THAT WE MIGHT LIVE
In this the love of God was manifested toward us,
that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world
that we might live through Him.
1 John 4:9
It’s morning on the moon, and you’re liking it less and less.
When the crackling voice on the radio woke you up, you somehow expected to see a tide of golden sunlight pouring onto carpets of green grass. Instinctively, you listened for birds, for water rushing over rocks, for saws or cars or kids. Immersed in a childhood memory, you even thought you caught the scent of bacon, cold cantaloupe, hotcakes, and maple syrup.
But now, as you look out the window of your module, you see no movement at all. As you listen for sounds and voices, there is only silence. As your mind imagines colors, your eyes find only black and white. A little flurry of panic hits you as you realize the stark truth: This place is dead.
Almost frantically, you search for Earth. Ah yes, there she is–the blue seas, the swirling clouds, the shapely continents of land. Family and friends. Hopes and dreams. Life.
It will be good be home.
The Fight of His Life
The plight of our imaginary astronaut reveals something intriguing about “life”: we are so completely enveloped in it that we can barely see it! We live it, we enjoy it, we daily seek more of it. But it’s not until we take a trip to Death Valley, or Antarctica, or maybe even the moon, that we begin to think about “life,” and to realize how strange and amazing and precious it really is.
As in the natural, so in the spiritual: It is usually a brush with death that makes us appreciate the true richness of eternal life.
We see this clearly in John’s first epistle. Writing to the churches in Asia, the apostle went toe to toe with a heresy called Gnosticism, a heresy that denied the deity of Christ, licensed immorality, and encouraged a loveless pride based on mystical “revelations” from above.
Many of John’s close friends had been taken in. Error, fear, and temptation to sin had arisen in their midst. Death was stalking the camp of the saints. So he wrote—passionately—to confront the heretics and to call the faithful back to the true gift of God: eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
But what exactly is this “life” that God gives his people; this life that moved God to send us his very Son; this life that demons and heretics and sinful flesh hate and oppose; this life that the apostle rose boldly to protect and defend; that roused him from Jesus’ breast and turned him, once again, into a Son of Thunder?
Life in the Holy Family
Like physical life, it’s hard to define. But—leaning hard on Scripture—we can perhaps say that eternal life is essentially the character and quality of existence that God experiences in himself.
Very importantly, it is trinitarian life–for the Bible reveals that the one God exists as a “holy family” comprised of three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
It is relational life, marked by contemplation, communication, service, sharing, pleasure, and mutual love.
It is purposeful life, full of planning, creativity, division of labor, energy, work, rest, and the satisfaction of accomplishment.
And it is overflowing life, charged with freedom, joy, and unbounded enthusiasm.
This life is the pattern and fountainhead of life everywhere. But for all it’s glory and grandeur, the trickle of physical and spiritual life that we see in nature and society is only the faintest intimation of the torrent of life that lives in the triune God.
Here then, in a word, is the glory of our most holy faith: life. And here is the sacred deposit which we must protect and defend from every heretical counterfeit, including religion, philosophy, and mere ethics.
The Deadly Counterfeits
Christianity is not a religion, if by “religion” we mean a set of techniques or ritual requirements by which men think to reach God, appease him, or win his favor. Such religions—and they are legion—breed only fear, toil, and frustration. They are the very antithesis of the free gift of life that God invites us to receive–in all simplicity and gratitude–by receiving Christ as our savior and friend.
Nor is Christianity essentially a philosophy. True, the Bible provides ample material from which to contruct, not simply a worldview, but the one true worldview–the holy grail of all philosophy. But to what end does God give so great a wisdom? That we might have life–and that we might have it more abundantly.
Nor is Christianity essentially an ethical system. Yes, God is a holy sovereign over his universe; and yes, he has therefore laid down his Law. But holiness and lawkeeping are not ends in themselves. Rather, God’s laws are like a corral, fencing us in and keeping us on safe turf. But the real purpose of the corral–the one nearest and dearest to God’s heart–is that we might be free to graze and run and kick up our heels–with him! In short, that we might live.
Coming Home to Stay
Have you ever been to the moon, spiritually speaking? The Christians in Asia had. And to Death Valley and Antarctica as well. They had been deceived. They had lost touch with the living One who came to give them life. John wrote to awaken them to the death all around them, and to get them back home.
In these difficult last days, when the moonscape of our present evil world abounds with so many deadly counterfeits, let’s listen to what the apostle has to say.
Let’s remember that God sent his Son, so that through him we might live.
Let’s come home, and let’s stay home–ever rejoicing in his LIFE!