“That then is a point, that all unbelief is rebellion against God, since there is no obedience unless it begins by faith.”- John Calvin, Final Advent of Our Lord Jesus Christ, from Sermons on the Deity of Christ, 294.
“And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”- 1 John 3:23.
This has been written upon in this blog before, but John in his letter gets at the concept of basic faith in a slightly different way. It is a temptation to approach the Christian life post conversion as a life of simple discipline, rigor, and rules. We have been saved! Now on to the daily grind and fight of trying to obey. Surely there is simple discipline required of believers. Certainly the Christian life is one of intense rigor and devotion. And most assuredly we must follow Christ in the commandments He has laid out for us. But why? Perhaps we haven’t done a fantastic job in explaining the reasons why the Christian life is one of discipline, rigor, and rules. This won’t be that fantastic job, just an attempt to shed light. One of the main reasons why the Christian life is extremely difficult is that unbelief still finds a home inside the believer. I still don’t believe, at times, in what i have come to know is true. This is where John comes in strong. He gives us a singular command which includes a vertical as well as horizontal aspect. The vertical aspect of this command is given first, and let’s not miss the fact that it is given first! True initial restoration and salvation for an individual begins by addressing the problem we have with God. It isn’t by trying to fix our actions towards others, forcing ourselves to try and love them and care for them, that salvation and even sanctification begin. No. To begin anywhere is to begin vertically, then to move to the horizontal. And what is my chief duty vertically, towards God? It is simply to believe, to trust, and to cast myself on Him as my only hope for restoration, forgiveness, and grace, for I have not believed. I have looked for my hope, my comfort, my very life in things other than Jesus. I have set up for myself glass after glass of saltwater, desperately drinking from them, truly believing that i will be nourished and sustained, all the while becoming thirstier and thirstier. This is utter rebellion, to look for life anywhere else but in Jesus, for Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life,” (John 14:6). This break in the vertical has implications in the horizontal. Because i don’t believe God and His promises, i distort and destroy His creation. In my natural state, I see people as a tool to be used for my benefit, because i believe they can fill me, they can sustain me, they can give me identity and not God. I also see myself as God, because i believe that in doing things my way and not God’s i will be most happy. Here’s where i can make a fatal mistake. “Well,” i say, “If my problem shows itself in how i treat people, maybe i should just try to love them!” No! The truth is, until i see Jesus as the source of all life, all good, all purpose, all identity, all salvation, i will not be able to love others. But once i cast myself on the Solid Rock, i can begin to love others, for now i have not only the Spirit within me as a gift to work godliness and true love towards others, but i have a motivation to love them, because the Son of God has loved me. Surely we must begin DAILY, for each day is a beginning again. Each moment, even, is a beginning again, preaching to myself the truth of Christ, casting myself on Him, for i “find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging way against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members,” (Romans 7:21-23). But let us not forget the horizontal aspect. Christians are commanded to love others. The faith i have in Christ must be translated, must work itself out, into love towards my neighbors and towards my enemies. These two aspects are to work together, in conjunction. We cannot say, “Well, i will work on my faith today and work on love towards others tomorrow.” No. Faith in God necessitates love towards others immediately. There is no separating the two aspects from the singular command. These two aspects are themselves inflexible, housed inside the inflexible, singular shell of the commandment.
Both of these dimensions in this command of God must be fought for, daily. They are hard to arrive at, they are hard to do, and they are hard to sustain. Faith in Christ is not easy; it requires belief and trust in the impossible and improbable. But that is the message of the Gospel. The impossible has been made possible through the blood of Jesus, and the improbable has come to pass because of the faithfulness of our God. God’s people have been forgiven of their sins though they were enemies of God (Romans 5:8, Ephesians 2), they have been adopted, they have been unified to Christ by the Spirit, they have been given life. They have been saved. But let us heed the words of Calvin, today. Unless we begin by faith in who God is for us in Jesus, then no horizontal aspect towards others can be sustained or will be truly acceptable to God. And we must begin daily by the moment. At the end of the day, God is faithful, and He will bring to pass what He started. For He has worked faith and love in us, He is working faith and love in us, and He will work faith and love in us. For in putting our faith in Christ, God is magnified and glorified as the Author and Perfecter of true salvation, and in loving others, He is magnified and glorified again as the giver of Love, the model of Love, and Love itself. The fact that God is all about His glory is good news for us, because He will work in us in such a way that we will glorify Him. He is, in fact, most glorified in this singular command.