We are all in a training process to love like Jesus. At least, I know I am!

Growing up, I went to church a lot. In fact, my parents would make us visit churches even when we were away on vacation! I knew a lot about God, but in the end, I really didn’t submit my life to Him.

Even more, I didn’t really love Him—and that’s the key issue, isn’t it? I was willing to accept the general premises of Christianity to avoid judgment (because I did have some faith, I guess), but my real love was the world . . . and I couldn’t wait to get to college to finally be “free” of my parents and their Bible-based standards.

Thankfully, God changed my perspective during an experience with Summit Ministries in Colorado, just two weeks before my first semester at Purdue University. At college I got involved in The Navigators, and was transformed from a worldly, self-centered person to a guy who really wanted to impact the world for Jesus Christ.

And that is when my training really began. Not just my academic education, but my training to love like Jesus. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to us that love would be at the core of our Christian discipleship—particularly after Jesus emphasized the point when challenged by a Jewish legal expert:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40).

I think I have a basic understanding of how to “act lovingly” toward neighbors, but this commandment takes things up a level when it states we should love our neighbors “as ourselves.” What exactly does that mean?

Most of us are very good at loving ourselves, even in the mundane choices of life. For example, if two foods are made available, I’m going to “love myself” enough to choose the one I prefer. Or if two pillows are available to sleep on, I’ll of course choose the more comfortable option. Anytime I can provide my “self” something better or more comfortable, I usually go for it, unless there is a higher reason not to do so.

But extending that kind of love to others doesn’t come quite as naturally, particularly when we get beyond our own families. Would I really be willing to give the best option to a neighbor, or a coworker, or even an enemy? Even if that means denying myself?

God has used a few situations in my life to teach me this principle.

In college, I knew a quirky, annoying guy who was the type of person most people avoid. He had OCD tendencies and didn’t have any friends. That’s when the Holy Spirit started teaching this lesson: “Luke, are you willing to love an annoying person?”

Knowing the right answer, I reached out to the guy in an intentional act of kindness. I didn’t realize that the real lesson was about to begin—when he decided to shadow me around campus! We had very little in common, but sometimes he would talk to me non-stop—about whatever was in his mind. And even though I didn’t encourage him to continue, he never seemed to run out of words, even when I was actively doing homework.

I remember one time getting up and going to the restroom just to get him to leave me alone—and he actually waited quietly at the door. As soon as I came out, he picked up talking right where he’d left off, and followed me back down the hallway.

He would make a beeline for me anytime he saw me, I think because I was the only person who showed love to him. And that was the lesson I needed to learn: I don’t get to set my own agenda for when I will love someone like Jesus does. I don’t get to say, “I’ll only love you in certain circumstances.” Instead, love actually involves the subjection of my own “self” interest for the good of another.

Another lesson from the Holy Spirit came just after I sold my first home. After the sale, the buyer asked for my address, which I assumed had to do with paperwork, or just to keep in touch, or whatever. A few days later, I was served papers. She had sued me!

Now, in the course of the sale, I hadn’t made any profit, and having just joined a Life Action team, I really didn’t have any assets, either. It became clear that this woman was seeing what she could get out of me, and I learned that she was suing others as well.

My first instinct was to pursue some sort of vindictive justice—to counter-sue her, to make sure she tasted her own medicine, to make sure she felt the stress I was feeling. Instead, we just went to court. She lost the case, and I even offered her some money to help (which I thought would be a Jesus-like thing to do) . . . and then she appealed and took me back to court again!

Yes, this was the next level of training to love: Was I willing to love this person who was out to get me? Her allegations were fraudulent and deceptive. My “self” certainly wanted to claim the right to be offended and even angry. But then, I felt like God was asking, “Luke, are you willing to say that you genuinely want good for this woman? Are you willing to love her, to pray for her, to forgive her?”

Training in the school of Jesus’ love never ends, I suppose. The more I grow in Christ, the more I’m challenged to love my neighbor as much as I would love myself—even if it costs me something, even if it hurts, even if everything in me wants to run away.

It is very possible that when we heed the call to love one more, the people we’ll end up loving won’t be the easiest to get along with, and sometimes they’ll even be actively plotting harm. Yet isn’t that exactly the type of love Jesus modeled for us . . . when He invested time with “tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 15:1-2), and when He even reached out in love to the people who would one day nail Him to the cross?

I know my training to love like Jesus is nowhere close to complete, and I’m grateful for the undeserved, unearned love He has poured over my life. Even though the process isn’t easy, I’m glad to learn more lessons from my Savior, whose selfless love means everything to me.

Idea: Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and substitute the word love with your own name. You can use this as a personal metric to test the quality of your love for others!

Luke Johnson, accompanied by his wife, Sarah, and their three sons, has spoken in hundreds of churches across North America through Life Action’s road team ministry, connecting gospel truth to families and teens.