Perhaps seminary is to blame. The study of theology is really important-- people’s lives depend on how well I apply the gospel to their context… right? Perhaps I embody the one word I promised never to utter because it is the thickest of veneers to authentic living: busy. Or perhaps the praise others offered to me about my “genuine” spirit actually transmuted into a “genuine” fig leaf. I’m not sure the reason, but I believe God is teaching me that genuine faith remembers how to feel. I’m not talking about the psychological “So, how does that make you feel?,” or Dr. Phil’s pointed verbal arrow, “How’s that working for you?". I’m talking about the beneath-the-surface response to “How are you?” that only suffering, unexpected joy, and delight in the Lord can reveal. First John is meant to be an encouragement to those who claimed to follow Christ. They followed because their hearts were captured by Jesus’ proclamation of good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, and sight for the blind. Not because it aligned with their cultural preferences or gave them an excuse to wear their new sandals fresh from Rome. Following Christ was not a means for them to engage in small talk in the synagogue about how their fields were doing or where to get the best scented-oils on the cheap. It was a call to devotion and obedience in light of what they knew.
Following Christ did not a guarantee their problems would go away. The invitation was to live real life with Christ as our advocate to overcome the world. Only then could they stop pretending and start living as children, abiding in the Father. Their identity was not leper, slave, or outcast. They needed to remember that the same Jesus that came in the flesh was still with them in Spirit. The testimonies were true-- He did die and rise again! They were alive in Christ.
Yet, how could they, in the light of that reality, love one another under persecution? How could they sacrifice money, time, family identity, and possessions knowing they still struggled with sexual sin, greed, and idolatry? How could they know they had genuine faith? John O. preached that Genuine Faith repents. Genuine repentance requires genuine sorrow. Genuine sorrow reveals where we find life-- in Christ or in the world. But before it reveals, sorrow guides the heart to remember. God is teaching me what and how to remember.
As I have reflected back on my doubts, fears, and even crises of faith, I remember godly men allowing me to “be” but then gently pointing me to the assurances of 1 John. I remember the sleepless nights wondering if God would forgive me… again. My assurance was found in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
I remember the pain of betrayal and broken promises. My assurance was that I didn’t have to fear relationships and the risk of loving others, because His perfect love casts out fear (1 John 1:18). And I remember feeling the shame of “what if people knew I…?”, when the sin was too deeply rooted. It wasn’t worth fighting anymore. My assurance was that Jesus didn’t just die for my sins, but the sins of the world (1 John 2:2). But if I do sin I “…have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).
Genuine faith calls me remember God’s truth in light of my circumstances-- not in spite of them. God, again, is teaching me to be honest with where I am and to remember what He first did for me. The beauty of remembering how to feel is that it doesn’t happen in isolation. It happens in communion with God, His Word, and His body. I am blessed beyond measure that my wife is often the instrument God uses. Yet I also need my friends to remember, and the guy who is sort of socially awkward to remember, and the older gentlemen still struggling with lust to remember. That is what I’m learning. That is my prayer for Blueprint-- that we would remember together.