When was the last time you had your vision tested? If you are anything like me, it’s been a while. I don’t like vision tests. I’m not a fan of dimly lit rooms with strangers who sit too close. It’s awkward. But the real reason I avoid the optometrist is knowing my vision is getting worse makes me a little uneasy. I always nail the first few lines at the top, “T Z P,” but by the time I move to the smaller lines I start to struggle. The letters get fuzzy, out of focus and eventually I just guess letters in hopes that I’ll get a few right. Let’s just say, I’m nowhere near 20/20 vision.
My experience at the eye doctor is often very similar to the Christian’s experience when it comes to loving God. We start off well and talk a big game but by the time we move deeper into what loving God means, things get fuzzy, out of focus and to be honest, I think people just start guessing. When it comes to loving God, Christians lack 20/20 vision.
I’m not surprised by this. Our culture is both nearsighted and farsighted when it comes to love. It’s one of the words that can mean so many things to so many people that it’s become a very abstract concept to most. I submit to you this definition of love as the clearest and most robust definition around: DEVOTION + DELIGHT = LOVE. Love is the sum total of a person’s devotion to another and delight in another.
If you are reading this article, you are familiar with the Old Testament command, reiterated by Jesus in the Gospels, to love God. But, if you were sitting with a person taking their first steps toward Jesus and they asked you what it means to love God, what would you say? Most explanations fall into two categories. One category is all about affections usually measured by intense feelings. In this category it’s not enough to love God, you have to really love God or better yet, really, really love God or better yet, really, really, really love God. You get the idea.
The other category is all about action, usually measured by religious duty. I think most would agree that loving God includes both actions and affections. To say it another way, most people define love by some sort of devotion or some sort of delight. I would assume that you lean toward one over the other. Here’s the thing, it’s not devotion or delight that explains loving God, it’s this: MY DEVOTION TO GOD + MY DELIGHT IN GOD = MY LOVE FOR GOD. Love is the byproduct of devotion and delight. Where do devotion and delight begin? Glad you asked.
It’s possible to be devoted to someone you doubt is devoted to you but it’s not possible to delight in someone you doubt delights in you. With that in mind, check this out:
- “We love because he first loved us” ( 1 John 4:19).
- “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
God loves us. He is both devoted to us and delighted with us. This is the beginning of our devotion to him and delight in him.
I’ve been married to Carrisa for over 10 years. Without straining to manufacture more love, I love her now more than ever. Here’s how that happened. When I experienced her devotion to me and her delight in me, I experienced her love for me. Consequently, this love increased my devotion for her and my delight in her. This is how love grows. Love is the byproduct of devotion and delight.
Back to the eye doctor. There’s nothing quite like the moment you put on new glasses for the first time and things are more clear than they’ve ever been. Understanding the gospel is like trying on a brand new pair of glasses for the first time. It helps us see clearly what it means to love God. Gospel is not an umbrella term for all things “Jesusy.” It’s a precise term; a technical term.
Gospel means “good news,” and it’s the short title for the substitutionary work of Jesus. It’s the good news that Jesus took what we deserve so we can have what he deserved.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”( 2 Corinthians 5:21).
Since Jesus took on our sin, we can take on his righteousness. When we trust Jesus, we exchange our sinful verdict for his righteous verdict. Consequently, God is just as pleased with us as he is with Jesus. God now delights in us. This realization motivates our devotion to him and delight in him. The more delighted you are that God delights in you, the more devoted you’ll be.
So, I’ve explained what love for God is and where it begins. But what does this look like in everyday life? Practically, devotion and delight come together in three big areas of our lives: identity, authority and activity.
Identity: Everyone has a story they tell themselves about themselves. This sentence alone is the easiest way to think about identity. Your story can either be based on what you do or what’s been done for you. The gospel offers us an identity based on what Jesus has done. His performance, not yours, can secure for you a story about you that no person, no pain and no poor performance could take away. Why wouldn’t we delight in an identity like this? A gospel understanding of identity sounds like this: I love God when I delight in defining myself by what Jesus has done, not in what I do.
Authority: Everyone has an authoritative source that clarifies, defines and explains how the world should be. We are devoted to God when we are submitted to his authority. Since his commands have our best interests in mind, we can be sure that the more devoted we are to his authority the more delighted we will be. A gospel understanding of authority sounds like this: I love God when I delight in submitting to Jesus as my authority not another authority.
Activity: One’s identity and one’s authority produce a person’s activity. When we believe the gospel, we become like the gospel and it sounds like this: I love God when I delight in doing for others what Jesus has done for me.
Growing love for God can be evaluated by an increasing delight in an identity from Jesus, an increasing delight in the authority of Jesus and an increasing delight in activity like Jesus. If you are a Christian and you sense that your love for God has flatlined, the solution isn’t to try harder but to dig deeper into God’s love for you. Just like when the eye doctor writes you a new prescription, I hope what I’ve written helps you love God with 20/20 clarity.
Eric Nelson is executive pastor of teaching and ministry at South Mountain Community Church, a multi-site church meeting at four locations throughout Utah—Draper, Lehi, South Jordan and St. George. The church also has a Spanish language congregation. After a 10-year career in student ministry in the Pacific Northwest, Nelson and his wife, Carrisa, moved to Utah to plant SMCC Lehi. The Nelsons have two children.