Do you love God?
For many professing to be followers of Christ, this may seem a silly question. "Of course I love God," they might say. "After all, I attend services every week, I give to the poor, and I try my best to be a good person. God is central to my life. He is important to me. I pray regularly and my relationship with God is something I draw strength and encouragement from. Yes, of course, I love God."
But consider the question more deeply for a moment. Is there a right way to love God? Does God, as the author of life, have something to say about how He wishes us to express our love? How does God view someone who mouths pious words, but then goes about his life without letting the Holy Spirit into his heart to shape and guide him?
Consider the question for a moment from the point of view of a parent. When a child refuses to listen to his parents, to abide by their rules, when the child lives in a way that is quite displeasing to them, would it be enough that the child says, even repeatedly, that he loves his parents? Or would they look beyond the words to the conduct? How much time does the child spend with his parents? Does he care what they think about right and wrong or about how to conduct his life? Or does the child just come around when he wants a favor, or wants to be consoled when things turn out differently than planned? Could it be that God judges us, His children, in the same fashion that a human parent would? Could it be that He is not satisfied with an expression of love that lacks any real content?
We don’t have to guess at these answers. In one of the few times in which God the Father spoke, he said, referring to Jesus, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." (Mark 9:7) And listen to Him, we can, even today, thousands of years after He walked the Earth. We have access to His wisdom in the pages of the Bible. In reviewing Jesus’ comments on the meaning of love, several themes emerge. Clearly, our primary duty is to love God fully. That is expected of us. In Matthew 22, Jesus was asked which commandment in the law is the greatest. He answered:
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.
Doing God’s Will
But what does it mean to love God so fully? And how can we know when we love our neighbor? First, we must be willing to submit to God’s will. As Jesus said, “For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." (Mark 3:35) He is in charge, not us. This is a lesson that all men and women must continually relearn. The pages of history are full of such stories, beginning with the account of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Jesus expressed it in the Lord’s Prayer: “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10) This of course implies that we make efforts to determine His will. We fail to do so at our own peril:
Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?' Then I will declare to them solemnly, 'I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.
Jesus made abundantly clear his scorn at those who pretended to be virtuous but whose hearts were dark. His scorn was directed primarily at the Pharisees, who made a great show of piety but whose hearts were wicked.
Hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy about you when he said:'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.'" He summoned the crowd and said to them, "Hear and understand. It is not what enters one's mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one."
Matt 15:7-11, see also Mark 7
We must know and follow the commandments. (Mark 10)
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
To further explain the point, Jesus gave the example of the father with his two sons:
What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, 'Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.' He said in reply, 'I will not,' but afterwards he changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, 'Yes, sir,' but did not go. Which of the two did his father's will?" They answered, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.
Jesus also made clear his anger with the Pharisees for nullifying God’s word with their tradition. (Mark 7)
He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, is to be put to death’; but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say,given to God),’ you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother;thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.”
So, to love God the way God expects, we must not only acquire knowledge of His will, we must also bend our wills to His, and at least try to follow His commands.
My next post will continue these reflections on what it means to love God.