin quoted from 1 John in her QT looking at a verse describing God as love. John constantly refers to love and slightly redefines it in ways that are unified in his statement of loving God as knowing God, being known to one another in a relationship. Love is also very much presented as an action, it is something that we do. It is obedience. Love is stopping your brother or sister from sinning. Love seems to be something we can have but also something we step into.

In verse 16, John asks our knowledge of love always to be tethered to our knowledge of Jesus’ death on the cross for us. Saying that we should lay down our life for our brothers, John stretches what we know of Christ into what our love should look like: a reflection of Jesus’ love. These verses are incredibly meaningful to me because my faith became awakened and matured when I opened my eyes to the places my belief and love were not taking me. I was limiting my love to my comfort zone. As my interactions in life revealed more and more people crying out for help, for human recognition (value of being made in God’s image; a creation of God), for love, I started reacting to these cries from street corners, books, and newscasts. I had to love with the love I received from Christ. It was the only way to defeat what I saw as the sins of the world and the sins of my own inaction and personal brokenness. It was a love that needed to be active. Prayers, not fleeting thoughts. Walking with Christ, not paralysis from guilt. Striving to live a righteous life and being an active witness and advocate for those without justice, not taking comfort in a dormant life. As I delved into the bible anew, I was almost shocked at the words calling us into community with God through active lives of love expressed through willful serving, demands for justice, but most of all, through obedience, something that includes those things.

The dissonance was staggering at the time. The fact that I had been a Christian and known these things in moments, but was not really taught them was shocking to me. If verses like these ones in John sort of nullify the faith/acts divide, then why was that an ongoing battle almost politicized in churches and denominations. A belief in Christ demands love for Him through willful sacrifice and obedience. That belief will produce faith and fruits. I understand that people can lose sight of Christ if they act without Him and I also understand a belief in Christ can become corrupt if Jesus’ life is not followed “with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18). However, it seems like teachings should start there not necessarily from either side as has been common in my experience.

Knowing that the searing power of Love can incise any situation we find ourselves in, I often wonder how I am living and loving and question if it is pleasing to God. Using words from the simple praise song we might have sung as kids, I wonder how deep my love is willing to go? How wide am I willing to spread it? Christ's Love is, of course, infinite. As a reflection, though, ours should still be expansive and we certainly should not be engaged in the obvious destruction Victor made clear could happen with our words and destruction we know can happen with our actions. That's a bold love to emulate, and it can be overwhelming. The thing that is very comforting to me is the security found in John’s definition of the Holy Spirit. “We know[Christ is alive in us] by the Spirit he gave us.” We are not left alone with this enormous task to love God and to love others. We have a way of knowing through the presence of the Holy Spirit when we are aligned with God. We also have a knowledge that this Spirit is communal and can be found in groups of believers in fellowship under God.

This alignment, to me, is very important to discuss pre-retreat because I am pretty confident it is something that will be felt as we (hopefully) prioritize God before anything else. As Carol said earlier (and as someone who has been to UCW retreat, I can agree), retreats are like glimpses into heaven. But just as reading the Bible and then looking up can provide a jolt of reality, this can also be the situation at retreat when we feel part of the Body of Christ but also feel the same confusions we brought to retreat. I remember praying last time with many people who were questioning how to live for God in their “everyday” lives. This distinction always proves interesting to me because it sort of reveals the way we compartmentalize our lives when God seeks integrations of our talents, our passions, our past history and life experience, and our belief in Him.

Again, there is something unsettling about a popular notion of belief that has come to mean “safe” in an abused way that only really means inaction since living with God is true safety and security. For me, I see Jesus speaking against this inaction and lack of creative thinking in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) where he rewards those who multiply their talents and punishes the servant who squanders his talent. One of the amazing things about maturing as a Christian in college and as a youth, in general, is coming alive to Christ through the revelation, acceptance, and discovery of increased meaning of Jesus’ death for our sins as we are literally growing up and shaping our lives and potential career paths in a very real way.

As our hearts ands minds grow, we should actively see if they are awakening our Spirit and bringing about a renewed passion for Christ.

Here are some questions that a friend of mine was asked by her Campus Crusade for Christ chapter in order to get their membership actively thinking about this integration.

1.) What would I enjoy and desire doing in the future?

2.) What needs in the world and church grip me the most?

3.) What do I make a fist and pound the table about?

4.) What do I have vision for?

5.) What am I burdened about?

6.) Where am I going to make a difference?

7.) What are my gifts and strengths?

8.) What is my background and training, and how has God used it in the past?

I hope to ask myself these questions and pray about them before retreat to be ready for another undeserved glimpse of God’s Grace.

If anyone who reads this is not yet going to the United Church of Westville retreat but wants to attend (dates are January 18th-20th; Fri night to Sun morn), please comment and I’ll write back with more details.

PS Thanks Danielle for posting these questions on your blog. And I hope it's ok that I called you a friend. :)


Blogger Danielle said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:12 PM  
Blogger Danielle said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:46 PM  
Blogger Josh said...


Way too late getting back to you but here's hoping this response will mean something.

I think understanding the nature of American society is important. For many Americans, recognizing that they might be perceived differently because of the color of their skin is a means of survival. However, we must also depend on the foolishness of such perceptions as undeniably true. This is where, for us, the Truth can set us free of societal barriers and into a setting of human equality with a sovereign God.

I understand that navigating race does not necessarily become easier while relying on that truth. However, I think part of the process is speaking out your convictions that pave the way for the life you are leading. The white savior trope partly comes from unmitigated privilege and a lack of an equal playing field for everyone involved. If you manage to speak out your privilege and invite your readers/audience to join you in this fight for justice and equality at all levels, then I think you become an ally and we become a team.

There will be bumps, of course. However, I strongly believe in the power of vocal honestly dismantling many of the assumed power dynamics that might occur otherwise.

While a still camera might always capture you in the heroic pose of a white savior, you cannot believe that anymore than a camera might display me as a victim of urban poverty. These false snapshots are the fault of society and should not be paralysis-inducing stumbling blocks as we learn how to navigate this social minefield. In the end, our goal is actions delivered with love.

The truth of the matter is that this love is needed by anyone of any color so please don't feel discouraged simply because of the way you are defined. Instead, I think you should actively define yourself in ways that avoid the regular triplines of assumption, power, and privilege. Listening and promoting a space of equality are critical for this endeavor.

Lately, I've become a fan of open dialogues so commenting for now is great. If you ever want to e-mail me though, just let me know.

Re: my story + div school, I'll try to post about it sometime soon.

9:06 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home