What Does It Mean to Really Love God?

(This is one of the “60 Faith Questions I Hope to Answer Before My Kids Leave Home.” I’m going to be answering several of them over time. This is the first post in the series.)

I love fall.

Golden leaves, pumpkins, haystacks and apples give me warm fuzzies. Every year I decorate our home for Fall as soon as Labor Day is over. Out pop my orange and black pumpkin slippers. Things like pumpkin spice coffee appear on my shopping list without a second thought. Last week I even started my first Pinterest board: “Recipes for Fall.”

In the midst of my little Fall utopia, I had a deep, scary thought last week: What if I don’t really love God? After all, my first Pinterest board was dedicated to fall recipes, not to God. I don’t have slippers with crosses, and I currently have far more pumpkins in my house than decorative reminders of faith. Is it possible that I’m more passionate about something as simple as Fall than I am about God?

If there is anything I learned from years of childhood Sunday School, it was that I’m supposed to love God. I don’t recall anyone ever explaining what it would mean, however, to love a Being whom I can’t experience like anything or anyone else on earth. I, like most people, was therefore left to apply my earthly understanding of love to how I should relate to God.

When we love earthly things or other humans, that love is primarily based on intensity of feeling. I will humbly admit that I don’t always feel intensely about God. In fact, in times when I’m feeling particularly mild about God, I start having doubts. I assume those dampened feelings point to a problem with God even though it is only my feelings that change, not Him.

But is that what love for God is all about? Maintaining intense, warm fuzzies? I had to do a little Bible study on the topic.

Matthew 22:37-39 is a cornerstone verse for understanding the nature and importance of loving God. Jesus said:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.”

We can gain a much deeper understanding of what it means to love God with some context from the original Greek (I have not studied Greek personally – this information is from my study on the topic).

The Greek word for “love” used in this verse is the verb agapao. To agapao something means to completely give ourselves over to it.

To “agapao” something has nothing to do with warm fuzzies, or even intense feelings. It’s about what you’re committed to. It’s about what comes first in your life. It’s about a choice.

This isn’t splitting literary hairs. It makes a monumental difference in how we understand our calling to love God. The Bible makes it explicitly clear that we can agapao things other than God and that in doing so we are working against His desires for us. To Agapao is clearly a choice:

  • John 3:19: “…Light has come into the world, but people loved (agapao) darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
  • John 12:43: “For they loved (agapao) human praise more than praise from God.” 
  • Luke 11:43: “Woe to you, Pharisees, because you love (agapao) the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.”
  • 1 John 2:15: “Do not love (agapao) the world or anything in the world.”

Many people believe in God, and many people “love” God in theory. That’s easy. Doing God’s will by committing our whole lives to Him is far more difficult. But feeling love without exhibiting commitment is meaningless.

How critical that our kids understand what loving God is really about!

It’s choosing to be committed when circumstances make it tough.

It’s choosing to be committed without every question being answered.

It’s choosing to be committed even when we don’t feel like it, because love for God is about much more than nice feelings.

Conversation starter: Ask your kids, “What does it mean to love God? How can we know if we love God? How does God know if we love Him?” If they are old enough, you can get into the discussion of Greek words. Otherwise, it’s a great opportunity to talk about the difference between simple feelings and true commitment (e.g., prayer, Bible study, worship, service, evangelism).  

Have you ever wondered if you really love God?

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Comments

  1. M. Scott Peck said, “To love someone is to care about their spiritual growth.” anyone who has experienced the love of a child knows what Dr. peck is talking about. But, how does this relate to our love of God?

    • That’s a great question! I would look at it from the other direction though – taking the Bible’s definition of love for God and asking how that applies to our children (since we build our faith first from God, not from secular wisdom). If loving God is to be completely committed to Him, the analogous love for a child would be to be completely committed to the child. If God comes first in our lives, then raising our kids to put Him first in THEIR lives (spiritual growth) is the natural outcome.

  2. Thanks so much for your vulnerability in being honest and saying that you don’t always feel a strong sense of love for God. I’m sure that if we’re all honest our feelings for God fluctuate all the time depending on our mood, energy levels, circumstances etc. Yet, your study into the Word has explored an important truth that love is also commitment. Just like in our marriages, we have to choose to stick with God when the going gets tough. God knows our hearts better than we do and thankfully He doesn’t measure things by the fuzzy feelings but by the deep commitment of trust and faith. Thanks for your encouraging words today, Natasha.

    • Thanks very much, Mel. I love the analogy of marriage – how very true! When the commitment is there, it runs deeper than the feeling of the day. So many marriages fail because feeling takes priority over commitment. I’m thankful that God values what I can control – my commitment – over what I can’t (my subjective feelings)!

      • Banjo Oluwafemi says:

        Thanks for ur words of encouragement ma….
        What then is the corelationship between commitment and self determination…bcos self determination has its limit..

  3. Your honesty, individual challenges and perspectives are presented with such thoughtfulness and respect. You sharing *your* journey and what *you* learn along the way feels so caring for others. You’re a wonderful teacher.

  4. I know this is an older post, but I still wanted to add a thought. I wrote about this on my blog when I was talking about the importance of obedience. Here’s what I basically wrote:
    “John 15:10 says “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” and 1 John 5:3 says “This is love for God: to obey his commands. . . .”
    In the last section, we read Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I think that we have a tendency to want to believe that no matter what we do, God will work it out for good. We can make our own choices, live our own lives, and go our own way; and somehow He will work it out for good. Because it is written that God works everything out for good. Right?
    Not exactly. Let’s take a slightly closer look. It is written that in all things God works for the good of “those who love him.” Those who love Him! And what does it mean to love Him? Does it mean warm, fuzzy feelings? Gratitude? Serving in church? No! According to 1 John 5:3, to love Him is to obey Him. They are inseparable. Love and obedience.
    So meshing these two verses together: In all things God works for the good of those who obey Him. We have a responsibility to obey, if we want all things to work together for good. We cannot ignore our responsibility, doing whatever we want, and think that God will bless us. That’s a sobering thought! And I think it challenges the way many of us live our lives.”
    I think that we can tell best if we really love God by examining how concerned we are about obeying Him, not out of a legalistic duty but out of our thankfulness for His love and goodness and our trust in Him. Graned, sometimes is takes a long time and a lot of pain to get to the point where we really trust and believe in God’s love and goodness. But if we really love God (or want to love Him), we will keep picking ourselves up when we fall and continue to walk toward Him and with Him in obedience. Beccause nothing else really satisfies like drawing near to the heart of God and letting God completely into ours. Thanks for the thought-provoking, heart-felt post!

    • Wow, Heather, I really love your insights here and am so grateful that you shared them! I just love the train of thought. It’s so funny that you commented about Romans 8 specifically, as that is something that has been on my heart lately. I feel it is misused so many times. People throw it around as if we should expect good coming from every corner no matter what the circumstance. We have to remember that “good” in our definition can be far from the objective reality of what “good” is to God. When He works things together for good, they are for HIS good…it doesn’t necessarily mean it will look “good” to us. I think people have the wrong expectations. We need to love and obey Him, and He will work all things together for His glory, which we can trust is the ultimate good! Thanks so much for this and your other really insightful comments! I really appreciate the thoughts.

  5. great insights into what it means to love God. i was just asking myself a couple of questions like ” what is the proof that i really love God?”. A lot of times we assume we love God until the tests begins to unfold; take for instance the case of father Abraham in Gen 26, He took a step of Faith to obey God because he knows God is able to bring back even the dead to life. i want to buttress the point that to love God is to wholeheartedly obey Him/serve him. The eyes of the Lord moves to and fro to see whose heart is committed to Him that He may show himself strong – 2 Chronicle 16:9. A heart that is committed to God will Love God. let me also point here that Faith and love works together. You cannot love God without having faith in Him. Bible says in Galatians 5:6 … For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love.

  6. Natasha thankyou so much for this wonderful and insightful post! I sometimes worry that my feelings for the Lord fluctuate depending on feeling tired, not well etc and have felt very inadequate on many occasions. However I’m committed to Him, which at times has been very difficult for me. Not that I don’t want commitment with Him but I REALLY struggle sometimes in my walk! I just want to love Him wholeheartedly and see my kids and grandkids surrender to Him completely. God bless and thankyou again.

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