The Bible answers this very real problem in a number of ways. It may surprise you to hear that Christ was Himself deeply concerned about this precise issue. He devoted His last hours with His disciples to preparing them for His physical departure and reassuring them of the presence of another Helper—namely, the Holy Spirit (John 13–16). The teaching and experience of the New Testament church is clear. Jesus Christ can be known and a living relationship with Him enjoyed despite His physical absence. Through the Word of God, and especially in what the church came to identify as the means of grace (preaching, sacraments, and prayer), Christ communicates His grace to His people, and His people enjoy a living relationship with their Savior. In addition, the knowledge of God in His Word, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, obedience to His holy laws, delight in the beauty and majesty of God in the created order, the sovereign providence of God in our lives, heartfelt prayer and thanksgiving—all these, though different from our everyday means of cultivating love, nonetheless provide real and meaningful ways that we can seek, savor, and strengthen our love for Christ.
There is another way that love for Christ is to be known, expressed, and experienced. This way is often overlooked and under emphasized, yet it is powerful, helpful, and immensely encouraging. What am I referring to? Simply that we love Christ by loving Christ’s people. The words of 1 John 4 are striking. Having repeatedly asserted that “love is from God” and that “God is love” and that God has “loved us,” what does John encourage us to do? To love one another! (1 John 7, 11, 12). Our response to God’s love for us is to show we know God and abide in His love by loving one another.
In 1 John 4:19–21, John takes this one step further, anticipating the very problem many Christians experience. Using compelling gospel logic, he questions whether we can love God whom we have not seen, when we hate our brothers whom we have seen. He concludes, “Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:21). This is more than compelling in its logic, it is persuasive in its pastoral care. What are we to do when we struggle with loving our God who has loved us so much? Where do we go to both express our love for God and be reassured that we do actually love Him? We turn to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we love them. Our love for God is shown in our love for other Christians.
Jesus, in Matthew 25, takes this connection between devotion to Him and devotion to His people one step further. In His description of the final judgment, Christ tells us that when He returns in glory, seated on His glorious throne, all nations will be gathered before Him. He will divide them into two groups: the sheep and the goats. The distinguishing mark that will differentiate the sheep from the goats will simply be their treatment of Christ—whether they gave Him food and drink and welcomed Him and clothed Him and even visited Him. The sheep will be perplexed, wondering when they did these things to Christ Himself. And He will answer, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). In other words, to bless one of Christ’s children is to bless Christ Himself. To show love to other Christians is to show love to Christ.