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How I learned to Love

or The Mark of a Christian

by Marilynne E. Foster

What is the mark of a Christian?

Before Christ died, He wanted to prepare the disciples for his death and what was to come after. He wanted them to realize what the distinguishing feature or mark of every Christian would be. John 13:34, 35 tells us, "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another, as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." Love was to be the distinguishing mark of a Christian.

Now why did God not make something else the mark of a Christian? Why did not God say, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples if ye live holy lives? If ye keep the commandments? If ye are generous and give to the poor? If ye wear sombre, drab clothing? If ye wear a cross around your neck or a certain lapel pin? If ye greet each other with the peace sign?" Why did Christ specifically say that the distinguishing feature of a Christian was to be love?

In the beginning God had two choices. One was to make men robots, programmed to do, say, and think as He said. But God wanted obedience, not out of necessity, but out of love. So He created. humans free moral agents. This implies that all men have three characteristics - emotion, intelligence and will. Anyone of these can control the others. The intelligence can control the emotions, the emotions can control the intelligence, and of course the will can control either of these. However, the emotions or the intelligence cannot control the will without its agreement. The will always has the power to resist the force of either the intelligence or the emotions. It is not compelled to obey them. It must agree if it is to obey them.

God gave Adam and Eve the opportunity to exercise their power of choice by telling them that they could eat of every fruit in the garden except of the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden. Eve had two alternatives -- to obey God or to disobey Him.

Eve chose to disobey. Why did she disobey God? Because she wanted her own way instead of His. Wanting our own way is called selfishness. In other words, selfishness is obedience to what we feel like doing, to what our emotions tell us to do. It is the obedience of the will to the emotions. The selfish person does what he feels like doing, thinking only of the benefits of the action to himself and not to others.

Disobedience to God is selfishness because we are choosing our own way and not God's. Selfishness is the obedience of the will to the emotions.

The other alternative which presented itself to Eve was to obey God. If to disobey God is selfishness, to obey God is love, for love is the opposite of selfishness. Love is giving all of one's self for the highest good of someone else.

We said that free moral agents have three attributes - intelligence, emotions and will and that selfishness is the obedience of the will to the emotions. What then is love? Love is the obedience of the will to the intelligence. Love is obedience to what we know.

What do we know? We know the facts of history and we know what the Bible says. The Bible says, (and it is also a fact of history,) that God's Son came to this earth as a baby. He was the Son of God, but also the Son of man, for He was born of a woman, a virgin. We know that He lived a sinless life, and after a very short ministry, He was taken away and crucified. Why did He thus die? The Bible says, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

That was why He died - to reconcile to God those that He had made in the first place for fellowship with Him and who had through selfishness, through wanting their own way, gone away from Him and turned their back on His way to follow their own way. The Bible tells us all these things, our intelligence is aware of them.

Now the Bible also tells us that if we accept Christ's way, His salvation, then we are new creatures in Christ Jesus, all things are become new. Then it is no longer our way, it is God's way. It is no longer what we desire, it is what God desires. This is what repentance means - to turn from our own way to walk in the way of the Lord. Now if doing our own will and going our own way is selfishness, doing God's will and going His way is love!

What did we say that love is? Love is the obedience of the will to the intelligence. The love that God requires then is not the love or affection of the emotions, not the love that feels like loving. He requires the love of the will, that loves because it should love and because it chooses to love. Our will must rule, not our emotion.

The Bible tells us that God is love. This one word "love," describes the total of God, it describes Him fully. We said earlier that to love means to desire the highest good of someone else and to give of one's self completely for the other person. This is God! He desires our highest good, not His own, else He would not have robbed His only Son of all the glories of heaven and sent Him down to this sin-polluted earth to suffer unspeakable indignities and to die for mankind. He was not forced to do it, for He is God, supreme. But God the Father knew that that was the only way that mankind could be brought back into fellowship with Him. God loved us enough to make that sacrifice - His only Son. And God loves us enough that still these many years later, the offer of pardon is open for all who will accept it. That is love. God is love.

Love is the obedience of the will to the law of reason or to the intelligence. "We love Him because He first loved us." We give our best to Him because He first gave His best for us.

All other virtues are wrapped up in love. A. B. Simpson says that the fruit of the Spirit is love - joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. These virtues are all only attributes of love. The fruit of the Spirit is love, period.

Paul goes on to say that against love there is no law. "Now we are delivered from the law," says the scripture. Christ came to do that. He wants our obedience, not because the law says we have to obey, but because out of love, we will, we choose to obey.

These then are the two alternatives - selfishness or love. Disobedience to God or obedience to God.

You say, but how can I love God? The answer is simple - will to love Him, choose to love Him. Does it matter what our emotions tell us, what we feel like doing? No, it is what we will to do, what our goal is, what we are setting out to do. Are we choosing to disobey God? That is selfishness. Or are we choosing to obey God? That is love. Only the Christian can love because to love means to obey God. Love is the mark of the Christian.

May I share with you how I learned to love? I had never learned to love. Oh yes, I had some of that kind of love that comes from the emotions. But I had never truly learned to love. For a long time I didn't realize it. My husband would ask me, "Why don't you tell me that you love me?" Do you know why I didn't tell him more often that I loved him? Because I didn't want it to be a lie. I didn't always feel that I loved him. Once in a while when I "felt loving" I would tell him, but those times could be counted up in a hurry. He'd say, "Do you love me?" And I'd say, "Of course," or "Don't ask such silly questions," or "What do you think?", as if to say that that was a stupid question to ask. After all, aren't wives supposed to love their husbands?

Each time I would say, "Of course," in response to his question, something inside me would say, "Do you really? Do you really know what it means to love at all, or what loving is all about?"

This all began to bother me. And it bothered me so much that finally I admitted to the Lord that maybe there was something wrong with me, and maybe I did need to learn to love.

I told the Lord that day, "When I see someone who knows how to love, not in this way that I think I love, but in the right way, in Your way, then I will talk with him." Now I had never confided in anyone in all my life, not in my parents nor my husband, nor in any minister. So to promise the Lord that I would seek counsel was quite a step.

Then this past summer an Argentine evangelist named Carmelo Terranova came to our home and preached in our church. It was evident that he was a man who knew how to love, a man that loved in a way that few people I had ever met knew how to love. Of course it was the Lord working in my heart, but I wept through much of his message. I felt that he would understand my need. We would be meeting several days hence at Nakamun Family Camp, so I purposed then in my heart to talk to him as I had promised the Lord sometime before.

The Lord used the first few messages at camp to speak directly to me. I couldn't help but weep through them. And then one day, I arranged to have an interview with Mr. Terranova. Of course he asked what I wanted. And I said, "Well, I suppose to put it briefly, I want to learn to love." There, it was out!

We talked for a while and his counsel to me was very simple. "You must start by saying, 'I love you.' This is where you have the difficulty and this is where you must begin."

Now I felt like arguing with him. Wasn't it a lie to say "I love you," when you didn't really feel like it? "No," he said, "don't worry about that. Just start saying it and the feeling will come." So I reasoned, (there's the intelligence,) I've come to him for counsel because I felt he had the answer for me. Am I going to argue or am I going to take his advice? I decided that I had better try it. I started first by saying to the Lord, "I love you, Lord." Now that was hard enough. But to say it to my husband, that was something else! At first I kind of said it in passing. He nearly fainted! And then to the children. I used to say, "Mommy loves you." That was a nice convenient "third person" way of getting around it. Now I said, "I love you, Tim; I love you, Donna; I love you, Jeff." Oh, it was hard, very hard. But surprise of surprises, the feeling started to come. And it really came! I could lift my hands to the Lord and say from the depths of my heart, "Lord, I love you, I love you, Lord." And I could say to my husband and to the children and to other Christians, "I love you," and really mean it!

What freedom this all brought! Those walls inside me began to fall. You see, when we truly love and are giving ourselves for the good of others, we leave ourselves open to hurt and we make ourselves vulnerable. I didn't want to be vulnerable, so I had built up walls around my heart to protect myself. But by saying "I love you" and by shedding tears, something else which I had always hated to do, especially in front of people, the walls began to fall. I could feel it inside - a crack here, a piece falling there and finally one wall after another tumbling down. Praise the Lord for this wonderful freedom.

Love is supreme. If we love God we will obey Him. If we love Him, we will want to be with Him, and we will do all within our power to spend as much time as possible with Him. I can't begin to tell here of the wonderful times I have with the Lord each day reading his love letter to me and talking with Him.

If we love God, it follows too that we will love others. It is a natural consequence. And if we love others, then all our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ will be conducted accordingly. If we love God, we will love the lost. Our love will motivate us to share Christ with them.

To love God is to obey Him and to obey Him is to love Him.

We are not constrained by duty, but by love. Our devotions are not a duty, but a joy. Witnessing is not a duty, but a joy. We are not doing it because we are forced to, but because we love.

The basis is love. Do you love Him? Do you will to love Him, to obey Him, or do you will to gratify self, to disobey Him? Let us will to love the Lord. How do we do it? Simply by choosing to do it. Lord, I will, I choose to love you. Lord, I love you. Say it and mean it, whether you feel like it or not - God will do the rest!