If we want to grow in our love for others, let us return and be reminded over and over again just how deeply, completely, and wonderfully God has loved us in Christ.
What does the greatest command hinge upon? Love. What will be the defining characteristic of followers of Jesus? Love. What will never pass away, even after faith and hope are gone? Love.
Love is the mark of the disciple. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Not our Bible knowledge. Not our fasting. Not our stance on public issues. Those things are important indeed, but according to Jesus, the defining mark of Christian discipleship is love.
It makes sense, then, that Christians should not only be marked by love, but that Christians should be growing in love.
But how do we do that?
It’s a little complicated when you start to think about it because it’s hard to imagine willing yourself to love. It’s difficult to conjure up an image of gritting your teeth, clinching your fists, and with a strangled voice declaring, “So help me, I will love if it’s the last thing I do!”
But therein lies part of the problem, doesn’t it? Because we tend to think of “love” as something you fall into or out of; something that is out of our control. This is the first misconception we must counter or else we will think ourselves powerless to grow in this defining characteristic. But having done that, and therefore embrace that we can actually take an active role in growing our capacity to love, what do we do next?
To get at that answer, we must recognize that there is a fundamental link between the way we perceive that we are being loved, and the way that we love. If we have had the experience of conditional love, then we will likely love conditionally. If we have had the experience of abuse by one claiming to love, then we will likely be guarded in whom we choose to love in the future. If we have had the experience of being taken advantage of in place of being loved, we will likely always see relationships as a means to an end.
We love as we have been loved.
And that is why the Bible reminds us that love—real love—does not generate with us. The truest, best and most lasting definition of love we can or ever will experience comes from God:“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
This is how we have been loved: sacrificially. Completely. Eternally. Unflinchingly. And what is the effect of experiencing that love? John tells us that too: “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).
And not just John, but Paul:
“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” —Ephesians 5:1–2
What does that reality have to do with growing in love? Simply this: If we want to grow in our love for others, let us return and be reminded over and over again just how deeply, completely, and wonderfully God has loved us in Christ. We go back to what love really is, displayed and validated at the cross, and let that experience overflow into our interactions with others.
This is the surprising way we grow in our love for others—not by trying harder, but by pressing further into the love of God in Jesus today.
This article originally appeared on Thinke.org and is reposted here by permission.