What is the defining characteristic of a Christian—the one thing which is so different from how other people operate, that when someone sees it they recognize it can only be from God? If you said “love” you are right, because of all of the qualities a follower of Christ can exhibit, this is the one which most accurately reflects the merciful character of our gracious God to a fallen world.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us…” (Ephesians 2:4)
While God does judge the stubbornly unrepentant at some point, one of the defining characteristics of His nature is His great love for us. We are all familiar with this famous verse, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) But I John 4:7-11 gives us insight into why we should love others:
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested [revealed, shown] toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [payment] for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
The love we show toward one another is a natural extension of the love God has toward us; we love because He loves us.
This is in stark opposition to the natural and unmerciful ways exhibited and expected by the unregenerate population. Romans 1:29-31 details this life: “Being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful.” In the world at large, it is the norm to be self-seeking, harsh, unmerciful, and unforgiving.
Yet the behavior of a Christian is different. God tells us that we should, “…no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ…that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:17-24) We are further told“…to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:1-2) God commands us to turn from a sinful and self-centered way of life to a life characterized by righteousness and love.
So what does love look like? I Corinthians 13:4-8 tells us:
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…”
But why should we love others? Jesus revealed the answer when He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. But this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) Because it is so rare, love is a witness to the true and only God in a world so empty of it.
Thank You for the immeasurably great love You have for us; thank You that You loved us enough to die for us. Help us reflect Your love to the people our lives touch each day that they may see something that is not human but divine—that they may see You. Amen.