Welcome to the second week of our series called DNA. In this series, we’re exploring who we are as a church and who we are as individual followers of Jesus. What is in the DNA of someone who is all in…completely sold out to Jesus? Who are we called to be?
This entire series comes from the New Testament book of 1 John. Like we learned last week, this book was a letter that the Apostle John wrote near the end of his life. And it talks so much about what goes into the DNA of people who follow Jesus.
Last week, we saw that we are a movement. We are a movement of authenticity. We are a movement of grace.
Today, we’re going to talk about this foundational truth…we are love.
That is as basic, as foundational, as 101 as it gets. But if we’re honest about it, the church has not always been very good at love. In fact, sometimes the church has been downright terrible at love.
One of the things that we’re seeing in our church is that we are reaching a lot of people who have been burnt by a church in the past. Maybe it was fairly recent, maybe it was decades ago. But in some way, at some point, these people have been deeply wounded by a Christian or by a church in the past. And most of those wounds are because that Christian or that church was really bad at this thing called love.
That may seem like a tough place to start, but we need to get it out of the way right up front. Sometimes the church has been terrible at love. And if you’ve been on the receiving end of this, then I want you to know that I’m so glad you’re here. I’m so glad that God could possibly use us to be a second chance church for you.
Or maybe we’re more of a last chance church for you. Maybe you’re thinking, “If this one doesn’t work, I’m done.” We’re thrilled that you’re here. We’re not perfect here at Connect. We talked about that at length last week. But I will tell you this…even though we’re not perfect, love is who we are. It is hardwired into our DNA.
Now, let me pray for us and then we’ll talk about this crazy thing called love.
Let’s get into the Bible. In 1 John 2, John wrote, “We know that we have come to know [Jesus] if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.” (1 John 2:3-4, NIV)
Obedience is part of our DNA as Christ-followers. When Jesus gives a command, we obey. We follow Him wherever He leads. We do whatever He commands.
If we don’t, then John says very bluntly that we are liars. Someone who claims to love Jesus and follow Jesus but refuses to obey Jesus is a liar. The truth is not in them.
But now, let’s combine this with what John wrote in the next chapter of this book. John wrote, “We know that we have come to know [Jesus] if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.” (1 John 2:3-4, NIV)
Now, combine that with this from chapter 3. “And this is his command: [John said that if claim to know God, then we have to follow His commands. Here is what He commands…]to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them.” (1 John 3:23-24a, NIV)
Sometimes we overcomplicate things, don’t we? John boils it down to its most basic level. What does God want us to do? What is at the core of our DNA as Christ-followers?
Believe in Jesus and love others. Those are the fundamental building blocks of our faith. This is what is at the core of our DNA.
And if you think that sounds too oversimplified, just remember that it’s the exact same thing that Jesus Himself said.
Check this out from the book of Matthew. “Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.
And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40, NIV)
The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day. They were the elites. No one was considered more knowledgeable or more spiritual than the Pharisees.
These super religious people came to Jesus, trying to trip Him up. One of them asked Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment?”
They wanted to hear Jesus say that the greatest commandment was some legalistic, rule-keeping regulation. Do this. Don’t do that. Eat this. Don’t eat that. Because if He said that this was the stuff that pleased God the most, if this was the stuff that was most important, then these religious leaders could say, “Then we’re good. We follow that rule to the letter. We are good to go.”
But instead, Jesus said that what God wants most from us is love. Love God and love others. It’s the exact same thing that John wrote in his letter. The most important thing is for us to love God and love others.
So if love is the most important thing, then we need to know what it looks like. If love is the core of our DNA as followers of Jesus, then we need to be sure that we understand what it means to love. That’s what we’re going to talk about for the rest of our time today…and it might surprise you just how controversial love can be. If we are loving like God does, there are some people who will think that it is absolutely scandalous. They will criticize and condemn us because we are a church that knows how to love well.
Here’s what love does: love runs toward the mess, not away from it. If we are going to love well, we are going to get messy in the process.
My family has a mechanic that we always use. We seem to have more than our fair share of car trouble, so a good mechanic is really valuable to us. When it comes to cars, I can fill them with gas. I can add windshield washer fluid. And I can change the oil. That’s it. That’s the extent of what I know. If it’s anything more complicated than that, I need help. That’s why I love having a mechanic that I can trust.
Our guy’s name is Tom. Tom owns his own shop. It’s a local business that he built from the ground up. And Tom isn’t just the guy that you meet in the front office. He’s also the lead guy in the garage. And you can tell, because Tom gets messy.
I don’t think I’ve ever picked up my car from Tom when there wasn’t oil on his shirt, grease on his hands, etc. When you see Tom at the end of the day, he’s pretty much a mess. And that’s just how I like it.
If my mechanic was in a nice, white shirt that was spotless, if his hands were clean and his fingernails were manicured, I’d probably be wondering about the quality of his work. But the fact that Tom is a mess always tells me that he got deeply involved with my car.
When you get deeply involved in loving broken, sinful people, everything isn’t going to stay clean. You’re going to get messy. And that’s why some religious people decide that it’s just easier not to get too involved in love, because it’s just too messy.
Check out this example from Jesus’ life. This comes from Luke 5, starting in verse 27. “After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.
Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:27-32, NIV)
In the first century, who you ate with was very significant. Eating with someone was a sign that you considered them your equal. You fully accepted them, without hesitation and without reservation.
So, because of that, the religious leaders would NEVER have dinner with tax collectors and other sinners. In this time period, tax collectors were known thieves and swindlers. They would charge the people extra for their taxes, and after they gave the Roman government their cut, the tax collectors would pocket the difference. They were con men. Everybody knew it, but nobody could stop it.
And Jesus sat down and shared a meal with these scumbags. And not just them, but all the other people who ran in their circle. Prostitutes were there. Sinners of every stripe were there. It was the roughest crowd you could ever imagine. And there, in the middle of it all, was Jesus. Eating food. Drinking wine. Talking. Smiling. Laughing. Loving.
And the religious leaders were appalled. They asked Jesus’ disciples, “How can you do this? How can you eat with “those people?”
And Jesus doesn’t miss a beat. He looked right at the religious leaders and said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
The Pharisees were supposed to be the ones who had the closest connection to God, and yet they completely missed the heart of God. The heart of God is love. They allowed themselves to be so blinded by sin that they didn’t allow themselves to love the sinner.
To them, holiness meant completely removing themselves from anything sinful. Staying squeaky clean was the most important thing.
But Jesus was willing to get messy. He understood that love runs toward the mess, not away from it. It didn’t score Him any points with the religious crowd, but that was okay with Him.
The moves that our church has made haven’t scored us a lot of points with the religious crowd. The religious crowd looks at a church that leaves their building, starts meeting in a hotel ballroom, changes their name…and they scoff. They criticize. They condemn.
And that’s okay with us, because they’re not why we’re here. Last week was our first week here in the hotel. Do you realize that we sent more notes to first-time guests last week than we did in the last three months in our old building? In one week!
One of the core values of our church is that we focus on the outsider, not the insider. And it’s a value that is 100% motivated by love. We are here to love in the same way that Jesus loved. And if that costs us our reputation with the religious crowd, then we’re in good company because the same thing happened to Jesus.
In his book called The Circle Maker, Mark Batterson wrote, “You can’t build God’s reputation if you aren’t willing to risk yours.”
Love is willing to take the risk. Love follows Jesus’ lead. Love realizes that it’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Love runs toward the mess, not away from it.
Here at Connect, your sin doesn’t scare us. Your brokenness doesn’t shock us. You past doesn’t offend us. Your present doesn’t alarm us.
And the reason is because of what we talked about last week. We’re all hypocrites. We’re all sinners. The only difference is that we’ve found Someone who can do something about it, and His Name is Jesus. And we’d love to introduce you to Him.
Jesus didn’t meet us when we were at our best. He met us when we were at our worst.
In Romans 5, the Apostle Paul wrote, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8, NIV)
Jesus didn’t die for us because we were so good. He died for us because we were so bad. We were still sinners. We were at our absolute worst when Jesus gave His life for ours.
He died to pay the price for our sin so we wouldn’t have to. He accepted the punishment on our behalf. He lived the perfect life we couldn’t live. Then He died the death that we should have died. And then He rose from the dead three days later to give us a new life.
That’s the hope that we have. And that’s why love is part of our DNA as Christ-followers.
Later on in 1 John, John says it so simply. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19, NIV)
We don’t love people because we are so good and we don’t love people because they are so good. We love people because God is so good. We love because He first loved us.
We jump into the mess of sin and brokenness because God jumped into our mess of sin and brokenness. We love sinful, broken people because God first loved us, and we are sinful, broken people. And if that costs us our reputation with people who just don’t get it, then we’re okay with that. It’s a small price to pay for connecting more people with Jesus.
And that’s what our church is all about. That’s what each of our families are all about. That’s what our individual lives are all about. Connecting people with Jesus.
And that means that everyone who calls Connect their home is willing to run toward the mess. Everybody say, “I will run toward the mess.” Say it out loud with me. “I will run toward the mess.”
If you do, it will cost you. Pharisees don’t like people who run toward the mess. Religious legalists don’t like people who run toward the mess. They’ll tell you that you’re wrong. And it can get very confusing because they’ll even quote some Scriptures out of context that will make it sound like you’re wrong.
But don’t worry, because you’re in good company. Those people didn’t like Jesus either. They even quoted Scripture to try to prove that Jesus was wrong. Don’t sweat it. Their game is old. Their game is tired. And their game is wrong.
Here’s the thing that they don’t understand. Just because you run toward the mess doesn’t mean that you condone the mess. Just because you accept someone in their sin doesn’t mean that you approve of their sin.
It’s kind of confusing, touchy territory, which is why so many people get it wrong. Acceptance can feel like approval.
Love is acceptance. Complete acceptance. No pre-conditions. No prerequisites. Love accepts a person completely, right where they are.
But acceptance and approval are two different things. Love accepts a person in their mess, but it doesn’t approve of the mess.
The best example I’ve ever seen is Jesus’ encounter with a woman who was caught in adultery. The story is in John 8. We’ve been in the book of 1 John. This story comes from the gospel of John. Different book, same writer.
In John 8, John wrote, “At dawn [Jesus] appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery.
They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. [Remember when I said that religious people will quote Scripture out of context to make it sound like you shouldn’t love people? Classic example right here.]
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:2-11, NIV)
Jesus was confronted with a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. Did you catch that part? This woman wasn’t just accused of adultery. She was caught in the act. Are we tracking?
Her guilt wasn’t in question. It was obvious. In fact, since she was caught in the act of adultery, it’s pretty likely that she was completely naked when the religious leaders hauled her up in front of this crowd. The shame, the humiliation, the guilt that she was feeling couldn’t even be calculated.
And what does Jesus do? He doesn’t join with the religious people who want to stone her to death. They viewed themselves as far superior to this woman. Jesus said, “No, you’re on the exact same level as her. You’re all sinners. If any of you isn’t a sinner, then you can throw the first stone.” And they all slinked away because Jesus had just schooled them. And it was a lesson in what love really looks like. Love runs toward the mess. It accepts people right where they are.
Do you realize that Jesus is the only one that could pass His own test? Jesus was without sin. Jesus could have picked up a rock and let it fly. But instead, He said, “I don’t condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”
That last statement is where love lands. I don’t condemn you. Love is full acceptance.
Leave your life of sin. Acceptance doesn’t mean approval.
Jesus didn’t excuse her sin. He didn’t condone her sin. He didn’t approve of the sin, but He absolutely accepted the sinner.
That’s love. That’s who Jesus is. That’s who we are. That’s what is in the DNA of people who follow Jesus.