“Do you love Me?” John 21:16
A true Christian is not a mere baptised man or woman. He is something more. He is not a person who only goes, as a matter of form, to a church or chapel on Sundays, and lives all the rest of the week as if there was no God. Formality is not Christianity.Ignorant lip worship is not true religion. The Scripture speaks expressly: “They are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Romans 9:6). The practical lesson of those words is clear and plain — all are not true Christians, who are members of the visible church of Christ.
The true Christian is one whose religion is in his heart and life. It is felt by himself in his heart. It is seen by others in his conduct and life. He feels his sinfulness, guilt and badness — and repents. He sees Jesus Christ to be that divine Savior whom his soul needs — and commits himself to Him. He puts off the old man with his corrupt and carnal habits — and puts on the new man. He lives a new and holy life — fighting habitually against the world, the flesh and the devil.
Christ Himself is the cornerstone of his Christianity. Ask him in what he trusts for the forgiveness of his many sins, and he will tell you — in the death of Christ. Ask him in what righteousness he hopes to stand innocent at the judgment day, and he will tell you it is the righteousness of Christ. Ask him by what pattern he tries to frame his life, and he will tell you that it is the example of Christ.
But, beside all this, there is one thing in a true Christian which is eminently peculiar to him. That thing is love to Christ. Knowledge, faith, hope, reverence, obedience — are all marked features in a true Christian’s character. But his picture would be very imperfect, if you omitted his “love” to his divine Master. He not only knows, trusts and obeys. He goes further than this — he loves.
This peculiar mark of a true Christian is one which we find mentioned several times in the Bible. “Faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ” is an expression which many Christians are familiar with. Let it never be forgotten that love is mentioned by the Holy Spirit in almost as strong terms as faith. Great as the danger is of him “who believesnot,” the danger of him that “loves not” is equally great. Not believing and not loving — are both steps to everlasting ruin.
Hear once more what our Lord Jesus Christ said to the Apostle Peter, after He rose from the dead. Three times He asked him the question, “Simon, son of Jonah, Do you love Me?” (John 21:15-17). The occasion was remarkable. He meant gently to remind His erring disciple of his thrice-repeated fall. He desired to call forth from him a new confession of faith, before publicly restoring to him his commission to feed the church. And what was the question that He asked him? He might have said, “Do you believe?” “Are you converted?” “Are you ready to confess Me?” “Will you obey Me?” He uses none of these expressions. He simply says, “Do you love Me?” This is the point which He would have us know, on which a man’s Christianity hinges. As simple as the question sounded — it was most searching. As plain and easy to be understood by the most unlearned poor man — it contains matter which tests the reality of the most advanced apostle. If a man truly loves Christ — then all is right; if not — then all is wrong.
Taken from the book ‘Holiness!’ by JC Ryle