As we approach the Passover season, it’s traditionally a time of reflection and self-examination. It’s good to have moments like that where we consider what God has to say about our lives, the areas where we need to repent, and different ways we can continue to grow and change.
At my Messianic congregation, they’ve shared that certain rabbis teach that if you are still in the same place you were a year ago you have backslid. We can’t maintain a sort of “status quo” in our walk of faith. Either we’re moving toward God or we’re moving away. There’s no place for complacency in a Christian life.
God expects growth. That doesn’t mean we need to be constantly on-edge and second guessing if we’re “good enough,” though. He doesn’t expect us to already be perfect, but He does expect us to keep going that direction. Such growth involves becoming more like God in every aspect of our lives. The more we grow, the more His character, desires, priorities, etc. are reflected in our own lives.
In Touch With The Great Commandments
What are the most important things to focus on as we try to grow as Christians and learn more about God? You’ll hear various answers. Some say preach the gospel, citing the great commission as our primary goal. Others devote themselves to good works. Some study prophecy. I like to point to the passage where Jesus identified the greatest commandments.
Jesus answered, “The greatest is, ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. The second is like this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31, WEB)
We can all tell how important these commands are from the way Jesus describes them. But I think we too often see them just as a starting place when they should be a continuing focus. We should never stop learning how to love God and our neighbors.
In Jesus’ letter to the Ephesian church, He said, “I have this against you, that you left your first love” (Rev. 2:4, WEB). We’re not told exactly what that first love is, but since the first commandment is to love the Lord your God I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say the Ephesians’ problem was related to losing touch with the greatest commandments.
Walking In Light, As God Does
So how are you and I doing in our quests to love God and our neighbors more perfectly? Are we getting closer to our first love, or leaving it as the Ephesians did? One of John’s epistles gives us a guide for answering these questions. Reading through his first letter, John tells us what God is like, what we should be like, and how to tell if we’re on-track as Christians. He sets the stage for this discussion by saying,
that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and don’t tell the truth. (1 John 1:5-6, WEB)
That’s the general principle for knowing whether or not you have a relationship with God. If you’re becoming more like Him, then you have fellowship with Him. But if you’re not following His ways, then you’re not His friend.
this is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commandments. One who says, “I know him,” and doesn’t keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth isn’t in him. But whoever keeps his word, God’s love has most certainly been perfected in him. This is how we know that we are in him: he who says he remains in him ought himself also to walk just like he walked. (1 John 2:3-6, WEB)
A variation on the question, “How much have I grown in a year?” would be to ask, “How much more am I now like Christ than I was a year ago?” We have plenty of information in the Bible about how Jesus lived while He walked on this earth, as well as revelations regarding the character of God and the conduct He expects from His people. And while this can get very specific, it all boils down to those two great commandments about love.
How To Tell If You’re Close To God
What John’s epistle shows us is that we can tell how close we are to God by how much we love Him. And the ways for us to tell how much we love Him are 1) if we’re keeping His commandments, and 2) if we love the people around us.
In this the children of God are revealed, and the children of the devil. Whoever doesn’t do righteousness is not of God, neither is he who doesn’t love his brother. (1 John 3:10, WEB)
Jesus said, “If you love me keep my commandments” (John 14:15, see also 14:21, 23; 15:10, 14). It’s just something we do if we really love God — not because we’re trying to earn His love but because that’s what someone who loves God does. A God-lover becomes more and more like Him and internalizes His way of life. And that’s the same reason why we love our brethren — because we’re becoming like the God who was willing to die for His brethren.
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. He who doesn’t love his brother remains in death. … By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:14, 16, WEB)
Look At How You Love
This knowledge presents us with a hard truth. If you claim to love God but ignore Biblical instruction on how to live and/or hate your neighbors and fellow Christians, then you’re lying about having a relationship with God (1 John 2:4; 4:20). And if you find yourself in that state it’s your responsibility to acknowledge your sin and make some changes.
We’re told that the children of God shouldn’t sin. But sin is something that we’ve all been guilty of, and when we do fall short of God’s perfect standard “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” who died to cleanse us from sin (1 John 2:1; 1:7). He gives us the opportunity to stop walking in darkness, ask for and receive forgiveness, and start walking in the light.
John didn’t write about what it means to be an authentic Christian in order to make us feel condemned or “not good enough.” He says, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13, WEB). The most reliable way to tell how much we’re growing is to look at how we love. And being able to take see and measure how well we’re doing in our quest to follow Christ is going to help us grow towards eternal life.