Whereas the first spiritual essential (ambition to please God) focused on the answer to Jesus’ question, “What do you seek?” the second spiritual essential focuses on another question Jesus put to His disciples:
“Do you love Me?”1
This is a question He also puts to you and me today.
No doubt, if you are a Christian, this seems like an easy question to answer. “Of course I love Jesus! He is my Lord and Savior,” you may be thinking. But let’s not jump to any quick and thoughtless answers. This question is much more demanding than it at first appears.
Loving Him Most of All
Consider these words of Jesus:
If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)
To be clear, Jesus is not literally commanding us to hate our parents and children and siblings. Rather, He’s demanding that our love for Him exceed all other aspirations. Even the deepest familial love a person can have must never compete with our love for Jesus, or that love will become an idol.
The amazing thing is that the more you love Jesus, the greater your capacity will be to love others. But if you love others more than you love Christ, then you’ll love them less than if you love Jesus more than them. Loving Him more than anyone enhances rather than diminishes your love for others.
If you love others more than you love Christ, then you’ll love them less than if you love Jesus more than them. —Ken Boa
Loving Him for His Own Sake
Another reason why the call to love Jesus is demanding is that Jesus calls us to love Him not merely for His gifts but for who He is.
Everyone who comes to Jesus will come at first because He offers the gifts of salvation and blessing and eternal life. No one will come to Him for Himself at first. Jesus knows that, and He is gracious to meet us where we are. But His desire is that we would learn to love Him less and less for His gifts and more and more simply for who He is, because at the end of the day He will not offer us anything other than Himself. As C. S. Lewis writes,
God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.2
When we love Jesus for who He is, and we seek intimacy with Him above all else, we are no longer what C. S. Lewis calls “mercenary souls.” Our whole life begins to flow not out of a desire to receive gifts from Christ (though He will surely lavish us with them; see Romans 8:32) but out of our genuine love for Christ. For this reason, loving others well—in obedience to the second Great Commandment—depends on our love for and intimacy with Christ.
As you can see, then, the second spiritual essential in this series (loving Jesus) is closely related to the first (ambition to please God): when we make Jesus our first and greatest ambition, not for His gifts but for Himself, because we love Him, then we’re freed to love others as He calls us to love. In addition, we’re increasingly desirous of obeying Him. Following Him becomes delightful, not onerous. Therefore, in the Christian life, it is imperative that we focus more on loving Jesus than on avoiding sin. This is what Thomas Chalmers referred to as the “expulsive power of a new affection.”
Everything—victory over sin, loving others, living a godly life—follows from our love for Jesus.
I believe the main reason people fall away in their faith and drop out of the race is a failure to cultivate a love for Christ more than anything else. Here are a few practical ways to grow in your love for Jesus today/this week:
- Meditate on the life of Christ by reading through one of the Gospels (a chapter a day, perhaps, from Luke or John). Focus on Jesus, how He moved through His world, and how He treated others. Ask God to help you grow in your love for Him as you read.
- Establish an ongoing dialogue with Jesus during your day. Did you know He intercedes for us—for you—from His position at the Father’s right hand (Romans 8:34)? Talk to Him in the high and low moments of your day; you can even write Him a note if you’re the journaling type. Ponder the reality that He’s with you always (Matthew 28:20), even more constantly and faithfully than your spouse or other closest friend/relative on earth.
- Repent and return to your “first love” if you’ve been a follower of Christ for a while. The church in Ephesus was admonished in Revelation 2, “Remember where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first …” (2:5). Think back to the enthusiasm and aspiration for knowing and loving God that you had when you first came to Him. What were the “deeds you did at first” to cultivate your relationship with Him? Confess your loss/lack of love and then look for ways to rekindle the passion. Take a nature walk or a jog with Him; wake up early to talk to Him before the busyness of the day starts; sneak in little moments with Jesus, just as you would do with someone you’ve just begun dating.
The next part in this series will consider the third spiritual essential: the thought life.READ PART 3
- See John 21:15.
- Lewis, Mere Christianity, book 2, chap. 3 (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1980), 54.