For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,” (Ephesians 1:15-16).
If you are asked to name two attributes that best describe a Christian, what would it be? What is it that you would hold up as the convincing proofs that one has truly being born again? For Paul, the two things that testifies to a true change of life as a result of the new birth are one’s
1) Saving Faith
2) Love For The Brethren
In many of his epistles written to Saints in different places during the first century, the universal characteristics Paul mentioned, as testament to new life in Christ were these two (cf. Colossians 1:3-4, 2 Thessalonians 1:3, Philemon 1:5-7). From the repeated mention of these two attributes, faith and love, we see they are a vital test of true conversion.
No one can be saved without saving faith in Christ. A Christian is one who has confessed faith in Christ as Lord and Saviour. To confess Jesus as Lord is to publicly affirm as true what Scripture has revealed about Christ and all that is true about His person – His incarnation, His deity, His life of perfect obedience to God, His death and resurrection. In the first century church and throughout Christian history, confessing Jesus Christ as Lord was not to be taken lightly because it came with dire consequences such as persecution.
Much as the outward expression of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ was a solemn act, borne from a heart-felt belief and trust in Christ, with possible grave consequences, we see the in the New Testament that the early Church was careful to prove one’s confession, before admitting them into the Christian Church. A case in point is that of Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch.
In Acts 8, the Spirit of the Lord led Philip to meet this court official of the Queen of Ethiopia, returning from Jerusalem and he expounded to him the prophecies concerning Christ to in response to which he offered himself for baptism. Instead of rushing to baptise him, which then would have signified a public proclamation of his faith, and conversion to Christianity, Philip hesitated; enquiring to be sure that the eunuch knew what he was doing. “And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts 8:37). In Matthew 16:22-24, Jesus taught on the cost of discipleship; what it means to follow Him. Faith in Christ is not a decision to be taken in haste. It comes with a cost.
True faith in Christ is not a matter to be glossed over. Faith in the Lord Jesus is a testament to true conversion. It is of foremost importance. The question that needs to be answered by all is this – do you believe that Jesus Christ is Lord?
Love For The Brethren
When a baby is born, its first cry is a sign of life. It is a proof of life. Like the new-born, so is the Christian. The new (spiritual) life of a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ needs to be expressed. This expression of the new life of the believer can be looked at as “The Tests of Life”, as Rev Robert Law rightly puts it.
God is love. He doesn’t only love, He is love. That is His nature. And He calls His children to imitate Him by walking in love: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
Our Lord demonstrated His love for us by condescending even to the point of washing His disciples feet. He did this as an example for us to follow (see John 13:1-15). But His love did not stop there; He went all the way to the cross, dying a sinner’s death. A death He didn’t deserve, but died out of love. This was God’s love in action and we are to demonstrate this same love (1John 4:7-9). We love because we have first been loved by Him. John further tells us love is the proof we have passed from darkness to light:
Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (1 John 2:9-11).
Love is a proof that we have passed from darkness into Light, as God is Light. To John, not to love the brethren is synonymous to hatred. And the absence of love, according to this passage simply means we are still in darkness. Darkness here connotes a life of ignorance; ignorance of the life of God, for God is light. Love however is a proof we have passed from death to life (1 John 3:14)
John intimates that our love is proof of passage from darkness to light. Here he takes the argument further by saying, our love is the evidence that we have the new life of God. This means, love is the proof of our sonship; the fact that we have the life of God in us. Whosoever does not love his brother is not of God.
Another compelling reason love is a litmus test for new life is our membership of the body of Christ. The new testament gives us an analogy of the Church as a body. In Romans 6, a believer is united with Christ by the Holy Spirit at regeneration and becomes one with the Lord. (see also 1Cor. 12:13). As members of one body therefore, there is an intrinsic, organic and vital unity which exists amongst us, just like the parts of the physical body are intrinsically and organically joined to one another and share the same life. To love one another must therefore be natural with us because we have what it takes by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are members of one another, if we are truly joined to Christ and therefore members of the invisible body of Christ.
Finally, Christ Himself said:
“…just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34b-35).
Do you have the life of Christ? These two must be evident: faith in Christ Jesus and love for the brethren. They are a vital test of life!