Shortly after giving birth to my first child I called my mom. “Thank you for loving me so much,” I said. I had always known that my mom loved me, but until I had my own child I could not understand the depths of her love. I believe the same will be true for my own children. They know I love them, but they won’t begin to grasp the intensity of my love unless they have children of their own.
I have never left that I’ve had to prove to my mom that I love her. And I pray that my children never feel this either. However, I also know that there are many unhealthy family situations in which love must be earned and it must be proved through blood, sweat, and tears. And sadly many of us bring these unhealthy practices of proving love into our relationship with our heavenly Father.
The Gospel tells us that “God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God’s display of love for us should lead to a natural flowing of love from us in return. This love from us should be Spirit-led, and just like the other fruits of the Spirit, it takes time to cultivate through spiritual disciplines.¹ That said, we can be tempted to force an unnatural growth of love. We bring our blood, sweat, and tears and attempt to prove that we love Jesus. We try to prove it to ourselves, to others, and to God.
Proving this can manifest in different ways. Attempting to prove we love Jesus can look like over-exertion of service at home, in the church, and at the workplace. When our attempts fail it can lead to shame and self-condemnation, punishing ourselves for sins already paid for at Calvary. On the other hand, it can lead to arrogance and a refusal to confess and repent of sin, because we don’t want anyone else to see that we don’t love Jesus as much as we think we should.
Our attempts to prove to God that we love Him are a form of attempting to earn His grace. Grace, by definition, can’t be earned because it is a free gift, a gift of God’s love and salvation. Attempting to prove our love is us behaving more like the “good” son who stayed with his father than like the prodigal son in Luke 15. It’s us failing to understand we love simply because He loved us first, not the other way around.
I’m not writing all of this to give us a pass on serving others or following Jesus. I’m writing to remind us that what began in the Spirit can not be completed by the flesh (Galatians 3:3). Our love for Jesus is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), not a fruit of ourselves. Let’s leep our eyes fixed on Him, what He has already done for us, and how He continues to shepherd us, and our love for Him will naturally grow. It won’t need to be forced.
Whenever I tell one of my teenagers that I love him, he responds with “I love you more.” I laugh and think of the phone call I made to my mom not too long ago. My son loves me, and even though I’m convinced that he doesn’t love me more than I love him, I am still happy to receive his love. Likewise, our heavenly Father is delighted to receive our love, no matter how small or large it may seem to us. So, as we move forward let’s remove our focus from our own ability to love and fix our gaze on the Father’s love alone.
We love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
¹BibleProject. (2016, November 9). Overview: Galatians. YouTube. Retrieved November 26, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmx4UjRFp0M