The One Thing That Defines

What do you believe defines a Christian in our community and world today?  I imagine if we went out on the street we would hear a wide range of ideas.  I am also guessing they would not all be very positive.  I think if we went into the churches of America we would get an equally wide range of ideas.  Think about it.  We have broken up into different groups because we think the other group got it wrong on some belief, or some way of worship, or some rule.  Those are clearly things we think are important, so important we would part company and start our own kind of believer.  Having said that, I believe we would find all the answers falling into maybe two categories: something about believing in God and Jesus and something about rules.  There would be a lot of answers out there about a Christian is someone who does . . . , or who doesn’t.  The world would probably define us by what we are against.  Some level of that would probably be right and good.  The Bible is a book that defines what we can do and what we cannot do.  The Ten Commandments certainly are one of the most well known pieces of Scripture in the world and in history and it is known for “Thou shall not!”

Now I don’t necessarily want to suggest that we be defined by only one thing or that only one thing is important, mainly because I do not believe the Bible gives us just one thing.  But, Jesus actually did say there should be one thing that defines us before a watching world.  And it wasn’t how we worship or what our doctrine was, and it certainly was not what we were against.  Do you remember what it was?  We find it in John 13:31-35.  We are to be known, to be recognized by our love for one another and it appears in verse 35 that Jesus is inviting the world to watch how we love and determine if we really belong to Him.

So there you have it Church.  Love.  Keep the worship wars to a low rumble and battle out the doctrine in the back room.  Not saying those things are not important, but Jesus said make sure they see how you love.  Going out on a limb here, but I think we have failed.  I am not saying there is no genuine love in our churches, but as a whole, that is not what is identifying us to a watching world.

My concern today is how we challenge the church to love.  What is it we are challenging the church to do?  What is love?  We know God is love.  We know love is patient, love is kind . . .   Okay, let’s be honest, we probably are still not sure what it is we are to do.  But that is not the problem.  The problem is our culture, and church is a part of the culture, defines love by tolerance.  Love means accepting and not condemning anything.  That is how too many are defining love today.  Some in the church see tolerance as the dominant false god we are battling and so we swing to the other extreme of intolerance.  That is not right either.  We are to be tolerant, but wait, I feel like a dog chasing his tale now.  By the way, I am not leading to a clear answer here.  I believe there is a real tension.

When I watch Jesus walk through the gospels, I see a real tolerance.  He accepts and loves and forgives and seems to have no prejudices.  He talks to the Samaritan woman at the well.  This breaks a number of religious taboos.  Where Jews might have shown a prejudice, He offers her the same life and life eternal He is offering the Jews.  There is tolerance.  But He also points out that she has had 5 husbands and that she is living with a man now.  That won’t work.  Well, now that is intolerance.  Then we see Jesus forgive the woman caught in adultery.  That is sin, by biblical definition.  Religion was ready to stone her.  Jesus was ready to love, forgive, and accept her.  That is tolerance.  But He also told her to go and sin no more.  That is intolerant.  If I was trying to make a platitude out of this I guess I would say Jesus tolerates people, but not their sin.  I’d like to wrap up the blog right here.  That is a pretty good line.  You can tweet that, but can you live it?

How did Jesus do it?  I think John 1:14 gives some insight: [He] was full of grace and truth.  In grace He loved, forgave, and accepted.  In grace He said, “I love you and will take you right where you are.”  In truth He said, “I love you too much to leave you where you are.”  There is right and there is wrong.  Love tells you what is wrong because it will hurt you and others around you.

Let’s think through how grace and truth might guide our thinking.


  • You are a sinner, but so am I.
  • You need to change, but so do I.
  • You are a work in progress, but so am I.
  • You are not where you should be, but neither am I.
  • I have been loved and forgiven, so I should show you the same.
  • I will love you without you being where you need to be, because I am being loved right now without being where I need to be.
  • Grace fixes more than guilt and condemnation.


  • Love does not accept wrong.  It allows for growth, but does not say wrong is okay.
  • Love does not let people live lives that hurt.
  • Love does say stop.
  • There is right and wrong, and that is what is good and best.
  • Truth leads to freedom.  Truth heals.  Truth fixes.

That is just some ideas.  I think I need to, and so do you, work more on this and figure out how we need to apply this to life.  I am not going to be perfectly balance like Jesus was, but that does not excuse me from seeking perfect balance.  You can’t be all grace and you can’t be all truth.  We have to be both in how we love and the world has to see our love.  This is what defines us.

We just recently had a big week on the issue of homosexuality.  North Carolina said they were against homosexual marriage.  President Obama said he was for it.  The world knows the church is against homosexuality.  There are probably many homosexuals who would actually say the church hates them.  So here is a project.  What does grace AND truth look like as you deal with the issue?  What does grace and truth look like as you deal with the person?

Now someone might say, “Wait a minute.  John 13 is about loving one another.  That is loving other believers, not gays.”  Okay.  What if one of those believers though is gay?  I have heard some in church say, “They can’t be believers and gays.”  Okay.  I can see a the reality of questioning how someone can be committed to their sin and yet say they are a follower of Jesus.  But can someone be a believer and struggle with pornography?  Because a lot sitting in church pews do.  Can someone be a believer and be divorced because many in the church are and Jesus spoke pretty harshly about that, and divorce has probably had a more negative impact on the family in America than homosexuality has.  Can someone be a believer and live the bulk of their Christian experience in greed, lust, envy, and gossip; with no real effort to repent.  Because the church is filled with that.

My point?  We all need grace.  I don’t believe love says homosexuality or any other sin is okay.  Love does accept and forgive and help lead to God though.  This blog does not answer how we debate the issue in culture.  It does not address the sinner who is rabid in protecting their sin.  This blog does not actually address a lot.  It does say, we really need to think about our next step being made in love, and we really need to think about what love looks like and does.


One Response So Far... Leave a Reply:

  1. Robin Stephens says:

    Tin can. With worms. Can opener. Oops. Out they come. Well, there you have it. They’re out and that’s a great way to deal with a problem. Expose it. Put ‘er right there on the table and deal.

    Christians must LEARN to love one another. Wonder how in the world we’ve gotten off of this foundation? Maybe that’s it…. It’s pretty hard to be in the world and not “of” it these days….but that, too, is a command. Love isn’t a feeling, emotion or decision… It’s not a cliche, or a list of to-dos…but an “I’m in love with Jesus and this is a bi-product of that love” and “because I am loved, I, too can love.” Maybe I’ve merely left my First Love and settled for the to-do list as a pitiful yet substantial substitute. Hey, the Pharisees managed! Or…………..did they?

    Good post, Pastor Randy.

    Walking towards walking in love…
    Robin Stephens
    Member, CHBC