“The true Christian is one whose religion is in his heart and life. It is felt by himself in his heart. It is seen by others in his conduct and life.
He feels his sinfulness, guilt, and badness, and repents. He sees Jesus Christ to be that Divine Saviour whom his soul needs, and commits himself to Him.
He puts off the old man with his corrupt and carnal habits, and puts on the new man. He lives a new and holy life, fighting habitually against the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Christ Himself is the corner stone of His Christianity.
Ask him in what he trusts for the forgiveness of his many sins, and he will tell you, in the death of Christ.
Ask him in what righteousness he hopes to stand innocent at the judgment day, and he will tell You it is the righteousness of Christ.
Ask him by what pattern he tries to frame his life, and he will tell you that it is the example of Christ.
But, beside all this, there is one thing in a true Christian which is eminently peculiar to him. That thing is love to Christ.
Knowledge, faith, hope, reverence, obedience, are all marked features in a true Christian’s character. But his picture would be very imperfect if you omitted his “love” to his Divine Master.
He not only knows, trusts, and obeys. He goes further than this,—he loves.
This peculiar mark of a true Christian is one which we find mentioned several times in the Bible. “Faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” is an expression which many Christians are familiar with.
Let it never be forgotten that love is mentioned by the Holy Ghost in almost as strong terms as faith. Great as the danger is of him “that believeth not,” the danger of him that “loveth not” is equally great. Not believing and not loving are both steps to everlasting ruin.
Hear what St. Paul says to the Corinthians: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maran-atha.” (1 Cor. 16:22) St. Paul allows no way of escape to the man who does not love Christ.
He leaves him no loop-hole or excuse. A man may lack clear head-knowledge, and yet be saved.
He may fail in courage, and be overcome by the fear of man, like Peter.
He may fall tremendously, like David, and yet rise again.
But if a man does not love Christ, he is not in the way of life. The curse is yet upon him. He is on the broad road that leadeth to destruction.
Hear what St. Paul says to the Ephesians, “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” (Eph. 6:24) The Apostle is here sending his good wishes, and declaring his good will to all true Christians.
Many of them, no doubt, he had never seen. Many of them in the early Churches, we may be very sure, were weak in faith, and knowledge, and self-denial.
How, then, shall he describe them in sending his message? What words can he use which will not discourage the weaker brethren? He chooses a sweeping expression which exactly describes all true Christians under one common name.
All had not attained to the same degree, whether in doctrine or practice. But all loved Christ in sincerity.
Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ Himself says to the Jews, “If God were your Father, ye would love Me.” (John 8:42) He saw His misguided enemies satisfied with their spiritual condition, on the one single ground that they were children of Abraham.
He saw them, like many ignorant Christians of our own day, claiming to be God’s children, for no better reasons than this, that they were circumcised and belonged to the Jewish Church.
He lays down the broad principle that no man is a child of God, who does not love God’s only begotten Son.
No man has a right to call God Father, who does not love Christ. Well would it be for many Christians if they were to remember that this mighty principle applies to them as well as to the Jews.
No love to Christ,—then no sonship to God!
Hear once more what our Lord Jesus Christ said to the Apostle Peter, after He rose from the dead. Three times He asked him the question, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me.” (John 21:15–17)
The occasion was remarkable. He meant gently to remind His erring disciple of His thrice-repeated fall. He desired to call forth from Him a new confession of faith, before publicly restoring to him his commission to feed the Church.
And what was the question that He asked him? He might have said,—“Believest thou? Art thou converted? Art thou ready to confess Me? Wilt thou obey Me?”
He uses none of these expressions. He simply says, “Lovest thou Me?”
This is the point, He would have us know, on which a man’s Christianity hinges. Simple as the question sounded, it was most searching.
Plain and easy to be understood by the most unlearned poor man, it contains matter which tests the reality of the most advanced apostle. If a man truly loves Christ, all is right;—if not, all is wrong.
Would you know the secret of this peculiar feeling towards Christ which distinguishes the true Christian? You have it in the words of St. John, “We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
That text no doubt applies specially to God the Father. But it is no less true of God the Son.
A true Christian loves Christ for all He has done for him.
He has suffered in his stead, and died for him on the cross.
He has redeemed him from the guilt, the power, and the consequences of sin, by His blood.
He has called him by His Spirit to self-knowledge, repentance, faith, hope, and holiness.
He has forgiven all his many sins, and blotted them out.
He has freed him from the captivity of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
He has taken him from the brink of hell, placed him in the narrow way, and set his face toward heaven.
He has given him light instead of darkness, peace of conscience instead of uneasiness, hope instead of uncertainty, life instead of death.
Can you wonder that the true Christian loves Christ?
And he loves Him besides, for all that He is still doing.
He feels that He is daily washing away his many shortcomings and infirmities, and pleading his soul’s cause before God.
He is daily supplying all the needs of his soul, and providing him with an hourly provision of mercy and grace.
He is daily leading him by His Spirit to a city of habitation, bearing with him when he is weak and ignorant, raising him up when he stumbles and falls, protecting him against his many enemies, preparing an eternal home for him in heaven.
Can you wonder that the true Christian loves Christ?
Does the debtor in jail love the friend who unexpectedly and undeservedly pays all his debts, supplies him with fresh capital, and takes him into partnership with himself?
Does the prisoner in war love the man who at the risk of his own life, breaks through the enemies’ lines, rescues him, and sets him free?
Does the drowning sailor love the man who plunges into the sea, dives after him, catches him by the hair of his head, and by a mighty effort saves him from a watery grave?
A very child can answer such questions as these. Just in the same way, and upon the same principles, a true Christian loves Jesus Christ.”
–J.C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots (Carlise, PA: Banner of Truth, 1877/2014), 322-325.