“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom 8:28)
As God gives us one of the greatest assurances Christians have in the Bible, why does he choose the virtue of love as the main descriptive for His people? Why doesn’t he say, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?” Or, since the context of Romans 8 speaks much of suffering, why doesn’t He say, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who take up their cross and follow Jesus.” Why does God, through Paul, choose to elevate the virtue of love here in this verse?
D. Martin Lloyd Jones gives us several reasons. First, love is the preeminent Christian virtue. When the religious leaders asked Jesus to name the greatest commandment, He said, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) Faith is the means of life in Christ, love is the motive of life in Christ, and they are inseparable gifts of God to the child He regenerates. However, one day our faith will give way to sight, but love will last eternally (1 Cor 13:13).
Second, love for God is the virtue that most clearly distinguishes Christians from non-Christians. No matter what the world may profess to believe about Jesus Christ, the fact of the matter is they either hate Him or they are indifferent to Him. But the true child of God will love God, even when God tells him things that are hard to hear, even when life is full of tribulations. Third, the most absolute proof of God’s love for us IS our love for Him. Consider 1 John 4:19: “We love, because He first loved us.” If God had not loved us first, we would never love Him. Our love for Him is the spiritual fruit of Him first loving us, drawing us to Himself, and regenerating us in the power of the Holy Spirit.
All of these truths bring us to this most pertinent question: Do you love God? All good Christians say we love the Lord, but do we really walk in love for Him? More specifically, are the affections of your heart set first upon the perfections of God revealed in Christ? Here are six questions to help you gauge your love for Christ:
1) Do you long for and seek personal communion with Christ? More precisely, do you desire to be with Him and take action to be with Him through the normal means of grace?
2) Do you find your greatest sense of belonging and assurance in who Christ is and His expressions of love for you?
3) Do the main priorities of your life demonstrate that Christ is foremost in your affections?
4) Are the loves of your life derived from your love for Him? In other words, because you love Him, do you love what He loves and hate what He hates?
5) Is there anything you desire more than Him and His presence?
6) When you sense that your love for Christ is waning or faltering, do you pray for God’s help to love Christ more?
I want to be careful to say that none of us will love Christ perfectly. Because we are still bound to our sinful flesh, our love will ebb and flow with times of weakness and times of intensity. Thus, none of us will love Christ perfectly; but if we belong to God, we will love Christ truly. I believe that the greatest spiritual struggles of our lives are most often traced back to this one thing: We are not cultivating love for Christ by drawing near to Him and knowing Him and treasuring Him. We say we love Him, but we have placed other things higher than Him in our affections. Remember what Jesus had to say to the church at Ephesus: “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first.” (Rev 2:4-5)
Have you left your first love? Are you focused more on right doctrine than upon loving God? Do you see yourself trusting in your own works rather than loving Christ and trusting in His work? Is your heart drawn more to the world and the things you want here rather than to Christ? Do you constantly make the excuse that you are too busy to pursue Christ the way you know you should? Are you bearing the shame of hidden sin so heavily that you feel Christ doesn’t want you?
Remember, dear child of God, no matter how many steps you have taken away from Christ, it only takes one step to get back. Take that step of repentance. Lay yourself at His feet, and you will see that He never stopped holding you. He died in your place to secure you in His embrace. Look into your Savior’s eyes and see how fiercely He loves you. Then let the truth of His love for you renew your love for Him. Go to the Word, and be diligent to set Christ before yourself, and the Spirit within you WILL deepen your passion for Him.
“The LORD your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.” (Zeph 3:17)