If someone asked you, “How can I grow to love God more?” how would you answer?
If you’re like me, you feel just how painfully short you fall of the command to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). God calls us to give him first place in everything, and yet much of the time we allow someone or something else to take center stage — often it’s ourselves.
So what can we do to grow in our love for God? Although the question has more than one right answer, in Luke 7:36–50 Jesus actually tells us the difference between someone who loves God much and someone who loves him little.
A Pharisee and a Woman
In Luke’s story, two people show an interest in Jesus. Our first character, a Pharisee named Simon, has some attraction to Jesus, but he doesn’t really love him much, if at all (Luke 7:36). We can’t say for sure why Simon invites Jesus to his home, but perhaps he just wanted to build his resume and pad his own sense of self-worth by associating with the most popular person in town.
During the party, a woman comes in uninvited (Luke 7:37–38). She is a known sinner — probably a prostitute. She anoints Jesus’s feet with a very expensive perfume, probably the most valuable thing she owns. She washes his feet with her tears and dries them with her hair and her kisses.
The woman’s actions seem strange from our cultural vantage point, but she obviously loves Jesus dearly. She knows she’s a sinner. She knows she will be scorned for entering a Pharisee’s house uninvited. She doesn’t care. She’s in love with her Savior, and in this moment she worships him with all of her heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Simon has the opposite response (Luke 7:39). He is arrogant. From the heights of his own pride, he looks down on both the woman and Jesus. While the woman worships Jesus, Simon stands aloof. Like all proud people, Simon won’t worship anyone except himself.
Where Love Comes From
In response, Jesus tells a story of a moneylender who forgives one person a large debt and another person a small debt. When Jesus asks Simon which person will love the moneylender more, he responds “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt” (Luke 7:43). Then Jesus delivers the point: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven — for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). Whoever has been forgiven little, loves little. Whoever has been forgiven much, loves much.
One of the driving factors in true worship and love for Christ is an awareness of how much he has forgiven us. The point of Christ’s story was not that the woman had big sin to forgive and the Pharisee had only small sin. The point was that true worship flourishes best when we are deeply aware of our own indwelling sin and our indebtedness to Christ.
When your love for Christ feels cold, take a look at your own sin. The soil of repentance is well-suited to produce fruits of white-hot worship.
A Band-Aid Savior
Imagine you are walking along the beach with a friend and cut your toe on a seashell. Your friend happens to have a Band-Aid for you. How do you respond? You’re grateful. You say thanks. But love for your friend does not stir on any deep levels.
Now imagine that you and your friend are on the beach, and a tsunami sweeps you out to sea. Just before you drown, your friend pulls you to shore and revives you. He almost dies in the process. Now how would you respond? Gratitude and affection would immediately swell in your heart. Your love for your friend would overflow in thanks, praise, and delight.
Many of us have a Band-Aid view of Christ. We know we aren’t perfect. Jesus died on the cross to help us out and polish off our rough spots. We would never say it that way, but compared to people we hear about on the news, we often feel smug in our day-to-day righteousness. And a small view of our sin always leads to a small view of our Savior.
The reality is that Christ did dive into the tsunami of God’s wrath to save us. And he didn’t merely risk his life — he died in the process, in our place. Not only that, but he now lives to intercede for us as our ongoing life-support system. And our hearts should be filled to overflowing with thankful worship every day.
Glance and Gaze
The gospel shows that the cross of Christ bridges the infinite gap between holy God and sinful man. If you have a small view of God’s majesty and a small view of your wickedness, you will have a small Savior who bridges that small gap. But if you are stunned into silence at the glory of God and also humbled beyond belief at the ongoing sin in your heart, you will live in awe of Christ your Savior.
This does not mean we need to commit big sins in order to really worship God. It means that we must learn to see even our seemingly “small” sins as they really are. As Matthew Henry says, there’s no such thing as a small sin because there’s no such thing as a small God to sin against.
To remember my sin, I spend time every day confessing my own sins from the previous day. Of course, this practice puts us in danger of drowning in morbid introspection. So I think it is wise to spend enough time confessing your sins until you feel some sense of lament over the way you have grieved Christ. Then quickly rush to the cross and remind yourself of the gospel in fresh ways.
As you confess your pride, take time to celebrate that Jesus always glorified his Father (John 12:27–28), and that his humility is yours.
As you confess your lust, celebrate that Jesus never used people for his own pleasure (Mark 10:45), and that his purity is yours.
As you confess your anger, celebrate that Jesus refused to retaliate when others reviled him (1 Peter 2:23), and that his patience is yours.
Applying Jesus’s specific perfections to our specific sins will not seem boring. You will want to sing, to shout, to obey!
Glance and grieve over your sin, and then gaze and glory at your Savior. A glance is a short look; a gaze is a fixated look. The best worship happens against the backdrop of our sin. John Newton, the slave trader turned pastor, said late in life, “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” May that be the theme of our lives and worship.