How do you recognize a true disciple of Christ? You might think Oh! This is a pretty simple question; a Christian is some one who goes to church on Sunday or someone who celebrate Christmas and Easter.
But is this answer correct? Does Christ recognize someone as His disciple just because he goes to church on Sunday?
It is true that we all have our own ways of identifying someone as a genuine Christian. But does Jesus use the same criteria as we use? What did He instruct His disciples regarding this? let us examine the Holy Scriptures to find out more.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, “if you love one another.” Yes, loving one another is one of the most important characteristics that distinguishes a disciple of Christ from the crowd. Saints, these are the very words of Christ, himself.
Without love for one another we all will be like empty vessels that make unintelligible noises. Christ loved us before we loved Him and He manifested His love for us through what He did on the cross at Calvary.
Christ did not love us with mere words but with His own deeds; by sacrificing His own life for us. In fact, through this sacrifice, Christ literally put into practice what He preached.
In John 15, verse 13, Jesus says – there is no greater love than one laying down his own life for his friends and that is what Christ did on the Cross at Calvary; manifestation of His unfathomable love for us; sinners who He called “Friends”
And it does not end there; He also commanded us; His disciples, to love one another as He loved us. According to Christ – Unselfish love for one another is what distinguishes us from the people around us; nothing else. This, in fact, is a new form of identity that Christ introduces to us.
Normally, if you take any other religious organizations or groups; we could find that their members are recognized through a worldly system of identification marks that are quite different from what the Holy Bible teaches.
Usually, these identification marks can be certain names, ways of dressing or practicing certain rituals or taking part in some religious ceremonies.
But for the disciples of Christ, it is not those external rituals that distinguish them from non-believers; but it is their love for one another that originates from their love for Christ. Yes, it is our genuine love for Christ is what inspires us to love one another.
In John 14, 21 Jesus says – “Whoever has My commands and keeps them is the one who loves Me” that means our love for Christ is manifested through our obedience to His Commands which also includes the command to “love one another”
This again leads us to the conclusion that if we truly love Christ, then, we will truly love our fellow-believers in Christ. Absence of love for one another is a clear indicator of the absence of love for Christ.
In John 15, 15 Jesus says – “I treat you as my friends not as my servants, because, a servant does not know his Master’s business.”
15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15, 15)
Again, in verse 14 Jesus says – if you do what I command, then, you are truly my friends; Which also means that we need to love one another.
Again, in John 15, 9-10, Jesus says – “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” Not only that, here, He also commands us to remain in His love.
But how do we remain in His love? It is by obeying His Commands which indeed includes “loving one another.” So, this further leads us to the conclusion that our true love for Christ will naturally lead us to love our fellow-believers in Christ.
9“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. (John 15, 9-10)
Another example that Christ uses to illustrate our relationship with Him is that of a Vine and the branches. Here, Christ is the Vine and we are the branches of that Vine. A branch that is part of a vine normally bears good fruits and Christ expects us to bear much fruit which will, in turn, distinguish us as the disciples of Christ.
Well, here, you might wonder how to bear fruits – As the following verses say -we bear fruits by remaining in Christ. So, how do we remain in Christ – it is by obeying His Commandments.
4Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.5“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.( John 15, 4-6)
We cannot bear fruits without obeying His commandments and all the commandments are basically about our love for God and for our fellow-human beings. That is why in Matthew Jesus says:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and also love your neighbor as yourself.
37Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ c 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ d 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22, 37-40)
So, being a disciple of Christ is all about loving God and our neighbor and every good deed that we practice in our Christian walk should be the manifestation of this love for God and our neighbor. If we do good to others with any motive other than love, then, that would not be the manifestation of our true love for Christ.
In fact, this is one of the problems with many of the religions that we see around us. People are very religious and are also zealous in doing good to others but that active enthusiasm is not the result of true love. On the contrary, it flows out of their desire to get a good name or recognition in the society; or to obtain certain spiritual benefits or gifts.
In fact, this is how the Pharisees of Jesus’ time behaved. They practiced their acts of righteousness for people to see and it was not out of their love for God and their neighbor.
5“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries a wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.( Matthew 23, 5-7)
Yes, as verse 5 says – they did everything for people to see and Jesus strictly warned us not to follow them.
1“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.( Matthew 6, 1-4)
Unfortunately, we, believers in Christ, have not heeded His instructions or warnings. Like the religious people around us, like the Pharisees, we too love to practice our righteousness for people to see. What motivates many Christians to do good for others is not their love for Christ but their love for praise from men.
What is even worse is – the love that Christ commanded us to demonstrate through our actions is missing in us. Christ commanded us to love one another as He loved us. Sadly, we can find all other Christian traits in believers except the “love for one another”
Nowadays; many Christian congregations have become the embodiment of hatred instead of love. Leaders hate Leaders, Believers hate Believers, Pastors hate Pastors, Preachers hate Preachers and so on.
Christ commanded us to love one another so that the world will know that we are His disciples. But on the contrary what we now have as our distinguishing mark is not our “love for another” but rather our “hatred for one another.”
Furthermore, many of the Christians also have invented their own ways of identifying themselves as Christians. Some wear a necklace with a cross, some think the “Jesus Loves You” bumper stickers behind their cars will certainly reflect their Christian identity. Some even think their Church attendance on Sunday is good enough to identify themselves as Christians.
Saints, I have just named a few above; there are still many other ways that people use to identify themselves as Christians but I don’t want to go into them all as many of you might be familiar with those things.
Anyway, what true believers in Christ need to bear in mind is – What identifies us as disciples of Christ is our love for one another and not the external rituals that we take part in our churches on Sundays.
Without love for our fellow believers, we will be just mere religionists like many of the people that you will find on the streets outside. If you want to show the world that you are the true disciples of Christ, then, you need to love one another with the pure love that Christ has filled your heart with.
1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes a so that it will be even more fruitful. (Matthew 15, 1-2)