An excerpt from An Urgent Call to a Serious Faith
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”
This verse perfectly defines the relationship that God intended between Himself and Israel and all mankind. “Though this requirement is not explicitly stated in the Ten Commandments (Exodus:20:1-17; Deuteronomy:5:1-22), it is, according to our Lord Jesus Christ, the essence thereof, and the first and greatest commandment given by God to man (Matthew:22:35-40; Mark:12:28-31; Luke:10:25-28).
If this is the greatest commandment, then failure to love God with one’s entire heart, soul, and might must be the greatest sin of which one could be guilty. Indeed, not loving God is the root of all sin. Nor is our Lord’s summation of the Ten Commandments a condemnation only of atheists and pagans. It is also a terrible indictment of most Christians. How shamefully little love we give to God! “With all thine heart, with all thy soul, with all thy might!” said Jesus. My own conscience has been deeply convicted.
The second commandment, according to our Lord, is, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Obedience to this command is the essential evidence of truly loving God. John reminds us, “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John:4:20). Love of neighbor is the inevitable result of loving God. These two commandments (to love God, then neighbor), like blossom and fruit, are inseparable. There cannot be one without the other. Moreover, “On these two commandments,” said Jesus, “hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew:22:40). Here is the essence of all Scripture and of God’s requirements for mankind.
Were it not for God’s grace and the redemptive work of Christ, this clear teaching from Scripture would hang over us like a death sentence. We have disobeyed the first and greatest commandment, and as a result could not keep the second. The penalty for sin is death—eternal separation from God and from the life and love that is in Him alone. How desperately we need a Savior! And, oh, how God’s gracious and complete provision in Christ should create in our hearts the very love for Him that He longs for from us!
Loving God, Not Self!
The church is busy with conferences, conventions, seminars, and workshops where numerous subjects from healing to holiness, from prosperity to prophecy, from miracles to marriage counseling, are taught and discussed. Yet the subject of loving God is too often conspicuous by its absence. Instead, there is much emphasis upon loving self—a teaching unknown in the church until the recent advent of Christian psychology.
Jesus said, “On these two commandments [first, loving God; second, loving neighbor] hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew:22:40). Since these two commandments are the essence of Scripture, nothing further need be nor can be added. Yet to these two has lately been added a third: the love of self. Moreover, this newly introduced “law” is declared to be the first commandment and key to all else. It is now widely taught that self-love is the great need, that we cannot fully love either God or neighbor until we first of all learn to love ourselves.
The preeminence of loving self began to be promoted more than fifty years ago by Erich Fromm, a blatantly anti-Christian humanistic psychologist who believed in man’s innate goodness. He dared to say that Jesus taught we must first love ourselves before we can love others when He said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew:19:19). Other humanistic psychologists such as Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers picked up Fromm’s concept of self-love and popularized it.
In fact, far from teaching self-love, Christ was rebuking it in the statement quoted above. He was saying, “You feed and clothe and care for yourselves day and night. Now give to your neighbors some of that attention that you lavish upon yourselves. Love your neighbor as you excessively love yourselves.” Such had been the Christian understanding of this verse throughout history. Christ would hardly tell us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves if we did not already love ourselves enough. But Fromm’s perverted interpretation, through Christian psychology, gained an entrance into the church.
In 1,900 years, no Christian author or preacher had ever discovered a single verse in the Bible that taught self-love and self-esteem. Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Spurgeon, Moody, and others found just the opposite: the necessity to deny self and to esteem others better than ourselves (Philippians:2:3). Nevertheless, humanistic psychology’s emphasis upon loving self inspired Christian psychologists with a new interpretation of Scripture that seemed to support their new profession. Bruce Narramore wrote, “Under the influence of humanistic psychologists like Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, many of us Christians [psychologists] have begun to see our need for self-love and self-esteem. This is a good and necessary focus.”
Tragically, this humanistic influence has corrupted Bible interpretation so that the lie of self-love now emanates confidently as the new truth from pulpit and Christian media through pastors, preachers, teachers, and televangelists almost everywhere. The sad corollary is that the essential love of God is neglected and self-love is made preeminent. No longer are we being convicted of our failure to love God with our whole heart, soul, and might as the gravest of sins and the root of all personal problems. Instead, we are told that our problem has been a poor self-image and lack of self-love, and we are being urged to focus upon loving and esteeming and valuing ourselves. What a deadly perversion of Scripture!
There is a growing emphasis today upon world evangelism, and surely that is needful and commendable. We ought to obey the Great Commission given to us by Christ. There is also an awakening social conscience, a concern to demonstrate practical Christianity in caring for those around us, from the unborn threatened with abortion to the homeless and deprived. And so it should be. Yet that which must come first—a deep love of God—is largely forgotten.
“Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned” (1 Corinthians:13:3) may be commendable deeds, but if they are not motivated and sanctified by an all-consuming love for God, they are of no value at all in His eyes. Have we really faced the teaching of this great love chapter? How amazing and sad that love of God is buried in the flurry of activity to serve Him. Indeed, the average Christian, while he may love much else, including even the world, which he is forbidden to love, gives little serious thought to loving God.
Heaven will be the ecstatic joy of eternal and infinite love. What a taste of heaven we could have now—and at the same time bring satisfaction to our Lord!
Many issues of great concern legitimately occupy the attention of church leaders and their flocks. Yet the greatest commandment, and that which God desires from us above all, is scarcely mentioned, much less given the prominence it ought to have in church fellowship and individual lives. How tragic! And what an indictment of Christianity today. None of us is innocent of this great sin. My heart has been broken as I’ve been convicted anew of how far I fall short of keeping the essence of God’s commandments. I have cried out to Him with new sorrow and longing that He would help me to love Him with my whole heart and my neighbor as myself.
The Bible is filled with injunctions to love God, with explanations of why we ought to and of the benefits to be derived thereby. Here are a few examples. Look up others and meditate upon them:
God even tells us in Deuteronomy:13:1-3 that He allows false prophets to work signs and wonders as a test to see “whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” We live in a time of such testing. Loving God fervently will keep us from apostasy.
Yes, love is commanded. True love begins in the will, not in the emotions. That love is commanded seems incomprehensible even to many Christians. The world has conditioned us to believe that one “falls in love” and that love is a romantic attraction between the sexes. “Boy meets girl and falls in love” is the most popular theme of novels and movies. Yet “love” without God brings sorrow.
“Falling in love” is perceived as being helplessly swept up in a mysterious, euphoric, overpowering feeling over which one has no control and which, inevitably, loses its magic. One is thus equally helpless in “falling out of love,” and thereafter “falling in love” with someone else. A commitment of the will is missing. We are commanded to love with purity—God first of all, with our whole being, and then our neighbor as at least a partial correction of our natural tendency to excessively love ourselves. Love is a commitment to God that demonstrates itself in human relationships.
Yes, falling in love transforms for a time those who experience this emotion. One suddenly becomes a different person. Someone else becomes more important than oneself, bringing deliverance from the slavery to self that ordinarily imprisons us all. Self no longer receives priority, but another has become the primary focus. The love and attention that once was lavished upon oneself now is given to the one who has become the object of one’s love—and that brings tremendous freedom and joy. This temporary release from self-centeredness explains more than anything else the ecstasy of love—a fact that those “in love” generally fail to realize.
Love Is a Commitment of the Will
If loving others is so transforming, how much more so to genuinely and deeply love God. How can this come about? God is so great, so far beyond our finite ability to comprehend, that it seems impossible to know Him. And it is impossible to love a person (except with God’s love) whom one doesn’t know. Love is above all personal.
It is being taught in the church that the best way to get to know God is to visualize Christ, who is God manifest in the flesh. Visualization is the most powerful occult technique. Visualizing an entity, even “God” or “Christ,” puts one in touch with a masquerading demon. Yet visualization is becoming more popular than ever in the church.
Denying any occult involvement, teachers of this technique declare, “Visualize Christ as your favorite artist paints Him—then talk to Him and He will respond.” What a delusion to enter into a relationship with an imaginary “Christ”! Even if the picture created in the mind were absolutely accurate, which it is not, it would be like “falling in love” with a picture and imagining that it was talking back. Such behavior borders on insanity, yet it is seriously promoted by leading Christians.
It is also suggested that visualizing Bible scenes helps to understand their teaching. Such a practice is not only occult but illogical and misleading. Obviously, visualizing oneself seated among the listening multitude will not help to understand the Sermon on the Mount. Most of those in His day who saw and heard Jesus with their physical eyes and ears neither understood nor obeyed what He said. Knowing God and His Word is not aided by images, even if accurate—much less by imagining scenes for which the Bible gives insufficient data to recreate them. “Eye hath not seen nor ear heard,” but God reveals Himself and His truth to our hearts “by his Spirit…because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians:2:9-14).
Images appeal to the flesh. Beauty is only skin deep. Solomon says that “charm is deceitful and beauty is vain” (Proverbs:31:30 NASB) and Peter warns against outward attractiveness and commends “the hidden man of the heart” (1 Peter:3:4). What folly to think that an image of Christ created by one’s imagination helps one to know and love Him.
Love is not primarily a feeling. It is a commitment. This is the missing ingredient in much that is called love today. A genuine and lasting commitment to one another is often lacking even in Christian marriages due to worldly influence and the promotion by church leaders of loving, esteeming, accepting, and valuing self.
Commitment is also the missing ingredient in many a Christian’s relationship with God. Rather than working up a feeling that you love God, make a commitment to Him to love and obey Him. Jesus promised, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me…and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him…and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him and make our abode with him” (John:14:21-23).
We need to know God and His love in our hearts. As we seek Him in His Word and in prayer, He will reveal Himself by His Spirit. We are to love Him with our whole heart, soul, and might. May He grant us a fresh conviction of the sin of not loving Him as we ought, and may the desire to obey this first and greatest commandment become our passion. Only then will we begin to manifest that love for one another which Christ said would be the mark whereby the world would be able to recognize His true disciples—those to whom He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”