Characteristics of the Christian
by Bob Burridge ©2001, 2011
2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
There are specific characteristics that should be seen in the life of every Christian. Our interest isn’t just to define them, but to learn to do two things:
1. to develop these attributes in our own lives
2. to encourage them in those around us.
A good way to begin is to look at
what it means to love one another.
Love is the first item in the list of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22. Jesus himself said that love was the summary of all the law and prophets. In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus was asked what was the foremost of all the commandments. His answer, quoting the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, was this …
“Jesus said to him, ” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Love is so important in Scripture, it would require a whole series of studies to do it justice. Love is the word the Bible uses to summarize the way believers should live. We we need to look at what exercises will strengthen the love Christ put in us by his grace.
There is a divine command that God’s children should learn to love.
Jesus said that loving one another was a mark of discipleship. John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
If all men know we are Christ’s disciples by our love, then we need to know what it means to love, and what love looks like when we do it.
Love has many meanings the way we use it generally. We should define it the way God uses the word love in his word. I suggest this definition:
“Love is a disposition implanted into needful human hearts by the prevailing grace of God whereby we are enabled joyfully to obey the revealed desires of our Creator; both toward the Lord himself, and toward others.” (Pastor Bob Burridge)
Obeying God’s desires as to how we should behave toward him and toward others involves a lot. We need to know how to be loving at home, at school, at work, at play, in worship, socially, shopping, and while we are fixing things. We need to know what it means to love in every situation. It needs to become a part of what we are, and of what we do all the time.
Love is described in some depth in 1 Corinthians 13 (we will use the New King James translation). The old KJV uses the word “charity” instead of “love.” In 1611 AD charity meant love at its noblest.
This chapter doesn’t tell us everything about love, but it is a good summary of what our lives should be like when we love.
If love is a fruit produce by the Holy Spirit working in us, we should know how to nurture this fruit. We need to know the seed that begins the growth of love in us, the labor needed to cultivate it to its fullest yield, and the good harvest our labor can reap from this important seed.
What is the seed that makes love begin to grow in us?
Biblical love as a disposition is alien to our fallen human nature. Left to our inclination at birth, human love lacks an essential quality. It does good to others so that it can improve it’s own situation.
The self-centeredness of fallen human love is obvious. It wants companionship, help, sex, and opportunity. For those reasons it focuses on what it can do for others to get these things for itself.
It loves other people as long as it gets what it wants. When hurt comes along, or when the companionship is strained, what the world calls love produces accusations, arguments, and fightings. Sometimes it leads to infidelity, gossip, divorces, law-suits, and defamation. In extreme situations it even leads to perjury and violence. This kind of love isn’t just artificial, it is a cruel costume for selfish evil.
Biblical love begins when the seed of spiritual life is implanted in regeneration. Only when the fallen creature is restored by grace through Christ can anyone begin to realize love as the Creator intended it to be.
The Bible says, “we love because He first loved us.” If God hadn’t first sent his Son to redeem us, love as God reveals it would be completely unknown in our world.
Love is an essential evidence of our belonging to Christ. That is why Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
When you grow a plant, its life is in the seed. But to make it grow to its fullest, there are things you need to do. It needs water, soil, nutrients, proper lighting, and protection from disease, insects and hungry animals. When God implants this love in us there are things we are called upon to do.
What labor is needed to cultivate love to its fullest yield?
The Bible speaks of love as an action. It is a command. God says you should love your neighbor as yourself. He tells husbands to love their wives, and he commands us all to love one another. So when people say “I just can’t love that person”, they imply that God makes unreasonable demands of us. Love is first an obedience before it becomes a feeling. This is good news. It means there is something we can do when love doesn’t seem to be there.
God doesn’t say, feel love for your neighbor, or husbands feel love for your wives. He doesn’t say fall in love with others. He tells us to love them. It’s a direct command. Do you have trouble loving others? Then here is a message of hope. You can do something about it.
God’s word tells us specific things to work on to nurture love to grow in us. It defines what we do toward God when we love him, and toward others when we love them. This seed implanted in us by grace requires these obediences as it grows. The same grace that implants love enables and moves us to grow in our obedience to God’s word. We need to do loving things while trusting in God’s promises to succeed.
Paul presents 16 qualities of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
“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. …”
Notice that this love isn’t presented in some abstract, ideal environment. It is shown acting in the real world, a world where bad things happen. It responds to being provoked, wronged, and generally attacked. We see how love bears up in the midst of adversity and selfishness.
People who are loving in these ways, show that its seed has been planted in their heart. Love is directly defined in the Bible as doing what God has commanded toward others:
John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
John 15:12, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
John 15:14, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.”
John 15:17, “These things I command you, that you love one another.”
1 John 5:2-3, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.”
This is what we need to do when there is a lack of love in our lives. We need to learn God’s moral law, and determine by Christ’s enablement to obey the biblical commandments toward God and toward our fellow humans.
When the seed of love is implanted in regeneration, and when it is cultivated by the means of obeying God’s instructions, we will enjoy the full harvest of this fruit of the Holy Spirit.
What good harvest can our labor reap from this small seed?
When we do what God commands, he blesses us with that feeling of love. The general form of his covenant promises is this: “Do and be blessed.” This does not imply that God waits for our efforts. It means that God uses the power of his word and the work of the Holy Spirit to produce our efforts. It is all by his grace. When we are made aware of the need, and of the way God has ordained for the need to be met, and when we obey lovingly with confident expectation of success, we discover the work of God active in our hearts. As we then do what we are moved to do, the full blessings of love in our marriages, homes, communities, and church family will be realized. We will feel the love God promises that we will experience.
It is this effect of love, the feeling, that the world craves. But fallen man wants the feeling without faith, without the obedience. So he becomes frustrated at the work of conjuring up a feeling. He runs from church to church, from job to job, from marriage to marriage, community to community, club to club … looking for love and finding no reward.
Our duty before God is without dispute.
First: We need to make sure we are made alive by Christ, and that we are humbly thankful for that work of grace. By faith, lay hold of the promises God makes, and trust in his enablement. If the seed is not planted, love cannot grow to what it ought to be.
Second: We need to cultivate implanted love by obedience to God’s word. We must learn to keep God’s commandments toward one another, and toward God himself. Without the evidence of obedience, there is no reason to believe the seed has been planted. Of course all of us are imperfect in our obedience. So another part of our obedience is to help others to love, and we should forgive their failures as we are forgiven by our God.
Third: We need to expect God’s blessing when we obey him, and treat others as he says we should knowing that God will give the increase.
When we are patient and kind, and are not envious, braggardly, arrogant, rude, or self-seeking, and are not easily provoked, or take wrongs into account, and we do not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rather we rejoice in truth, bear all things, believe all things, hope in all of God’s assurances, and endure all things, and when we do all this persistently, then God will bless us with all the rich feelings of love in our hearts.
Note: The verses in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.