I used to think that people would know that I was a Christian by the way that I dressed, the words that I used (or didn’t use), the places I went, and the standards that I held. I now realize that the Bible has a totally different teaching on things. To be sure, all those things that I was preoccupied with are important to a degree, but there’s something even more important—something that Jesus said in one of his final conversations with his disciples. He said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Arrogance, Stinginess, and Reclusiveness
That verse will blow you away. Probably every Christian has some idea of testimony or witness. How do you show others that you’re a Christian? Well, you live like this, or you attend church on Sunday, or you have a fish sticker on your bumper, or you say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays,” or you put “blessings” in your email signature or something like that. Those are all little things that we drop here and there to put up a little light, throw out a spark.
But Jesus comes along and gives us one thing, one command, that will proclaim our Christian identity to the world: love for other believers. This is no flimsy affection, nor sappy smiles on Sunday morning. Later on in His conversation, Jesus describes this love as the kind of love that compels “someone [to] lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Self-sacrificing love. Jesus-style love (John 15:12).
Unfortunately, a lot of us have missed it, myself included. How have we missed it? Christians are known by a lot of things, but I’m not sure that love is one of them. What are Christians known by?
They Assume We Are Christians by…
- Our arrogance. Some Christians are characterized by arrogance. We slip into the thinking that we’re better than the rest of the world. We live with purpose, and integrity. Therefore, so we think, we must be better than other people. When we substitute Jesus’ righteousness for self-righteousness, we exude nothing but sheer arrogance
- Our reclusiveness. Some Christians tend to retreat from society rather than engage it. Preferring the easy, enjoyable, and comfortable company of the upright, churchgoing, moral crowd, we neglect love for our neighbor (Matthew 22:39). However, monastic orders notwithstanding, Scripture does not support such a practice (Matthew 5:14-16).
- Our stinginess. The Bible has a lot to say about giving away stuff and taking care of poor people. “Sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Luke 12:33). “When you give a banquet, invite the poor” (Luke 14:13).” “Look after orphans and widows” (James 1:27). Somehow, the false religion of the American Dream has erased the poignancy of these passages. It’s so much easier to accumulate nice stuff and declare, “I’ve earned it!” Some Christians equate a Christian worldview with “capitalism,” political jargon for “the excessive accumulation of material goods for one’s self.”
They Should Know We Are Christians by…
My point is not to jab and criticize, but to contrast. Not every Christian is guilty of the points above. But we must remember that no Christian is perfect. None of us practices perfect love. But there is a way to produce a more pure testimony in contrast to the all-too-common practices listed above.
- Our humble love. Humility is part of love. Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:8). His death was His love. Christians are called to the same kind of humble love (John 15:12).
- Our self-sacrificial love. Jesus’ love was sacrificial. Sacrificial love is tough, though. It means letting go of our comfort, our reputation, our money, and our time for other people. That’s sacrifice, but it’s nowhere near the sacrifice that Jesus paid on our behalf. Even so, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).
- Our generous love. In contrast to stinginess, loving Christianity looks quite generous. There is no problems with being rich, but there is a problem with neglecting the poor and downtrodden (Exodus 22:22, Deuteronomy. 15:7, 11; Luke 6:38). God is interested in those who are poor. While we rejoice in “God’s blessings” (aka. material provision), let us not forget that we can be God’s blessing to others, too. Loving others means helping others, bearing their burdens. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
- Our compassionate love. The biblical portrait of Jesus is multifaceted and complex. He is a conqueror, a warrior, a King. He is also a Shepherd. He is compassionate. Such compassion is the responsibility of Christians. Christians should be characterized by the kind of love that “seeks justice” (Isaiah 1:17). God’s desires for His people is that they “administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another” (Zechariah 7:8-10) In a day of judgmentalism, prejudice, and injustice ran amok, Christians can show forth Christ’s love with a heart of compassion. “As God’s chosen people…clothe yourselves with compassion” (Colossians 3:12).