Faith Conquers the World
5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
Testimony concerning the Son of God
6 This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.
Over the course of the years many groups among the religious have made lists of who are Christian and who are not. It might surprise many about who are on which list. For example the author CS Lewis is considered by some as being a heretic because of his belief in purgatory and the possibility of evolution explaining aspects of creation, on this same list the reformer Martin Luther was considered a non-Christian because he raised questions about the numbers and figures in scripture. That is right the great reformer that took a stand for scripture over tradition questioned aspects of scripture and as a result some today question his very faith because of what? Honesty about doubts, differing philosophies about how God may have brought the world about or what the afterlife may be like? Great leaders today like Billy Graham are brought into question over differences of theology. Theology can only get us so far, because theology is the study of God and God is beyond our comprehension. So we must tread softly when we make claims in regard to God, we must always leave space for the possibility of a skewed human perspective.
These lists, denominations, and theological perspectives can all lead to division. Who is right, who is wrong? Which church is correct or which perspective is the most accurate? If we make a claim in any direction we risk demonizing an entire segment of the faithful and history. This is one of the reasons why Friends are very slow in making decisions and why they leave room within their theological statements, because when emotions are raised and arguments are made we can lose perspective and possibly follow our own wills instead of the will of God.
But how do we know God? How do we know which way to turn or what truth is? From the dawn of Christianity there have been different perspectives that have pulled on the faithful. Throughout the epistles we can read about various struggles that the early church faced. Every era of church history has faced something that threatens to pull the church apart or propel it into the next age. Today is no different. John wrote during one of those periods of history that faced these very things. There were people that proposed that the true faith was found only in following the ancient rites of the Jewish religion, others claimed that there was secret knowledge that could only be received by initiation and participation in secret ceremonies. We know the struggles because each epistle tells us about these struggles. John, the last apostle, writes to those that were faced with the end of an era. They have watched the apostles one by one pass to death, and as they witnessed this they began to question their faith. Things were not going exactly as they thought they would, and the ones that founded the church were no longer there to direct their steps. They lived through persecutions, they witnessed dehumanizing violence. They had also saw the miraculous, healings of diseases, people freed from bondages, and the feeding of thousands. Yet darkness always seemed to be gaining on them.
As darkness approached some began to rise up prophets calling people to walk one way or another, people began seek answers to direct their paths, yet they only saw a faint light. They cried out to God wondering if they had missed something, they began to listen to the words of man instead of waiting on the Spirit of God, and John their last apostle watched as a unified church began to divide and fragment. He watched as people of the church began to rely on their own wisdom instead of that of God. He watched and just as Jesus wept he too began to write through his tears because so many were seeking and lost yet were looking in the wrong direction.
Very quickly people began to question the faith, they deemed it in their own minds that they must do more at very least they should follow the Torah, and the fact that darkness was creeping into the world around them must mean that they must do more. John says to them, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” Yes that is what we said the prophets begin to argue, we must follow the law. But what are the commandments that John speaks of? They begin to consider the words that John the elder once spoke when he was younger. The words that he heard the Lord speak.
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. (John 15:9-17 NRSV)
Abide in the love of God. Abide is an interesting word, because it is one that is so difficult to do. It means to remain in, to tarry, to stay in, and to dwell. So John lovingly reminds them of the commands of Jesus to wait, and dwell in the love of God. This is the most difficult thing for mankind to do because we like action. To sit around and wait is so contrary to our nature. “We must do something…anything to keep the darkness at bay.” The prophets say to the people. Yet John tells them, “abide, just wait, remember the command of our Lord. Love one another. It is not burdensome. You do not have to add to it, just remain and love.”
Just wait…just love…just do what Jesus has commanded. Do not worry about the darkness closing in around us it is merely an illusion, as long as we abide we will overcome the world. John can say this because he has seen it. He has seen the power of God working all around him. He had witnessed God coming into the lives of Jew and Gentile and totally changing everything. He has seen cities totally devoted to the worship of idols become cities earnestly seeking the one true living God. He was most likely writing this letter in the city of Ephesus, a city that contained one of the largest temples in the world devoted to the roman god Diana, and the city that Jesus spoke to in his Revelation about their zeal for truth and right doctrine. John saw many things. He saw these things because he learned the holy rhythm of Christ. A lifestyle devoted to worship, prayer, and service to others. Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others.
When people participate in this holy lifestyle they begin to see change at first with one person, then multiplying as each person actively lives and participates. One by one as people turn to the lifestyle of Christ the trappings of the world begin to fall away, the darkness is overcome by the light and faith conquers the world. But is all begins with abiding in the love of God. Sitting in the love of Christ. Waiting for God and listening to His voice.
We do not have to have all the right answers, we do not have to have a theology that can answer every question of God. We do not have to save the world, because that is not our job. Jesus is the one that conquers the world. He is the one who came by water and blood, who was born and crucified for our salvation and who rose again to lift all mankind back into the glory of God. It is Jesus who does the work, we are only required to abide in him and love those he leads us to.
John encourages us to adopt the lifestyle the holy rhythm Jesus taught us to live for a reason. When we move away from this rhythm we begin to rely on our own strength and our own minds. We begin to think that we are the ones that are doing the work, that we are the ones that conquer the world. I said that Jesus said that Ephesus was seekers of truth and right doctrine, they were the strongest of the seven churches of Asia because they were earnest in their seeking of what was right, but Jesus spoke against them because they lost their first love. They pulled away from the holy rhythm and began to trust themselves and little by little they fell away from Christ and as they began to fall away darkness began to take hold of them again. So they began to seek more truth and right doctrine only to have more darkness close in, because they did not abide first, they did not abide in love.
What does this say about us today? We are living on the edge, many of us see darkness all around us. We see the world conquering the church instead of the church conquering the world. We feel as if we need take things into our own hands to speak out and force righteousness onto the people all around us. I ask one thing as we set off down this road, how long have we remained in the love of God today, yesterday, the day before, and how long will we abide in his love tomorrow? Have we adopted first a rhythm of life that reflects Christ a lifestyle that mimics Christ in all we do before we go out to conquer darkness? Have we been people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others? I ask because John says that that is the lifestyle that will conquer the world and bring light into the darkness. Abide in love first.
The writings of John are important to us as Friends. We derive our name from the words that he pinned at the closing of the era of Church history. Our original name The Religious Society of Friends means that our religion is a society based on becoming Friends with God. The only way for this to happen is for us to abide first and then live that love with others. We base our entire belief system on the idea that we can know where God leads us if we abide in His love, and then we can respond accordingly. Ephesus sought truth above all else, they sought righteousness and were great at exposing the false teachings of many, but they lacked one thing love. They left their first love behind as they moved forward into the world they were called to minister to. They walked into the darkness without carrying the light of Christ. Their eagerness to be right above all else caused them to live in infamy throughout church history because they forgot the main point. Love conquers the world.
As we enter into this time of open worship and communion as Friends, I encourage each of us to examine our lives and our lifestyles are we abiding in love or are we walking into the darkness without our first love? Are we focusing on being right in our own minds or are we allowing the Spirit to work through us? Are we making lists or are we encouraging all we meet to abide in the love of God where they are and walking with them as they begin to enter into the holy rhythm of Christ’s life? Do we as followers of Christ fear the darkness of the world or do we trust that Jesus Christ can overcome the world just as he overcame the grave? Do we truly believe and live in the power of the resurrection of Christ?