The call of Christian discipleship is incredibly tough. Whether you are extrovert, introvert, loud, quiet, male or female it is a proper slog. For every advance, we can suffer two defeats. The New Testament sets such a high standard for the Christian life. It can be summed up in 1 Peter 1:16 – “Be holy, as I am holy”. Be as holy as God himself. It is our highest possible calling in life. Before we are husbands, wives, press officers, managers or anything else, if you believe in Jesus you are first and foremost a Christian.
Being a Christian, according to New Testament imagery is simultaneously a number of different things. It is being both a solider and a slave. We are called to be a sheep and a servant. We are simultaneously told to rely upon grace, while also being urged with proactive commands to work our out our own salvation. There is a constant tension because we are told to be in the world, but not to be ‘of the world’. This Christian life, this journey of faith is summed beautifully in one of my favourite hymns: “we nightly pitch our moving tent, a day’s march nearer home”. We are pilgrims, bound for heaven, but present on earth and called to be both athletes and an ambassadors for Christ.
On our way to heaven, we are all learning to be more like Christ. And part of this life-long lesson is that we are learning to love like Christ. Here is a supreme challenge to our old natures. Because by nature, we are born more concerned with self, than with God or others. Yet as Christians, grace has freed us to love God with a regenerated, brand new nature that now boasts the help of the Holy Spirit. Love then is given to God because we have experienced and felt His supreme love for us. In fact, the whole of the Christian life might best be summarised as a reaction. God has acted. He has taken the initiative. And after experiencing His grace and love we spend the rest of our life responding.
But there’s no quick fix. There’s no magic spell that will instantly make us love like Christ more. Instead, we must co-operate with the Spirit of God in the interests of growing in our love. We need to work at this and working requires conscious effort. St Paul told the church at Philippi: “I pray that you love may abound in all knowledge and true discernment”. So learning to love like Christ involves head and heart.
Practically speaking, what does Christ like love look like? Firstly it is sacrificial. It aims to put other’s first and to do so willingly, not begrudgingly. Secondly it is unconditional. We should not seek to give love, only to dictate the terms of the love we receive back. Don’t give in expectation of return, rather give and rejoice in what God has enabled you to give, rather the solely on what others will give you in return. Thirdly Christ like love is a growing desire to be obedient. When Jesus was here, he said: “if you love me, obey my commands”. The true test of our love is whether we truly, honestly, generously seek out his commands and then make every effort to obey them.
Why does this all matter? Because perfect love, says the Apostle John, drives out fear. And it is fear, often, that stops us living, and loving, more like Christ. Fear of what we will experience if we put Christ first. To banish fear, we need a zealous, jealous love. We need an abundant love. The school of Christ is a tough place. We are learning to love the most unlovable of things. The alternative is to follow the world that says: to love others more, you need to first love yourself. What rubbish. Love Christ, love His church, love His commands and love for others will flow.