Being in Christ: Being a good neighbor      

Gospel: Luke 10.25-37

A lawyer asks the Lord Jesus the incisive question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In other words what must I do to be saved? The Lord asks him, “What is written in the law?” The lawyer answers with the Great Commandment: to love God and one’s neighbor. Jesus affirms his answer. And then the lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers by telling the parable of the good Samaritan. There is probably no more important question to ask than the one the lawyer asked. In it is summed up all that a wise person seeks. It is the epitome of a life well lived. It includes God’s approval of one’s life, and what is better or more significant than that? It surely includes the fruit of the Spirit, humility, courage, integrity, virtue, honesty, and love of God and others. But is the answer really a matter of what we do? The Scriptures seems clear that we are saved (justified) by faith (Rm 3.21-26), not by works (Rm 4.1-25). James, however, points out that faith without works is dead (Jas 2. 14-26). In other words, if our faith is a ‘living faith’, then we will do those things that are pleasing to God, not in order to be saved (or benefit ourselves), but because “the law has been written on our heart” (Jer 31.31-33) and the Spirit impels us to want to do those things that are pleasing to God and worthy of Him. It is “being in Christ.” But several questions remain: What is love? What is eternal life? And, as the lawyer asks, who is my neighbor?

C.S. Lewis wrote a book on the four loves: friendship, affection, erotic love, and agape (divine or altruistic love). It is this latter that the lawyer and Jesus agreed upon. It is a matter of will or choice to put the Other (whether God or neighbor) ahead of self. It involves denying oneself (Lk 9.23, 24; 14. 27; Mt 10.38,39; Mk. 8.35), bearing others’ burdens, being a servant to others, as Jesus set the example by washing His disciples’ feet (Jn 13.1-17), imitating Jesus in laying down one’s life for others, either literally or figuratively. Putting others ahead of oneself is opposed to every natural (fallen) human instinct. It requires “being in Christ.”

What is eternal life? The common understanding is that it is everlasting life, never-ending life. And that is true, but a less common and equally valid understanding is that it is a divine quality of life that begins when one is regenerated or ‘born again’ or ‘born from above’ (i.e., spiritually) as in Jn 3.1-15. It happens when one is given the grace of the Holy Spirit who gives faith in the Triune God (Eph 2.8-10). This supernatural gift justifies one, which means atonement, remission of sins, and the beginning of a life-long process of sanctification which eventually results in the verdict of ‘innocent’ at the final judgment. It is “being in Christ” and having Him in us.

The final question is “Who is our neighbor?” In the parable we find a person in dire need, who is ignored by a priest and a religious layman. They have rejected the role of neighbor to the person in need. Then a despised foreigner, a Samaritan, responds to the needs of the injured Israelite. It involves inconvenience, sacrifice, possibly danger, and no evident prospect of repayment. The only motive is compassion and agape love. Jesus is saying these are the qualities of being a neighbor. It is selfless. It is sacrificial. It applies even to enemies. Its only reward is that it pleases God and is worthy of a follower of Christ. It is the ultimate model, along with foot-washing servant hood, for the disciple. It means “being in Christ” and “Him being in us.”

Memory Verse: For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death…in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rm 8.2, 4)