Today’s Reading: Matthew 22:34-40
What does it mean to love God, and how does this love increase? Matthew 22, Jesus’ simple statements reveal a great deal about the process by which believers grow in love for their Savior. In essence, love for God emanates from a heart and mind that work together to magnify the Gospel. This work is only by the power of the Holy Spirit and often occurs most tangibly amidst suffering.
In Matthew 22:34-30, the Pharisees try to test Jesus by asking him to name the greatest commandment in the Law. Jesus says that it is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37, ESV). Perhaps the most revealing part of this statement is its structure and order. Jesus specifies that love should involve “all your heart,” “all your soul,” and “all your mind” (v. 37). The listing of these three aspects of personhood shows that there are distinct ways in which we know and relate to God. Our intellectual knowledge about God’s character involves our minds, and our relational knowledge of God involves our hearts. Each type of knowledge is essential to our love for God, yet as J.I. Packer once wrote, “Interest in theology, and knowledge about God … is not at all the same thing as knowing him.” Indeed, the relationship between our head knowledge about God and our heart knowledge of Him can feel disconnected, and it is this disconnect that stunts the growth of our love for Him.
How can this disconnect be resolved? Among the three aspects that Jesus names- heart, soul, and mind- the soul is in the middle, and is the part that connects the other two. The soul’s connecting work occurs in three steps:
- A believer’s soul lives in constant communion with the Holy Spirit, and it is through this communion that the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and weakness and helps us better understand our depraved human nature.
- The Spirit opens our eyes so that our understanding of sin is seen in light of our knowledge about God’s glorious attributes, or the ways in which we relate to God with our minds.
- Recognizing the infinitely wide gap between our imperfection and God’s perfection leads us to better realize how incredible it is that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). The more we understand just how great God’s grace is, the more our hearts are filled with deep reverence, joy, and nearness to Him.
This heartfelt emotion is what drives us to learn more about God, and thus the cycle repeats itself to bring about further growth and transformation. It is within this cycle that love for God grows; love for Him is the culmination of our personal knowledge of Him as fed by our intellectual knowledge about Him, brought about by our soul’s interactions with His Spirit.
Evidently, this cycle of growing love can only occur by the power of the Holy Spirit because no amount of human willpower can produce unity of heart and mind. Spiritual disciplines such as prayer, reading scripture, and fellowship with other believers will surely help increase our love for God, but it is the Holy Spirit who powers and enables that growth. Oftentimes, the Holy Spirit works most powerfully in the midst of suffering, for only when we suffer do we feel the weight of our helplessness and insufficiency. When we recognize our weakness, we begin to see our humanity in light of God’s divinity, and thus respond to His grace with deeper appreciation, gratitude, and praise.
As our love for God grows, it becomes more and more natural to follow Christ’s second commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves (v. 39). Just as we cannot use willpower to produce our own spiritual growth, we cannot will ourselves to love others more. Yet as the Holy Spirit works to make our love for God grow, our desires become more in line with His. Our desire to see others flourish is magnified, and by the Holy Spirit’s power we can love and serve those whom He loves.
This Lent, let us meditate on the ways in which we relate to God with our hearts, souls, and minds, opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s convicting power and growing in our love for Him and others. More importantly, let us wait expectantly for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, the triumph that made a way for us to live with God in eternity.
Ana Yee ’21 is a freshman in Hollis Hall.