Love is one of those things that almost all people think they possess. Brotherly love is something that almost all believers would say they possess and practice as well as most Christians. We know God has loved the world of people, that believers ought to love other believers, and yet we also know that there is a lot of hypocrisy hidden behind hand shaking, back slapping, and the common, “God bless you.”
The fact is, this is a broken world! We are very aware that it is God’s world in the sense that He is the Creator and Owner, but sin has made it a fallen world with Satan as the god of its commerce and culture, who has taken over and usurped the Owner’s position. The longer time rolls on since that fateful day of Adam’s choice, and the longer the Lord delays His coming, the more broken it will become.
God has a plan, however, for the future of this world and for eternity. Through redemption that is provided by faith in Jesus Christ, His Son, God is taking the world back one person at a time. Eventually, Christ Himself will return and finish the takeover and bring in everlasting righteousness and peace where these redeemed ones will reign with Him in the “kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him” (Jas. 2:5). The present evangelistic enterprise has both a broad and narrow scope to it. Whosoever will believe the message of redemption and future reward may become a part of this great company of saints (Jn. 3:16). Yet, no one may come any other way (Jn. 14:6). Those who do come have a distinguishing mark upon them from public baptism, the confession of their new-found faith and their change of allegiance. They also have a retreat center called the church, where they meet weekly and sometimes daily to strengthen their resolve and to make plans for the continuation of their mission.
These believers find themselves in stark contrast with their former comrades. In an almost surprising realization, they find that their former friends resent their conversion and the change that has come over them and they “speak evil” against them (1 Pet. 2:12; 3:16; 4:4). But no wonder! These converts have experienced a new birth that has made them new creatures by a wonderful regeneration performed by the Holy Spirit of God (Tit. 3:5).
Out of love, these converts speak to their former comrades of a coming day of wrath and judgment from God upon those who refuse to accept the proffered salvation. But this only brings more resentment and even retaliation from these former friends. They do not believe that a God of love can also be wrathful, even over outright sinfulness and unrighteousness. They are usually the same ones who have a hard time with the “rule of law” in their own civil society. For them, law and love just don’t go together.
So the feud between families continues, sparked by Satan himself who has “blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:4). Satan is “the accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10) and keeps this war stirred up, even to a fever pitch at times, while the saints continue to speak what the worldlings consider “hate speech.” Though this “gospel” continues to make Satan angry and many of his worldlings hateful, many are also converted by its wonderful message of redemption and they return to their rightful Owner. With children and future generations at stake, believers continue their weekly retreats and the waging of their holy war to rescue more of Satan’s captives.
The preceding is a depiction of spiritual life for the believer while still on this earth. It is a reminder of how badly we need the local church and how we need local churches to remain faithful to their purpose in Scripture. While doing some reading recently I was reminded of a Barna survey in which he found that Christians don’t live any differently than non-Christians.1 The problem is that Barna assumes that anyone who says he’s a Christian really is a Christian, and if that person doesn’t live differently because of his faith, then evidently the Christian faith doesn’t really change people. Barna should have concluded, of course, that if a person makes a profession of faith in Christ and his life doesn’t change, he should seriously question whether his faith is real. That would be the Biblical way to look at it because the Bible definitely tells us that salvation changes a person.
Some Immediate Changes
One of the major changes that takes place in a person’s life when he becomes a believer is his view of other believers. The immediate common thread that exists among believers is that they have all come out of darkness into light (1 Pet. 2:9). If they understand the Bible at all they realize that they were under the condemnation and righteous wrath of God, and now have been delivered by God’s grace. They have become members one of another in the family of God (Eph. 4:25). This love for the family of God is shed abroad in the hearts of believers from the moment of spiritual conception (Rom. 5:5). This new love of God’s family is called “love of the brethren” (1 Jn. 3:14), the “brotherhood” (1 Pet. 2:17), or just “brothers” and “sisters,” “fathers” and “mothers” (1 Tim. 5:1-2). Jesus first called His followers “brethren” on the day of His resurrection (John 20:17) and early in the church’s life the whole group is addressed the same (Acts 6:3). Acts 15 has eleven references to the same wording. It is a family relationship.
A second major change that takes place when anyone is converted from Satan’s lordship to Christ’s is that they are no longer part of the old way of life, or what the Bible calls the “world.” Immediately the Holy Spirit begins changing them from the inside out. Because they are “new creatures” (2 Cor. 5:17) in Christ, Holy Spirit conviction and instruction from the Word of God begins changing their mind and heart. They are uncomfortable in the old worldly settings. The very language that used to flow so easily from their mouth now offends themselves! The sins that were so easily committed and enjoyed by the flesh now bring conviction and a desire to be removed from them entirely.
A third change comes especially on Sunday. This used to be a day off, or a day to sober up, or a day to sleep in. Now the new believer learns that this is the day when, from the very beginning (John 20:19, 26), believers have met together, yes, are commanded to meet together (Heb. 10:25; 1 Cor: 16:2; Acts 20:7). In fact, these believers love and enjoy these meetings so much that they meet twice on Sunday and then again on Wednesday evening, and fill their calendar with various other meetings! The new convert cannot miss the fact that he should be in church with the other brethren, especially on Sunday.
Some Expected Changes
As the new believer grows in Christ and time allows him to observe a few things, he learns for the first time what many of us take for granted. He learns that the church is made up of Christians, that is, people who have been converted as he was. It is not just a place for religious-feeling people who like to make a show of religion on Sunday. These are truly born again people who have been changed from their old lives also.
He also finds that the church has two obligations (we like to call them ordinances) to which he is being orientated. He finds that baptism is not only a pattern in Scripture (Acts 2:41, 8:36; 9:18; 10:47; etc.) but it is something he must do immediately for the sake of his own conscience (1 Pet. 3:21). The other ordinance, the Lord’s Supper, now becomes a significant and rewarding experience, and something graciously shared among other believers.
The new believer also begins an immediate but life-long study of the Bible. In fact, his hunger for the Word of God is like a baby who desires milk (1 Pet. 2:2), he cannot get enough of it. Yes, he is discouraged by the time wasted in his life, and he realizes how far behind he is from other believers. But the great advantage he finds is that the Bible is a book! His knowledge is only limited by himself. He can read to his heart’s content and study so that he is no longer ashamed by his lack of knowledge (2 Tim. 2:15). Best of all, he finds that the Bible is a powerful sword in his struggle for the mastery of his own life and passions (Heb. 4:16).
As a believer begins studying the Bible with the help of the Holy Spirit, he is going to find an intense urging toward holiness. From the fact that his Heavenly Father is holy (1 Pet. 1:15,16), to the fact that His Savior is holy (1 Pet. 2:22), to the fact that the Spirit within him is holy (1 Thes. 4:8), this believer knows he is also called to holiness (1 Thes. 4:7). This intense desire to be like the One who saved him will grow naturally within him like a branch which reproduces the qualities and fruitfulness of the vine (John 15:1-8).
Some Gradual Changes
As anyone grows in Christ and becomes mature in his Christian walk, certain realities of the Christian life become clear. Sin is real, and forgiveness is real. Deciphering how sin remains in the believer even though Christ has justified him from all sin, past, present, and future, can become a daunting, even discouraging task. It can be a defeating experience if the new believer falls under bad theology. But gradually the believer learns that he is secure in his salvation by the blood of Christ and yet his sin can be confessed boldly at the throne of God because he is God’s child (1 John 1:6-2:2).
Sooner or later the new believer will realize that there are tares among the wheat, wolves among the sheep, false belief among the true. Hypocrisy is not primarily the failure of Christians (he already has learned about his own sin) but is the presence of unbelief among true belief. How is it that someone could make a claim of being born again and not really be born again? With a little thought, however, this can be a liberating new truth, not a discouraging one. It is not that the claims of Christianity are not true (as Barna mistakenly concluded) but that the false claims about Christianity are truly false. An unbeliever cannot live as a Christian and a Christian cannot live as an unbeliever. Sooner or later the oil and water will separate.
The new believer may be surprised at his new desire to see his old friends saved. He still remembers the anger he felt when Christians tried to witness to him and how he despised them for pushing their religion on him. Now he feels the need to do the same! This comes partly out of his new understanding of their spiritual condition, but also out of his natural love for people who are in danger (Jude 22-23). This will probably be a school of hard knocks. His first attempts at sharing his faith will be rough. But then he will find a most satisfying feeling come over him. He will realize that he is engaged in the most wonderful work in the world. There is nothing he could be doing that would be more helpful to his fellow man in this world or the next (1 Tim. 4:8-10). This understanding will cause him to withstand the most brutal opposition, such as he himself used to dish out. What if those believers had given up on him!
A true believer will also learn to love the brethren. This is not just an empathy for some individual believer who is having a rough time of it, though that is a vital part also. Loving the brethren means to love who brethren are. It means to love what brethren ought to be. It is to learn from the Scripture what Christians would be like if they lived totally for God and to want to be like that! It is this love that brings the believer to church. It is this love that causes the backslidden, discouraged believer to come back into fellowship. The love of the brethren is the love of Christ. The brethren were first called “Christians” at Antioch because they were like Christ (Acts 1:26). Brotherly love is Christian love.
And So . . .
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:17-18).Notes: 1. D.A. Carson (The God Who Is There) reminded me of this old survey and made the same comment about it I’m making.