The Christian’s primary character trait should be love for God. The second is like into the first: love for neighbor. The essential character trait of a Christian, then, is love.
But, what is love?
I think the essence of love is the desire for and the willingness to sacrifice in order to preserve right relationship.
But, who is our neighbor?
I think that every human person is our neighbor but especially those human persons to whom we are close in some proximity whether of geography or blood or organization.
But, what is right relationship?
With respect to God, I think that right relationship is one of maximal submission to his will. With respect to neighbor, I think that right relationship is one in which all parties are cooperating to be maximally submitted to God and each other.
There are great blessings that attend right relationship. With respect to God, one experiences inexpressible joy, peace that passes all understanding, and hope that will not be disappointed. In addition to these internal blessings, one receives power to preserve this right relationship and to extend these blessings into one’s relationship with one’s neighbor. With respect to neighbor, one experiences peace, joy, and hope to the extent possible in this fallen world. One enjoys cooperation and camaraderie in the enterprises and entertainments of life.
But, what is the way to right relationship?
In both cases, we must turn from that which prevents relationship and turn in humility, submission, and sacrifice to the other party. The problem is not so different in either case. At bottom, that which prevents relationship is our own sinfulness. We must repent of that sin and commit ourselves to the other party. Then, we must walk through life with that other party, continually submitting in love.
With respect to God, this is so much the easier in that the other party is a perfect being. He will never be in the wrong. The only problems that will arise in the relationship will be of our own making. With respect to neighbor, this is not so. The other party is as equally sinful as we and so the whole enterprise of right relationship is that much the harder. However, God has given us the perfect way forward and the solution is the same in each case: the mediation of Christ. Just as with God, the problem preventing right relationship was the sinfulness of the other party, so too with us, except that our problem is magnified by our own sinfulness. Just as with God, the solution was a third party to serve as a perfect mediator, so with us both in pattern and in person. Jesus Christ both reconciles men with God and with one another. The key to reconciliation on both cases is simply for us to follow in his footsteps.
But, what does it mean to follow in his footsteps?
The truth is that following in Christ’s footsteps means tirelessly carrying our cross up a hill on which we will painfully suffer all the while being ridiculed and rejected by the very ones for whom we are suffering. Only those who truly love will do that for someone else. But, that is precisely what love requires: the death of self no matter the shame and suffering. It is only when you are willing to die for someone that it can be said that you truly love them. This death of self is not often literal, although it may be.
But, this death on the cross must be more than just a show. There must be a genuine death. The old self must not only be displayed upon the cross in a show of love but it must die on that cross, be buried, and be forgotten.
The way of the cross is the only way to reconciliation with God and our fellow men. The way of the cross is the only way to the fulfillment of our duty to love God and love our neighbor.
Will you pick up your cross and follow Christ? Will you be crucified with Christ, buried with him, ridiculed and rejected by the very ones with whom you wish to be reconciled?
It is only when we are willing to do this, to follow the way of the cross, to truly die to self for another, to be buried and forgotten, that we can be reborn to newness of life and experience the joys of reconciliation. And, the promise is that if we follow the way of the cross, then God will raise us up and we can walk with him and our fellow man in love.