by Mike Ratliff
16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 1 John 3:16 (NASB)
What differentiates a genuine Christian from one whose religion is only skin-deep? Jesus said that He knows those who are His. He calls them His sheep who hear His voice and follow Him. (John 10:27) He also called them His disciples. He gave us the requirements for being His disciple in Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34 and Luke 9:23 where he said that if anyone desires to follow Him they must deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow Him. If we combine these two views then we learn that our Lord’s sheep, His disciples, are those who hear His voice, deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow Him. This is telling us that genuine Christians are those who humble themselves before their Lord, die to self, submit to Him as Lord, obey Him, and emulate Him as He leads.
Jesus never said that we must die for Him, but that we are to lay down our lives for Him. Which is easier? It’s much easier to die than it is to lay one’s life down daily with the sense of the high calling while living very ordinary lives. No matter how much we want to do some grand, magnificent work for our Lord, the reality is that we are called to walk in His light in very ordinary ways. Jesus is our example. His ministry was one long journey of Him emptying Himself of His glory to come into this demon-infested world to live a sinless life, and then lay that life down for His sheep. During His ministry there was only one glorious moment. That was on the Mount of Transfiguration. However, He then emptied Himself of His glory and returned to His mission to redeem those for whom He came to die.
12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. 17 This I command you, that you love one another. John 15:12-17 (NASB)
Our Lord gave us a commandment here. What is it? It is to love one another as Jesus loves us. What did Jesus do for us? He laid His life down for us. Therefore, we are to lay our lives down for each other for the motivation of that love. If we obey Him then Jesus says that we are His friends. Who then obeys Him and who does not? A servant obeys his or her master unquestionably, but our Lord says that we obey Him because He has revealed the truth to us. This truth, empowered by the Holy Spirit within us, gives us the ability to obey Him. Jesus chose His sheep; the sheep did not choose Him. This choice also included an appointment to go and bear eternal fruit. Notice also that all of this includes that His sheep love one another.
Loving one another is part of our laying our lives down for our Lord. How easy is it that we love the brethren? If we apply conditions to that love then it is not what our Lord is talking about. Not only does that end up with us in disobedience, it short-circuits God working through us in the body of Christ. This disobedience shows that we are being selfish and self-centered. No, this is not what we are called and commanded to do. If we are truly Jesus’ friends then we will deliberately and carefully lay our lives down for Him by obeying Him in all things. I promise you that doing this will nearly always mean that we humble ourselves before those whom we would never naturally treat that way.
Is this hard? Yes, it is very difficult because it is part of our sanctification. In contrast to our salvation, our sanctification is much more difficult because what is really happening is the reality of our salvation becoming manifest in us. This is bringing into reality that which is totally opposite from what is natural for us. Christlikeness is not something we can conjure up. We can’t go to college and learn it. We can’t simply decide to be so. No, this is God burning away that in us that is not of Him, replacing it all with that which is of Him. He does this as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12) We are called to remain loyal and obedient to our Lord while we remain in circumstances that may very well demand and entice us to be disloyal and disobedient. Therefore, we come regularly to the throne of grace in fear and trembling because the battle is fierce and within it, we are commanded to love the brethren and lay our lives down for our Master by loving them as He does even though that natural man still within us may very well resent it and demand that we refuse to do so.
Now, we must do all of this while also balancing standing in the gap and fighting the good fight. Not everyone is called to stand and not fall while taking on the false shepherds and those who would lead the brethren astray, but many of us are. I pray that you will pray for us that we will never lose sight of our Lord’s commandment to love the brethren by laying our lives down for them as we also fight the battles for the truth.
Soli Deo Gloria!