Okay, the title is a bit of a misnomer. There is not a single marker of Christlikeness. Those who come to God by faith in Jesus Christ are marked by a series of characteristics – sound doctrine, holiness, joy, peace, patience – the list goes on. There is no shortage of markers.
But there is one that I believe stands out above the others both because of its rarity even among those who call themselves Christians and because of its supernatural nature.
Romans 5:8 sets the groundwork for this concept. We know that God demonstrated his love for us by sending his son to die for us on the Cross. That is what this week is all about. Triumphal entry. Arrest. Trial. Crucifixion. And the Resurrection, of course.
But I would ask you to ponder something else. When did God show his love for us? “While we were still sinners.” The love of God was demonstrated to the unworthy in our unworthiness. God’s love shines so brightly because it shines into such darkness. We were still in our sin when God reached down. We had not performed an heroic act that earned God’s favor or cleaned up our lives. We were not darling little creatures who evoked some kind of emotional response from God. We were sinners – despicable, depraved and deserving of hell. But while we stood dirty and disgusting in our sinful state, God reached down and loved us.
God’s love is shown to the unworthy, to the undeserving, to those who were his enemies, rebelling against his holiness and his grace. That is God’s love.
And the key marker of true Christlikeness is that divine love being replicated in our lives. God displays his love in us, then we pass it on to others,
Jesus identified this key trait in Matthew 5:43-48.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
This passage makes a very simple point.
The marker of Christlikenesss not how we treat our friends, but how we treat our enemies.
Points about the Point
Jesus makes several points in this passage, supporting the main point.
1) It is normal to love our friends and hate our enemies.
“You have heard it said…” Jesus was referring to the normal course of things, the way things work generally. You love your friends and treat them well. You are loyal and caring and faithful and generous. But your enemies? Well, you disdain them and treat them badly.
So, what is an enemy? We are so spiritual (or at least pretending to be) that we do not like to admit having any enemies. “I don’t hate anyone,” may be one of the more common lies I’ve heard Christian brothers and sisters say. Classic denial. We all have enemies, in one form or another.
Let me give what I believe is a pretty simple definition of an enemy – two key aspects. First, an enemy is someone I believe is seeking my destruction – not just physical, but emotional and spiritual as well. Is there someone I think has it in for me, wants to see me suffer, rejoices at my pain? That would be an enemy. And the flip-side of that is also true. Is there anyone whom I wish ill, at whose suffering I would rejoice?
All that boiled down is this:
An enemy is someone who would rejoice at my downfall, or at whose downfall I would rejoice.
And, of course, it is normal for me to hate such people, to hold ill-will toward them. That is a normal human reaction. But Jesus demands something different, a supernatural response.
2) As God loved sinners, we must love our enemies.
God’s love for us was not based on our worth, but on his grace. Our love for others must be equally unmerited. I do not have the freedom as a Christian to love and relate only to those I love, or those whose company I enjoy, or those who make me happy. I have to love the annoying, the aggravating, even my enemies.
3) Loving our enemies is Divine Family trait.
Look at what Jesus said in verse 45, ” so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Obviously, he is not advocating that loving others is the way to become a child of God – that would be a salvation by works that is contrary to the gospel. Loving our enemies is a marker that we have been born from above and are now the children of God.
We can only love our enemies through the work of God in us. It is one of the great miracles any of us can experience – it is truly supernatural.
4) Loving our enemies has specific meaning.
This is not some kind of squishy emotional command. It is a specific command with an action plan.
What does it mean to love your enemies? It’s pretty simple. Instead of seeking (or rejoicing at) their downfall, you seek to bless them and to lift them up in Christ.
You treat your enemies as if they were your friends.
Jesus gives some specifics in the passage about how this is done.
- We must pray for our enemies (and not those imprecatory prayers from the Psalms). We pray for God to strengthen and bless those we count our enemies.
- We must “greet” our enemies, treat them as if they are significant and be friendly to them. It is a natural human response to act as if our enemies are insignificant. “I couldn’t care less what he thinks of me.” But the Christian cannot write off another person, especially another blood-bought child of God and treat them as insignificant.
- We must bless our enemies. Paul paraphrased this passage in Romans 12:14 when he said, “Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse.” We are called to become agents of God’s blessing in the lives of those who would love to see our downfall.
So, if someone is my enemy, I am commanded to pray for him, treat him respectfully and seek to be an agent of God’s blessing in his life.
Nothing hard about that, is there?
Actually, it’s not hard at all. It’s impossible. It is a supernatural work of God that can only be done by God.
When the Rubber Hits the Road
You realize that this command can only be applied when someone wrongs you. The mark of a Christlike person is how they respond when aggravated, insulted, annoyed or attacked.
- Do you fight fire with fire?
- Do you insult the insulter?
- Do you tell the world how you’ve been wronged and what a jerk your enemy is?
These are natural, normal and human responses. I have done every single one, often, in response to insults. But God wants us to live in a supernatural love.
We are never more like Christ than when we respond in grace to an attack, when we respond to insults with kindness, when we return good for evil, when we pray for and bless the person who is responsible for our anger.
We cannot claim to be followers of Christ unless we love others as Christ loved us.
God’s love is demonstrated to the unlovely, the unworthy, the sinful and the undeserving. Our love must be extended to exactly those kind of people as well.
So, let’s boil it down to the bone. If the key marker of Christlikeness is how one treats his enemies, then what does that say about you and me, and the way we relate on blogs?
I wish I could hold myself up as a better example of this, but all too often, I’ve responded naturally instead of supernaturally.
May Christ be seen in me. And you!