One of the most well-known characteristics of God is His love. We see this in one of the most famous verses of the Bible, John 3:16, which says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” God loved us enough that He sent Jesus to die for us. That is why we just celebrated Easter. We are commemorating Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. Because God loves us, He freely offers us that salvation from sin and punishment that we could not earn for ourselves.
But when we have accepted Christ as our Savior and are completely assured that we will spend eternity with God in heaven, God has also designed a certain way that He wants us to live as His followers. This lifestyle does not earn heaven for us; heaven is given as a gift. But this lifestyle is the appropriate response to what God has freely given. Some particular things that God calls us to do are not necessarily that difficult. God calls us to pray and fellowship with Him. At times we may get busy and distracted and do not pray the way that we should, but generally we would say that prayer is an enjoyable and easier thing to do.
But some things that God has called us to do are much more difficult. One of them is found in Matthew 5:43-44, which says, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, 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.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus called on us to love our enemies. That is perhaps the most difficult command of Christ for us to follow. We may find it easy to love someone with whom we get along. But to love our enemies is much more difficult. We feel that they do not deserve our love. We want them to earn our love. We find it difficult or feel it is impossible to fulfill what God has said.
But when God calls us to love our enemies, He is calling us to do exactly what He did for us. Romans 5:6-8 says, “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ died for us when we were without strength, when we were helpless and could do nothing to save ourselves from sin. Verse 8 specifies that God commended, or demonstrated, His love for us by sending Christ to die for us. In other words, not only did God love us then, but He also proved His love by sending Christ. But exactly where were we when Christ came to die for us? We were without strength, helpless to save ourselves from sin and God’s wrath. But Romans 5:10 makes another point about our condition when it says, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” God says that when we accept Christ as Savior and are reconciled to God, we come from a position of being enemies. In other words, we were enemies of God when God proved His love by sending Christ to die for us. God’s call to love our enemies is a very difficult demand. But that is exactly what God did for us. God loved us when we were His enemies, and He sent Christ to die for us to show us that love. God freely offers His love to His enemies, but now He calls on us to do the same. When God says, “love your enemies,” He is not calling us to do anything that He has not first done for us. We freely receive the benefit of His love, but after we receive that love, the appropriate response is to give the same love that we have received to others. We need His help and enablement to do it, but that is what we must do. That is a difficult thing, because that requires us to love our enemies just as God did. But that is the demand of God’s love.