Some will not be able to say this, though they may actually love Jesus more than they are aware they do. If you are one who would like to love Him but who has not been able to do it, at least to your satisfaction, let me assure you that you will never learn to love by imposing it upon yourself as a duty. You will never love by saying “I will love, I will love, I will love” anymore than you can stop coughing by saying, “I will not cough.” There is only one way in which you will come to love God, and that is by coming to know and believe in His love for you. Love provokes love. His love calls forth yours. Consequently, the way to love God is to learn that He loved you so much that He gave His only begotten Son for your salvation…..That is the only way any of us ever learn to love Jesus. We begin by learning to believe what the Bible says when it tells us that we are the vilest of sinners but how, nevertheless, Jesus died in our place, the just for the unjust……We begin by believing on Him as the Bible portrays Him. Next we see his love and come to love Him. – James Montgomery Boice
This is one of the quotes that really struck me years ago, as I was making my way out of the trenches of asceticism (Col 2:22-23), through the truth of the gospel. I remember sitting in church and having my love for God questioned over and over. “If you really love God, why are you doing ____?” The only conclusion one can draw from that sort of question is that they don’t truly love God. It is a question designed to stir fear and doubt, using guilt as a motivator to change outward behavior. The thing is, you can’t guilt anyone into love. It doesn’t work that way.
I finally came to a point where I knew that my love for God was minuscule. It wasn’t because I was caught up in some heinous act, as that culture would have me believe, but because I was afraid of God. I’m not talking about fear in the sense of a reverential joy, but sheer terror. I thought that I had to muster up love for God in order to earn that love in return. I had no idea that it was already mine in Christ. I was told (from the pulpit) that preaching which proclaims “God loves you” is easy-believism made only to entertain people with “itching ears”. I don’t know about you, but the hardest thing on planet earth for me to believe is that God loves me — no catch.
I was stuck in a web of fear and doubt and I couldn’t get loose no matter how many spiritual disciplines I piled on or how many entertainment choices I tried to rid myself of. None of this fanned the flames of faith or stirred in me a love for God. They just made me tired and more deeply discouraged. I remember praying and asking God to show me his love for me so that I would be free to love him in return. I had no way of knowing what I was truly asking for, but I knew the only thing that could change my heart towards God was love. I knew that my love for God could no longer be my focus because that pursuit proved to be nothing but a dead end.
Understanding God’s love for us in Christ is nothing close to a dead end. The apostle Paul knew our grasp of God’s love for us is paramount. Reading through the epistles will quickly clue us in to the fact that he certainly did not think that concept to be easy-believism, it was his earnest prayer for the church.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Eph 3:14-19
This passage was another “ah-ha” moment for me. I remember sitting on my couch reading over the words, but still stuck in the idea that I had to do something in order to get God to love me. I grabbed onto the words, “rooted and grounded in love”. I wrestled with them and quietly asked God HOW. How can I be rooted and grounded in love? What do I need to do? I sat with the passage for a bit longer, until the Spirit, being a faithful teacher, pointed out to me that I already WAS, and would continue to be, rooted and grounded in love through faith in Christ. It wasn’t an activity that I needed to preform, but one that was happening to me. I stared at the words, now blurry through tears. The gospel grabbed my heart in a way it hadn’t before. My terror of God began to subside, I began trusting that I could approach at anytime, and the crazy thing is, for the first time, I wanted to! My efforts to be acceptable were silly. I already was acceptable. I was already loved.
So are you.
If you feel bad because your love for God is pitiful, know this: you won’t grow it by focusing there. Mostly likely you’ll grow gospel anemic if you do that. Hearing that God loves you, however, is a game changer. God isn’t the stoic grumpy curmudgeon that you think. Your Creator wants you to know his love for you and he doesn’t want you to be terrified. Don’t believe me? Ask the Spirit to show you, it’ll blow your mind.