Erring on the Side of Safety
[Jesus said:] “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.”
—John 15:9-17, NIV
We did not choose Jesus, He chose us. Is this about “election”? I don’t think so, because in the ancient church, “the elect” referred to the members of the catechism class. We use the word “elect” in a different sense than the early church did. Since it is not God’s will for anyone to be lost, it is apparent that in this discussion and in our sense of the word, everyone is elect. Jesus chooses everyone, and it is our task, through our love, to make sure no one turns Him down.
Saving everybody—may it be so—would give God the greatest possible glory. We can hope, we can pray, and we can work for universal salvation; it is only heretical to say that it is a foregone conclusion. It is heretical to say that it is a done deal because the returns aren’t in, and because then, in the words of Bishop Timothy Ware, we would be calling Jesus a liar because we would be saying that He warned us of a danger that doesn’t exist.
If I say, “anyone who sticks his finger in that electrical outlet will die,” my statement is true even if no one sticks his finger in it. There is a real danger of hell, but the world isn’t over yet so we don’t know if anyone will go there.
What is the scope of “love one another”? The apostles should love each other? Christians should love each other? Members of the same church should be supportive of each other? By all means! But think about how Jesus answered the question “Who is my neighbor?”
If we have to make a mistake here, it is better to love people who don’t deserve it than to fail to love people who do.
Therefore the only valid Christian response to another human being is love.
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.”
—1 John 5:1-6, NIV
A lot of people have noticed that dogs resemble their owners, even though they are certainly not related to each other in any way. If you are a friend of the master, the dog is glad to see you when you come to the door. The master might conceal his dislike of you, but his dog does not. When you come to the door of a person who dislikes you, the dog barks at you, even if the master pretends to be glad to see you. You can tell what people think of you by the way their dogs greet you.
On a human level, if your boss’s secretary gets snippy with you, you know that the end is near.
You are God’s dog, or God’s secretary, or God’s adopted child, you are adopted; you do not share His essence, though He is transforming you into it. Even though you are made of the substance of the world and not the substance of God; even though you are adopted, if you truly love God, you will pick up His mannerisms, His accent, His values, and His behavior.
If you say you have let Jesus into your heart, but He is not in your hands and feet as well, then, well, we’ve caught you in a little fib. If you love Him, you will love the people He loves—and like Him, you will think about what His love includes, not what it excludes. If you love Him, you can’t help but obey Him, and you feel miserable if you fail. If you truly love Him, you will confide your failures in Him to receive His forgiveness.
Then you will know you are His, because you bear a resemblance to Him. People will see not just a nitrous-oxide smile on your face, or a spring in your step, but your willingness to listen, your readiness to love and forgive, your perceptiveness of their needs, and the generosity of your deeds.
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
The LORD has made his salvation known
and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love
and his faithfulness to the house of Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
shout for joy before the LORD, the King.
Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy;
let them sing before the LORD,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity.
—Psalm 98:1-9, NIV