The author of 1 John brings this statement back up in a very interesting way, something that bridges the gap of what Jesus Christ has done and the transformation He brings into our lives in our response. 1 John 3:16 reads, "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters." (NIV, 2011)
I wonder if I really understand that parallel. Yes, while I served in the military, I would not have hesitated to die, to lay down my life, for the soldiers or innocent civilians around me in combat. The cause was palpable, save someone else's life at the expense of my own. I was at peace with that reality if it had to happen. I am grateful to God that it was not required during my time in Iraq, even in the midst of the conflicts. (Another story entirely!)
But what about the death that Jesus addressed - he died for us all in order that we may have eternal life with Him in the Kingdom of God. The inbreaking Kingdom of God which is "already" and "not yet." (Mk 1:15, the parables, etc.). An eternal life that begins upon our response of faith to the grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ. It gives us a hope and a future. Jesus died, in fact cried out to God in that moment as forsaken! (This is a quote of Psalm 22) Jesus' sacrifice, to be a sacrifice, had to have that bit of uncertainty in it, didn't it? He took my sins, our sins, upon him in obedience to the point of death (Phil 2:8).
Returning to 1 John 3:16, is this not the death described in which Jesus describes his love for us? It is completely unselfish...he made himself nothing (Phil 2:6-7). He humbled himself. So if we "ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" this should be selfless, and in fact self-giving. What is profound for me is rephrasing this question personally - with the eternal consequences on the line that Jesus had.
Would I die so that others might live? Eternally? In other words, would I humbly give up my right to enter heaven so that others can?
Now, I fully realize and understand that this is a HYPOTHETICAL question - that in no way is my life a righteous sacrifice that could in any way cover the sins of someone else, as Christ has done, but is this not the very nature and love of Jesus Christ? The very reason he came, and the very divine image into which he calls us to be transformed in him in the Spirit? The ESV Study Bible (Crossway, 2008) has the following note for 1 Jn 3:16 - "Jesus' path to the cross marks the selfless, self-giving way of life to which his followers are called." Yet this is the charge - do I have this attitude? Do I love others enough to give up my life to save theirs? Would I do whatever I can to serve the Kingdom of God, just as I served the United States of America? How much more is my citizenship to this Kingdom than to the USA? Would I gladly, without hesitation, die for those I serve with and the innocent civilians around me? If, somehow, my death could enable even just one other person to have eternal life, would I do it? Would I become as selfless as Jesus?
I think, really think, that if the reason we are a Christian, or a follower of Christ, is merely to "get into heaven" we are completely missing the point. We have entered into eternal life upon accepting Christ, and the hope of the "not yet" is found in the "already" inbreaking Kingdom of God - as found in the Lord's prayer - "Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven." This life has meaning and purpose: to bear witness to Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God, taking this good news to the ends of the earth, making disciples. It is not our ministry, not our saving souls, not our efforts, but the response of our lives to what Jesus continues to do in the world around us. Do we humble ourselves to serve and present this? It seems that it is not really conversion as much as revelation...just as God reveals himself to us, so we reveal Him and what He has done and is doing, to others. God is calling all humanity to himself, in the person of Jesus, and by the power of the Spirit.
This is only possible because of the death of Jesus - the self-giving, selfless death. Tomorrow commemorates this day - and the hope of the resurrection that changed everything!
O Lord, I pray for your Spirit to transform me into this love. May you continue to pursue each of us with your love, the self-giving, selfless love which gives us, your creation, hope and a future. I pray that you continue to help me remember what Good Friday is about - your Son's death for the salvation of all. May I believe this with my entire being, and be transformed ever more into His likeness - the divine image you created us in. Thank you; I cannot fathom the depths of your love - which nothing can separate us from! (Romans 8:38-39). Amen.