“Third, do you declare that you love the Lord God …?”
The Christian faith is very personal. When you make profession of your faith, you publicly announce: “I love the Lord!” It is similar to what you do when you get married: that, too, is a public declaration of love. It would be strange to get married without feeling love for the other person. It would be equally strange to get married and keep your spouse at arm’s length. The same is true in our faith. It would be strange, and in fact wicked, to declare that you are a Christian without having love for the Lord, intimately in your heart and practically in your life.
The commandment of love
When Jesus was asked: What is the greatest commandment in the Law, what did he respond? Why is this an unexpected response?
Too often we behave or talk as if Christianity is all about living a moral life, following good rules, being nice. But God is not primarily interested in what we do on the outside; he cares for our motivation on the inside. He does not want us merely to go through the motions; he wants the motions to come from our heart. A heart of love.
Read how the Heidelberg Catechism explains the first commandment, in LD 34 q&a 94. What are some of outward things mentioned there? What words are used that emphasize our inward living for God?
Love and Christian “experience”
We are not accustomed to think about the Lord in terms of deep feelings of love. Some Christians are more experiential; that means that they emphasize the importance of experiencing love for God, of feelings and emotions. Sometimes that goes too far; there are “experiential” churches where people doubt their salvation because they have not have a unique experience of deep feelings of faith.
But healthy faith must also involve our emotions. It is normal for a believer to “feel” love for God, on a real personal level. This is not always easy; when we live in sin, or are distracted by our guilt, it is hard to feel love. Still, we are told: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…”
The Bible gives several example of people expressing their heartfelt love for God. Psalm 116 begins with the famous words: “I love the Lord …” The psalmist experienced God’s help personally, and is grateful in a person, intimate way. Psalm 119 is a poem expressing deep love for God, with a special focus on his good law. “I find my delight in your commandments, which I love.” (119:47) “How I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (119:97)
No, our love for God does not have to be of the sappy, romantic kind that especially young people may have for their boyfriend or girlfriend. Our faith doesn’t have to be lovey-dovey. But a healthy Christian faith appreciates God as a person close to us, with whom we are intimate in our trust and in our conversation.
The Bible uses some beautiful pictures for this intimate love. God calls his people his “bride”; and the prophets sometimes talk of our life with God as that of a couple on a honeymoon, happy to be together and experiencing life together. The Bible talks about “walking with God”—picture a person you would like to take a leisurely stroll with, because you enjoy the company and conversation, and feel perfectly safe and content together. And the Bible speaks about having “fellowship” and “communion” with God: a close relationship of sharing and appreciating each other.
What are some ways in which you could foster a healthy “experience” of loving God?
Love in practice
Loving God is challenging because he is so different from us. God is Spirit, a heavenly, holy, invisible being. Anytime we try to picture what he looks like, we are reminded: do not make an image of God. How can you love him who is infinitely greater?
Thankfully, there are two ways in which we can love God more practically.
First, the New Testament shows us that we love God best through Jesus Christ. God became one of us. Jesus walked on earth like a man people could see and hear and touch. The gospels tell us about the things he did and said. If you get to know Jesus better, you get closer to the Father as well.
Second, Jesus made clear that we love God by loving others. Spend time with other Christians, care for them, pray for them, share with them. That is how love is expressed in practice, and by doing these things you learn to love more, too. “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:21)
In short, our love for God gets hands and feet when we serve him, by worshipping him and by caring for one another. That will be the topic for next time.
Memorize: HC 33 q&a 90.
Journal item: Write a prayer in which you tell God that you love him and why (about 200 words). For inspiration, you could for instance read Ps 116.