I recently read a book about Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent who betrayed his oath and sold top secret info to Russia. The author researched and described the in-depth, many years long process FBI agents went through to identify and catch Hanssen.
Does reading that book make me a spy-catcher now? No. In the same way, as we learned in the previous post, we Christians need to put fruitful actions to what we believe. Just reading the Bible is not enough. Just believing information is not enough.
Our lives, to show that our faith is genuine, will be lives lived in alignment with the way of Jesus. That is the difference between faith and faithfulness. True disciples of Jesus have a faith that is faithful. Faith that is faithful is belief that shows it is real by a life of loving Jesus, following Jesus, sacrificially doing what he did. In other words, if we have faith that is faithful, we will change and grow, as any healthy relationship does.
And that leads us right into the final verses in this section of John 3: verses 19-21.
In these verses, John once again demonstrates his love of the light and dark theme. Skim back to chapter 1, verses 4-9, and there John taught us that Jesus is the light of the world who entered our darkness. Now in chapter 3, John mentions light and dark again.
There has always been darkness in the world. I often hear that our day and age is filled with more darkness than an other time in history, but the reality is that people across the centuries have been saying that about the times they lived in too. Just think about these dark eras: the Civil War, World War 1 and 2; three eras which each included major social injustices in our land. Is our time worse than those? I don’t think so. More importantly, I find it futile to speculate about whether our era is more dark than those. Instead, let’s face the fact: there is darkness in the world.
John’s point is that there is hope because light entered the darkness! And what is the focus of darkness? Lack of faith? No. Darkness is equated to the prevalence of evil deeds.
Notice that faith and belief are not mentioned in verses 19-21. But deeds are. In fact, after emphasizing belief in verses 15-18, now John contrasts evil deeds versus living by the truth. If you live a life of evil deeds, John says, you are in darkness. If you live by the truth, though, you live in the light. How you live is the issue. How you live shows what you believe.
In fact, John says in verse 21, how you live shows that God is at work in the world. This is one of the many reasons why divorcing faith from faithfulness, which is to say, thinking that all God cares about is a Christianity of believing in the mind, intellectual assent, is so dangerous and has done great damage to the cause of Christ. If we tell people, just believe in your mind, but we do not disciple them to life transformation, people cannot see God at work. Instead we need to follow the famous passage from Micah 6:8, “Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God.” There’s a lot of action in that!
This is why we do not just preach John 3:16, as if we can pull one verse out of context, and that one verse can do all the work of sharing the Good News for us. John 3:16 is not enough. It’s good. It’s needed. But John 3:16 is part of a wider discussion that spans John 3:3-21. Let’s review that discussion.
To be born again, Jesus taught, is not just thinking thoughts in your mind, and saying “I believe.” This passage makes it very clear that being born again involves thinking thoughts in your mind that lead us to live lives of faithfulness to the heart and way of Jesus. When we have faith that is faithful, there will be growth in our discipleship to Jesus.
If our daily habits, actions and interactions with Jesus are the same today as they were, say, 5 or 10 years ago, it is time to work on making your discipleship to Jesus more healthy, more vibrant. All relationships change and grow, for better or for worse. Clearly we want our relationship with Jesus to grow in a good way, in maturity. That means we will be more engaged with him, learning what his heart is for, and how we can live more and more like him in our community.
Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash