In a recent conversation with a friend, I came across what I think has become a popular notion about loving God. This friend told me that loving God is all about having “affections” for God. And since he was not having those “affections”, he was not sure whether he was in love with God. This friend was struggling with assurance of salvation. I am afraid that I am coming across many Christians who have a similar notion about loving God, and this notion is doing much damage to their assurance. So, in this post, I want to tackle a simple question, “What does it mean to love God?”
Loving God involves Trusting God
Loving God is multifaceted, and it cannot be reduced to just one feeling or action. Hence, I use the word “involve” in the heading instead of “is”. Loving God is a combination of multiple Christian virtues, the most important of them being trust.
Without trusting God, we cannot love God. The Apostle Paul says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us“ (Romans 5:8 NKJV). To this supreme act of God’s love, we must respond. But how should we respond? Should we grow sentimental about what God has done and do nothing more? Should we rejoice in God’s graciousness for a moment and then forget about it (as the second set of people in Parable of Sowers did)? No. The only adequate way to respond to God’s great act of love is to trust him. By trusting in Jesus, we exchange our sins with Jesus and receive his imputed righteousness. Trust is the chief way of reciprocating God’s love for us.
Now, the first time when we received Jesus (as in the case of an adult convert), we may have had a lot of emotions. We may have sobbed deeply at our sin. We may have been moved deeply by what Christ has done for us. We may have had an unspeakable joy bubbling in our heart. However, with the passage of time, we find that many of these emotions have waned off. I am not saying that we lose all these emotions completely, but that these emotions are not as intense as they used to be.
But this waning of emotions should not concern us too much, because it is part and parcel of being human. It is hard to sustain an emotion or an “affection” for a long time because we are limited by our sinful nature. What matters is not whether we have great emotions, but whether we still trust in Christ. The questions we must always ask ourselves are these: “Do I still trust that Christ died for my sins? Do I still believe that I am clothed with his righteousness? Even though I am not jumping with joy because of my struggle with sin, do I still believe in him?” If the answer to these questions are a “yes”, then we are still in love with God. If the answer is “no”, then our love for God has ceased.
Loving God involves Worshiping God
Another aspect of loving God is worshiping God.
Love involves communication. A husband and a wife who love one another cannot but communicate with one another. They communicate with each other in various ways: they talk to one another, hold each other’s hand, take a walk with each other, and simply enjoy being next to one another. A Christian who loves God will also communicate with God in various ways. The Christian will raise his voice in singing, pray regularly to his Saviour, read his Word, and attend public worship.
Brothers, we love God when we worship God. Worship is that conscious action by which we affirm our love for Christ. Some days we may go to the house of God with great rejoicing, as the Psalmist in Psalm 122. Some other days we may go to the house of God with great burdens, like Asaph in Psalm 73. But regardless of our emotions, when we go to church, we express our love for Christ. Similarly, when we consistently worship Christ in our private lives through the ebb and flow of life, we express our love for Christ. Our emotions may not always be intense, but when we worship consistently, we express our deep love for our Beloved.
Loving God involves obeying God
There is not much to argue about this truth. Our Saviour himself says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” ((John 14:15 NKJV). And again, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word…” (John 14:23 NKJV). The Apostle John also says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 John 5:3 NKJV). Love of God involves obedience. When we obey God regardless of how we feel, we demonstrate our love for God. Jesus obeyed God even when he did not feel like going to the cross (Mark 14:36). We must follow our master, not our feelings.
So, what is the place of feelings or “affections” in the Christian life? It is minimal. The Bible never attaches great importance to our feelings. One will scan the Bible in vain to derive a definition of the love of God based on feelings.
However, I am not saying that we should not desire good feelings. We should. But we need to face the reality that our feelings will not always be what they should be. Our flesh clings on to us and produces in us feelings and affections that are contrary to our faith. We must fight these wrong feelings, mortify them, and gain victory over them. This constant fight is the Christian life.
The presence of these wrong feelings, which demands a fight, is no indication that we do not love God. On the contrary, the very presence of these feelings is a strong indicator that we do love him (Romans 7:14-21). The battle may cease at times. However, when it resumes, let us not doubt that God has given us love for him. Let us valiantly fight wrong feelings. And let us continue to love God by trusting, worshiping, and obeying him.