A lot of us try to make Christianity something that it is not. It’s an easy thing to do. We make Christianity an apathetic list of rules and morality: Try not to cuss. Attend church every Sunday. Don’t have sex before marriage. Obey your parents. Be nice to people. Read your Bible every once in awhile. Pray before you go to bed.
But following Jesus is saying “yes” to so much more than that. When we are awakened to the love that Jesus has for us and we are compelled to follow him, we get an entirely new identity that strips us of everything that doesn’t belong in Heaven.
What do I mean by that?
Have you ever tried to imagine Heaven? I’m sure we all have different ideas of what Heaven will be like, but many of us will say that we imagine a place that is perfect. Heaven is free of pain and tears and selfishness and hurt and bullying and hate and gossip and death and darkness and evil. Those things aren’t from God, they have no place with God, therefore, they do not belong in Heaven.
When we come into a relationship with Jesus, we are children of God. First John 3:1a says this joyfully and confidently: “See what kind of love the father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” This is an entirely new identity, freely given to us through the grace of God.
Marked By Love
Our identity as children of God is marked by one thing. This one thing dictates the way we act, speak, think, dress, the decisions we make, the relationships we engage in, the way we listen.
Children of God are marked by their love for others. It’s that simple. We cannot complicate this.
We are not marked by church attendance or involvement in youth group. We are not marked by the fact we are in the worship band. We are not marked by how much we stay away from the “bad kids” in school. We are not marked by our school uniforms we wear to our Christian schools. We are not even marked by how much we read our Bibles or post about Jesus on social media.
We are marked by our love for others.
This love sets us apart from non-Christians.
The world is striving to be known and loved and praised. Just take a look around your school or scroll through social media and you will see this clearly. People want to wear the right clothes. They want to fit in with the popular crowd. They want to be invited and included. They want to be at the center of the party having fun and making sure everyone who follows them on Snapchat sees how much fun they are having. They want a perfect relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend who loves them as they are.
And while you may find yourself in the “they” categories I mentioned above, I want to encourage you in your new identity.
Your real identity.
If you have accepted the gift of grace from Jesus, you are a child of God and you are called to look different. The world won’t understand it. The world may even hate you. The world may call you crazy or judgmental or ignorant or any other name under the sun. But the world doesn’t get to decide who you are. You are a child of God and children of God are marked by love.
Love in Action
If we are indeed marked by love, what does this love look like in action? John dives more into this as we see in 1 John 3:
“For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:11-15, ESV)
Now, it’s pretty easy for us to check “Don’t be a murderer” off of our list of trying to look more like love. John says, “Hey, don’t be like Cain who murdered his own brother.” And we can say, “Got it. Check. Not trying to do that.” But John makes a strong statement by making hate equal to murder when he says, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.”
What does love look like? Well, it sure doesn’t look like hating people because hating them is the same as murder. If you think John is being a bit dramatic, read Matthew 5:21-26 to see what Jesus says about the matter of hate. Hate is a serious offense in the eyes of Jesus and it sure doesn’t belong in Heaven.
So, we know that love obviously isn’t hate (even though many of us struggle with this in our hearts), but what is love?
Let’s let God’s word do the talking: “By this we know love, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth . . . Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 3:16-18, 4:11-12, ESV).
Seeing an Invisible God
Have you ever had someone tell you they can’t believe in God because they’ve never seen him? I don’t blame them. It’s difficult to believe in something you can’t see. But John makes the claim that, while no one has ever seen God, they will see God when they see followers of Jesus loving each other the same way Jesus loved us.
How did Jesus love us? He laid down his life for us.
Jesus went from King to Servant. He went from Heaven to Earth. He experienced weakness and pain. He was beaten and mocked. He was crucified.
All for love.
All for our salvation.
While you may not be called to be martyred for your faith, there are many other ways to lay down your lives for others. Look at your life, what do you have? How can you use it to love people?
Do you have a pool? Invite the people who never get invited to anything and have a pool party. Do you have a car? Offer to stuff your car with friends to take to church or Young Life.
Do you have money? Pay for lunch or coffee for someone who wouldn’t be able to pay for it. Do you have a love for writing? Write encouraging notes to people who need it around you.
Give up sleep to help a friend through a hard time. Give up your popularity to hang out with the “outcasts” or the younger kids at school.
Give up your free time to join a sport to share Jesus with your teammates. Give up your reputation to talk to people about what Jesus has done in your life.
Give up fitting in with the people around you who are gossiping to speak encouragement into those people. Give up the number one spot on your team to let someone else experience success.
Give up your summer to love kids at your church summer camp. Give up your Friday night with friends to spend time loving your younger siblings.
If you see someone in need —of love, friendship, encouragement, and especially, Jesus— and you turn away from them, does God’s love really abide in you?
When we live a life that freely gives to the people around us without hesitation, discrimination, or alternative motives, people see God. When we lay down our lives and let God use us how he wants to use us, people see God. When we stop just saying we are Christians and start actually putting Jesus’ words into action, people see God.
On Earth as it is in Heaven
A lot of our churches and families recite the Lord’s Prayer with monotony, but we should be careful of what we ask for. “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” is a dangerous prayer.
Bringing God’s Kingdom here on earth means we have to go through the painful process of giving up, killing, destroying, and purifying everything in us that doesn’t belong with in Heaven.
We are new. We are God’s children. We are marked by love. If we think we are going to be incredibly different in Heaven than we are here on Earth, we need to take a serious look at how we are living our lives now.
If we are marked by our love for God and for others, we will look more and more like our heavenly selves. We can throw off what isn’t of love — any words, attitudes, actions — that aren’t motivated by love for others and we can live a life that makes people say, “That’s what love looks like.”
Are you marked by love?