As Christians, we spend a lot of time telling God we love Him. Through song, through prayer, sometimes it feels like we’re always affirming our love for Him. But what about our actions? Do they speak of this love we profess to have?
I’m not particularly demonstrative in my affections for people (except for babies! Gotta love babies!) I don’t tend to affirm how much I love the people around me. However, in my relationship with my parents I’ve noticed that I will tend to affirm my love for them far more when I am acting in a way that I know is displeasing to them. When they are obviously upset with the way I’ve been living, that’s when I pull out the multi-purpose, cover-all-sins “I love you”. Otherwise, I hope my actions will demonstrate my love. I tend to reserve those three little words for special occasions to demonstrate my affections to a person who does not already understand the depths of my love for them. Mostly my parents.
At the beginning of the DC Talk song ‘What If I Stumble’ Toby Mac says “The greatest single course of atheism today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” You’ve probably heard this quote, definitely if you were a Christian during the 90’s you’ve heard this song. For me, it so concisely explains the problem with our culture of shallow love, through lips and not through actions.
From the same lips that profess love for an Almighty God, we also curse and blaspheme His name! Who do we think we’re fooling? God is omnipotent. He is not impressed with our mere words. Last Christmas, I was at a friend’s house, sitting on the floor with her granddaughter who was then only nine months old. Her parents had bought her a plastic nativity set as an early gift. She was holding the tiny baby Jesus, when she was sick all over it. She stared at it in horror then held it up to her mother who was sitting above us. What a profound picture! So often we do the same thing. We vomit all over the Holy name of Jesus then we hold Him up in worship and glorify Him! When we do this, we are not worshiping Jesus, but ourselves and the image of a ‘good Christian’ we project to those around us. We are caring more for the opinions of mere men than standing humbly and honestly as broken, sinful people before a Holy God. We effectively are achieving nothing.
So, being that we are sinful beings, are we discounted from entering the presence of a Holy God? No. He has bridged the gap to us so that we may enter His presence. It is a lie to believe we can only communicate with Him when we are sin free. If this was true, no-one would ever have a relationship with Him and this is simply not His will for us. He wants relationship with us, which in itself is incredible.
What makes a relationship strong? Communication and consistency. I don’t have a significant other at present, but if I did, I would want to spend time with him and talk to him. This is key to understanding and appreciating his role in my life. Only then can I develop feelings of attraction and, yes, love for him. But how long would this relationship last if I never spent the time talking and being in the presence of that person? How long would he suffer me if every time he saw me I was demanding something from him and never appreciating him? Would my love for him be evident if I didn’t want to spend time with him? Would he be assured of my love if I only spoke it but never acted on it? Certainly not. That relationship is doomed to fail. So why do we treat God like this? God is not a sugar-daddy. Like our earthly friends and family, we need to spend time with Him to build a relationship and grow in affection for Him.
The second chapter of James reminds us that faith without works is meaningless. Of course, our salvation is not determined by our works, for it is grace that saved us whilst we were still sinners (Ephesians 2 & Romans 5). But we will be judged by our works too. In Matthew 7, Jesus confirms that the world will know us through our actions. So, we’re saved by grace but judged on works – both by the world and the Holy God we serve.
Love is a work. In the dictionary, there is a clear, bold ‘v’ positioned next to it. It’s a verb. It requires action and exhibition. So, how do we show love? Through obedience and service. I show my parents I love them by cooking them a meal, by taking out the garbage once a week, by vacuuming the house and offering to pay for groceries. But, (and this is often harder), I also show them love by abiding by their wishes. I show them love by going back into my room and changing my outfit when Dad says the cliched “you’re not going out dressed like that young lady!” I show my parents love by humbly and respectfully living by their rules even (especially!) when I think their rules are one step off living in a convent or monastery. It’s the same with God. We can’t love God only in word, but reject what He would have us do in our everyday life. We are to come to Him with an open, humble and willing heart, ready to do whatever it is that He would have us do, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes us. Anything less, is counterfeit love for a ‘god’ we have made up around our own sphere of reassurance. Our God requires radical obedience. This is the measure by which we may say that we love Him with our minds, hearts and actions.
But what does it mean to truly love God? I don’t know about you, but I often cringe when I hear those three little words: “I love you”. I don’t know how to use it appropriately. It always seems a little conceited. I think it’s because in our culture, it’s a little over-used. I love chocolate. I love movies. I love my parents. I love my brother and sister-in-law. I love my friends (some). I love what I’m studying at uni and I love puppies. Well, surely the way I feel about something as inconsequential as a dessert cannot accurately display the affection I have for my brother, who I have lived, laughed and cried with for the past twenty years. Nor should my love for God’s creation be on par with my respect and adoration for the Maker Himself. But unfortunately, our language has no other way of explaining it. Greek does. Agape, philios, eros. Three different types of love used to express affection in different degrees and functions. Also, it can be used simultaneously as a verb or noun in Greek (e.g. ‘my lover’ as opposed to ‘the one I love’). Wonderful. So much clearer. So, since my love for food is not the same as my love for my God, I should make adjustments in my expression. I like food, I love God. Don’t overuse it or it will be meaningless. Give ILY a huge GTDO (that’s ‘get the Dickens out’… No swearing in here thank you!)
I also think that our culture abuses love by making it a commodity. Love is found and lost quickly. It sells and is purchased easily. It’s given out everywhere but found in no-one. So elusive is love, that we don’t even know what it is anymore. I just finished reading Joshua Harris’ book ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’. In it, he said “The world takes us to a silver screen on which flickering images of passion and romance play and as we watch, the world says ‘this is love’. God takes us to the foot of a tree on which a naked and bloodied man hangs and says ‘this is love’.” Wow. How broken is our concept of love? We often fall into the trap of thinking love is the quickening of our pulse when we see our crush, the butterflies that keep us awake at night imagining conversations with a special someone, the apparent inability to function as a normal human being for the sake of thinking of that person! It’s not. That’s mere infatuation that changes and leaves as quickly as it arrives. Love is a continued commitment to obedience and servitude regardless of emotion. There is no love without sacrifice – but God in His infinite mercy has already paid it! It’s scandalously easy to show love for God. For what more does God require of us but to act in a way that is pleasing to Him and to walk in humility alongside Him? (Micah 6:8). And yet we fail to do so often because we’re chasing a feeling. Good works have been prepared for us so that we might display our love (Ephesians 2:10). It’s a natural reaction to the One who first loved (1 John 4:19).
What would it look like if we, as the body of Christ, learned to truly love God in action as much as word? If we really lived according to the first and second commandments to love God above all else? (Exodus 20:3-4) What would happen if we created a culture of radical obedience? The world would surely take notice of that.
It starts with us friends. Challenge yourself to live according to Micah 6:8 and learn to love God in action, “…to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (KJV) Be real, be honest, be humble and hopelessly in love with your God!
Yours in His unfailing love,