If ye love me, keep my commandments … If a man love me, he will keep my words. (John 14:15, 23)
How can one love God? Jesus said, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). How does one love or worship “a Spirit”? By definition, a spirit is immaterial. A spirit cannot be heard, seen, smelled, tasted, or touched. Those who choose not to believe in God use this as an excuse. Understandably, it is difficult for us material beings to relate to the Spirit of God. Some, I think, attempt to make the connection by raising hands and swaying to the music of a Sunday morning worship service in order to achieve some sort of euphoric state. (I’m not making fun. I have no way of knowing what goes on inside the heart of others. I’m only making an observation.) I cannot do that. I am not a touchy-feely person that requires a lot of external stimulus. I know God intuitively. God is real regardless of how I feel or whether I can sense Him or not, but to love Him, I must understand His personhood.
One aspect of God’s personhood is His desire to have fellowship with His creation. From the beginning we read, “And they [Adam and Eve] heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day … And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?” (Genesis 3:8-9). God feels hurt when betrayed, but acts justly, yet with mercy. When Adam and Eve disobeyed, God expressed hurt when He said, “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil” (Genesis 3:22), and although He had created the Garden of Eden just for them, He acted justly “and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden” (Genesis 3:22-23). Yet He showed mercy toward the couple. Rather than kill them outright, “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them” (Genesis 2:21) substituting the life of innocent animals to cover their sin.
From the beginning we find that, while God is just in punishing sin, His love for us, His creation created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), manifests itself in His grace and mercy. We see this pattern revealed again in His dealing with Cain for murdering Abel (Genesis 4). We sense God’s pain: “And he said [to Cain], What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10). Because of this horrific act, God executed justice by banishing Cain to a life of wandering (Genesis 4:12), but He showed mercy on him by placing an identifying mark on him to keep others from taking revenge on him (Genesis 4:15).
Still, a greater example comes from the Flood account in Genesis 6-9. By that time mankind had become so wicked and corrupt, “And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart” (Genesis 6:6, emphasis mine). The word translated “repented” is the Hebrew word nâcham, which means to “sigh” or “breathe strongly,” or, by implication, “to be sorry.” It does not mean that God changed His mind (Malachi 3:6). The end of that verse expresses God’s hurt over man’s depravity: “it grieved him at his heart.” God’s justice came in the form of the Flood. “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8, emphasis mine). Because of His grace, i.e. love, God showed mercy in saving His creation from complete destruction.
We could go on and on with examples, but from the beginning of Genesis, the pattern was set for the personhood of God. He is just, loving and merciful (and much more). We should also note, in these first examples that it is man who does wrong, but it is God who first responds out of His love for us. Indeed, “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). John writes in his Gospel, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16, emphasis mine). The word order in the Greek emphasizes God’s love – “so loved God the world.” So great is God’s love that He acted. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
The shama proclaims “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, He quoted the shama, (Matthew 22:36-38). It seems rather paradoxical that God, who first loved us, demands that we love Him when our natural inclination is to reject Him. “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God” (Romans 3:10-11, emphasis mine). Yet this jilted lover reached down to those who rejected him (John 1:10-11) and literally gave His life to rescue us from the very clutches of eternal death.
When we come to a deep understanding of that reality, our desire should be to return that love. But how? We can’t wrap our arms around Him. We can’t kiss His wounded head, hands, and feet. How can we express our love for Him in a tangible way that truly demonstrates our love? How can we “love the LORD [our] God with all [our] heart, and with all [our] soul, and with all [our] might”? God gave the answer. “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes” (Deuteronomy 6:6-8). In short, we demonstrate our love for God by obeying His commandments. Someone might say, “But that is Old Testament. We live under the New Testament; we are not bound by the Law.” That is both true and false. We cannot be saved by obeying the Law, but that does not nullify the Law. It still serves as our standard, i.e. our guide book. There is a saying, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”
The Law gives us something to aim for. The fact that we cannot perfectly meet that standard is the reason Jesus had to die in our place. And He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Note that “commandments” is plural. Jesus, who is God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14), gave those commandments to Moses, and He says, “For I am the LORD, I change not” (Malachi 3:6). However, He did condense all of His Law down to two: (1) “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” (2) “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Then He said, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). If we can do all of that, then we are keeping all of His commandments, and thereby we demonstrate our love for Him. But how do we know we are keeping those two? Check the guide book – the Old Testament.
Loving God has nothing to do with the euphoric experience you get, or don’t get, out of Sunday morning “worship” service. Loving God means obeying His commandments. That is how you show your love for God, and no fuzzy feelings are required.