What Does it Mean to Love Christ?
In his classic book, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots, Ryle calls believers to warm, Christ-centered, evangelical piety, exhorting Christians to flee religious externalism and to pursue disciplined communion with Christ for the joy of knowing Him more. Ryle is clear about the doctrine of justification by faith alone on the ground of Christ’s righteousness alone, but he is equally clear that believers must exert diligent effort to love Christ and keep His commandments for the joy of knowing Him more.
In the 15th chapter, “Lovest Thou Me?,” Ryle says, “Life or death, heaven or hell, depend on our ability to answer the simple question, ‘Do you love Christ?'” He goes on to explain:
A true Christian is not a mere baptized 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” (Rom 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 . . . There is one thing in a true Christian which is eminently peculiar to him. That thing is love to Christ.
Then Ryle provides a list of “the peculiar marks by which love to Christ makes itself known.”
1. If we love Christ, we will think about Him. Christ is often present in the believer’s thoughts. We remember His name, His character, or His deeds. We think about all that He has done to save us, all that He is doing, and all that He still will do. Ephesians 3:17 says that Christ “dwells in his heart.” True Christians think much on Christ. Ryle says, “The true Christian has thoughts of Christ every day that he lives, for one simple reason, that he loves Him.”
2. If we love Christ, we want to hear about Him. The believer finds pleasure in listening to those who speak about Christ. True Christians most enjoy sermons that are full of Christ, and they enjoy the company of those who speak much of Christ. The disciples said, “Did not our hearts burn within us, while He talked with us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures” (Lk 24:32)?
3. If we love Christ, we will read about Him. The true Christian delights in the Scriptures because they speak of Christ, the beloved Savior. It is not wearisome to read a letter from a loved one. The Lord Jesus declared, “You search the Scriptures . . . it is they that bear witness about Me” (Jn 5:39). The Christian cannot be happy without reading the Bible. Why? Ryle says, “It is because the Scriptures testify of Him whom his soul loves, even Christ.”
4. If we love Christ, we seek to please Him. We are glad to discover what Jesus likes and what He dislikes. We’re willing to deny ourselves to please Him. To someone who loves Christ, the Ten Commandments are not burdensome. “If you love Me you will keep My commandments” (Jn 14:15); “And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn 5:3). Christ’s burden is light and the Christian gladly bears it because he loves Him.
5. If we love Christ, we want to be with His friends. True Christians regard all other Christians as friends because they are friends of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I have called you friends” (Jn 15:15). There is a bond of union between all the friends of Jesus. Why? Ryle says, “It is simply affection to the same Savior, and love to the same Lord.”
6. If we love Christ, we’re jealous for His name and honor. We do not like to hear anyone speak against Jesus. We feel jealous to maintain His interests and reputation. The Word of God says, “Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The true Christian feels a godly jealousy toward all efforts to minimize “his Master’s word, or name, or church, or day.” This is because the Christian loves Christ.
7. If we love Christ, we will talk to Him. The believer has no difficulty in speaking to his Savior. We tell Him all our thoughts. We pour out our hearts to Him. We have no hesitation about telling Him anything that is on our mind. We are not happy until we have spoken our minds and hearts to our friend. We ask for comfort in difficulty. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7). The Christian “must converse with his Savior continually, or he would faint by the way. And why is this? Simply because he loves Him.”
8. Finally, if we love Christ, we want to be with Him. Thinking, hearing, and talking are all important, but if we really love a person, we want to be near him. The true Christian wants to hold communion with Christ without interruption. The true Christian longs for that day when he will see Christ face to face. “Surely I am coming soon. Amen! Come Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20)!