In Ephesians 1:15-16, Paul tells the recipients of the letter that he gives thanks for them, in part because of their “love for all of God’s people.” (The original language reads literally, “love for all of the saints.”) You might be tempted to read this phrase quickly and move on. But if you stop for a moment and think about it, you might wonder about loving all of God’s people. All? Really?
Biblical faith is not simply giving assent to theological claims. Rather, biblical faith is going a step further. It is not simply believing that Jesus is Savior and Lord. Rather, it is also putting your trust in Jesus to be your Savior and your Lord. When you read the word “faith” in the New Testament, you should think of it in terms of trust that includes but goes beyond belief.
The Bible uses “faith” in a different way. Though faith does go beyond what reason can prove, it is solidly based on experience and thoughtfulness. Faith is not wishful thinking. Even less is it believing something in spite of strong evidence to the contrary. Christians have faith in God because of what God has revealed about himself in history, in Scripture, among his people, and most of all in Jesus Christ.
I don’t believe there is only one, simple “in a nutshell” summary of the Christian life since it can be rightly seen from a number of perspectives. But, if we want to summarize our life in Christ, we might take the lead from Paul in Ephesians 1:15. Here, he mentions two core qualities in the lives of the Christians who are reading his letter: faith and love. If you had to put the Christian life in a nutshell, you couldn’t do much better than this: faith and love.
If we seek to glorify God in our own strength, we will inevitably fail. Yet God has supplied us with his own strength through the Spirit. Thus, with divine help, we can live for God’s glory. Moreover, the Spirit helps us not only to glorify God but also to share in his glory… With the Spirit’s help, we glorify God, not only in our actions, not only in our thoughts, not only in our feelings, but even in our very existence.
The Christian Gospel offers a stirring hope: Someday, God will reign fully over every square inch of heaven and earth, uniting all things in Christ, making all things right, so that we might flourish in the peace God intends for us and so that creation might be all that God intended it to be. We will be fully united with God and with his people, and he will wipe away every tear, replacing our sorrow with joy… Through the Spirit, we begin to experience the life of the future today.
Psalm 99 begins by proclaiming that “The LORD reigns” (99:1). God is sovereign, not only over Israel, but over all nations (99:2). Therefore all nations should tremble and praise God’s “great and awesome name” (99:3). Verse 4 adds to this picture of the sovereign God who is worthy of our praise: “The King is mighty, he loves justice.” Though God is strong and can do whatever he wishes, he is not a king who oppresses or takes advantage of his subjects. Rather, he “loves justice.”
Jesus of Nazareth really did live, die, and rise again. Through his life, death, and resurrection, God’s grace is truly offered to us. We can be truly forgiven, truly renewed, truly restored to relationship with God, and truly called into God’s work in the world. As Christians, we are to share the truth of the Gospel with others. Yes, this means using our words. But words are not enough, especially in today’s world.
The Gospel is not just a moving story. It is also a true story. Jesus really was God Incarnate. Jesus really did die for us. Jesus really was raised from the dead, demonstrating God’s victory over sin and death. For the Christian, these are not just beautiful themes or powerful symbols. They are accurate statements that form the core of the Gospel. They not only move us, but they also demonstrate to us the love and grace of God.
Years ago, when I was serving as the College Director of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, I got into a fascinating conversation with several of my students. They were sharing with me that living for God seemed to be, in reality, very boring. And boredom was just about the worst thing these collegians could imagine. I tried to make the case that living for God was actually exciting, but I was getting nowhere fast… Is existing for the praise of God’s glory boring? Is it really a big drag?