Summary: Only a vital Christianity creates vital Christians.
Without Jesus at the center of our faith and life, what are we left with? As far as our Christianity goes, it’s going to be nothing more than some form of bland moralism, religious formalism, or an anemic spirituality that neither motivates us nor appeals to others. We must have a Christ-centered faith if we want a faith that matters. Only a vital Christianity creates vital Christians.
And so, how do we come to possess such vitality? The answer is right here in Scripture. The account in John 20 takes place during the evening hours of that first Easter Sunday. Jesus’ disciples are huddled together with the doors locked, and John, who was one of them, tells us that it was because they were afraid. They have heard the wonderful news that Jesus, who was crucified and buried, is now alive. But they are still afraid, and they have closed the world out.
It’s an apt description of the church not only in their day but in ours as well. We have a risen Savior. We know that he is alive. And yet, we retreat to the holy huddle and hide from the big, mean world. We have the best news ever, waiting to be announced from the rooftops; yet we keep it to ourselves – and we do it out of fear.
So, what unfreezes us? What gets us out from behind locked doors? What compels us to share the good news of the risen Christ? And what makes us do it, not because we are obligated to, but because – get this! – we are so affected by it that we can’t contain ourselves? Take these first disciples. What moved them from cringing behind closed doors – locked doors, no less! – to the point where they found themselves saying, as Peter and John would later – “We cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard”? What was it that made the difference? You can’t miss it! It’s all over this passage. It’s Jesus.
I want you to notice how these first disciples were overtaken by four realities that changed them forever. I call them four tests of a vital Christianity. These are, by no means, the only tests the New Testament gives for a vibrant faith. There is no mention here of loving God and neighbor, no talk of believing and guarding the truth, and no mention of walking in righteousness. Those are also evidences of a vital Christianity. But here in John we have four. Let’s take a look.
So, here were the disciples – as we mentioned – hiding in fear behind locked doors. And Jesus appeared to them. And what’s the first thing he said to them? Shalom, right? Shalom. Peace be with you. The peace of Christ – that’s the first thing we have to know if our religion is going to have any life in it. Shalom, of course, is to this day a Jewish greeting. But on the lips of Jesus – as it should be on our lips – it is more than a mere formality. It’s not just another way of saying hello. It attests to a blessing for which every human heart longs: the announcement that we’re not at odds with God any more.
You and I may not like it, but the Bible says that, before Christ entered our lives the way he entered that locked house on that first Easter – before God moved toward us in grace – we were his enemies. What a thing to say, right? That we could ever have been enemies of God! How can I even suggest such an idea? Here’s how: As a race, we rebelled against him. In the words of Luke 19, we made a solemn declaration by our sin: “We do not want this man to rule over us” (v. 14). God would have been well within his rights, so to speak, to destroy us. But he didn’t. Instead, he chose to love us. Paul says that “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” That’s Romans 5:8, and just two verses later we read, “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.” Or, as Paul puts it at the beginning of that chapter, “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). We are at war no more.
This is the beginning of any measure of vitality in religion. We must know that, by God’s grace, we have now been reclassified. We are no longer enemies of God because of our sin, but we have been declared righteous in his sight. God “has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13f.). We know the peace that only Jesus gives.