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Loving God

Loving God
By Dave Hunt

Jesus was asked by a lawyer who was trying to trap Him (insincerely addressing Him as “Master”), “[W]hich is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus replied, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Mat 22:35-40).

Christ was quoting scriptures (Lev 19:18,34; Deut 6:5) that divide the Ten Commandments into two parts: 1-3, which He designated as “the first and great commandment,” and 5-10, as the “second” commandment. The first three (Ex 20:2-7) involve reverence and worship of God; then comes the special treatment of the sabbath (8-11), which Christ purposely ignored; and the last six (12-17) deal with human relationships.

The fourth commandment, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex 20:8-11), was conspicuously absent from Christ’s teaching and example. He and His disciples were often accused of breaking the sabbath. Christ replied that the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath, and that He was Lord of the sabbath.

Resting on the seventh day was prescribed only for Israel (Ex 31:17; Ps 147:19-20; Mal 4:4, etc.). The other nine commandments are written in every conscience: “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law [the entire law given to Israel alone], do by nature the things contained in the law [they] shew the work of the [moral] law written in their hearts…” (Rom 2:14,15). But God has not written in anyone’s conscience to keep the sabbath holy.

Resting on the sabbath reminded Israel that God created the universe in six literal 24-hour days and rested on the seventh. This commemoration of the old creation was given to Israel, to whom God promised a special place on this earth in Christ’s millennial kingdom. Those in the church (whether Jew or Gentile), who are “new creatures” in Christ (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15) and look forward to the destruction of the old and the creation of the “new heavens and new earth” (2 Pt 3:13; Rev 21:1), do not celebrate the old creation. Instead, following the example of the early church (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2), they meet together to worship on the first day of a new week, the day of our Lord’s resurrection as “the firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18), looking forward to their own resurrection to be forever with and like Him.

Christ’s declaration that “on these two commandments [which do not include keeping the sabbath] hang all the law and the prophets” tells us a great deal. Unfortunately, Seventh-day Adventists have so emphasized keeping the sabbath (though they don’t keep it as commanded to Israel) as to make it not only their distinctive but the litmus test of who is following Scripture. They even declare that “Sunday worship” is the “mark of the Beast.” Then the early church, including Paul, took that mark!

Inasmuch as to love God with all one’s heart, mind, and soul is, according to Christ, the greatest commandment, surely not to do so would be the greatest sin—a fact that must concern us all! Yet this vital truth is rarely emphasized in pulpits, on Christian radio, television, or in Christian books. How can that be? Surely each one of us must share some of the blame and repent before the Lord for failing to love Him as we ought.

Part of the explanation for this glaring deficiency is that to love God one must know Him intimately—and that takes more time than most Christians are willing to devote to their Lord and Savior out of their busy and worldly schedules. Not that love for Christ is entirely lacking—it just doesn’t rate very high on the “to-do list” of most church-goers. Nor does attending church each Sunday change that outlook.

Today’s great emphasis upon “growth” has all but crowded out fervently loving God in “seeker friendly” churches. Humbly worshiping “in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:23), with all honor given to God and none to man, doesn’t attract so-called “seekers.” The wisdom of the hour, influenced by the world’s marketing and promotion techniques, dictates that creating large churches requires giving “worshipers” what they want. But isn’t a large church to be preferred over a small one, and wouldn’t the ends justify the means? That idea is not found in Scripture.

It should be obvious to any thinking observer that today’s “worship music” is designed to please man, even the carnal and unsaved, and not God. In The Purpose Driven Church (p. 279), Rick Warren boldly declares, “We use the style of music the majority of people in our church listen to on the radio…contemporary pop/rock.” This is the world’s music, and it draws the worldly into the church.

In plain words, the music in purpose-driven churches is not chosen because it pleases God, but man. Purpose-driven worship is less about worshiping God than about entertaining the “worshipers.” That is its deliberate design. Thus, the music and the entire “program” (like any secular performance) must appeal to the audience rather than to the One whom they are supposedly worshiping!

In Born After Midnight, A. W. Tozer declared, “Much singing…has in it more of romance than it has of the Holy Ghost. Words and music [don’t reflect] the reverent intimacy of the adoring saint, but the impudent familiarity of the carnal lover.” Nor are those churches that are driven by the new “purpose,” which has become the vision of tens of thousands of today’s pastors, the only ones that have turned worship upside down and inside out. The same is true of thousands of other churches that have forgotten the fact that worship, far from being for our enjoyment, is supposed to be directed toward God! Rare is the awesome reverence that befits those bowing in His presence to sing His praise. The attitude, dress, and sensuality of many “worship teams” and their “music” would not be tolerated for a moment by God before His throne!

Worship on earth should be the beginning of what we will continue for eternity in heaven. Any “worship” that would not be appropriate before God’s throne should not be allowed in any church. Our song throughout eternity will be “unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever” (Rev 5:13). Instead, the contemporary Christian music industry is almost all about money, popularity, and glorifying the “artists.” It is a performance. Is God as interested in performance as are the fans? Or does He desire our worship?

Seemingly forgotten, in church as well as in daily life, is the command to love God with all of one’s heart, mind, and soul. Undeniably, this command (God did not give us suggestions) is to all mankind, not just to an “elect” who have been pre-chosen for heaven. A command requires obedience and commitment; it does not wait for feelings. Loving God is not a Hollywood romance—”falling in love” only to fall out again. Obedience begins with a determination to obey.

There is a popular teaching that multitudes, whom God could have saved had He so desired, have been predestined to eternal torment before they were born. If that is true, it cannot be said that God loves those whom He has thus doomed. Nor is it reasonable that these whom God, according to this teaching, does not love should be commanded to love Him! Are ungodly sinners to be more loving than God?

John declares: “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). Thus, those whom God does not love have no basis for obeying this command. But the command is for all, proving that God indeed loves all and truly desires all to be saved. The command to love God is an invitation to rebellious sinners to repent and return to Him.

That all are commanded to love God makes it very clear that the Father did not send the Son to die in a limited atonement for only a select group but for all. Yet there are those who insist that when the Scriptures say “who will have [desires] all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4), what is really meant is “not all men but all kinds of men”—or that God “has two wills: a will of desire and a will of decree.” Because all are to love Him, we know that the God who is love indeed loves and desires the salvation of all.

Yes, God loves even a Hitler as well as an innocent child, because He is love (1 Jn 4:8, 16) and cannot but love man whom He created, no matter how rebellious and hateful toward God. Surely the love of the infinite God must itself be infinite. That fact was proved at the Cross, where Christ paid sin’s penalty for all mankind, asking His Father to forgive even those who nailed Him there and who mocked Him in His agony. It is only in gratitude for such divine love that we can love God as we ought.

The command is to love God “with all thine heart.” We are to be devoted wholly to God! The hundreds of usages of this word in the Old and New Testaments make it clear that the “heart” was created in man so that he could willingly and lovingly yield it to God in response to His love. Man is not a puppet. He is a voluntary, knowing participant with God.

To be saved, one must believe the gospel with one’s whole heart (Acts 8:37; Rom 10:9). In the gospel, which we must believe to be saved, “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

There are those who deny that man has a will and who insist that God must cause him to do whatever he does. Neither Scripture nor human experience supports this belief. In fact, Scripture presents both sides: God moving upon the heart, and man willingly giving himself in obedience and love.

The Psalmist prays to God, “Incline my heart unto thy testimonies” (Ps 119:36); but he also says, “I have inclined mine heart to perform thy statutes alway, even unto the end” (Ps 119:112). Deuteronomy 30 begins, “the LORD…will circumcise thine heart…to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and…soul” (v. 6). But the rest of the chapter is all about man’s willing response: “If thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep his commandments…if thou turn unto the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul” (v. 10); “See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; in that I command thee…to love the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways…that thou mayest live and multiply….But if thine heart turn away…ye shall surely perish…therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: that thou mayest love the LORD thy God…and obey his voice, and…cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them” (15-20).

Sometimes both sides are given in the same verse: “…every wise hearted man, in whose heart the LORD had put wisdom, even everyone whose heart stirred him up to come unto the work to do it” (Ex 36:2).

Yes, there are some verses that sound as though God must do it all: To Israel in the wilderness of Sinai He says, “Yet the LORD hath not given you an heart to perceive…eyes to see…ears to hear” (Deut 29:4); “God gave him [Saul] another heart” (1 Sam 10:9); of those who followed Saul in the early days, “whose hearts God had touched” (1 Sam 10:26); David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps 51:10), etc.

But there are many more verses that place the responsibility fully upon man: “with perfect heart they offered willingly to the LORD” (1 Chr 29:9); “thy law is within my heart” (Ps 40:8); “My heart is inditing a good matter” (45:1); “The fool hath said in his heart” (53:1); “My heart is fixed, O God” (57:7); “pour out your heart before him” (62:8); “set not your heart upon…” (62:10); “even to such as are of a clean heart” (73:1); “I will praise thee, O Lord…with all my heart” (86:12); “Harden not your heart” (95:8); “Blessed are they that…seek him with the whole heart” (119:2), etc.

There are many similar scriptures that put the responsibility for loving and obeying God squarely on man without any hint of God causing or even helping the willing and loving heart. For example: Ex 35:5, 21, 29; Lev 1:3; 19:5; 22:19, 29; Deut 10:12,13; 11:13; 13:3; Jos 22:5; 1 Kings 11:2; 1 Chr 28:9; Eze 33:31; Dan 1:8; 1 Cor 7:37; 1 Pt 1:22, etc. But tragically, this God-given ability to choose has been perverted by some who are highly honored in the church.

In his book, If It’s Going To Be, It’s Up To Me (pp. 142, 146), Robert Schuller has said: “Connect with this Higher Power. Listen to the call of your heart of hearts to become a believer in God….Connect with me and come to love and listen to the God within you.” Yet God says, “The heart is deceitful…and desperately wicked” (Jer 17:9), and Christ declared, “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries…” (Mat 15:19).

God’s loving offer of salvation is not to a select elect but to all. In love, He calls the most ungodly sinners to repent and to turn to Him with the whole heart: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isa 55:7); “ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13).

Christ promises salvation to all who will come to Him in faith: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink” (Jn 7:37); “Come unto me, all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mat 11:28). Surely such love ought to awaken within each of us the passion to love God with our whole heart!

Hymns written by those who knew and loved the Lord intimately and expressed it eloquently and with sound doctrine have been cast aside. This rich heritage has been replaced by shallow, repetitive lyrics joined to the pop/rock that Rick Warren says the world loves. We need to recover this spiritual treasure and to sing again in loving gratitude and with reverent awe of “the love that drew salvation’s plan…the grace that brought it down to man…the mighty gulf that God did span, at Calvary!” TBC

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