Today’s Focus Text: 1 John 5:1-6
By Chuck Griffin
This scripture meditation may sound a little old-fashioned.
Lately, a lot of clergy are more prone to talk about new ideas—clever ways to connect with the lost, or new trends in communication, which is all good stuff, of course. We have to remember, however, that the core truth about Jesus Christ doesn’t change. The author of 1 John brings us back to that core.
First, there is belief, specifically believing that Jesus is the Christ, God’s chosen redeemer for the world. In particular, we are to believe Christ’s death on the cross defeated sin, and that the resurrection is both proof of that fact and a promise regarding what is to come.
People come to believe in various ways. It is important for the converted to remember the unconverted may come to Christ in ways we don’t expect. I’m reminded of the story of the man who went to a hotel room to commit suicide, but instead opened a Gideon Bible and met Jesus in its pages.
Another favorite conversion story is of a man sitting in a Chicago church as a worship service opened with a full processional down the center aisle. As the crucifer—for those of you unfamiliar with more formal worship, that’s the person carrying the cross at the top of a long pole—went by, the man said he looked up, saw the cross and believed. No sermon, no prayer, he said. He just knew. Sounds strange to me, but it worked for him.
What is important, of course, is that we come to believe, and then live into our belief.
Belief allows us to be incorporated into a new family, 1 John also tells us. Again, it’s a little old-fashioned sounding, but we are “brothers and sisters.” The family metaphor doesn’t work for everyone. If Momma ran off when you were a baby and Daddy was a drunk, the word “family” probably sounds terrible. We’re supposed to think of the ideal version of family, however.
The author of 1 John goes on. In a healthy family, we abide by certain standards; for Christians, it is the commandments, the Ten Commandments and the other guidance God gives us in Scripture regarding right and wrong. In summing up the law, Jesus kept matters simple. Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbors as yourselves. Right remains right, and wrong remains wrong, but love controls how we deal with sin when it is before us.
I thought about how love fits into the conversion equation when I drove by some placard-waving Christians at an intersection. The signs covered a range of issues. One asked God to bless Israel; another said homosexuality is still a sin, while a third noted, “Drunkards shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Sitting at a red light watching them, I was struck by an odd dichotomy. Scripturally they were correct, but from a kingdom-building perspective, being right doesn’t always mean you are helping. They mostly appeared to be an example of like attracting like and repelling those who needed a deeper relationship with Christ. Right (or perhaps simple self-righteousness) was present, but I did not see love offered.
I do like the way we as traditional Methodists handle some of the more difficult issues requiring both law and grace. Human sexuality, for example—we call sin a sin, and we recognize that defiantly unrepentant sinners shouldn’t be leaders. At the same time, however, we acknowledge that in God’s eyes, all people are worthy of grace and need access to that grace through Christian community and worship. It’s a more complicated position than many Christians try to live out, but it’s easy enough to understand, if we try.
Once we get all these core concepts right, there is much to celebrate. As 1 John tells us, there is victory; we win! We conquer the world, ripping it from the grasp of evil and restoring it to its rightful owner. That in itself should be enough to draw people to Christ.
Yes, these ideas are old-fashioned, but in them there is good news, the kind of news that can transform anyone forever.
Lord, keep us grounded in the faith that has sustained the church and changed the world for centuries. Amen.