Does it make any difference how we worship God? Is how we feel about our relationship with Him all that matters?
Many people say they love Jesus.
What a great sentiment! How wonderful it would be if all people had this perspective!
But what does it mean to love God? Depending on the person, it could represent a wide variety of beliefs and lifestyles.
Consider the growing number of Brits, Aussies, Americans and people of many other nations who claim to be SBNR—“spiritual but not religious.” Those who identify themselves as SBNR generally determine their own beliefs and forms of worship rather than participating in organized religion.
Religious authorities are divided over the implications of people deciding for themselves how to have a relationship with God. Some see it as healthy for Christianity to offer more choices. Others view it as a mistake, as Christianity Lite—the kind where each person can pick and choose what he or she wants to do and feel good about the choice.
So how are we to love God? Can we just love Him however we think best?
Jesus said that it was vain—empty and worthless—to worship God according to the ideas of men (Mark 7:7). So, instead of selecting our own preferences from the vague and confusing explanations that are blithely offered today, doesn’t it make more sense to let the Bible guide us in this important endeavor?
Loving God defined
One of the foundational principles given in Scripture about loving God is that it requires specific action. Loving God means keeping His commandments (1 John 5:3).
Contrary to the misguided opinions of some, God’s laws are not harsh, burdensome, unrealistic and outdated.
After the return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem from their Babylonian captivity, they were reminded that God had come down on Mount Sinai and had given them “just ordinances and true laws, good statutes and commandments” (Nehemiah 9:13, emphasis added throughout).
Earlier, Moses had warned the ancient Israelites of the consequences of rejecting God’s laws and wrongly assuming, “I shall have peace, even though I follow the dictates of my heart” (Deuteronomy 29:19).
Those scriptures still apply today.
We can’t just do whatever we feel like doing when it is contrary to God’s instructions. Confirming this principle, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). And just hours before His crucifixion, Jesus reminded His followers, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15).
Obedience to God’s laws is important, but there is more to God’s expectations. As we’ll see, the way we think, feel and respond to God’s laws is also important.
Jesus on loving God
During His earthly ministry, Jesus reiterated an important principle about our outlook on obedience to God’s law.
After being asked what “the great commandment of the law” was, Jesus responded, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:35, 37).
Jesus’ answer was in perfect harmony with Deuteronomy 6:4-5—a section of Scripture the Jews have historically given special prominence, calling it the Shema, from the opening phrase, “Hear, O Israel.” The key phrase that Jesus was referencing is, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (verse 5).
In referring to this instruction from the Old Testament, Jesus said this was “the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:38)—meaning it is the foundation of how we are to worship God.
So how can our heart, soul and mind work together in loving God?
The Hebrew word for heart, leb, and its synonym, lebab, are used over 800 times in the Old Testament, and depending on the context, these words can mean various things. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old Testament Words says heart can refer to “the organ of the body … the inner part or middle of a thing … the inner man … personality … the seat of emotions … the seat of knowledge and wisdom … the seat of conscience and moral character.”
Although the heart is occasionally linked with the mind (Deuteronomy 8:5; 29:4), it seems to especially refer to our personality, character and emotions. As Easton’s Bible Dictionary notes: “The heart is the ‘home of the personal life’” (article “Heart”). When we consider all that is governed by the heart, we understand why our hearts have to be trained in righteousness (Proverbs 3:1-4; 2 Peter 2:14).
Even though our hearts can deceive us (Jeremiah 17:9), we, like King David, can repent of our sins and ask God to create “clean” hearts within us (Psalm 51:10). Through this process, our sins can be forgiven and we can have new hearts that will not lead us back into the same sins.
Practicing righteousness is what God desires us to do (Matthew 6:33). So it is good to feel bad—to have a guilty conscience—when we do something wrong. Today many mistakenly think they should feel good about themselves no matter what they do. They trust their feelings no matter the facts. They try to find facts to justify their feelings. But the time for us to feel good about our actions is when we repent of breaking God’s laws and when we are in compliance with God’s instructions.
We need to have hearts that are trained to love God’s way of life (2 Thessalonians 2:10). We also need to realize that our emotions need to be in sync with God’s law.
Many people mistakenly think the soul is an immortal component in humans that continues to live after we die. This erroneous idea came from paganism and is not taught in the Bible. God’s Word teaches us that the word soul (nephesh in the Old Testament and psuche in the New Testament) refers to life.
When God breathed the breath of life into Adam, he “became a living soul”—a living being (Genesis 2:7, King James Version). Ezekiel 18:4 says that the soul that sins will die. Since we all sin (Romans 3:23), we will all die (Romans 6:23; Hebrews 9:27).
When we die, our conscious existence will cease—our thoughts will “perish” (Psalm 146:4, KJV). Our hope of living again as eternal spirit beings is found in the biblical teaching regarding the resurrection of the dead—not in the mistaken teaching about humans having immortal souls. For further study, see “Resurrections: What Are They?”
If we want to love God, we will have to do so as He desires. We can’t just naïvely design our own system of worship.The point Jesus was making about loving God with all our soul is that our lives need to be guided by God and intertwined with His way of life. Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible says the phrase “with all your soul” in Matthew 22:37 means “to be willing to give up the life to him, and to devote it all to his service; to live to him, and to be willing to die at his command.”
Put another way, to love God with all our soul means that our activities and priorities in life are all geared around God and His way of life. It means our life pattern will be to keep all of God’s Commandments.
We should worship the true God, avoid religious icons, stop misusing God’s name and keep the seventh-day Sabbath and annual holy days. We should strive to live peaceably with all and to show respect to all, as reflected in the last six of the 10 Commandments. They uphold the family, encourage truthful words and behavior, and warn us to control our human desires.
The Greek word for mind in Matthew 22:37 is dianoia, meaning “the mind as the faculty of understanding … way of thinking and feeling” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). Put another way, using the mind is an exercise in thinking and reasoning.
Several scriptures indicate that the heart and mind are separate but complementary components in our love of God. King David advised Solomon to serve God with a loyal heart and a willing mind (1 Chronicles 28:9). In Psalm 26:2 David implores God, “Try my mind and my heart.” Jeremiah adds that God can “see the mind and heart” (Jeremiah 20:12).
Some have wondered why Matthew’s account records Jesus saying “mind” when Deuteronomy 6:5 says “strength.” Perhaps it is because Jesus was trying to give the full perspective of the Old Testament instruction to a world heavily influenced by the Greek focus on the mind and intellect. (Mark 12:30 records Jesus saying both “mind” and “strength.”)
The point is, our minds must be deeply engaged if we are going to give our full strength to loving God. In addition to our hearts and souls, God wants us to be habitually focused on Him and His way of life. And when we submit to God, He assists us in our thinking.
God promises us that if we are led by the Holy Spirit, we can have a spiritually sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). Being led by the Holy Spirit is important because by it we can be guided into the truth of God (John 16:13).
If we want to love God, we will have to do so as He desires. We can’t just naïvely design our own system of worship.
To truly love God, we must keep His commandments and do so with every aspect of our being—our hearts, our souls and our minds. As God Himself said, “I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings” (Jeremiah 17:10).