We as Christians have been given very explicit orders as to our relationship with God. The command comes clearly from Matthew 22:37-38.
“Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.”
Of all that God desires, in fact requires, of us, this command is the most supreme. And why does the heart of God so desire our uttermost affections? We find the answer in 1 John 4:16. God Himself is love. He is the creator, definition and perfect standard of love. His desire is that, with our heart, soul and mind, we reciprocate His love. From the obedience of this one single command will come all the fruits of true spiritual life.
But how often do we bypass His order as if the Lord merely suggested that we love Him wholly, while we strive in vain for spiritual fruit? When we do choose to bypass Him in this way it is not long before our driving force is not the compelling love of Christ (1 Cor. 5:14), but the fear of punishment (1 John 4:18).
G.D. Watson in his book, “A Pot of Oil” compares this punishment syndrome to the “Jews in the wilderness who were not permitted to go back to Egypt on the one hand, and not able to go up into Canaan on the other, but constantly subjected to marchings and going about, making little progress, and their very religion grows tiresome.” Thus we see a clear explanation for all the avid church-goers and Bible studiers who bear no fruit of love for Christ or others.
Throughout the Old Testament God is inviting His children to forsake their ritual Christianity and have an intimate relationship with Him. “I delight in loyalty more than sacrifice” (Hos 6:6). It is a classic problem that dates back to the days of the patriarchs and is still, so subtly, penetrating Christianity today. It grieves God’s heart. “Let us keep in mind that Jesus is very sensitive to any coldness in the hearts of His people. In as much as His very nature is love, He is keenly alive to any lack of love in us, and anything else which it is possible for us to give can never form a substitute for our warmest affections for Him. God loves to be loved.” (G.D. Watson, A Pot of Oil.)
Just as He did with the children of Israel, God invites us to forsake our rituals. Let us allow the Lord to change our hearts and give us the enabling power to love Him perfectly (Duet. 30:6). Herein we will find the strength to walk with Him free from the bondage of guilt and fear.