Marks of the True Christian
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” Romans 12:9-14
The significance of Romans is confirmed by Augustine, who considered it to be “the most basic, most comprehensive statement of true Christianity.” Martin Luther described the book as the “chief part of the New Testament and the very purest gospel.”
Paul in these verses continues to teach the Church at Rome how to apply in their lives the doctrine he had written to them of in the first 11 chapters of his letter. In the rest of the epistle, he focuses on specific ways in which believers must live their lives in obedience to God’s Word and to the glory of His name. The call to practical, holy living is the climax of this rich epistle. Paul had already written of the need for believers to be transformed by the renewal of their mind, that by testing they may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. The Holy Spirit achieves this transformation through the process of sanctification, an essential and repeated New Testament theme. This transformation in our lives is brought about by an inner change in the mind, and the Spirit’s means of transforming our minds is the Word of God. Paul then fleshes out how this transformation is put into a practical application.
God desires that we know Him through His Word. One of His revelations is that of His character. We often focus on God’s wrath and His judgment and we are right to understand these attributes of God. We need also to see Him as a God of love and righteousness. God the Father is the essence of love and the highest standard of righteousness. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” These standards are standards we can never fully attain here on this earth; however, God has set the standards that we are to strive to attain while here in our earthly bodies. Jesus, the Son embodies this love and we are to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus.
Every Sunday School child knows this verse by heart because it so clearly demonstrates God’s love. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” This is the ultimate demonstration of the purest form of love. This is what Paul is telling the Rome Church to attain to with their brothers and sisters in Christ.
God Himself “is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16). Jesus made unequivocally clear that in both the Old and New Testaments the two greatest commandments are: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39). In fact, He went on to say, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40). Echoing this very same truth, Paul later in Romans writes, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Matthew 13:8).
God has demonstrated His love for us and we can do no less then strive to demonstrate our love to each other as Scripture clearly demands that we do. Paul explains this to the Corinthians “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). It is therefore not surprising that the first “fruit of the Spirit is love” (Galatians 5:22) and that it is by our love for our fellow believers that “all men will know that [we are Jesus’] disciples” (John 13:35). It was Paul’s prayers for the Thessalonian believers, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you,” (1 Thessalonians 3:12). Suffering “much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger,” Paul himself served the Lord’s people “in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love” (2 Corinthians 6:4–6).
As we study the Scriptures we should look closely at those portions where through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit it is revealed to us how God demonstrated His love and how He expects us to emulate His supreme standard of love.