Stay in Love with God, or Fall into Idolatry

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. (Jude 20–21)

This admonition in Jude oftentimes gets passed over, but it is foundational to our communion with God and vital in our fight against idolatry.

Each of us whose hearts have been enlightened to know what is the hope to which we have been called is charged to keep ourselves in his love. Charles Spurgeon put it, “When the love of God is shed abroad in the heart, the idols will soon depart and the love of sin will take its flight.” Spurgeon knew that our hearts will love something or someone, and our lives will either be ordered or disordered. Our need is not to see that part of ourselves extracted, but rather enflamed with a sovereign joy in God. Holiness is not as much an avoidance issue, as it is an affection issue. As Christians encourage one another to keep themselves in the love of God, they will send away the idols of the heart and be freed to rightly love God and neighbor.

The Love of God

Now, what do we mean when we say, love of God? First John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Therefore, it’s impossible to know what love is unless God has revealed it, unless God has first loved. We learn from John’s epistle that if we do not love, we do not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:8) and the revelation of his love has come in Jesus Christ: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).

Jesus and all that Jesus has accomplished is the definition of God’s love. In his ethics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains, “Love is the name for what God does to man in overcoming the disunion in which man lives.” The love of God names what God has accomplished through Jesus Christ, namely, reconciliation.

This means that the state of seeing and receiving and believing the love that the Father uniquely has for us was made possible through Jesus who is our merciful high priest through whom we have access to the throne of grace. Looking to Jesus will lead us to the Father. John Owen beautifully paints this picture:

Though there be no light for us but in the beams, yet we may by beams see the sun, which is the fountain of it. Though all refreshment actually lie in the streams, yet by them we are led up to the fountain. Jesus, in respect to the love of the Father, is the beam, the stream; wherein though actually all our light and refreshment lies, yet by him we are led to the fountain, the sun of eternal love itself. (Communion with the Triune God, 112)

Are your lips parched from drinking in the sands of idolatry? Is your soul shriveled from being hidden under the shadows of lesser loves? Does your heart wish to drink full from his cup and your soul long to be flooded with an inextinguishable light? Jesus extracts and prepares the love of the Father for the household of God, making possible our faith and hope in God (1 Peter 1:21). Look to Jesus. Love Jesus. Experience in Jesus the love the Father has for you.

Seeing and Receiving

Many practices need to be habituated in our souls to keep ourselves in the love of God, but let’s consider one: Praying for the Spirit’s help to see, receive, and believe who the Father is. If we want to kill the idols in our hearts and keep ourselves in the love of God, then we must see his heart towards us as love. It begins here. We must see the Father’s heart towards us as kind, tender, loving, pleased over us in Jesus Christ, and we receive it. How do we receive it? By faith. To receive is to believe, and we receive it through the Spirit’s help. Remember, it is the Spirit who has been given to us who pours the love of God into our hearts (Romans 5:5).

Many of us are weary in our communion with God because we’ve passed over this essential foundation to our communion. Our faith is on a 24/7 mission to find rest for our souls, and many of us are restless because we struggle to simply see him as loving. Again, Owen rightly notes, “every discovery of God without this will but make the soul fly from him.” Why? Why will every other discovery of God result in us flying from him if we don’t see and receive his love for us? If his sovereignty and authority were at work against us and not for us through his love, we would all fly and hide from him. We would buckle under the weight of living to gain his approval versus living life as approved sons and daughters.

Every other discovery of God and the right grasping and loving of those discoveries are made possible and are grounded on the unchanging love of the Father. This love is the only rest our souls will find, both a rest from his righteous hand stretched out against sinners, as well as a rest from working to improve upon his love or gain his approval.

Feed the Flame of Divine Affection

Very practically, a portion of our communion with God should be given to praying that the Spirit would help us see, receive, and believe who the Father is — to linger over his promises in Scripture and embrace them and let our affections fill up with the love of the Father — to ponder for a moment on our debts to God that are absolutely overwhelming, and see our hearts enflamed to delight in him because he first loved us. C.S. Lewis said,

To please God . . . to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness . . . to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son — it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is. (The Weight of Glory, 38–39)

Seeing the Father’s heart towards us as loving will feed the flame of divine affection. To the degree that we see and receive the love of God, we delight in God.

We should be like those trees with branches that arch and turn and curl to the sun, twisting and bending and doing anything we can to reach the beam of light, sunning ourselves in the love of God, reaching through prayer and the Spirit’s guidance and the encouragement of our brothers and sisters to see and receive and believe the eternal, free, and unchanging love of the Father. Beginning our communion with God in this way, on this foundation will help equip us to be a people who rest in, confidently work out of, and tirelessly share the Father’s love to the watching world.

(@josephtenney) is the music and arts pastor at Church at the Cross. He lives in Texas with his wife, Kimberly, and their two girls, and is a singer-songwriter in their band March of Morning.