Loving God is not as simple as we sometimes think. Christians are fond of reminding one another that in a biblical sense love is a verb, not just feeling but action. This is true, but there is far more to it than that. Jerry Bridges came to this realization and began to reflect on the command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” In The Discipline of Grace he describes how he came to see that love is rooted in obedience to God’s commands. “Whatever else might be involved in loving God with all my heart, obedience to His law was certainly a major part of it.” (Note that when he speaks of God’s law as it applies to us today, he refers to the permanent moral law, not the Old Testament ceremonial law). To put it another way, “Our love to God will always manifest itself in obedience to Him.”
Bridges sketches out a helpful illustration of the way so many Christians love God. This was very nearly painful for me to read.
If we are to love God with all our heart and soul and mind, and if obedience is a major part of such love, then it follows that we are to obey Him with all our heart, soul, and mind. We are to put everything we have into obedience to Him.
My observation is that most of us who are believers practice what I call a “cruise-control” approach to obedience. Many cars today have a convenient feature called cruise control. When you are driving on the highway you can accelerate to your desired speed, push the cruise-control button, and take your foot from the accelerator pedal. Some mechanism attached to the engine will then maintain your desired speed, and you can ease back and relax a little. You don’t have to watch your speedometer to make sure you’re not going to get a ticket for speeding, and you no longer have to experience the fatigue that comes with constant foot pressure on the accelerator. It’s very convenient and relatively relaxing. It’s a great feature on cars.
However, we tend to obey God in the same way. To continue the driving analogy, we press the accelerator pedal of obedience until we have brought our behavior up to a certain level or “speed.” The level of obedience is most often determined by the behavior standard of other Christians around us. We don’t want to lag behind them because we want to be as spiritual as they are. At the same time, we’re not eager to forge ahead of them because we wouldn’t want to be different. We want to just comfortably blend in with the level of obedience of those around us.
Once we have arrived at this comfortable level of obedience, we push the “cruise-control” button in our hearts, ease back, and relax. Our particular Christian culture then takes over and keeps us going at the accepted level of conduct. We don’t have to watch the speed-limit signs in God’s Word, and we certainly don’t have to experience the fatigue that comes with seeking to obey Him with all our heart, soul, and mind.
He contrasts this with “Race-Car Obedience,” stating that compared to cruise-control drivers, race car drivers are driving with all their heart, soul, and mind, never dreaming of coasting along. And here is a crucial application: “God is not impressed with our worship on Sunday morning at church if we are practicing ‘cruise-control’ obedience the rest of the week. You may sing with reverent zest or great emotional fervor, but your worship is only as pleasing to God as the obedience that accompanies it.”
And now he circles back to love.