Recently, my son Jonathan was examined by the elders at our church in preparation for his first time taking the Lord’s Supper. As part of their job in providing spiritual oversight, the elders admit to the sacrament only those who make a credible profession of faith in Christ. That does not rule out children, for children can know and trust in Jesus. Their profession of faith may not be as sophisticated as an adult’s, but a profession of faith does not need to be sophisticated to take the Lord’s Supper; it only has to express the basics of the gospel. The elders are there to make sure the child’s understanding is sufficient and that his faith is genuine, insofar as they can tell. After all, only God knows the heart of my son perfectly.
The elders did an excellent job asking Jonathan about his awareness of sin and his need for Christ. One of their questions in particular has stuck with me during the past few weeks. At the end of the interview, one of the elders asked, “Jonathan, do you love Jesus?” As I have ruminated on that question, I have thought to myself, it really does all come down to that. It really does come down to whether we love Jesus.
You might think that the elder’s question and my thoughts about it are too simple. My response is that yes, the question and my conclusion are simple, but they are not simplistic. There is a lot of deep theology behind both that emerges once we dig just a little deeper. Theology that acknowledges that if we love Jesus, it is because God has granted us that love in regeneration and because God first loved us (John 3:3; 1 John 4:19). Theology that says our love for God is a response to the great love of the Father in sending His only begotten Son, to the great love of the Son in offering Himself up as the atonement for our sin, and the great love of the Holy Spirit in applying that redemption to us (Rom. 8). Theology that confesses that God chose us in love, in eternity past, to be His children (Eph. 1:3–6). Theology that says the love of God for His people is so specific that He had believers—and only believers—in view when Christ laid down His life to pay the penalty for sin (John 10:1–18).
We do not inherit heaven because we love Jesus, but all those who do inherit heaven through faith alone inevitably, if imperfectly, love Jesus.
All this deep theology, when we engage with it rightly, makes our understanding of the God who loves us with an everlasting love more complete and makes our love for God richer. We do what we do at Ligonier Ministries because we want you to better know the One who loves you perfectly and eternally, and we want you to grow in your love for our holy and gracious God. But we cannot love God for you, of course, and this love of God exists only in those who receive Jesus as Savior and Lord by faith (John 5:30–47). And how do we know that we have received Jesus as Savior and Lord? As Dr. R.C. Sproul used to say, we know that we have trusted in Christ if we have even the smallest bit of love for Him, for such love is pleasing to God and those who have not been born of the Spirit but are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom. 8:8).
When it comes to knowing and loving God, then, it does come down to whether we love Jesus. But this does not mean loving just any Jesus, for it comes down to whether we love the Jesus who is revealed to us in sacred Scripture, not the Jesus of our imaginations. Do we love the Jesus who is very God of very God, the great I Am who spoke to Moses through the burning bush and who redeemed Israel from Egypt, crushing Pharaoh’s army with His mighty hand (John 8:58; Jude 5; see Ex. 3; 14)? Do we love the Jesus who is truly man, made like us in every respect except for sin, and who suffered and died to turn away the wrath of God on His people (Heb. 2:17–18)? Do we love the Jesus who is both the only permanent refuge we can find in creation and also the One who will break with a rod of iron all those who do not submit to His blessed reign (Acts 4:25–28; see Ps. 2)? Do we love the Jesus who is so tender with repentant sinners that He will not crush them even as He brings the fullness of justice in the consummation of His kingdom (Matt. 12:15–21; see Isa. 42:1–4)? Do we love the Jesus who, astoundingly, is not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters and to help us in our temptations even though we are plagued by sin and continue to fall short in many ways (Heb. 2:11–12, 18)? Do we love the Jesus who calls us to show our love for Him by keeping His commandments and by affirming what He defines as right and proper in all our relationships (John 14:15; see Matt. 19:1–9; John 13:34–35)? Do we love the Jesus who alone is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6)?
Only those who love Jesus will live forever in glory. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8–9). We do not inherit heaven because we love Jesus, but all those who do inherit heaven through faith alone inevitably, if imperfectly, love Jesus. Those who have eternal life love Jesus and no one who fails to love Jesus—as He is revealed in Scripture—has eternal life. Such love is not something that we can work up in ourselves, but it is the very gift of God. Once it is given to us, we exercise this love, seeking the growth of our love as the Savior becomes ever more the center of our affections and we are conformed to His image. As this love increases, we see how far short it continues to fall, and we are driven to the cross again and again, where we renew our understanding of God’s grace and our love for the Savior is deepened and enlarged.
So, do you love Jesus?
Rev. Robert Rothwell is senior writer for Ligonier Ministries, associate editor of Tabletalk magazine, resident adjunct professor at Reformation Bible College, and associate pastor of Spruce Creek Presbyterian Church in Port Orange, Fla.