The Bible states over and over again exactly how we are to demonstrate our love to God. The simple answer may surprise you!
How do we know we genuinely love God? That probably seems like an odd question to most of us. Of course, we love God, and we just know that we love Him.
But is that good enough? Is it enough to just know and feel that we love God? Is anything else involved?
Actually, the Bible-God's inspired Word-is clear about how we show love to God. It is specific about what we are to do to demonstrate that love.
God created people to have a loving relationship with Him. God reveals Himself to us as our heavenly Father and calls us His sons and daughters, His very children. God desires a family relationship with us, with His showing love to us and our showing love to Him.
God is in the process of "bringing many sons to glory" so that He and mankind can ultimately be "of the same family" (Hebrews 2:10, 11, New International Version).
Mutually exclusive testaments?
Most people view this close, loving God-mankind relationship as an exclusively New Testament concept and think of the Old Testament as strictly a relationship of law and enforced obedience. But is this view accurate? Are love and obedience really two mutually exclusive concepts, as many seem to think?
To answer these questions we need to ask ourselves what kind of relationship has God always wanted with mankind.
A lawyer asked Jesus Christ a vital question: "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
Christ said to him, "What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?"
The lawyer quoted from the Ten Commandments: "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,' and 'your neighbor as yourself.'"
Jesus replied to him, "You have answered rightly; do this and you will live" (Luke 10:25-28).
As we just read, the man asked Jesus Christ, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life? " Eternal life was the issue. The man quoted two Old Testament scriptures, found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Christ's response may be surprising to some: He assured the man that he had given the correct answer and added, "Do this and you will live."
So, to gain eternal life, it is clear that we must love God. But what does that mean? Is love just a warm, nice feeling toward God, or is there more to it?
Love can be a noun or a verb. I like to think of love as a verb, because love as an action word implies that something is happening, something is being done.
Love (the noun) requires that someone love (the verb). For example, if we love someone, we demonstrate our love by spending time with our loved one. We do things with and for that person. We visit him or her, go places together, talk to each other. We may make or buy gifts to demonstrate that we love and value that person. We show our love by our actions.
Since love requires action, by what action does God want us to demonstrate our love for Him? What does the Bible say about this? Some believe that in the Old Testament God focused only on obedience and law, but in the New Testament we are "under grace" and have only to "love God" in some vague way, supposing that obedience and love are mutually exclusive concepts. But can this be true?
In both Exodus 20:2 and Deuteronomy 5:6, God prefaces the Ten Commandments with a statement that demonstrates grace: "I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage," He said.
God focuses us on His loving act of undeserved mercy, deliverance, favor and pardon in His freeing the Israelites from slavery and establishing them as a new nation. He extended grace to them, doing something wonderful for them that they did not deserve.
In verses 9 and 10 of Deuteronomy 5, God says, "I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God . . . showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments" (emphasis added throughout). Here we see another example of grace, with God promising "mercy to thousands." We see that grace is built into the Ten Commandments.
Biblical theme of obedience
These passages begin a thread that is woven throughout the Bible. The Scriptures show repeatedly that loving God and keeping His commandments are inextricably connected; one describes the other. God says that we show love for Him by obedience, by keeping His commandments .
Let's notice some of the many examples that show the connection between love and commandment-keeping. In Deuteronomy 6:5, 6, God says, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today [referring to the Ten Commandments, given in the previous chapter] shall be in your heart."
This is the verse the lawyer quoted to Christ that we referred to earlier. It says we love God with all our heart, soul and might by keeping "these words, which I command you." Those specific words were God's Ten Commandments. These words from the Bible clearly define loving God as obeying His commandments.
Deuteronomy 10:12, 13 summarizes the response God expects from Israel and all mankind. ". . . What does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good? "
This tells us clearly that we love God and serve Him by keeping His commandments, which He gave us for our benefit.
Deuteronomy 11:1 says, "Therefore you shall love the LORD your God, and keep His charge, His statutes, His judgments, and His commandments always." We love God by keeping His charge, His statutes, His judgments and His commandments.
The theme of loving God by keeping His commandments continues in verses 13 and 22. God says we are to "earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the LORD your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul." We love Him when we "carefully keep all these commandments which I command you to do -to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, and to hold fast to Him . . ."
Deuteronomy 13:1-4 warns us about false prophets. Even if they can predict something that comes to pass, if they say we can disobey God and ignore His law, then God's people are to pay no attention to them. God says He proves and tests us "to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (verse 3).
How do we prove to God that we love Him? Continuing in the very next verse: "You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice, and you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him" (verse 4).
Love is expressed by doing what God says
Deuteronomy 30:6, 8 continues this theme of showing love by obedience to the commandments: "And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart [a prophecy of the coming of the Holy Spirit] and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul . . . And you will again obey the voice of the LORD and do all His commandments which I command you today."
Circumcising the heart (conversion of the mind as described in Romans 2:29), loving God and returning to God are evinced by keeping His commandments.
God says He will "rejoice over you . . . if you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this Book of the Law, and if you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul . . ." (Deuteronomy 30:9, 10). "Turn[ing] to the LORD" is shown by keeping His commandments.
". . . I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess" (verse 16). God tells us we are to love Him by keeping His commandments, and God promises blessings for our obedience.
The theme continues in the book of Joshua, where God tells His people to "take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul" (Joshua 22:5).
Love flows both ways
Any healthy relationship of love is a two-way street, with love flowing both ways. In 1 John 4:19 we find why we should love God: "We love Him because He first loved us." John had earlier explained what he meant by God's earlier love for us: "In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John 4:9-11).
Romans 5:8 gives other examples of ways God has proved His deep love for us: "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Jesus Christ made the ultimate sacrifice to prove God's love for us, long before we were capable of returning that love in any way.
The familiar passage in John 3:16 tells us: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
But belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God means much more than just academic agreement. Belief (Greek pisteuo ) means acting on knowledge: living one's life by faith, unswerving devotion and total obedience in the light of that knowledge.
Our God, His people
Jeremiah 31:3 talks of God's deep love for mankind: "The LORD has appeared of old to me, saying: 'Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.'" God has always had as His plan for human beings a loving relationship within His family. He describes it in eternal terms as "an everlasting love."
Verse 33 says that, in this loving family relationship, "I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people." His law is permanently planted in our hearts and minds to show us how to love Him as well as how to love each other.
We see this same theme of loving God and keeping His words continuing in the New Testament. John 14:21, 23 makes this clear: "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me . . . If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word . . ."
The New Testament defines love for God the same way as does the Old: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). God's law is not heavy, oppressive and burdensome. As we read earlier, it was given for the benefit of humankind.
God tells us repeatedly and clearly that we demonstrate our love for Him by keeping His commandments, and that has been His intent from the beginning. The commandments John discussed were not "new," but were "the word which you heard from the beginning" (1 John 2:7). God's law has been a law of love from the very beginning-from the creation (1 John 3:11).
Many other scriptures make it clear that keeping God's commandments is not something we can do by ourselves. As we repent and yield to Jesus Christ, God's Spirit enables us to allow Jesus Christ to live in us (Galatians 2:20), giving us the desire and capacity to love God and our neighbor.
In Luke 10:25-30, quoted earlier, a man asked Christ what he should do to gain eternal life. Jesus told him the correct answer is "love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind."
Love requires action, not just feelings. How do we know we love God? The consistent, clear, biblical answer is that we love God by keeping His commandments. GN