A New Way To Follow
“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
Jesus lays out a new commandment. This is how the followers of Jesus are to live in the in-between time, between “the already” and the “not yet.” The apostle John wrote in his epistle, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12). The invisible God’s visibility is revealed today in and through the body of believers marked by the love of Christ. John defined the meaning of this love. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10). Once again we see the inseparable relationship between the divine atonement and the praxis of discipleship.
In the prologue to his gospel, John defined the unique and humble visibility of the revelation of God: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18). Salvation history is fulfilled in the one who “being in very nature God. . . made himself nothing” (Philippians 2:6-7). The invisible visibility of the hidden God made known in Jesus offers the most profound rationale for today’s discipleship. From the beginning and throughout salvation history everything was carefully orchestrated by God to prepare for the stark simplicity of Jesus laid in a manger and nailed to the cross. This is the unadorned sacrifice that saves us from our sin and redeems us for the very presence of God. In the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, God remained true to the principle and pattern of the unadorned altar (Exodus 20:22-26). The concrete reality of his presence, “full of grace and truth,” revealed a glory unlike the world had ever seen. For his humble glory revealed his love.
What is new in this new commandment is that love is based on and empowered by the atoning sacrifice of Christ. People have always loved one another. There is love between husbands and wives, parents and children. There is love between friends. In carnal affection, even adulterers and adulteresses love one another and criminals can be said to love one another. But this new commandment calls us to love the way Christ loves. This love is not based on common-sense self-interest but on costly grace and the principle of the cross (“my life for yours”). New commandment love is consistent with the new covenant and the great commission. This heart-scripted love communicates to the world that we belong to the Lord Jesus. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love another.” New commandment love makes concrete and real Jesus’ agenda laid out in the Sermon on the Mount. The “false literal,” a stand-in for the real presence of Christ, is not allowed to substitute for the real demonstration of Christ’s love.
Peter’s reaction to all of this is typical of our own. Like Peter, we insist on our own version of heroic spirituality. We have in mind how we are going to make a name for ourselves in Christian service. Peter boldly claimed, “I will lay down my life for you.” His boast is reminiscent of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, when the devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” Satan said, “throw yourself down from here” (Luke 4:9). We are tempted to do something spectacular to prove ourselves, to rise above the average, ordinary Christian and distinguish ourselves in some special way.
In the moment, Peter has his own visions of grandeur. His dream of self-sacrifice eclipsed the reality of Christ’s sacrifice. The subtle danger of spiritual narcissism is unnerving because it is so easy to spot in others and so terribly difficult to see in ourselves. We are prone to false dreams of courage and conviction that vanish when we awaken to the harsh realities of costly discipleship. We nurture the need for approval and commendation in a self-preoccupied culture, all the while Christ is calling us to humble foot-washing. We look up to a spiritual CEO of a huge religious mall, dubiously called a church, but Christ calls us to serve a household of faith in diligence and humility. We want a bold, audacious project that demands heroic sacrifice, yet Christ calls us to care for an invalid parent or teach a fifth grade Sunday school class.
Upper Room Reflection
How is the invisible God made visible today?
What is the difference between being self-conscious and being self-aware?
What makes the “new commandment” new?
What has made the Christian life easier or harder than you expected?