I’ve often wondered how we should live our lives so that it declares the gospel. It’s too easy to fall into a check-box legalism that ends with all the joy sucked out of life as the burdens of rule-keeping eventually weigh you down.
Too often churches have encouraged their followers to a lifestyle that says ‘we are under the law’ and not ‘saved by grace’. The problem is if you asked people to describe a lifestyle that declares grace and not law, you often end up in a mix of actions that lean more on political or moral convictions than on the teachings of Jesus.
Yet I believe Jesus expected the life of his followers to be seen by others and He expected the watching world to notice the quality of their lives, marking them out as His followers. The kind of life that God had always hoped his people would live – lives that tell the Gospel.
A careful reading of the New Testament however reveals the ways in which Jesus and the apostles thought our life in Christ would continually be telling the gospel. The way we live would always create opportunities to tell people of what God has done for us. Our lives should show the grace of God to the world.
In John 13:35 Jesus says;
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Love is the calling card of the followers of Jesus. The question is simple; how can you tell if someone follows Jesus? By the love they show to other followers of Jesus.
The answer however has proved depressingly difficult for Christians over the centuries to grasp. Love can be quite vague, sounding great but not meaning much. That and the fact we all think we are more loving than we are actually are.
It isn’t hard to see in the New Testament plenty of examples of what love should look like. One way to discover what the apostles taught about how Christians are to love is to look for a phrase that demonstrates an expected standard of behaviour between Christians. This is quite easy, because they all used a very common phrase – ‘one another’. There were, as you’d expect in any kind of group, certain things you were not to do towards one another and there were certain things you should do for one another.
There are so many examples of how they use this phrase that it gives us a very clear picture of what it looks like to ‘love for one another’. As I started looking for examples of “one another” I began to notice that often the command was accompanied by an explanation.
Take John 13:34 for example:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
Command: Love one another
Reason: Because I have loved you.
Our love for one another is directly linked to our understanding, appreciation and response to the love we have received from Christ. This love extends even to those that persecute us and are our enemies and it is only this kind of love that separates the follower of Jesus from everyone else, as Jesus pointed out ‘even tax collectors love those who love them’ (Mark 5:46).
Here are six more ways our lives can tell the gospel:
BE AT PEACE WITH ONE ANOTHER
“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7)
This is more than being polite, it is making sure that the person you greet knows they welcomed as they are into your life. I tell the story of the lived experiences of immigrants here in Sweden. The majority of Swedes are polite, courteous and friendly in public yet I’ve heard numbers of stories that tell of people who have lived here for 15 years or more and have never been invited into a Swedish family’s home. Tolerated but not welcome.
The welcome here has the sense of open-hearted, generous hospitality. Mi casa es su casa. Which, is of course precisely how God has treated you. Clothed in rags, empty-handed, hungry and homeless, the Father welcomed you in, clothed, fed and housed you all because you came home with His Son.
SERVE ONE ANOTHER
“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
In Galatians 6:2 Paul urges the church to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” What was that law again? Oh yeah, love one another.
Jesus was the Father’s humble servant, taking your burden and carrying it to the cross because this burden was too heavy for you. Now, we cannot do what Jesus did but through confession and forgiveness, through humble service of another we demonstrate love.
BE KIND & CARING TO EACH OTHER
“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph 4:32)
I know the motivation here points to forgiveness (see the next point) but I don’t think it is too hard to make a case for how through the gospel Jesus has been kind and caring to you.
Lost, bruised and left for dead on your own spiritual road to Jericho, Jesus has found you and paid the price for your restoration. Our gratefulness and gratitude to Christ for His ongoing kindness and care motivates us to show the same kind of care for others.
FORGIVE ONE ANOTHER
“bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Col 3:13)
This one is admittedly costly, forgiveness can be a genuine battle and struggle yet we forgive others their trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, right? God’s forgiveness is the direct reason, motivation and strength for you to forgive others.
ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24)
God actively builds up His people, pouring out love into their hearts – when we consider the God’s grace to us and what He says about us can definitely shift your sense of self-esteem. It’s incredible how encouraging the ‘God of encouragement’ (Rom 15:5) actually is.
Our attitude to our brothers and sisters then is one of seeking to strengthen, build up, encourage and stir love and goodness in them. Drawing it out of them like a smile out of a grumpy child.
DISCIPLE EACH OTHER
“I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14)
I imagine that a number of readers would be instinctively nervous about this last one. I’ve heard enough stories where instruction or admonishment (Col 3:16) has been enthusiastically but not lovingly given. I can think of a few occasions where I have failed in this myself.
Yet I have put this last because a) it is there in the Bible and we can’t ignore it and b) because in order for it to be done well it depends on the others that precede it. I receive instruction (or am, at least, much more likely to) when I am loved, welcomed, served, cared for, encouraged & forgiven and when the one who speaks to me does so with humility, as a servant and as one who is seeking to build me up.
We all know about knowledge that is ‘puffed up’ (1 Cor 8:1) and which ‘destroys’ (1 Cor 8:11) and that without love is worth nothing (1 Cor 13:2) but knowing Christ and knowing God, His character and His ways is a knowledge we are called to excel in (2 Cor 8:7). It is this knowledge, above all other forms that means the foolish in this world can shame the wise.
Yet how is this related to the gospel – because as Christ has made himself known to us, taught us and showed us the greater way of love and it is this way that we teach others in.