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What does it mean to love God?

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.

Conclusion

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.

The Legacy of Martin Luther (Part 2)

In the last post, we began a study of Luther’s private life and we considered his prayer life and his counseling methodology. In this post, we will focus on Luther’s family life and his educational methods.

Luther: A Family Man

Most Protestant pastors today are married men. This legacy is due to Luther’s personal example. During the Reformation, Luther called into question an age-old teaching of the Catholic church that priests should be celibate. Luther rejected the church’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7 by which she (i. e. the church) concluded that celibacy was a higher calling than marriage. The great reformer came to believe that celibacy was a special calling, and that God did not place this calling on all men — including priests.

Influenced by Luther’s teaching, many monks and nuns gave up their vows of celibacy and started getting married. However, some nuns from Luther’s neighboring village, who could not find eligible men, came to him for counsel. Luther took it upon himself to find suitable husbands for these nuns. He was able to find husbands for all
of them but one, Katherine Van Bora.

Some people suggested to Luther that he himself should get married to Katherine. Luther resisted such suggestions partly because of his “residual Catholic instincts” and partly because he expected to be martyred. Nevertheless, he later changed his mind and decided to marry Katherine. His reasons were: to leave behind an evangelical witness through his progeny and to break with the legalistic tradition of celibacy imposed by the catholic church.¹ On the eve of his marriage, Luther commented: “I hope all the angels will laugh and the devils weep.”

Luther loved his wife Katherine and set up an exemplary Christian home with her. Luther wrote of his wife: “I would not exchange Katie for France or for Venice, because God has given her to me.”² Luther and Katherine had six children through their marriage. Besides raising their own children, Luther and Katherine also adopted four more children of their relatives who had become orphaned due to a plague which struck Wittenberg at that time. Not only did children fill their homes, but also students. The Luthers housed several students in their home on various occasions. Luther would often lecture these students casually around his dinner table on various topics. The students relished these lectures and took voluminous notes on them. These notes were later compiled into a book titled Tabletalk.

Thus, Luther’s family life influenced his students and friends alike, and his home became a paradigm in the Protestant movement.

Luther: The Educator

Luther tirelessly worked towards educating the next generation in the Bible. The Refomer translated the Greek New Testament into German in the space of just three months in 1522. The translation of the Hebrew Bible followed twelve years later. The Luther Bible quickly became the treasured possession of nearly every German Protestant home and increased their Bible literacy immensely.

For Luther, however, translating the Bible was only the first step.  Luther had a special concern for training children. To train them in sound theology, he produced a catechism. This catechism came to be known as the Shorter Catechism. Luther’s catechism covered basic topics like the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Lord’s Supper, confession, morning and evening prayers, and even meal prayers. Below is a brief sample from his Catechism:

1. Thou shalt have no other gods. What does this mean?
Answer. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
2. Our Father who art in heaven. What does this mean?
Answer. God would thereby [with this little introduction] tenderly urge us to believe that He is our true Father, and that we are His true children, so that we may ask Him confidently with all assurance, as dear children ask their dear father.

Apart from the Shorter Catechism, Luther also produced a larger Catechism for training pastors. This catechism covered the same topics as the shorter catechism although in much greater detail.

The Protestant movement following Luther’s example excelled in producing catechisms. Individual Protestants and various Protestant bodies produced as many as 100 catechisms between 1517 and 1650. Today, however, the practice of catechizing has fallen on hard ground. Luther’s example calls us back to it.

Conclusion

This article and the previous have scratched the surface of Luther’s contributions to the Protestant church. His contributions in the areas of he areas of prayer, counseling, family, and education are nothing short of revolutionary. Sadly, however, Luther remains a very unknown figure among Indian Protestants today. Hopefully, these articles will change that trend and stimulate an interest among us to study the life of this great Reformer.

1 Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Penguin,1995), 288.
2 Ibid., 288.

The Legacy of Martin Luther (Part 1)

When one considers the life of the great Reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546), one often thinks of his discovery of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Or one thinks of his “Here I Stand” speech. These events are important highlights of Luther’s public life and we must remember them.

However, it is also beneficial to concentrate on Luther’s private life. Luther’s private life set precedents for the Protestant church in many areas. Hence a study of his private life will offer us many rich lessons. With this aim, we will consider Luther’s prayer life and his counseling methodology in this post. In the next post, we will focus on Luther’s family life and his educational methods.

Luther: A Man of Prayer

Luther was a man of prayer. He loved prayer and spent several hours in prayer every day. After discovering the doctrine of justification by faith alone, Luther went about reforming the various practices of the church one by one. Prayer was one of the chief among them.

In medieval times, the Catholic church had largely reduced prayer to a recitation of written texts. The priests read these written prayers in Latin during the Mass. Since most Christians did not know Latin, these prayers were largely unintelligible to them. The Catholic church compounded the problem even more. The church hardly encouraged Christians to pray in their private lives. If Christians had problems in their lives, the church encouraged them to attend Mass and receive sacraments rather than engage in private prayer.

Luther sought to reverse this culture. He asserted that Jesus had commanded all his disciples to pray, not just the leaders. In fact, the Reformer believed that the commandment to pray was as important as the Ten Commandments themselves and that all Christians must obey it.¹ To help Christians to learn to pray, Luther wrote a small book, A Simple Way to Pray. This book was actually a letter which Luther wrote to his barber. In a private conversation with Luther, Luther’s barber had expressed his inability to pray. So, Luther wrote this “letter-book” to help his barber-friend.

In the letter, Luther encouraged his barber-friend to prepare his heart before prayer so that it is not mixed up with diverse thoughts. He then advocated going through the Lord’s Prayer verse by verse with reflection and response in between. Luther also advised praying through the Ten Commandments. Luther’s fourfold method to pray through the commandments were: a) think or ponder the commandment b) thank God for any benefits revealed by the commandment c) confess sins related to the commandment and d) pray for grace to obey the commandment. Throughout this letter, Luther never separated prayer from the Word but rather treated the Word as a guide to prayer.

Through all these emphases, Luther restored prayer as the rightful privilege of all Christians.

Luther: A Counselor

Luther also pioneered biblical counseling by helping people solve their personal problems by turning to the gospel. Luther’s understanding of the gospel radically influenced his counseling method and marked a great departure from the medieval church. The medieval church taught Christians that they can solve their spiritual problems by receiving the sacraments, confessing their sins to priests, purchasing indulgences, and performing acts of penance.  The stress in all these activities was doing.

On the contrary, Luther stressed on believing. Luther never of tired of saying that Christians receive forgiveness of sins by believing rather than doing. In keeping with this theology, Luther counseled troubled souls to look to God’s promise of forgiveness through Christ when their consciences or the devil condemned them. Contemplation of the gospel and its benefits were at the root of Luther’s counseling methodology. As Theodore Tappert, a Lutheran scholar, observes, “In Luther’s eyes, therefore, spiritual counsel is always concerned above all else with faith – nurturing, strengthening, establishing, practicing faith – and because ‘faith comes by hearing,’ the Word of God (or the gospel) occupies a central place in it.”²

The way Luther applied this theology to counsel his flock is perhaps best seen in a letter he wrote to his depressed friend Jerome. Jerome Weller, a student of Luther, who also tutored Luther’s children, suffered from depression and anxiety. Luther counseled Jerome by writing a personal letter to him. Luther began by saying,

You must believe that this temptation of yours is of the devil, who vexes you so because you believe in Christ…you ought to rejoice in this temptation of the devil because it is a certain sign that God is propitious and merciful to you.

Later, Luther offered some practical suggestions to avoid these temptations:

Whenever this temptation comes to you, avoid entering upon a disputation with the devil and do not allow yourself to dwell on those deadly thoughts…In this sort of temptation and struggle, contempt is the best and easiest method of winning over the devil…Therefore, Jerome, joke and play games with my wife and others [i.e. when Jerome is with the Luthers at their home]. In this way you will drive out your diabolical thoughts and take courage.

Finally, Luther concluded the letter by reminding Jerome of the gospel:

When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.’

Luther counseled people who suffered from doubt, anxiety, bereavement, physical needs, physical diseases, marriage problems, youthful lusts and many more. In all his letters, one finds a great emphasis on faith, combined with practical advice and sympathy. Luther is a fine role model to imitate when it comes to counseling God’s flock.

The Book of Concord, ed. and trans., Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1959), 420-421.
2 Martin Luther, Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, ed. Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox,
2006), 15.

Three Uses of the Law (Part 2)

In the last post, we considered the three uses of the law. In this post, we will see how the knowledge of this theological category becomes important in interpreting a biblical text.

Let us consider Mark 10:13-22. Here we read about a rich young ruler who comes to Jesus and poses to him an interesting question: “Good Teacher, what shall I do so that I may obtain eternal life?” Jesus’s answer is instructive. Jesus says, “You know the commandments, ‘You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery …'” Jesus simply quotes the the latter part of the Ten Commandments and leaves it there.

Normative Use?

What did Jesus mean by simply quoting the commandments? Which use of the law was Jesus employing? If Jesus were employing the normative use, he would be implying that the rich young ruler is a believer. There is no indication for that assumption in the text. Moreover, if we interpret Jesus’s use of the law as normative, we would have to conclude that a believer’s inheritance of eternal life is predicated upon his obedience to the law. But we know that eternal life is a gift, not a wage for a believer’s obedience (Romans 6:13). So, the normative use of the law in this case is ruled out.

Civil Use?

Jesus also could not have been employing the civil use. Jesus was not trying to restrain this man from becoming a criminal. Evidently, this man had good civic virtues according to his own confession. If Jesus were employing the law in its civil use, he would be implying that to inherit eternal life all one has to do is to keep himself from committing crimes. Such an interpretation would send David to hell and the self-righteous Pharisee to heaven!

Pedagogical Use

Therefore, in this passage, Jesus was not employing the normative use or the civil use of the law but rather the pedagogical. By quoting the Ten Commandments, Jesus was commanding the man to keep the law perfectly. Jesus was saying something to this effect: “If you want to do something to earn eternal life, then go and keep God’s law perfectly without any spot or blemish. Make sure that you not only abstain from adultery, but also keep your heart from lusting at a woman. Make sure that you not only avoid murder, but also hatred in your heart towards anyone.”

In other words, Jesus was exposing the hollowness of this man’s righteousness. This man had a very high view of his own righteousness and a very low view of God’s holiness. By putting this man’s “righteousness” under the scanner of God’s law, Jesus was teaching the rich young ruler that it was impossible for him to earn his way into heaven.

Conclusion

What does this incident teach us? It teaches us at least two lessons. First, God’s law is perfect and it demands perfect righteousness. None of us can meet the demands of God’s law. Only the God-man Jesus Christ has met the law’s demands, and it is his obedience to the law that God reckons to us as righteousness when we trust in Jesus. Second, we must carefully distinguish between the three uses of the law lest we heap upon ourselves a burden too heavy to bear. We as believers obey God’s law out of gratitude to please God, not to earn righteousness before him, nor even to “maintain” the possession of eternal life.

Learn more:-

Threefold use of the Law by R.C.Sproul

Law, Gospel, And The Three Uses of the Law by R.Scott Clark

 

 

 

Three Uses of the Law (Part 1)

We can divide Scripture into two parts – the law and the gospel. The law is what God demands, and the gospel is what God provides. The law shows us what God expects from us, and the gospel shows us how God has met that expectation in us.

Looked at this way, the law of God is strewn across the Bible because God’s demands (or commandments) are present everywhere in the Bible. However, we find a summary of God’s law especially in one place – the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5). Every commandment of God present anywhere else in the Bible is basically a derivation of the Ten Commandments or a particular application of them. So, when we speak of God’s law, we should have the Ten Commandments in mind.

Civil Use

Now, theologians distinguish between three uses of God’s law. The first use of the law is called the civil use. By this use, the law restrains human evil and curtails crime in the society. Evil is rampant in our society and crimes abound in our cities. Yet, if God had not written his law in every human heart, human society would have deteriorated and would have eventually destroyed itself (Romans 2:15). The law of God engraved in the human hearts finds an imperfect expression in the laws of the nations, and these laws curtail crime (Romans 2:14). This use of the law, then, is the civil use.

Pedagogical Use

The second use of the law is called the pedagogical use. The adjective pedagogical means teaching. The law teaches us something. What does it teach us? The law teaches us about the perfect holiness of God, and as a corollary, about our sin and misery. God’s law exposes the huge chasm between God’s holiness and our sinfulness. But the law of God does not merely expose our sin and leave us there; the law also points us to Christ who bridge this chasm. Hence Paul says that the law is our “schoolmaster” to drive us to Christ (Galatians 3:24; KJV).

Normative Use

The third use of the law is called the normative use. We call this use the normative because this use is the original motive with which God gave us the law. God gave us the law so that we may know how we may please him. God said to Adam, “You may eat of the tree in the garden, but out of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you may not eat. For in the day you eat of it, you shall surely die. These words were God’s law to Adam. By it, Adam knew how to please God. The civil and the pedagogical uses had not come into effect because Adam had not yet sinned. Had Adam not sinned, only the normative use would have ever been known to him and his progeny. Today, normative use applies only to believers (1 John 5:3). Believers keep the law of God to please God as their father (1 Corinthians 7:19). Even in heaven, only the normative use of the law would apply. There, perfected believers will keep the perfect law of God to please God perfectly.

The above then is a summary of the three uses of the law. In our next post, it will become evident why it is important to make this distinction.