What If I Don’t Love Jesus?
There is a lake in the northern part of our county where I enjoy walking. Surrounded by mountains, it’s a beautiful place to slow down, pray, listen, and just be. Recently, on a journey around the three-quarter-mile footpath, I question entered my mind that stopped me in my tracks.
Do I love Jesus?
Silly question, right? I’ve been a pastor and now a seminary professor for almost thirty years. Of course, I love Jesus.
But how do I know that I really love him?
I’m not sure I had ever stopped to reflect on that specific, but hugely significant question. Maybe I have subconsciously resisted it, not wanting to face the answer.
Thankfully, honesty leads to grace.
MORE THAN “IN NAME ONLY”
As I began to contemplate my love (or lack of love) for Jesus, I realized there are many passages that assume those who are his disciples are not Christians “in name” only. There is more to their lives than having their name on a church membership roll, reciting a doctrinal affirmation to the Apostles Creed, singing hymns, and participating in religious activities.
Consider Romans 8:28, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” According to this text, the hope of the Lord’s sovereign plan weaving all the pieces of our lives for ultimate blessing is not for all humanity or those who are just members of a church. The promise is reserved for those who love God.
After the apostle Peter’s famous crash-and-burn moment of denial on the evening of Jesus’ crucifixion, he is reinstated. Part of the informal ceremony includes Jesus asking Peter three times, “Do you love me?” It grieved Peter to face the question over and over because he knew that his actions had betrayed not only Jesus but himself.
In John 14:15, Jesus makes it clear that those who love him treasure his wisdom and seek to follow in the Savior’s ways. He says, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” In verses 23–24, a similar refrain is heard, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word… [but] whoever does not love me does not keep my words.”
When I ask the question to myself, “Do I really love Jesus,” I am met with more than two options. It would seem those options are love or not love. But in Revelation, the Spirit speaks of three degrees: hot, cold, and lukewarm.
To be hot is to burn with true love. To be cold is to feel no affection whatsoever — even contempt or disgust. Lukewarm is different. We feel it in relationships. Even if my spouse is not outwardly angry, I can tell something is missing.
I wonder if that is what my love for Jesus is: lukewarm. I certainly do not hate Jesus. But I can’t say that I burn with affection either.
BEYOND MILK TOAST
So, what does it mean to move beyond the milk toast love to a genuine warmth in the heart — a true love for Jesus? At the least, it involves a desire to obey him as Lord. As Designer of the universe, he knows best.
Not only does walking in his ways honor him, it serves us well to follow his lead. Therefore, practical obedience is a clear external way to manifest inward love for Jesus. Defying his wisdom is not an act of neutrality. The willful rejection of a King’s laws is considered an act of treason and hostility — not love.
But Iove goes deeper than outward obedience. After all, it’s possible (and maybe more common) to obey outwardly from a motive of fear and guilt, not love.
Like the physical human heart, the spiritual heart has four chambers.
- One is the volitional chamber, which describes our actions. This is the part of the heart we most clearly “see.”
- Next to the volitional is the rational, the thinking part of the heart that either believes (and acts on) truth or lies.
- Next is the emotional chamber of the heart, which expresses what we feel. Those three are relatively well-known aspects of the spiritual heart.
- Yet there is a fourth — deep desire. It is this desire that drives everything else that takes place in the heart. This is the realm of motivation, which is fueled either by the flesh or the Holy Spirit.
To love Jesus with my whole heart is to have the very core of my being affected in such a way that transforms not only my actions but also my affections. In this way, loving Jesus is both objective and subjective, rational and emotional.
As Jonathan Edwards said, quite bluntly if not shockingly, “He who has no religious affection is in a state of spiritual death, and is wholly destitute of the powerful, quickening, saving influences of the Spirit of God upon his heart.”
In plain language, if I do not feel love for Jesus, I do not love him. My “love” is lukewarm at best.
Consider the marriage analogy again. No spouse wants to be loved with lukewarm affection. What if my wife and kids had a merely functional love for me, devoid of emotion?
That would be a sterile, words-only love, wouldn’t it? An impotent love.
But Jesus’ love is not impotent. It changes us, transforming us from the inside out. Paul writes, “We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.”
The Greek word for transformed is metamorphoō (μεταμορφόω) from which we get the English word metamorphosis. Metamorphoō is composed of two words, meta and morph. Meta = great. Morph = change.
Like a ground-bound caterpillar disappears into a cocoon only to emerge with the ability to fly, the believer is transformed by the love of Jesus.
Where was that love most clearly and perfectly displayed? Yes, in the cross. And what is the essence of the Spirit’s ministry to believers?
To spotlight that cross, convincing us of our adoption in Christ as the beloved of the Father. What we behold with unveiled face in 2 Corinthians 3 is a vision of the Lord’s glorious grace of substitutionary atonement. His love manifested through costly sacrifice to reconcile us to himself.
Being wrapped in the cocoon of his love, kindness, grace, and mercy gives us wings!
In theology, we call this sanctification.
The doctrine of sanctification deals with the progressive change that takes place in the life of a believer. It is not a complicated doctrine to understand, since the goal of our transformation is to be like Jesus.
To put an edge on it, we can say that sanctification is learning to love like Jesus. To love the Father like Jesus loves the Father and love other sinners the way Jesus loves sinners.
How do we learn how to love like Jesus? The same way we learn anything. Not just by reading about it. We learn through experience. If I want to become a fly fisherman, I need to get out on the river and start casting my line.
The experience is essential.
TO LOVE LIKE JESUS, BE LOVED BY JESUS
In the same way, if I am going to love like Jesus, I need to be loved by Jesus.
This is why a personal, existential encounter with the affection of God is the catalyst for spiritual metamorphosis! Think about it. What if the love of God were just functional — a kind of fact without feeling.
Don’t get me wrong. The objective, fact of God’s love for me is an amazing reality upon which I am grateful to stand. But the subjective, emotive affection of the Father toward me like a parent toward a child is something even more. To existentially know — to feel — the Father’s love is what transforms the whole heart.
However, this is not something you do. You can’t really apply this lesson. You can only receive it.
Maybe you need what I need.
To sit and be still and meditate upon 1 John 3:1, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
As you read and re-read this text, let me encourage you to personalize the passage, making the pronouns first person, I and me.
Read it now. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on me, that I should be called a child of God!
For that is what I am!”
Remember, we love him because he first loved us. This is what turns lukewarm love into a warm, even burning desire to know and follow Jesus — to feel genuine affection for him as an elder brother who has given his own life to bring me home.
- Do you ever question the depth or authenticity of your love for Him, and what triggers these reflections?
- The importance of actions reflecting one’s love for Jesus is highlighted in John 14:15 and Romans 8:28. How do you believe actions and obedience play a role in demonstrating love for Jesus? Can you think of examples from your own life or others’ lives that illustrate this?
- What do you think it means to have a lukewarm love for Jesus? Have you ever experienced this in your spiritual walk? How did you address it?
- Love for Jesus goes deeper than just outward obedience, involving the heart’s desires and motivations. How can you cultivate a love for Jesus that transcends mere external compliance? How does the cross play into these dynamics?
- How do you personally experience Jesus’ love in your life, and how does or could this influence the way you love others?