The Apostle John, chose not to name himself in the Gospel that most credit him with writing. He instead referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
While it is common for English writers to avoid use of the first person in writing, John, as an eye-witness goes to great lengths to not write in the first person (e.g., John 21:20).
Regardless of his true motive, it is clear that John’s primary identity had become Jesus’ love for him. As one of the first disciples of Jesus, John sets an example of the primacy of love in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Instead of our first reaction being to describe our walk with Christ as hard, trying, beautiful, or improving John invites us to see the focus of our relationship with Jesus as being the undeserving recipient of God’s faithful love.
John’s focus on Jesus’ love extends beyond his own identity. In both his Gospel account of Jesus’ earthly teaching and ministry and his letters, John repeatedly points to love’s role in our relationship with God.
God’s love demonstrated in Jesus
In his first letter, John looks back on the Gospel and describes love in this way:
This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us We should also lay down or lives for our brothers and sisters. 1 John 3:16
Our relationship with God only exists because of God’s love. It doesn’t even depend on our love for Him. God is love (1 John 4:16). All we can do is to respond to and to remain in that love.
Jesus described God’s love to Nicodemus in Scripture’s most quoted verse.
For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
God knew what was needed to have a relationship with Him. He alone could create the means. His action becoming flesh in Jesus and taking the punishment for our sin in our place proves His love for us (Romans 5:8).
Remaining in God’s love
God first loved us. Now what? He asks us to remain in His love. This comes by confession that Jesus is the Son of God and belief that God demonstrated His love by Jesus’ death for our sin.
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God – God remains in him and he in God. And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. 1John 4:16-17
John does not leave any room for us to love God plus anything else. In fact, he sets before us a clear choice of loving the world or the will of God. The former passes away and the latter remains forever.
It is not that things in our world today are not compelling. Far from it. This is actually a difficult choice. John describes the things we see and can possess in this world with the word lust. These options naturally create very strong desires and longing within us. Despite the natural hunger that we have for things in this world, John encourages us to instead choose the love of the Father.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s possessions – is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does the will of God remains forever. 1 John 2:15-17
This believing and remaining in God’s love rather than choosing the world or our selfish desires is the beginning of our walk with God. It is not only the beginning of the relationship, it is the center of it.
Responding to God’s love
The Discipleship Pathway Assessment includes several specific statements that allow us to agree with our amount or degree of love for God. However, these questions are not used in any of the analysis. Why? How can a discipleship assessment not use questions about love especially with everything described in this article?
The answer is simple. Almost all who say they are followers of Jesus Christ say they love God. It is virtually unanimous, even with alternative wording, that we agree we love God. Yet, Scripture is clear about how we know if a person loves God. Our love must be evident in action and truth.
Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in action and in truth. 1 John 3:18
John explains this as “the message you have heard from the beginning.” And to emphasize how old the message is he doesn’t just go back to the law Moses recorded (Deuteronomy 6:4-5), he goes all the way back to Cain and Abel to say “We should love one another, unlike Cain.”
We respond to God’s love for us by also loving each other.
Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. 1 John 4: 10-11
We respond to God’s love with love. “We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).”
Our motivation for everything we do as a follower of Jesus Christ should be love. Not guilt. Not pride. Not paying back a debt.
If we see the discipleship markers and the details found in the questions themselves as just a giant to-do list…
Or if we see them as a way to be a better Christian…
Or if we see them as a chance to earn God’s favor…
Then, we have missed the point, and we will be greatly frustrated with our inability to exhibit these in our lives.
He loved us first. We can’t earn that. We can’t ever be in a better place than being loved by Him.
So, our response to His love must be love. Yes, the expression of that love should show up in these biblical markers, because these questions are based on biblical truths about how God created us. But any intentionality on our part should be simply a reflection of His love.
Lord, I love you and want to engage with your Word more because your word is Truth and helps me know you more.
Lord, I love you and want your love to flow through me toward others.
Lord, I believe in you. Help my unbelief.
Lord, I can’t help but praise you. Help my words and my use of time to reflect that.
Lord, your love for me has so radically changed my life that I cannot help but want to spend time with others who have experienced that same transformation.
Lord, your love has been so good for me, help me to share this good news with others who are not yet following you.
Lord, with everything that I am help me to love you.