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[Editor’s Note: This is the sixth installment of a multi-part essay called “Questions from a Clergyman”. Click here to read from the beginning.]
“If the agent of our salvation is not the blood of Christ, what is it?”
A home town pastor asked that question during a series of “Cult Nights” he held focused on the Bahá’í Faith. It was probably the most central question that I faced in my own spiritual journey, and one that puts me in complete empathy with my evangelical friends.
To answer, I returned to Peter’s first epistle to the “elect pilgrims” which I cited in the last post:
Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart … Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you. – 1 Peter 1: 22-25.
Here, Peter stresses obedience to the Word. This is a simple truth. Christ Himself states this most explicitly in John 15: 3-17:
You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
…If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.
…This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. …These things I command you, that you love one another.
One of the first things Christ Jesus affirms in this passage is that: “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” What is especially significant about this passage is the context: He is in Gethsemane, preparing His disciples for His arrest. He does not speak to them of His sacrifice, His resurrection, or His blood. He doesn’t mention atonement. He doesn’t remind them about baptism or mention the Trinity. Instead, Christ simply lays out clearly and unambiguously what they must do to be His “friends”, to stay connected to Him, to abide in God’s love, and to bear fruit.
Christ then singles out one commandment that will assure a connection to the True Vine: “that you love one another as I have loved you.” For emphasis, He states it twice in the same short passage. Adding: “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.”
He singles out no other commandment in this way.
The Apostle Paul faithfully returns to this theme in his first letter to the Corinthians:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.
“If,” Christ says. In other words, these blessings are conditional. If they would stay connected to the True Vine, they must abide in His love. If they are to abide in His love, they must keep His commandments. There is nothing about doctrinal correctness — only love, without which we are cut off, as a dead branch, and no longer receive sustenance from the Vine.
Baha’u’llah writes about this same connection:
Love Me that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee. – Hidden Words, p. 2.
In Gethsemane, Christ clearly speaks of love for our fellow man not as a result of being connected to Him, but as a condition for maintaining a connection. This simple, elegant statement perfectly describes the eternal covenant between God and humanity. God offers spiritual life, asking in return only our love and obedience. Baha’is see this as the heart of the Gospel, and the true heart of the everlasting Faith of God.
Read the next article in the series: Saved or Unsaved – How to Know
Read the previous article in the series: Sacrifice and Resurrection