Mark D. Roberts

Part 3 of series: What is the Christian Life?
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In my last post I introduced the New Testament letter we know as 1 John. Written by a pastor for his hurting flock, John begins his letter by talking about the life we have in Christ. Here, once again, are these opening verses:

The one who existed from the beginning is the one we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is Jesus Christ, the Word of life.  This one who is life from God was shown to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and announce to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was shown to us. We are telling you about what we ourselves have actually seen and heard, so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-4)

Let’s pay close attention to the life of which John writes.
The life John “declares” to his spiritual children is not something he has contrived in his imagination. It comes neither from cultural convention nor from philosophical speculation. Rather, “The one who is life from God was shown to us,” John writes. So we don’t miss the point, he repeats, “He was with the Father, and then he was shown to us” (1:2). This revelation occurred, not in some private, mystical experience, but in something tangible, something that was heard, seen, and touched (1:1). God acted observably and spoke intelligibly, with John as one of the witnesses. As a caring pastor, he wants his flock to know about and to experience the revealed life of God.
Christianity is based upon God’s revelation in history. Though God often whispers in our hearts when we are quiet enough to listen or moves our hearts when we make them available to him, our faith does not rest upon our subjective perceptions. It stands upon the rock of God’s self-revelation throughout the ages, a revelation that is recorded in Scripture.
We see God making himself known in every part of the Bible. In the Old Testament, for example, Abraham and Sarah didn’t conjure up a god to meet their needs; their culture supplied plenty of household gods already. Rather, the sovereign Lord freely disclosed himself to them, changing their lives forever in the process (Gen 12-25). The same was true for Moses. While he was out in the wilderness minding his own business (well, actually, minding his father-in-law’s sheep business), God appeared to him, divulging his essential nature and calling Moses to into his service. Through the Law and the prophets, through exceptional miracles and daily blessings, God revealed himself to his people. The New Testament continues the story of God’s self-revelation with a dramatic new development of the plot, as we’ll see just below. (Photo: Charleton Heston as Moses)
Divine revelation lags in popularity these days. In our postmodern world, we are encouraged to invent our own gods, not to be told by anyone else – God included – what God is like. We claim the right to fabricate a religion that meets our needs and conforms to our values. Take a little of Christian grace, a bit of Eastern meditation, a bunch of generic love, and – voilà! – you have your own personalized religion. The whole idea of revelation seems foreign, even offensive. I can’t tell you how many times, when talking with folks about some difficult aspect of God’s revealed character, I have heard them say, “Well, I’m just not comfortable with a God like that. My God isn’t that way.” They simply assume the right and the ability to determine what God is and isn’t like. If there really is a God who lives outside of our imaginations, that’s rather audacious, don’t you think?
Furthermore, if God has actually bothered to reveal himself through something other than our personal inclinations, it would be rather foolish to try to invent God. Don’t you think it would be better to pay attention to what God has revealed about himself, even if certain aspects of God’s nature make us uncomfortable? There are many things about the God of the Bible I don’t especially like, I must confess. For example, I am often perplexed by God’s willingness to use violence and suffering in the unfolding of his plans for redeeming the world. More personally, sometimes I would like God to be much more compliant to my will and less committed to his own sovereignty. (I know this sounds silly when written down, but it is how I feel at times.) But, when the cobwebs are swept away from my mind, I really do want to know God as he is, as has shown himself to be, and not to chop him down to level of my conceptualization and comfort. In the final analysis, I wouldn’t want to trust my life to the pint-sized God of my own creation. Though the idea of revelation insults my postmodern pride, it actually relieves me of an impossibly heavy burden – the need to invent God and get it right.
Returning to John’s letter, he states that God has revealed, not only his nature, but also “life” or “eternal life.” This is great news. God has shown us how to live in his way, how to experience his quality of life. If this is true, then our next question is obvious: What is this life? To this question I’ll turn in the next post in this series.

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