Evan writes in to ask, “Pastor John, I have a follow-up question from episode 326. I have trouble distinguishing the difference between loving God and loving theology or loving God and just loving loving God. Can you give some practical tips to make sure I am truly loving God and not just loving the theology about him?” Pastor John, how would you make this distinction tangible for Evan?
Well, my first response to Evan is that the fact that you care about that, and that you even can articulate it that way, is a very good sign. And I am encouraged that God has done enough in your life so that you are not blindly going on loving loving God without really loving God, because you know the difference between the two.
Four Tests: Do You Love God?
As I thought about this, at least four practical tests exist to test whether we are just fascinated with theology about God or whether we really love God.
1. Does your love for God transform your day-to-day life?
Test number one: Is your love for God and your vision of God through the theology changing your life at the practical root — what you do, what you love to do, what you are entertained by, what your preferences are, the way you treat people? Are you patient? Are you killing sin by the Spirit? Are you bearing fruits of the Spirit?
In other words, holiness of life is the mark of authentic faith in and through good theology. You can have good theology and be a rotten person, and so it is the person who gets changed by authentic faith through right theology. James said, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). So if we are not being changed from the inside out, then we are probably playing games.
2. Do you love to share the gospel?
Test number two: Do you love to bear witness to the truth of the gospel as good news to people who need it? Or do you only like to discuss it with people who already know it? In other words, the essence of biblical truth is news. Gospel means news — good news. And a lot of people seem to never get around to the news-ishness of it. They are always analyzing it. And you want to shake them and say, “Hey, this is news. This is news. The King has come. Sins are forgiven. Hell and death and sin are overcome. Heaven is open. God is willing to be our friend. This is news in all the world.”
See, if you have no inclination to tell anybody that — as news — you have a problem. I mean, something is deeply, deeply wrong. It is as though you are listening to the news at night, and you are just analyzing the grammar. Grammar, grammar, grammar, grammar. And you don’t ever hear anything coming out of the news that strikes you as either bad or good news. And Jesus said, “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed” (Luke 9:26). So we don’t want to be around people and have no inclination to speak news into their lives. That is test number two.
3. Do you take risks for the sake of the gospel?
Test number three: Do you take risks with your life for the sake of the gospel? Your money, your career, your relationships? We know what we value by what we take risks for.
Hebrews 10:34 says, “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” So, the test of whether you really love your better possession is whether you are accepting the plundering of your property and taking risks to go visit people in prison.
4. What does your love of God look like in suffering?
Here is the last test — number four: How does your theology serve you when you are suffering or dying? Ideas about God aren’t going to cut it in those moments. Your fears will slice through that in a minute, and you will be terrified that ideas aren’t going to save you. We show what is at the root of our commitments by how those commitments serve us in suffering. Paul said, “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.” And then he added, “That was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8–9).
I just got a call today from a doctor following up on a hospitalization I had a while back. They did a second CT scan on my belly. And when I saw the number on the cell phone I thought, “Okay, I didn’t know whether he would call or not.” And he called, and he said, “Not a problem. Clear CT scan.” So, you know, at that moment am I finding that the God who raises the dead is a sweet and all-sufficient rock? Or am I panicking and realizing I have been playing games all my life?
So I will give you just one word for each test: holiness, news, risk, and suffering. Those are four possibilities, Evan, for how you might test yourself.