By Betsy Mayer
In his classic book Fullness of Joy, Eric B. Hare, a missionary to Burma, describes how he and hundreds of others were evacuated to India by the British government just hours before the Japanese occupation. Rich and poor, literate and illiterate, coolies, missionaries, aristocrats, and government officials alike—each was allowed only 60 pounds of luggage.
Eventually they had to abandon all vehicles and walk. Soon, class and rank dissolved into two groups—the selfish and the selfless. At night they were organized into camps, and Elder Hare and his fellow missionaries joined others who volunteered with cooking and camp preparation. But when provisions were distributed, the selfish would demand to be first, even snatching food and water from children and the elderly.
One evening, the selfish ones made such a mess looking for water at a small spring that it was several hours before the mud settled and it was usable again. Late that night, as Elder Hare waited with his water pots for his turn at the spring, he was surprised when the coolie ahead of him took his own can of water and quietly filled Hare’s water pots. Pointing to Elder Hare and then back to his own heart, he said in broken English, “You Clistian, me Clistian!”
Elder Hare tried every language he knew, but “you Clistian, me Clistian” were the only words they had in common. Under those dark, troubled skies, knowing that any moment could be their last, they put their arms around one another’s shoulders and continued their sweet two-word exchange, “You Clistian, me Clistian.”
How did these two men who couldn’t speak each other’s language know they were both Christians? It was because each had observed the other practicing self-sacrificing love—the DNA of a true Christian.
While the world has many definitions of love, the Bible affirms that “God is love.” 1 John 4:8. Love isn’t just one of God’s traits—it constitutes everything about Him! When God described Himself to Moses as “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth” (Exo. 34:6), He was describing the attributes of divine love. The Psalmist describes God similarly: “Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.”
God’s government—the loving way He treats people—is described as both just and merciful. He will hold individuals and nations accountable for how they treat others; but He is also longsuffering and gracious—giving ample opportunity for repentance and change.
The story of how God used Jonah to warn wicked Ninevah of impending judgment reveals just how longsuffering He is. It also reveals that genuine love does not withhold the truth of a sinner’s condition before God. The Ninevites were grateful for Jehovah’s urgent warning. They sincerely repented and their city was spared God’s judgments.
Their story also illustrates God’s impartial love. The Jews mistook God’s special blessing to mean that He hated the heathen—especially their enemies. Jonah wanted nothing to do with giving the Ninevites a chance to repent, and his response to God’s call was to run the opposite direction.
God finally got Jonah to Nineveh, but when they repented and were spared from destruction, he became angry with God! “Was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.” Jonah 4:2. His attitude showed how poorly he and his people represented God—the loving Father of all.
Jesus, God in the flesh, came to live this message of impartial love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?… Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Matt. 5:44–46, 48.
What a command! How do we get this DNA of divine love?
Jesus told a parable about those allowed to enter heaven. Known as “the sheep,” they go out of their way to help those who are destitute, sick, lonely, hungry, and homeless—a class of people who cannot benefit “the sheep.” These actions come so naturally to “the sheep” that they’re not aware of doing anything special. Because they are filled with self-sacrificing love—divine DNA—Jesus judges them as possessing His loving character, the only condition for eternal life. See Matt. 25:31–46.
None of us are born “sheep.” Because of sin, we are born with defective spiritual DNA and are alienated from God’s character of selfless love. We naturally hate those who wrong us and do not love God’s law. In this state we cannot admire or worship a self-sacrificing God of love. Covering our wretched condition with a religious veneer only compounds the problem. Without supernatural intervention, we are the children of Satan (the “goats” in the parable) and will only perpetuate a cycle of selfishness. This defective state is so offensive to God’s character that if we cling to it, He cannot save us. Our only hope is to admit that even our seeming good deeds are tainted with self and we are in need of an entire transformation.
Yet even our desperate need showcases God’s love! On the cross, God in the flesh paid the penalty for our selfish, sinful actions (or inaction) so that He could offer us a chance to be born again as His unselfish children. Jesus said, “Except a man be born again, He cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3.
When we are born again, we receive a supernatural infilling of the Holy Spirit, causing us to love God supremely and others more than ourselves. This is the new covenant experience where God writes His law of love in our hearts. Paul defines this as the righteousness of faith that works by love. Gal. 5:6. Without this experience, we cannot keep God’s law.
Paul also reminds us that all spiritual activity performed without love is worthless. “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” 1 Cor. 13:2, 3.
His description of God's love as expressed in humanity is recognized as one of the most beautiful passages of sacred Scripture.
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not boastful; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” 1 Cor. 3:4–8.
This is the DNA of a true Christian. It is the most powerful force in the universe, and when we possess it, we will be welcome in heaven.
Betsy Mayer is the managing editor of Last Generation magazine.