Let’s say a survey taker decided to make it his goal to stand outside of every church building in America each Sunday and ask everyone who left the building if they loved God. Would any say no? I doubt it. I think most if not every churchgoer would gladly and sincerely profess their love for God, and I am thankful for that. Professing a love for God is an important first step.
“First step?” you might ask. “I thought loving God is the ultimate!” True, but consider this. We say we love God…but does God agree? Does God think we love Him? Does God define us loving Him the same way we define loving Him? Maybe we assume He does, but the Bible suggests otherwise (Isaiah 55:8-9). In fact, Jesus said there would be religious people who call Him “Lord” and are involved in many good works who would still be condemned at judgment (Matthew 7:21-23). Obviously, those who call Jesus “Lord and do many good things in His name would also gladly say they love Him…so why are they being condemned?
The answer lies in finding out how God defines our love for Him. The way to do that is to go to the Bible, His Word. Think about your spouse and your closest friends and the love you have for them. That love you have for them and they have for you is based upon your mutual knowledge of each other. You know each other well, you understand each other, and that’s what causes your love for each other to grow more and more. It’s the same with our relationship with God. The more we come to know God, the more we will love Him…especially when we grow in our understanding of just how much He loves us! (John 3:16; 1 John 3:16)
So how do we come to know God? The only way is to go to His Holy Spirit-inspired Word (2 Peter 1:19-21; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). After all, no one knows the mind of God except the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:9-11). The Spirit revealed the mind of God to the writers of Scripture (John 16:12-15; 1 Corinthians 2:9-13; Ephesians 3:3-5; 2 Peter 1:19-21). When we study and meditate on God’s Word day and night with an open and honest heart (Psalm 1:1-3; Luke 8:15), we grow in our knowledge of God and how He looks at things. We also grow in our knowledge and understanding of how God defines our love for Him.
Over and over again, the Bible correlates loving God with obeying God (John 14:15, 21, 23-24; 1 John 5:3). Obeying God is how we come to know Him as well as love Him (1 John 2:3-5). Even in the Old Testament, God always defined the concepts of loving Him and obeying Him interchangeably (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; 7:9; 10:12-13; 11:1). So if you obey God, you love Him. If you choose to unrepentantly disobey God, you don’t love Him. It’s that simple.
Go back to Matthew 7:21-23. Why did Jesus condemn some even though they called Him “Lord” and did many good things in His name? He tells us why. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” They weren’t obeying His Father in heaven. Perhaps they were obeying in some areas; after all, they were involved in many good works. Yet they weren’t obeying Him in all areas of their lives. That’s why He called them “workers of lawlessness.”
Do we love God? Sure, we might say we do. We might sincerely think we do. Perhaps in some areas of our lives we do. All of that is good and shouldn’t be ignored. It’s an important first step.
Ask yourself this. How well do you know God? How well do you know the Bible? How often do you go out of your way to study the Bible? Are you obeying His Word, as best you can in all areas of your life, even if what’s in the Bible goes against your most cherished belief or habit? Are you willing to put God over family and even yourself? When you sin, are you willing to repent?
That, and that alone, shows how much we truly love God.