The Secret of Joy: Loving Christ

Dr. Brian Allison

Very few Christians understand the secret for securing real joy. I can guarantee (though this may sound overly bold) to every Christian that if a certain condition is fulfilled, he or she can experience this joy. I suppose that most, if not all, of God's people desire to experience the fullness of joy. Here is the secret for securing real joy: loving Christ. Do you really love Christ? In fully realizing the love of Christ, and in sincerely responding to that love by reciprocating love, the result will be joy.

According to the Scriptures, there is often a conjoining of these concepts of love and joy in actual experience; more specifically, the fruit of real love is joy. To truly love someone or something – that is, to be devoted, committed, or enamoured – necessarily evokes feelings of joy for or over the object of that love. If you are attracted to another's beauty, or enamoured by another's loveliness, you will be glad to be in his or her presence, or to experience intimacy with him or her. As we read in Song of Solomon, "We will rejoice in you and be glad; we will extol your love more than wine. Rightly do they love you" (1:4b).

Psalm 5:11 clearly presents these two coextensive realities of love and joy, "But let all who take refuge in Thee be glad, let them ever sing for joy; and mayest Thou shelter them, that those who love Thy name may exult in Thee." This love – joy dynamic is also found in Psalm 40:16, "Let all who seek [that is, long for, pursue, etc.] Thee rejoice and be glad in Thee. Let those who love Thy salvation say continually, 'The LORD be magnified!'" To seek God is to love God, and the blessing and result of this love is joy. I do not think that it is coincidental that in Galatians 5:22ff., in which the fruit of the Spirit is listed, that joy immediately follows love. More specifically, concerning loving Christ, we read in 1 Peter 1:8, "And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory." As Christians believe in Christ and love Him, they should be experiencing ineffable joy because of that love (and faith). We will see shortly that faith and love work together, and are often found together in the New Testament. You cannot have one without the other. So, again, if we fully realize Christ's love for us, and respond with reciprocating love, there will be joy. There is a necessary spiritual connection between love and joy.

Jesus' life was marked by love

In the Gospel accounts, we quickly realize that Jesus was a loving individual (and in appreciating that Jesus was, and is a loving person, our love for Him should be evoked; and when our love for Him is evoked, there will be joy). Mark 10:21 reads, "And looking at him [the rich young ruler], Jesus felt a love for him." John 11:5 reads, "Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus." John 13:1 reads, "Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end." John 13:23 reads, "There was reclining on Jesus' breast one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved." There are five references in John's Gospel to this particular disciple who is described as the one "whom Jesus loved."

The supreme expression and demonstration of Jesus' love is His substitutionary death. For instance, Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me." In different places in the New Testament, the love of Christ for us is mentioned, and the evidence of that love is clearly and consistently stated in the language of Jesus giving up Himself for us. There is no greater expression and demonstration of love than that of someone dying on behalf of another (see Jn. 15:13). This is the language of sacrifice, self-donation, and, if I may say, self-destruction. We have similar language in Ephesians 5:2, "And walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma." Again, in Ephesians 5:25 we read, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her" (see also Rev. 1:5).

In truly understanding the sacrificial, self-abandoning love of Christ (as well as the continual expression of His love by giving sufficient grace in time of need), a believer should be filled with great gratitude and feel constrained to respond in a reciprocating way. Realizing the depth of Christ's love should overwhelm us. We read, "For the love of Christ controls [constrains] us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf" (2 Cor. 5:14,15). When we clearly understand and appreciate what Jesus did for us, we should have no choice but to give our all to Him; we should have no choice but to surrender absolutely everything to Him. When we understand the depth and extent of Christ's love, described in terms of abandoning Himself completely for us, to the point of self-destruction, we are thus constrained to abandon ourselves to Him. Unless we fully understand that love, and not simply parrot the language, and unless we fully appreciate that love, we will not know the reality of our love for Him, nor the ensuing joy.

Love for Christ is required

Did you know that it is a very serious offense for someone not to love Christ? That is how much God values His Son and wants Him, in every way, to have the pre-eminence in the creation. 1 Corinthians 16:22 reads, "If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed. Maranatha [i.e., O Lord come!]." It is a high crime in the eyes of God for anyone to fail to love Christ. The language 'accursed' simply means to be worthy of, or consigned to, hell. Notice what this chapter goes on to say, "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you" (v. 23). And we need grace to love Him as we must; and notice the following verse, "My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen" (v. 24). It is only as we really love Christ that we can truly love one another.

To love Christ requires the work of the Spirit

Now, of course, to truly love Christ, which is our highest calling, requires the work of the Spirit. We cannot love Christ as God requires, and as Christ demands, apart from being born again of the Spirit. John 8:42ff., in which Jesus contends with the Jews, states, "Jesus said to them, 'If God were your Father [if it were true that you were the spiritual offspring of God the Father], you would love Me [like is attracted to like, sameness loves its own]; for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word...He who is of God [born of God, has the same nature as God] hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God." So, if you are of God, you will hear [i.e., believe] Christ's words; and you will love the Son. Incidentally, love is the impetus behind faith. I mentioned earlier that there is a necessary relationship between love and faith. If we really have love, we will have faith. As we grow in love, we must grow in faith. Galatians 5:6 reads, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love." Faith effectually works through the presence and power of love.

What is love? Love is a commitment, a devotion, a giving of oneself, to another. What is faith? Faith is that which cleaves, rests in, is attached to, something or someone. So, you see the obvious relationship. Love, which creates the bonding or makes the connection, allows for, or sets the context for, faith to cleave or embrace – faith working through love. So, if we lack in love, we will lack in faith. They go hand in hand. If we are strong in love, the power behind faith, then we will be strong in faith.

Philemon 1:4,5 also refers to this connection between love and faith, "I thank God always, making mention of you in my prayers, because I hear of your love, and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all the saints." Consider Ephesians 6:23, "Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." But we further read in this particular chapter, "Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with a love incorruptible [with a sincere love]" (v. 24). What encouragement! All those who sincerely love Jesus Christ open themselves to receive God's grace. Indeed, our very spiritual survival is in receiving the grace of God. God's grace is a fruit, a benefit, of sincerely loving Christ.

By grace we are able to love Christ

But not only is grace the fruit of loving Christ, it is the means by which we can even love Him at all (what wonderful circularity!). Grace gets love and faith 'off the ground' so that it can reach its goal, namely, Christ. Thus, 1 Timothy 1:12 reads, "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service; even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant [more than we need, more than enough to meet every need], with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus." What an astounding statement! What do you think about these words? Are you able to personally own this language, "Lord, Your grace has abounded toward me. Lord the love is just oozing out of my spiritual pores; and the faith is really able to move mountains"? This was the testimony of the apostle Paul, and it can be our testimony too. So, it is grace that has brought, and will bring, both love and faith to our hearts. The point is that we are wholly dependent upon God for any spiritual advancement or growth. You cannot work for this grace, you cannot earn it, you cannot merit it. God gives grace through His sovereign choice; but (considering our responsibility in this matter) God is pleased to give grace to the humble (see Jas. 4:6; 1 Pe. 5:5). Our personal response of humility invites the flow of grace. God always gives us a viable way to secure (through what we can actually do) that which He has graciously offered to us, and even promised to us, in Christ. Now, humility is an act of the will; you choose to esteem others better than yourself, you choose to identify yourself as a servant. And, of course, prayer is the primary act of humbling oneself before God. Prayer is the posture of absolute dependence upon God. You cannot know this grace, and hence love and faith, without taking up the work of prayer.

Love means submission to the will of Christ

What is the evidence or demonstration of loving Christ? What does it mean to love Christ? First, to love Christ means that one will submit to His will or be obedient to His Word. Our Lord says, "He who has My commandments and keeps them [he who submits to My lordship, he who obeys My voice, he who carries out My Word], he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father" (Jn. 14:21a). We love God and Christ because they first loved us. We are able to love because God was first pleased to love us; but in responding to God's love with reciprocating love, God will love us in return. This love process can go on unceasingly – God loves us; we love Him in return; God loves us more in return; we love Him more in return; etc. Jesus makes a promise to him or her who keeps His commandments, "And I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him" (Jn 14:21b). This is an important truth. If Christ loves us in response to our love, then He, at the same time, will reveal Himself to us. Christ will not perform the one without the other. With Christ loving us, and allowing us to experience it, we will, at the same time, receive revelation or enlightenment concerning Him; or, in other words, we will experience His life. John 14:23 similarly states, "Jesus answered and said to him, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him." That is divine fellowship. Every true Christian wants more of Christ, wants sublime communion with God. Jesus says, in effect, "By loving Me, which means obeying Me, I will reveal My life (and power) to you, and I will come and set up My house in your soul and commune with you."

Now, we may say that we love Christ, but do we? Do we really love Him or have we simply made a profession of faith? Christ does not lie; and I am suggesting to you that if we have not experienced this spiritual self-disclosure of Christ – mystical enlightenment and fellowship – then we are not obeying Him, which means that we do not love Him, regardless how we feel.

Love means service to the people of Christ

Evidence of loving Christ is found not only in submission to the will of Christ, but also in service to Christ. Recall the post-resurrection appearance of Christ to Peter and the words He spoke. John 21:15 states, "So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him [here is how you will demonstrate it, here is how you will prove it, here is what it means to love Me], 'Tend My lambs.' He said to him again a second time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, 'Shepherd My sheep.' He said to him the third time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me?' Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time [because Peter knew the truth that he did not love Jesus in the way that Jesus expected and required], 'Do you love Me?' And he said to Him, 'Lord, You know all things [and that was just it, the Lord did know all things, even Peter's heart, and his previous three denials of Him; and that is why He asked this question three times]; You know that I love You.' Jesus said to him, 'Tend My sheep.'" What is the principle? If you really love Christ, then you will serve Him; and (do not miss the emphasis) you will serve Him by ministering to His people, caring for His people. Jesus said, on anther occasion, "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me" (Mt. 25:40). As we minister to the people of Christ, we minister as unto Christ; and therein we show Him our love.

Again, in fully realizing the love of Christ – that He personally loved you (and if you are a Christian, Jesus loved you with an infinite, eternal love, and you know that because He delivered Himself up on the cross for you, pouring out His soul unto death) – and reciprocating that love, you will experience real joy. We need to meditate on Christ's love for us, and allow it to evoke a reciprocating love. We must cry to God to grant us grace in order that we may be impacted by that love, be gripped by the extent and depth of that love for us personally – "And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory" (1 Pe. 1:8). That is good news.