If you could count all the words that have been preached, all the books that have been published, all the ink that has been spilt by ministers and teachers and theological lecturers, you could get the impression that Christianity is quite a complicated business. And if you could add up all the money that has been donated, all the grand church buildings that have been designed and constructed, and all the extravagant sacrifices that have been offered in the name of the Lord, you might think that pleasing God was only possible for the rich or fanatical. But the Christian faith is really quite simple. I didn’t say it was easy. Nobody said it was easy. But it is simple. It is within the reach of any person. Because the Christian faith simply consists in two simple things. 1 John chapter 3 verse 23 says,
This is God’s command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.
Or as the old hymn put it, trust and obey.
Trust is vital. Without faith we would never cross the road. Without faith we would not even get out of bed in the morning. We believe in gravity. We believe that the sky will not fall on top of us. We trust our hand to turn the door knob. We trust our arm to pull the door open. We trust our legs and feet to move ourselves through the door. All while, at the same time, our minds are composing the words we are going to say to the person we expect to see on the other side of the door. Without faith, without trust, without belief, the simplest tasks are impossible.
To fulfil God’s command, to be the person he calls us to be, we must believe. We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ. This name, this label that we use to refer to him, wraps up in one tiny bundle all that he is and all that he means to us.
Much in the same way that I possess a similar label. I am the Rev Richard Keith. My title identifies me as a minister of the Presbyterian Church. It describes not only my job, my function, but my role in the church community. I am the teaching elder. The one who places himself under the Word of God so that God may do his work in my life, so that through me he may do his work in your life. My surname not only identifies me as the son of Mr and Mrs Keith but connects me to a family that extends back generations and connects me to my children and to future possible generations. And Richard is a useful word that you can say and in a crowd of people you will get my attention. I am one single individual but I am all those things at the same time as they are revealed in my name.
But you are not called by God to believe in me. You trust me, probably only as far as you can see me, but only because together we stand in the same relationship to another. To the one who is our life, our hope, our salvation, our joy, our light in the darkness. He is the Son of God. He is the Christ of Israel. And his name is Jesus.
He is the Son of God, the one who with the Father and the Spirit make up the personal reality that we call the true and living God. The Son is not the Father. The Father decides. He chooses. He plans. The Son, however, is the executor of the Father’s will, the agent of creation, the instrument of salvation. He is not the planner, but the doer. He is the one who makes things happen. He is not less than the Father, nor greater than the Spirit, but his role in our salvation is to do the Father’s will. The Father sends. The Son goes. The Father commands. The Son obeys.
So to believe in this Son of God is not only to see in him the wisdom and power and love of God. But it is also to see in him what it means for us to be the children of God. His sons and daughters. We believe in the Son of God. We trust him. And so we trust in his Father. We call him our Father. We trust in him and we do his will.
But the Son of God is also the Christ of Israel. Israel was and is not just a country on a map, a place you can find in an atlas, a place you can fly to in an aeroplane maybe sometime soon. Israel is the chosen people of God, chosen to be the source of blessing for the world. They were never perfect. They were rarely good. They were often sinful, rebellious and stubborn. But they were God’s sinful, rebellious and stubborn people. They belonged to him and he belonged to them. And through their history it was revealed that one of them, sent by God, one who would come from among them, would be the agent of their destiny. The one who would bless the world. Because God would send his Christ, his Messiah, his chosen and anointed King, to establish the kingdom of God. Not just a kingdom for Israel, but from Israel, starting from Israel and spreading out, a kingdom that would be for all the people of all the nations of the world. By his rule, this Christ, this King, this Lord would bring life where there was death, hope where there was despair, and peace where there was discord.
We believe in the Christ. He is not just the Messiah. He is not just God’s chosen King. He is our chosen King, our Lord. And we trust in him to enter the kingdom of God and to receive his blessing.
This Son of God, this Christ of Israel, is identical with and is the same person as the man known as Jesus of Nazareth, who was born at a particular time, who lived in a particular place, whose life had a beginning and an end. And in his life and death, in his words and works, in his cross and empty tomb and in the testimony of the apostles who saw him alive on Easter Day, we see the Father’s will fulfilled, and we see the blessing that begins with Israel and spreads to the ends of the earth. In Jesus, the Son of God and the Christ of Israel, in his flesh we see the work of God to bring healing to his broken world. In his flesh we see him bear the punishment of our sin. In his flesh we see the eternal life that God promises to us. In his flesh and blood and sweat and tears we see not only the man who is for us, the man who lived and died and lives again for us. But we see the God who is with us, the God who is for us because he is for all people. Some people believe in power. Some people believe in pleasure. But we believe in love. And the name of love is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We believe in him because he believes in us.
We believe in Jesus. We believe in love. And his command to us is love, to love one another. Love is more than an attraction towards what is beautiful. Love is more than an admiration for what is good and true and right. Love is the settled conviction of the mind and the firm decision of the will to do what is good for others. Some people live for themselves. They live lonely wasted lives. They live at the expense of others. They use what they get for themselves and so they finish up with no more than they started with. But some people live for others, just as God exists for others. Others are better off for knowing them, and they leave the world a better place.
What I mean is that love is not a noun, but a verb. Love is not a thing. It is what we do. Love is an action that acts on the compassion we feel for those who are sad and lonely, for those who are poor and hungry, for those who are broken in heart and spirit. Love sees the need and it meets it. Love doesn’t talk about helping people. It helps people. Love doesn’t intend to one day get around to helping people. It helps people. Love isn’t distracted by the hundreds of reasons why we should leave it to others to help people. It listens only to the only one good reason we need to get up and actually help people. And that is that we are commanded to love. We believe in love. We believe that the name of love is Jesus Christ. And so in that name we love. We help the needy. We forgive our enemies. We pray for our neighbours. We stand not just for equality, but we go out of our way to help the poor and the oppressed. We fight for the good of all and not just for the good of some. Some people love their families. Some people love their pets. But we love our fellow human beings. Like the Good Samaritan we love the stranger. Like the Lord Jesus we love sinners. And we love each other because in Christ we are brothers and sisters. We are not rude to each other. We celebrate life’s joys with each other. We sympathise with each other’s pains, because if you are hurt, I am hurt. We remember each other and we pray for each other.
We do not just love each other. We love others as well. But if we cannot love the family that Christ has brought together, we cannot say we love our neighbour. And we cannot say that we love God. For this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for each other.
We believe in love. His name is Jesus. And so we love. We trust and we obey.
And so the Christian life is simple. So simple even a child can do it. But it isn’t easy. It is so hard that it challenges the faith and love of the wisest and most godly saint. But it is simple. It requires no complicated theories. It demands no extravagant sacrifice. It simply requires faith and obedience. We trust and obey. We believe in name of love, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He is our life, our hope, our light and our salvation. And so we love. We love one another as he commanded us. Not just in words. But in action and in truth.