During the last two generations of Evangelicalism, we’ve exclusively emphasized that our view of being born-again is the key to eternal life, and we’ve simplified the definition of being born-again so much that there is no measurable difference in life-style between those of us who claim to have been born-again and those who do not. Jesus was clear in John 13:34 when he gave us a new command, “. . . Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” There are markers for those who are Christians. Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35). In John’s first epistle, he drove the point home by saying, “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. but anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (I John 4:7-8).
So we wonder why born-again believers are not known for their love? A few weeks ago, I did a debate on a Jewish web site and said that one of the great qualities of an authentic believer in Jesus is to serve, protect the rights of, and do what we can to improve the lives of people who are not like us. I illustrated it by saying it’s an honorable and noble role for Evangelical Christians to secure the rights, safety and security of everyone, whether they be willfully disobedient and sinful, or groups like the Jews, Muslims, secularists, agnostics, and others who are not persuaded that Jesus is the Son of God and that the Bible is the Word of God. Using our voices and strength to protect and serve others is not a validation of their beliefs or practices, but a demonstration of our faith in a Savior that saved us while we were yet sinners. It’s Christ-like on our part to serve others, even those whom we’ve not persuaded.
When my comments were covered in the press with typical excessive drama and misinformation, one wrote me out of concern for my soul, “Satan must have clapped his hands, having found another victim from inside church which he is now successfully using to establish his anti-christian and anti-biblical filth. May God have mercy on you!” I have no doubt that non-believers and those who don’t strive to live according to the Bible will not receive everything Christ has for them, but I do believe that the Bible instructs all of us to do everything we can to make life better for others, whether they are in the faith or not. After all, John wrote that “Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning” (2 John 1:6).
Why don’t we who are born-again know much about love? I think it’s partially because our leaders inadvertently equate the importance of Old and New Testament Scripture for us as 21st Century Christians, which has resulted in modern evangelicalism becoming a new religion based on a strange amalgamation of the Old Testament and, what I call, “New Testament Torah.” Sadly, the central aim isn’t abiding in and reflecting the life of Christ, birthed from a dynamic relationship with him producing fruit and life, but instead being correct according to our knowledge of what is good and what is evil . . . which we should know by now is deadly.
Secondly, I think it’s because our leaders don’t know much about love. To my knowledge, there is not one seminary or Bible school class, or even a workshop in a mega-church conference, exclusively devoted to training leaders in biblical, New Testament love and it’s application on a bad day. The application of biblical love in the midst of difficult situations is central to “proving to the world that we are his disciples” (John 13:35). Most of our leaders and teachers have never seriously contemplated the application of biblical love when responding to a non-believer, a sinning Christian leader, or what we might perceive as an ungodly social trend in our community. Thus the vacuum. We who have said the salvation prayer to receive eternal life as a free gift from God have been ushered into a discipleship process that didn’t teach us New Testament life and relationship, but instead Old Testament death often cloaked in “standing for righteousness” or “church discipline.” Thus, in the midst of New Testament grace, we died.
In 2006 when my wife and I went through the most difficult time of our lives, there was no difference between those who were born-again and those who were not in their response to us, our situation, or our family. Both groups had some supportive and helpful people among them, and both had incredibly hateful and meanspirited people among them. Both groups had some who tried to lighten our load, and both had some who tried to hurt us as much as they could. Bottom line, whether a person had been born-again or not, by our modern definition, didn’t make any difference.
Maybe we need to rethink what it means to be born-again? Maybe we need to transition our thinking of being born-again from a one time experience where we recite a prayer, and contemplate whether or not being born-again might be an arduous process of his loving hand transforming us from glory to glory as we grow in his lordship and grace. If our view of living in God’s kingdom isn’t for the good of others, even though we have said a salvation prayer, maybe we’ve not been born-again. When Jesus spoke of eternal life, he said the difference between the sheep and the goats was in the way we respond to socially unacceptable people (Matthew 25:31-46). When asked about eternal life, Jesus taught that it included giving all we have away to the poor (Matthew 19:16-22). Some of you may say that exhortation was specifically to the rich young ruler. I think I would respond that we don’t think Jesus’ word to Nicodemus that he needed to be born-again was exclusively to him, but to all of us.
No doubt, prayer is necessary to be born-again, but we can measure the effectiveness of that prayer in our lives. It could be that the evidence is obedience to his command to “love one another.”
This may be important for 21st Century Evangelicalism.