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Gospel Reading: John 13:31-35
Scripture Text: 1 Corinthians 13
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On June 13, 2003, I was ordained as an elder in the United Methodist Church.
A lot had to happen in order to get that far, but one of the tougher ones was the series of theological questions I had to give written answers for.
One of the questions: “What are the marks of the Christian life?”
How will you know if someone else is an authentic, real Christian and not just faking it?
How will someone else know if YOU are an authentic, real Christian and not just faking it?
Scripture speaks of a multitude of “marks” signifying the authentic Christian life.
James 1:27… keeping oneself ‘unpolluted’ is one mark of the Christian life that I see throughout Scripture… the idea of holiness.
“Do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance,” Peter explains in I Peter 1:14-16, and then calls us all to “be holy.”
For me, holiness boils down to Christians making personal choices about their personal behaviors based on the choices God would make as described in the Scriptural record.
One mark of a Christian when they obey the principles of the Bible. I John 5:3 reads: “This is love for God: to obey his commands.” Jesus said “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).
We also read that in Matthew 7:22 where Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord.’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven.”
As a United Methodist, I believe other marks of the Christian life include meeting together in worship (Hebrews 10:25), active participation in worship by singing, praying, listening, giving, and such (I Cor. 14:26-27), baptism (Matt. 28:19), sharing Holy Communion (I Cor. 11:17-33), hearing the “instruction of the apostles” (Acts 2:42), studying the Scriptures (II Tim. 2:15), discipleship (Matt. 28:19), and being witnesses of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8).
But let’s take it a step further, shall we?
Paul spoke of the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5: 22-23) that would be natural by-products of a Christian life:
- gentleness, and
Ultimately though, I think it boils down to what Jesus says in John 13:35, when he clarifies that love is the determining mark of who is or isn’t Christian… “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Years later, his disciples would reiterate that delineating mark of a Christian in passages like First John 4:7-8: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
And the love that marks a Christian life is evidenced by our willingness “to lay down our lives for our brothers…” including sharing our material possessions.
HOW DO WE DO THIS?
HOW DO WE KNOW IF WE HAVE THIS KIND OF LOVE THAT SHOWS THAT WE ARE TRULY CHRISTIANS?
John cautioned the church to “not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth” (I John 3:18).
James explained that this action- and truth-based form of love would be seen by believers caring for those in distress… even orphans and widows…. (James 1:27).
Peter encouraged the believers to “Live such good lives…” that “they may see your good deeds and glorify God…” (I Peter 2:12).
Jesus Himself spoke of the importance of action-based love when he explained that reward and punishment for those who claimed to be his followers would be based on what people had done “to the least of these” because that was the same as doing (or not doing) for him.
Therefore, If I am TRULY a Christian, then I “love my neighbor”(Matt. 19:19) in such a way that I reach out and help with what I have as much as possible to the hungry, thirsty, sick, imprisoned, orphaned, widowed, and needy… physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.
HOW DO I LOVE MY NEIGHBOR?
I Cor. 13:4-8 Love is…
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever.
Not that any of us does this perfectly, but we know it’s what we are to strive for.
O God, help us to love those you’ve put in our path… that we have the “mark” that shows others that we are YOUR disciples!