I have been thinking about what it means to love God with all our hearts. Jesus taught us that if we love Him, we would keep his commandments (John 14:15). But sometimes the concept of loving God becomes a little abstract, and it becomes convenient to determine one’s love for God by evaluating how much one has or has not kept his commandments. Coupled with the very real existence of heaven and hell, it soon becomes unclear if it is truly love for God that motivates us, or fear of punishment.
Fear is perhaps the feeling that we are inadequate before God’s laws and divine, fearsome judgement awaits. The bible teaches us that fear of God is a wise and good thing, but that’s not all there is. God’s laws make us aware of our sins, but simply noting the fact that no one is considered righteous (Romans 3:10), we see that fear of punishment under the law isn’t enough to keep us imperfect humans in line. Which is why God’s love and grace becomes necessary, to have His son Jesus pay the price for our sins on the cross and reunite us with Him. With this, we receive forgiveness and a new chance at life with God.
In this new life however, is it still fear that drives us to keep his commandments? Has our situation remained the same, that we live under constant fear that one misstep and Heaven is lost? Where then is the freedom (John 8:32) and joy (Philippians 4:4) the bible spoke of?
This then probably is the distinction between the action of keeping God’s commandments and actually loving God. As 1 John 4:18 tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” So the one who relies on fear to keep God’s commandments is perhaps at risk of missing the greatest commandment of all, which is to love God with all our heart, soul and mind.
I recently came across an analogy of traffic policing summarising this. On the roads, there are street cameras and traffic police stationed everywhere to ensure drivers adhere to traffic rules, and because of them people mostly do adhere to the rules. However, this certainly does not make the drivers love the traffic police; if anything the drivers find them an annoyance. Now, suppose there is a young driver whose dad is a traffic police. The dad caught the son breaking traffic rules, by duty brought him before the traffic court, but out of love paid for the traffic ticket out of his own pocket. It is probably more likely in this scenario that the son would love the father, and adhere to traffic rules in the future, not because of a fear of traffic tickets, but because he has seen both his father’s love and strong sense of duty, and wishes to honour them both.
In God’s case, it is infinitely more so. As 1 John 4:19 sums up, “We love Him, because He first loved us”.