Pastor David B. Curtis

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The Essence of Christianity

Selected Scriptures

Delivered 01/11/2004

What is the essence of the Christian life? What is it that God wants from us in our day to day living? Christianity today seems to be focused on the negative; people talk as if Christianity was about what you don't do. Christianity is not about following a bunch of rules and regulations, it is about a relationship with a person, the person of Jesus Christ. And in a relationship with Christ, we demonstrate our love for Him by what? How do you show Christ that you love Him? It's a one word answer - obedience!

John 14:15 (NKJV) "If you love Me, keep My commandments.
John 14:21 (NKJV) "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him."
1 John 5:3 (NKJV) For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.
2 John 1:6 (NKJV) This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.

It is through our obedience to Christ that we demonstrate our love for Him. Now listen carefully, obedience does not put us in a relationship with Christ, it is those who are in a relationship that are called to obey Him. One of the most important and misunderstood distinctions in the Bible is that of a Christian and a disciple. Many see them as synonymous, but I think the Bible makes a distinction between them.

How does a person become a Christian? What do you have to do to be a Christian? The answer is simple - believe the gospel! A person becomes a Christian by faith in Jesus Christ:

John 3:36 (NKJV) "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
John 11:25-26 (NKJV) Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 "And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
John 20:30-31 (NKJV) And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

A person becomes a Christian when they understand and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. At that moment they are placed into the body of Christ, given Christ's righteousness, indwelt by God, and are as sure of heaven as if they were already there. They are "in Christ".

The Scriptures make it quite clear that salvation is a free gift of God's grace, but the Scriptures also teach that discipleship is costly. Salvation is our birth in the Christian life, and discipleship is our education and maturity in the Christian life. Compare these two texts:

John 3:16 (NKJV) "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Eternal life is a gift of grace to all who believe - do you see any cost involved here? But now notice:

Luke 14:33 (NKJV) "So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.

Discipleship is a call to forsake all and follow Christ. Can this be talking about the same thing as John in John 3:16? I don't see how. I see discipleship as a conditional relationship that can be interrupted or terminated after it has begun. All Christians are called to be disciples, but not all are. Discipleship is a call to obedience.

Now if our obedience demonstrates our love, what is the greatest act of obedience, and therefore the greatest act of love, that we can do? I'll tell you what it is; loving one another! Jesus put it this way:

Matthew 22:36-40 (NKJV) "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" 37 Jesus said to him, " 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 "This is the first and great commandment. 39 "And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."

Here Jesus sums up the whole Old Testament as love God and love your neighbor. Since we cannot love God apart from loving our neighbor, loving our neighbor is the greatest commandment. We cannot truly love God without loving one another. To recognize that there is someone I do not love is to say to God, "I do not love you enough to love that person."

Paul also teaches that love is the great commandment:

Romans 13:8-10 (NKJV) Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness," "You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

When we love one another, we fulfill the whole law. The greatest act of obedience, and therefore the greatest act of love, is loving our neighbor. Jesus said that our love for others would identify us as His disciples:

John 13:34-35 (NKJV) "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

If you wanted to demonstrate the importance of love what verses would you use?

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NKJV) Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

Paul says that though a man has the gift of languages and prophecy, and all knowledge, and the gift of all faith, if he does not have agape, he himself is nothing before God. The Greek text at the end of verse 2 does not say that he is nobody, that would be strong. But the Greek text says he is nothing, a zero before God. Are you beginning to see the importance of love? We would be very impressed by this man, but before God he is zero:

1 Corinthians 13: 3 (NKJV) And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Nothing can underscore the importance of love more than these words. This is what life is all about. We are set here to learn to love, and to live without learning to love is to have wasted our time, no matter how impressive our achievements in other ways may be.

Write down five zero's and then add them up. What do you get? Zero! Life minus love equals zero. These verses in 1 Corinthians 13 tell us that the loveless person produces nothing, is nothing, and gains nothing. Love is truly preeminent, I hope that you see that. To not be a loving person is not some small character flaw, it is to break the greatest commandment, it is to not love God.

Paul closes the book of 1 Corinthians with this comment:

1 Corinthians 16:14 (NKJV) Let all that you do be done with love.

Paul told the Colossians that love was to be above all:

Colossians 3:14 (NKJV) But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.

Peter had this to say about love:

1 Peter 4:8-11 (NKJV) And above all things have fervent love for one another, for "love will cover a multitude of sins."

The word "fervent" here means: "to stretch or strain" (a Middle Age use of this word was a description of a body on the torture rack). A better translation of it would be: "full strength or maximum effort." Holding nothing back. Giving it everything you've got.

Let's look at a couple more verses that show us the importance of love:

John 14:21-23 (NKJV) "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him." 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, "Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?" 23 Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.

I see these verses as dealing with fellowship with God. When we love each other, we are living in obedience, and Christ promises to manifest Himself to us. He promises that He and the Father will make their home with us. Think about this. How many Christians do you know who don't have much of a relationship with God? This is why we fail to honor Him by walking in the obedience of loving each other.

If life minus love equals zero, if to not be loving is to not love God, if love is to be about all, if it is that important, then we should all desire to manifest love in our lives, shouldn't we? How many of you would like to be loving people? How many of you would like to love as God wants you to love? I believe that we desire it, but desire alone is not enough. Anybody know Proverbs 13:4? The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; But the soul of the diligent shall be made rich. If we want to love, we must become diligent in our quest for love.

If we are going to truly love one another, what is the first thing we must understand? We need to understand what love is! Do you? Could you give me a working definition of Biblical love? If we don't know what it is, we certainly can't do it.

The meaning of LOVE:

Christians are easily misled into thinking love is primarily a feeling, something we fall in or out of. We equate it with lust or sex, we talk about "making love." The word "love" used in the Bible is not the Greek word eros. That word is used to describe erotic love, sensual love, what you feel when you "fall in love," a passionate attraction to another person. That kind of love is not even mentioned in the Word of God, though it is a common form of love today. And the word the Bible uses to talk about love is not phileo, which means affection, friendship, a feeling of warmth toward someone else. The word Jesus and Paul use for love is agape. This Greek word was rarely used in Greek literature prior to the New Testament. In the New Testament, the word agape took on a special meaning; it was used by the New Testament writers to designate a volitional love (as opposed to a purely emotional love), a self-sacrificial love, a love naturally expressed by divinity, but not so easily by humanity. It seems as though the early Christian church took this word out of its obsoleteness and made it a characteristic word for love.

Agape love is a response to someone who is unworthy of love. This concept of love was derived from the cross. God loved the world and gave his son for it. That was a response to unworthy people, to sinners, to those who were his enemies. That is agape. It is a love that proceeds from the nature of the lover, rather than the worth of the person who is loved. It is a love that gives, a love that seeks the best of the object loved. Agape is a commitment of the will to cherish and uphold another person. It is the only word ever used to describe God's love. It is a decision that you make and a commitment that you have launched upon to treat another person with concern, with care, with thoughtfulness, and to work for his or her best interests. That is what love is.

If you want to know what real love is, take a look at Jesus. Jesus is the incarnation of God, who is love:

1 John 4:8 (NKJV) He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

As we read through the gospels and see Christ, we see love.

So, what does it mean to love? We could say, "Put others first," or "Treat others the way you want to be treated." I think a good definition of love is: Christian love is making the welfare of another person as important to you as your own.

After telling us how important love is, Paul tells us what love does:

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NKJV) Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

The first thing Paul says about love is that it is patient. This is the Greek word makrothumeo. This word as it is used in the New Testament is a word that almost on every occasion conveys the idea of having an infinite capacity to be injured without paying back. It is used with regard to people, not circumstances. It's having a long fuse. The loving person is able to be inconvenienced or taken advantage of by a person, and yet not be upset or angry.

The Greek word for kind is chresteuomai: "to show oneself useful, to act benevolently:--be kind". In the New Testament the verb appears only here. The noun and the adjective for kindness occurs repeatedly in Paul's epistles.

As we look at these characteristics of love, I think that we have to admit that we really don't treat each other very loving. We seem to act a lot like the world around us. This love talked about here is in strong contrast to how our society acts. Paul tells us that love is patient, love is kind. But we live in a society that is very impatient and very unkind. If you read the paper or watch the news or if you just go out in public, you will see just how unkind our society can be.

I don't think that anyone would disagree with me that the society in which we live can be very impatient and very unkind. But is it really any different in the church? Would you say that, for the most part, Christians are patient and kind? We can be as impatient and unkind as the world, sometimes even worse. So much of Christianity is like the world around it, unkind.

Look with me at Ephesians, where Paul takes the great commandment "love" of Matthew 22 and applies it to the marriage relationship. That's a unique idea! Who would have ever thought of applying love to marriage? In this passage we get more insight into what it means to love:

Ephesians 5:25 (NKJV) Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,

We are to love just as Christ loved; this is a sacrificial love, a love that valued the church so much that He died for it. Then Paul went on to say:

Ephesians 5:28 (NKJV) So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.

This verse fits our definition of Christian love as making the welfare of another person as important to you as your own. Then in the next verse he explains what it means to live out Christ's command:

Ephesians 5:29 (NKJV) For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.

To love is to nourish and cherish. The Greek word translated here as nourishes is ektrepho, which means: "to rear up to maturity". So, if you love someone, you'll nourish that person, you'll help them grow to maturity. The word cherish is from the Greek word thalpo, which literally means: "to protect from the elements". It has the idea of protecting that person from harm. This is what love looks like.

Peter gives us another facet of what love looks like:

1 Peter 4:8-11 (NKJV) And above all things have fervent love for one another, for "love will cover a multitude of sins."

Love is forgiving - "love will cover a multitude of sins." The word "cover" means: "does not stir up or broadcast sins." Paul also tells us this about love in:

1 Corinthians 13:5-7 (NKJV) does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

"Love thinks no evil" - this translation gives an incorrect idea. The Greek verb logizomai implies: "keeping a record." It is a bookkeeping term that means: "to calculate or reckon", as when figuring an entry in a ledger. Love doesn't keep records of the wrongs done to it. Do you know people who are keeping a record of everything that someone has done to hurt them? Why do they keep a record of wrongs done them? So they won't forget the wrongs, so they will be sure that person gets the justice that is due them.

If you want to see love in action, look at Stephen:

Acts 7:59-60 (NKJV) And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

As Stephen is being stoned to death, he is concerned for the welfare of those who are killing him. This is Christian love. Believers, I believe that if we truly began to love each other, we would make a difference in this world.

What is the opposite of love? I'm sure most of you would say, "Hate". But it has been said that hate is not the true opposite of love; indifference is. If you love someone, will you keep quiet about destructive habits and sins in their life? If their welfare is as important as my own, I'm not going to stand by and watch them hurt or destroy themselves. Love is not coddling someone, it does what is needful for that person. Love confronts about a destructive behavior, but it is always patient, kind, and forgiving.

The Means of LOVE:

How many people do you know who live like this, people who really love those around them? Not many, if any. Can we really love like this? In our own strength and ability, no. Agape live is a divine love, the only way we can love like this is if we are living in fellowship with God, depending upon His power.

I'm sure that many of you are familiar with:

Philippians 4:13 (NKJV) I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Paul says, "My sufficiency comes from Christ, the all sufficient One." We are not self-sufficient, we are Christ sufficient. Christ indwells us and His power; His all-sufficient power is available for the demands of life.

When Paul says, "I can do all things through Christ", he means that because he is in communion with Christ, the power of Christ is available to him for every need. Paul cannot do "all things" simply because he is a Christian. He can do all things because he is living in a dependant relationship with Christ. He is abiding in Christ.

Philippians 4:13 gives us the positive, and John 15:5 gives us the negative:

John 15:5 (NKJV) "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

With me (living in dependence on me), you can do all things, but without me, you can do nothing. Philippians 4:13 cannot be claimed by every Christian. It is only for those believers who are abiding in Christ. When we walk in fellowship with God, we have His power available to help us deal with life. Out of fellowship, we have no power.

How do we get out of fellowship? Sin! Sin hinders our fellowship with Christ:

John 13:4-8 (NKJV) [Jesus] rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. 5 After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. 6 Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, "Lord, are You washing my feet?" 7 Jesus answered and said to him, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this." 8 Peter said to Him, "You shall never wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me."

The Greek word for "part" is meros, which has the idea of: "fellowship." Jesus is telling Peter, "If I don't wash your feet, you have no fellowship with me."

John 13:9-10 (NKJV) Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!" 10 Jesus said to him, "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you."

The word "clean" is katharos, it is used here of salvation. Jesus says, "But not all of you", because Judas was there (verse 11). Jesus is telling them (the eleven) that they are clean, they are saved. But as they go through life, they are going to get their feet dirty - sin. And if you don't clean them, you won't have fellowship with Christ. How do we get our feet washed? How do we remain in fellowship?

1 John 1:9 (NKJV) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

We get our feet washed as we confess our sins.

Let's look at what Christ says about abiding in Him:

John 15:1-3 (NKJV) "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.

The word "clean" here is katharos, the same word he used in John 13:10, referring to salvation. Judas was gone at this time, and Jesus is speaking to the eleven, and he tells them they are clean. Now, notice carefully what he says to the eleven who were clean - saved:

John 15:4 (NKJV) "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

It is to those who are clean that he says, "Abide in Me." To be a Christian and to abide in Christ are two different things. "Abide in me" is in the active voice. That is something we are expected to do. We initiate that. The word, "abide" is the simple word "remain." "Stay with me," he is saying, "Keep close to me." In other places, it is the words, "Follow me," "Do what I say," "Obey my commands." Christians are exhorted to abide in Christ, because this privilege and duty may be neglected, and very often is.

"And I in you" - the implication is, "Let me abide in you." That is passive. It is not something we can initiate, but something we can expect to happen and trust God for. It takes both to be a fruitful, Christlike Christian. One alone is not enough.

To abide is to have fellowship with Christ, to walk closely with Him, it is to walk in obedience to His Word. We could define abiding as: "understanding and obedience to the Word of God." When you know the Word because you have spent time in it, and when you walk in obedience to what you know, you will be abiding in Christ.

Paul says, "I can do ALL THINGS." What are the "all things"? This doesn't mean that he can leap tall buildings at a single bound or run faster than a speeding bullet. It doesn't mean that you can pass an exam that you haven't studied for, or fly an airplane even though you have had no instructions. Verse 13 must be taken in the context of verses 10-13. What he is saying is, "I have the power of Christ to sustain me in life's difficult circumstances." A literal translation would read like this, "I am strong for all things in the One who constantly infuses strength into me."

The phrase "I can do" is from the Greek word ischuo, it means: "to be strong, to have power." Paul is saying, "I am strong enough to go through anything, because the Lord Jesus Christ makes His power available to me as I trust in Him." Trusting in Christ gives us inner power to deal with any and every situation in life. When we come to the bottom of our human resources, we find an unlimited power in Christ. Paul talked a lot about the power of Christ. Walking in fellowship with Christ gives us the power to deal with any and every situation. It gives us the power to love the unlovely.

1 Timothy 1:12 (NKJV) And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry,

The word "enabled" is the Greek word endunamoo. It means: "to pour power into."

2 Timothy 4:17 (NKJV) But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.

The word "strengthened" is also endunamoo. The Lord gave him the power to deal with the circumstances that he found himself in. In fellowship, the omnipotent One empowers us.

Have you ever seen a Christian love a very unlovely person and asked, "How can they love like that?" They can love like that because the power of Christ is available to those who abide in Him, those who walk in dependence on Him. No matter what circumstance you face in life, you have the power to handle it if you are abiding in Christ. And if your situation is more than you can bear, if you can't seem to love that person, it is because you are not trusting in His strength.

The words, "I can do" in Philippians 4:13 are from "ischuo", which is translated: "overpowered" in Acts 1:19; "prevailed" in Acts 19:20; "effective" in James 5:16. It is a word of strength and power.

Paul says he can do "all things." "All things" in the Greek is in the first emphatic position, "All things I have the power to endure." This "all things" would certainly include the power to love as we are called to.

IF THERE IS SOMEONE YOU CAN'T LOVE, YOU MUST NOT BE DEPENDING ON HIM! You'll see the power of love when you learn not to depend upon your own resources, but to trust in God's power. The secret of power in the Christian life is to walk with Christ. Paul is saying, "I can go through anything through the strength of Christ and that strength comes from a walk of obedience and dependence."

Now you need to ask yourself the question, "Am I growing in love?" Looking back over the last year, "Am I easier to live with now? Am I able to handle people more graciously, more courteously? Am I more compassionate, more patient?" These are the measurements of life. This is why we were given life, that we might learn how to act in love. Nothing else can be substituted for it. There is no use holding up any other quality we possess if we lack this one. It is the paramount goal of every human life, and we do well to measure ourselves by it.

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