I have read to Sue, as part of our family worship, the Puritan John Owen’s Complete Works, Vol 1, “The Glory of Christ”, which I highly recommend; our fellowship is going through it as well on each Lord’s Day.
Among the many wonderful revelations of Christ in it, one point really stuck out to me that Dr. Owen spends time declaring and defending in chapter 12 of the work “Christologia or a Declaration of the Glorious Mystery of the Person of Christ — God and Man”: the Bible declares that if we love God, we will obey His commandments; but this also means that those acts which are actually accepted of God vs. ones that are not, even though they might be the same acts, are differentiated primarily by the motivation behind them — that motivation being love for Him. Any person can perform an act that outwardly performs a command of God; but if it is not out of love for God, it is selfishly motivated — performed improperly inwardly — and thus cannot be acceptable by Him.
Here is a snippet from Dr. Owen’s chapter, which, along with the rest of the volume, I hope you will read in their entirety:
That which does enliven and animate the obedience whereof we have discoursed, is love. This himself makes the foundation of all that is acceptable unto him. “If,” saith he, “ye love me, keep my commandments,” John 14:15. As he distinguisheth between love and obedience, so he asserts the former as the foundation of the latter. He accepts of no obedience unto his commands that does not proceed from love unto his person. That is no love which is not fruitful in obedience; and that is no obedience which proceeds not from love. So he expresseth on both sides: “If a man love me, he will keep my words;” and, “He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings,” Verses 23, 24.
In the Old Testament the love of God was the life and substance of all obedience. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, thy mind and strength,” was the sum of the law. This includes in it all obedience, and, where it is genuine, will produce all the fruits of it; and where it was not, no multiplication of duties was accepted with him. But this in general we do not now treat of.
That the person of Christ is the especial object of this divine love, which is the fire that kindles the sacrifice of our obedience unto him — his is that alone which at present I design to demonstrate.
The apostle has recorded a very severe denunciation of divine wrath against all that love him not:
“If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha,” 1 Corinthians 16:22.
And what was added unto the curse of the Law we may add unto this of the Gospel: “And all the people shall say, Amen,” Deut. 27:26. And, on the other hand, he prays for grace on all that “love him in sincerity,” Ephesians 6:24. Wherefore, none who desire to retain the name of Christian, can deny, in words at least, but that we ought, with all our hearts, to love the Lord Jesus Christ.
I do not so distinguish love from obedience as though it were not itself a part, yea, the chiefest part, of our obedience. So is faith also; yet is it constantly distinguished from obedience, properly so called. This alone is that which I shall demonstrate — namely, that there is, and ought to be, in all believers, a divine, gracious love unto the person of Christ, immediately fixed on him, whereby they are excited unto, and acted in, all their obedience unto his authority. Had it been only pleaded, that many who pretend love unto Christ do yet evidence that they love him not, it is that which the Scripture testifieth, and continual experience does proclaim. If an application of this charge had been made unto them whose sincerity in their profession of love unto him can be no way evidenced, it ought to be born with patience, amongst other reproaches of the same kind that are cast upon them. And some things are to be premised unto the confirmation of our assertion.
1. It is granted that there may be a false pretense of love unto Christ; and as this pretense is ruinous unto the souls of them in whom it is, so it ofttimes renders them prejudicial and troublesome unto others. There ever were, and probably ever will be, hypocrites in the church and a false pretense of love is of the essential form of hypocrisy. The first great act of hypocrisy, with respect unto Christ, was treachery, veiled with a double pretense of love. He cried, “Hail, Master! and kissed him,” who betrayed him. His words and actions proclaimed love, but deceit and treachery were in his heart. …
2. As there is a false pretense of love unto Christ, so there is, or may be, a false love unto him also. The persons in whom it is may in some measure be sincere, and yet their love unto Christ may not be pure, nor sincere — such as answers the principles and rules of the gospel; and as many deceive others, so some deceive themselves in this matter. They may think that they love Christ, but indeed do not so. …
There is much more, and I do hope you will read the whole chapter from the beginning, chapters 13 and 14 also, which continue on this topic, and even the whole volume.
Is your “obedience” truly motivated by love for God? A true love? Are you sure? If it is not, then your obedience is not obedience at all. Have you ever thought about it? If not, then your religious activities and worship might actually be sin. Ask the Searcher of hearts (Psa. 139:23-24 to examine yours and reveal the truth of your motivations toward obedience. Ask Him for love for Him and a true and deeper revelation of Christ, as He is the source of all things spiritual (John 3:6; John 3:27; John 15:5; Acts 17:28; Gal. 5:22-23).
May He grant us love for Him, and repentance for acts of selfish obedience.