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“Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.’” (Matthew 22:34-38)
It is worth noting that Jesus, when asked what the greatest commandment was, did not say “BELIEVE in God.” He said “LOVE God.” I know many people who have a hard enough time believing in God, and others who would point to their belief that God is real as evidence of their faith. But Jesus has the audacity to say that we are not just to believe in God, but to love God. In fact, James goes as far as to say that belief in God puts us on par with the demons of hell, for even they believe in God (and probably with greater certainty than we do!) (James 2:19).
So, naturally, the question is: How do we develop a love for God?
One answer is to argue that love is no more than a verb, that to “love” God means to act in love towards Him: to worship Him, obey Him, etc. That’s one way of reading John 14:15, for example, where Jesus says “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” But I would argue that love is more than just a verb. In the case of the greatest commandment, to love God means to value and esteem God above everything else – to desire and live for Him with all your being.
So, I’ll ask it again: How do we develop a love for God?
1 John 4:19 read “We love because he first loved us.” I would say that this concept is as good a place as any to begin. The more we understand how He loved us, the more we will love Him. Few things are as moving as sacrificial love. It is why the story of Jack and Rose in the Titanic movie caused it to break box office records. It is why we are so moved by soldiers, fire fighters, and policemen who give their lives to save others. All of these stories point to the greatest story of all: that we were headed for eternal separation from God and all that is good, and could not save ourselves. The only one who could save us resided in heaven. But He loved us so much that He sent His Son into our world, to live the perfect life we could not live, to suffer greatly along the way, and to ultimately die and unjust death on the cross in our place, in order to rescue us.
In addition to the cross, God daily shows His love and mercy towards us, not treating us as our sins deserve, never condemning or rejecting us, but welcoming and adopting us as His beloved children, The more we trust that we are saved by God’s grace and not by our good deeds, the less we need to justify ourselves, and the more clearly we see just how sinful and self-centered we are in our actions and motivations. But as our realization of our sinfulness increases, so too does our understanding of the forgiveness that is over us, and our gratitude for the salvation God has given to us. As Jesus teaches in Luke 7:47, the one who has been forgiven much loves much, while the one who has been forgiven little (or put another way - does not realize how much he has been forgiven) loves little.
How do we develop a love for God? The best place to start is to truly understand His amazing love for us.
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