Jesus said that loving God was the greatest command of all (Matt. 22:37-38). No doubt, most of us who believe in God, will affirm that we love Him. Many of us regularly express our love for God in worship services and by other religious activities. Do we love God by merely going to church regularly, by saying prayers, by doing good deeds for others, or even by doing Christian ministry? How do we really know that we love God? Is love just a warm, nice feeling toward God? What are the practical steps that can we take to assure ourselves that we really love Him as He wants us to love Him? Let us try to find out some answers to these questions. Actually, the Bible, the God’s inspired Word, is clear about how we should show our love to God. It is quite specific about what exactly we should do to demonstrate that love for God.
I. What does it mean to Love God?
The obligation to love God is mentioned most directly, and very powerfully, in Deuteronomy, chapter 6. “You shall LOVE the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) This is further emphasised in the New Testament., “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) The command is clearly stated, but how do we do this in practice? How can we love God?
A. Loving God is obeying His Commandments
A scribe asked Jesus a vital question: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” As we read in the Bible, this was asked only with an intention to try to trick Jesus. Though Jesus knew the thoughts and intentions of this man, Jesus did not give the answer to him according to the folly of his intention; Jesus answered him with a question. “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” The Scribe answered quoting mostly 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, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Jesus replied to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live” (Luke 10:25-28). Jesus assured the man that he had given the correct answer and added some important advice, “Do this and you will live, “ We must be aware that Jesus intended to draw from him an acknowledgment that he had not done this, and therefore an enquiry as to what he should do.
Jesus was making it clear to the new testament believers that eternal life is only for those who love God with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their strength, and with all their mind, So to gain eternal life, it is clear that we must love God wholeheartedly without any restraints or reservations. Jesus says in John 14:21, “He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.” In Ezekiel 20:11 we read that “I gave them my decrees and made known to them my laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them”. In Matthew 28:18, before Christ ascended into heaven He instructed the apostles to teach the new believers to “observe all things that I have commanded you.” Also in Luke we read that, “But why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). God wants us to demonstrate our love to Him by obeying His commandments. We show our love to God only if we keep all His commandments.
B. Loving God is to Hate Sin
“Hating sin” is one of the most important signs which indicate our love towards God. The Spirit of God has expressed this truth through David, a man after God’s own heart,” Let those who love the LORD hate evil” (Psalms 97:10). Every sin in our life is an indication of the presence of evil in us. Proverbs 6:16 says that God hates a lying tongue. But do we really give importance to this in our daily life? We may say that telling a white lie, or at times even a lie, is ok. But the Bible does not separate lie into “lie” and “white lie”. Lying is a sin and God hates all lies. Being egoistic or proud is equally evil, and God hates it. Hating sin and our sinful nature is the most important sign that we love God. Unless we hate sin, we can never have victory over sins or live a victorious Christian Life.
It is clear from the Word of God that Loving God means much more than merely becoming a Christian or merely saying that we love God. We need to be tuned to the likes and dislikes of our heavenly Father. Show our love for the Lord “by” hating all that is evil in His sight. It means hate every sin and sinful nature because God hates sin. God hates pride, anger, filth, lie, hatred, immorality, jealousy, envy, selfishness, gluttony, being judgmental etc. Do we hate such sins in our life?
There is nothing more clearly affirmed in the Scriptures than this, that in order to love God, we must hate evil. Proverbs 8:13 says that “to fear the LORD, is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behaviour and perverse speech.” In Psalms 5:5 the Bible says that “God hates all who do wrong.”
II. Loving God, a Case Study
There is only one incident in the Bible where Jesus comments on someone saying, “for, she loved much” It is about a lady who loved the Saviour fully and unconditionally. The life of this lady reconfirms the purpose of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection: “to make saints out of sinners.” This lady is considered as a saint by the majority of Christian denominations. The first part of this incident is mentioned in the Gospel of John, Chapter 8: 3-13 and the second part is covered in Luke chapter 7:36-50.
John 8: 3-11: Caught in the act of adultery, this woman was dragged and brought before Jesus. He was teaching the crowd at the temple. Meanwhile, the Pharisees wanted to test him in the Law of Moses that called for stoning someone caught in adultery. The self righteous and egoistic scribes and Pharisees threw the immoral woman down before the crowd at the feet of Jesus. The Pharisees were quick to judge and wanted to finish her, but Jesus, who knows the beginning and the end, was waiting patiently for this woman to be brought to Him. Jesus knew that the woman longed to be set free from her sinful life. When all her accusers had departed after the conviction of their own sins, Jesus gave the woman the key to her deliverance: go and sin no more. Jesus was preparing her for a love relationship with her Creator. The basic and most important requirement was, and continues to be, “sin no more.” He was giving her a second life, but it also meant that she had to abandon her sinful practices and never resort to them again. John 8:10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” John 8:11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go and sin no more.”
It is important to note here that Jesus does not forgive her sins at this point of time, but merely tells her. “Go and sin no more.” God never gives a commandment which is impossible to obey, as a loving Father He would never ask his children to do something impossible for them. Commandments given in the Bible are possible to obey if we depend upon God and ask Him for His grace. The punishment of death by stoning was avoided, but her sins were not forgiven at this point. Forgiveness comes from repentance and we can very well infer that she was in a state of shock and surprise rather than of repentance. God loved her unconditionally but forgiveness of her sins was conditional and was dependent upon her repentance.
The words “sin no more” from her creator, had sufficient power to change her sinful nature. She went home shocked and surprised and, may be, also thoroughly confused. The words of her saviour were echoing in her mind. “Go and sin no more”. She, like many of us today, also would have thought, “how can I live a sinless life,” but, when she came to her senses, she couldn’t believe the changes that had taken place in her life. She was being transformed into a new personality.
Though she was hounded, perhaps by her evil desires, and also perhaps, by her past acquaintances, she held on, and decided to obey the man who had saved her, by not sinning any more. She fought sin mentally and as well as physically. She started hating sin, which was, till a few days earlier, her pleasure. She started loving Jesus, by hating sin, as mentioned in the Psalms. Psalms 97:10 – “Let those who love the LORD hate evil. The encounter with her Creator changed her life forever, and it helped her to hate sin. Our personal encounter with our saviour should result in hating sins. When we are touched by the Spirit of God, the result will be conviction of our sins as said in John 16:8 – “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” The work of God and that of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of our sins and to leads us into repentance and restoration.
She was filled with gratitude to Jesus for saving her from physical and spiritual death, and from the bondage of her sinful pasts. As a sign of gratitude she decided to give everything she had to her new found saviour. She collected all her savings and bought most expensive perfume she could buy. Carrying this precious gift, she started looking around for Jesus. Lack of information about Jesus’ whereabouts was not a hindrance for her, nor did this discourage her. She continued to search for Jesus. May be she searched for many weeks or months. Her commitment to not to sin grew day by day and she was able to obey her Creator.
The loving Father in Heaven was waiting for the repentance and return of this child. Because of her repentance, God directed Jesus to the house of Simon, to give her forgiveness of sins and salvation. Simon would have had many intentions and reasons for inviting Jesus for lunch, but unknown to Simon, the Heavenly Father had other plans – a plan to give salvation to His lost child. We read in the Bible that Jesus did not do anything without the direction from his Father in Heaven. The second part of this incident, which took place in the house of Simon, is mentioned in Luke 7:36-50.
After many days of searching, she came to know that Jesus was coming to Simon’s House for lunch. It was never easy for this lady to enter into an uninvited house. She was not invited to Simon’s house. She was a known sinner. Her love towards her saviour was so deep that this did not deter her from meeting her saviour. She was determined and she simply ignored all those formalities and simply gate-crashed into Simon’s house. With her face streaked with tears of sorrow and remorse, she opened the alabaster flask and poured its precious contents over the feet of her Saviour. Then, she wiped them with her hair. At her selfless act of repentance, Jesus spoke tender words of forgiveness.
There is a difference of opinion among the theologians as to the identity of this lady. While some Biblical scholars believe that the woman who anointed Jesus at Simon’s house is the same lady who was caught in the act of adultery and her name is Mary Magdalene. But others are of the opinion that these are two different women. Whatever the truth may be, the message rings loud and clear: God loves a broken and contrite heart. No one knew this better than King David who was broken over his sin with Bathsheba more than 1,000 years before Christ. King David wrote with his own hand: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
Mary Magdalene was never the same again. Even though the Bible does not say much about her past, it is clear about the life Mary led after her encounter with Jesus. Mary Magdalene knew what it meant to love Jesus. She realised soon that the only way to love Jesus was to hate what Jesus hated and love what Jesus loved. Jesus forgives her sins, as we read in Luke 7:47-48.
“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much”. Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” It is clear that Jesus did not refer to the incident of “anointing of oil” when He said “for she loved much.” We cannot love God by our physical actions, but it has to come from deep within, and with a firm commitment to hate anything that God hates, and do everything that God loves. Mary Magdalene loved God by hating sins as mentioned in Psalms 97:10 – “Let those who love the LORD hate evil,” and this would have prompted Jesus to make the comment “for she loved much.”
It is interesting to note that Simon invited Jesus to his house; he spent money, cooked food, and invited his friends and relatives. He even served food to Jesus, an apparent act of love, but Simon did not get anything from Jesus. His sins were not forgiven, but an undeserving sinner was saved. Simon was a Pharisee, meaning one, “set apart.” The Pharisees were mostly into business and had contact with common people. They were influential people and also followed the Old Testament. May be because of those things, Simon had lots of pride and ego. Only a person with pride can find fault with others. And that is exactly what he did with Jesus. Simon recognised Mary Magdalene as a prostitute, and questioned the wisdom of Jesus for allowing her to anoint His feet. Repentance and forgiveness of sins was not his priorities. He was willing to invite Jesus and spend money and listen to His preaching, but was not willing to humble himself before his Creator or obey His commandments.
This also resembles today’s Christian world. We do a lot of work for Jesus, build ministries, conduct meetings and also spend a lot of money for the ministry, but perhaps we do not receive forgiveness for our sins because we do not understand that loving our Heavenly Father, is to hate sins and to resist our sinful nature, as it happened in the case of Mary Magdalene.
Her relationship with Jesus did not stop with her sins being forgiven. She decided to follow Jesus, leaving everything behind. She was part of a team which was supporting Jesus and the Apostles. (Luke 8:1-2) We, then, see Mary Magdalene, also at the foot of the cross (John 19:25). She also followed the dead body of Jesus, till it was kept in the grave. She did not even stop with just seeing the burial place of Jesus. She loved her saviour so much that it was not possible for her to imagine a life without her saviour. We then read the most dramatic scene about Jesus appearing to Mary after His resurrection, in the Gospel of John – chapter 20.
As we read in John’s Gospel, she ignored traditions and went to the grave early in the morning, while it was still dark. Since she saw the grave open, she ran to the house where Peter and others were hiding, may be a few kilometres away, and also ran back to the grave along with Peter and John. Peter and John after entering the grave returned home because there was no reason for them to stay back while Mary stood outside the tomb crying. She couldn’t go back without seeing Jesus. She was so attached to her saviour. God heard her cries and asked, “Woman, why are you crying?” (John 20:13) Her love towards her saviour and her tears had the power to bring angels from heaven. She saw 2 angels and they spoke to her. It is surprising to note that these angels hid themselves from Peter and John who were so close to Jesus, but appeared to Mary Magdalene, a former prostitute, because she loved Jesus more than them. It was Mary Magdalene who became the privileged one, one to see the Risen Lord before anyone else. She was also given the privilege to declare to the disciples and to the whole world that Jesus rose from the dead. So, she became an apostle to the apostles as the Catholic Church calls her.
Conclusion: Do We Really Love God?
When we love God like Mary Magdalene, He will ask “Why are we crying?” What is our problem, and then, He will also provide solutions to our problems. There is no problem which cannot be handled and solved by God, provided we love God wholeheartedly. But then, how much do we love God? Do we really love God? It is amply clear from the above that just being a Christian is not enough. We need to obey all Commandments of God. The most important commandment is “You shall LOVE the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” As mentioned in Psalms, for that, we need to hate sin and sinful nature – (Psalms 97:10). Mary Magdalene received forgiveness for her sins, and also salvation because of her tears of repentance. As in the life of Mary Magdalene, we can also experience this forgiveness in our lives today… only if we cry out to our Creator in our helplessness.
As we are coming to the end of this message, let us ask ourselves, the most important question, “Do we really love God”? If we do not love God as He wants us to love Him, it is inevitable to ask God to forgive us for our improper understanding of Jesus and for our false Christian life. Repentance and a broken heart is the only way for forgiveness and salvation. Mary Magdalene decided to love God with all her heart, with all her soul, with all her strength, and with all her mind. The Bible teaches us that eternal life is only for those who love God with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their strength, and with all their mind. May God help each one of us to take such a decision in our lives.