Friday, September 17, 2010

What Love for God Is and Isn't

I was listening to a sermon by John Piper on Romans 8:28 this week (as I've been listening through his Romans series, chapters 6 through 8) called "All Things for Good." And I was just overwhelmed with delight to come to this point in his sermon. He was discussing the "those who love God" part of Romans 8:28, and thus discussing what it means for us to love God. In order to do that, he also spent some time discussing what love for God is not.

I've spent some time (with Piper's help) trying to unfold this doctrine of love for God in my own thinking here and here, along with the posts under the "Love of God" tag that can be found on the sidebar. Yet what Piper said in this sermon is exactly what I want to say, and exactly what my soul resonates with.

This topic -- what it means to love God -- is what the universe is about. And so when I hear these things, everything I experience of reality is that much more real. When I'm contemplating the purpose for which I was created, I am more alive than at any other time. I am made to worship more greatly and more purely, which is to say, I enjoy God more at this time than at any other time. I pray that the same be true for you.

If you'd like, you can listen to the sermon as well here. The stream loads pretty quickly, and the section that the below edited transcript is taken from starts at either "-27:00" or "-22:10." For whatever reason it seems like two different versions might load. So you can just let it load for a minute and then click over to -27:00 or -22:10 and listen along. (I always recommend listening to Piper along with reading him when possible.)

Anyway, he says:

What the Love of God Is Not

So what does it mean to love God? How can you know if you are in this number? The best way I can think to make the answer clear is to say three things that love for God is not. At least the essence of love for God is not these three things.

Loving God is not meeting his needs. The way we love man is different from the way we love God. In Acts 17:25 Paul said, "He [is not] served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things." God is radically different from us. He is the source of all things and has no needs. He cannot be helped or improved. There are no defects to reverse or deficiencies to supply. We cannot love him by supplying his needs. He has none. Therefore the essence of our love for him must be an experience of receiving. (And I do regard joy as essentially receiving pleasure from the object of our delight.)

That leads to the second thing that love for God is not. Loving God is not, in its essence, love for his gifts – gifts like forgiveness, justification, escape from hell, resurrection to a pain-free life, etc. Indeed if we love God, we will cherish these gifts and be thankful for them, because we would not have God without them. But loving God is treasuring God himself revealed in his gifts and treasuring God himself beyond his gifts. His gifts are precious to the degree that they bring us to God and show us more of God. When you love God, God is central in your affections, not his gifts.

This word "affections" leads us to the third thing that love for God is not. The essence of loving God is not the things that love for God prompts you to do. Love for God may prompt you to leave mother and father and forsake all that to declare his glory among the nations. But leaving mother and father and forsaking all are not the essence of love – they are the fruit of love. Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." This does not mean keeping his commandments is love. It means love is the kind of heart that prompts you to keep commandments.

In John 21:15-17 Jesus illustrates this connection when he asks Simon Peter three times, "Do you love me?" When Peter says, "Yes," Jesus does not say, "Good, that must mean you are obeying my commandments, because obeying my commandments is love." No, he said, "Feed my sheep." In other words, if you love me, act like it. Love my flock and feed them. Feeding sheep is the fruit of loving Jesus.

In other words, what I am saying is that love for God is a matter of the heart’s esteem for God before it produces anything else. It is something internal and involves spiritual emotions. It is not, in essence, a deliberated choice or a deed. It is more like a reflex of the heart to the perfections of God revealed especially in Christ. If you equate the deeds of love with the essence of love you will produce hypocrites – people who imitate the deeds and claim to love God when their hearts are far from him. If you equate love for God with love for his gifts, you produce hypocrites – people who are very glad to feel forgiven and declared righteous and delivered from hell and heaven-bound, but have no pleasure in God himself. They don’t love God. They just don’t want to have bad guilt feelings or go to hell.

What the Love of God Is

Therefore I think it is absolutely crucial that we clarify what the essence of love for God is. Let me grasp for the kinds of words that I think will help us know if we love God. Loving God is desiring God himself beyond his gifts. Loving God is treasuring God himself beyond his gifts. Love for God is delighting in God himself beyond his gifts. Love for God is being satisfied in God himself beyond his gifts. Love for God is cherishing God himself beyond his gifts. Love for God is savoring God himself beyond his gifts. Love for God is valuing God and prizing God and revering God and admiring God beyond his gifts. All these words are grasping for that essential response of the heart to the revelation of the glory of God, especially in Christ through the gospel. It is a glad reflex of the heart to all that God is for us in Christ.

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