It sounds spiritual and, perhaps, very “Christian” to say, “I love God more than anything!” I want to be able to say that, and surely this should be the mindset of every believer. But I can’t say that I love God more than anything, and neither can you. Sometimes I don’t want anything to do with God.
The idea of wanting God more than anything is a noble endeavor, but even the very premise of such a cause is impossible without divine intervention. As Scripture declares, the desire for God originates and stems from God and his Spirit’s presence within us. (Phil 2:13) On our own we’d never seek after God (Rom 3:10–12); but because God gives us new hearts at salvation (Eze 36:26), we’re made to follow hard and seek after him. (Ps 63:8 KJV) But the idea that Christ’s salvific work is offered on the measure of our wanting or desiring him more than anything else is absolutely terrifying.
There are moments, whole hours, entire days even where I don’t desire God at all. In fact, I desire the exact opposite of God. I seek my own ends and my own desires more than God’s, more than anyone else’s. Does that make me an unbeliever? Absolutely not. The idea of not desiring God is the definition of what it means to sin. Sin, essentially, is putting the priority and primacy of things or pleasures over God and seeking your own gain and gratification first. If God only saved those who sought him out first, we’d be in trouble. And isn’t that the whole point anyway?
The gospel is good news because it meets the worst sorts of people with the best news possible: that even while they weren’t seeking after God, in fact, even while they were running away from him, God was seeking them! “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) Our good Heavenly Father doesn’t wait to be wanted before he goes out in search of lost sheep. He initiates the search.
Thus, if the wanting to want God begins with God, it is concluded, then, that our ongoing desire for God is sustained by him too. This is what the apostle Paul was contending for in his epistle to the Galatians when he declares, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3) Having got in by what Jesus did, are you now kept in by what you do? Having been saved by God’s intervention are you now sustained by your determination? “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (Gal 3:1) The idea that even a small hint of this salvation is dependent upon my wanting it is terrifying, false, and dangerous. If any part of this saving work were left up to us, we’d all be doomed. Fortunately for us, though, nothing’s left up to us because Christ said, “It is finished.” And with that, God’s holiness in redeeming and rescuing lost people was secured, firmly established in his grace and mercy, not in man’s desire.
The gospel is the declaration that salvation comes by grace through faith apart from any works of man, even the work of desiring God. If being a Christian were measured on the scales of wanting God more than anything else, everyone ever would be in a load of misfortune. And what’s most terrifying is this unfounded assertion contradicts basically the entire message of the Bible. If you’re reading the Bible rightly, then you’ll certainly know that one of the biggest themes throughout its pages is God’s unmitigated faithfulness to us despite our constant faithlessness in him. There are numerous examples of this but I first thought of the apostle Paul and King David. These two men, in spite of all that they’re known for, can’t say that they have always wanted God more than anything.
David cries out in the Psalms, “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (Ps 73:1–3) Here, “the man after God’s own heart” wasn’t really desiring God at all. In fact, he was craving the seeming success and luxury the wicked were enjoying. This was, apparently, a constant battle for David, as he often reminds himself to not envy evildoers. (Ps 37:1, 7, 8) Furthermore, David’s most infamous moment, his sin with Bathsheba, is the prime picture of what we’re talking about. (2 Sam 11–12) As he saw her bathing on the roof and desired her, King David was replacing the God of his heart with Bathsheba — in that moment, he wanted nothing to do with God. Indeed, he did everything he could to get what he wanted, including scheming and covering up the murder of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. David didn’t always desire God either.
Paul likewise laments, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate . . . For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:15, 19) This seesaw between what his flesh wants and what the Spirit wants is, essentially, the summation of the Christian life while here on earth. What Paul describes so expertly in Romans 7 is the believer’s battle for belief. This is the struggle every Christian faces. Believing all that God says and taking him at his word is a lifelong battle because your flesh will always cause you to doubt. The battle, then, is in trusting that what God says is true and that it’s true for you.
If God only saved those who wanted him more than everything else in the world, there’d be no one in heaven. The truth is, God saves and loves us even when we’re not desiring him. The truth of the gospel is that even “if we are faithless, he remains faithful.” (2 Tm 2:13) Oftentimes, Christians confuse “faith” with “faithfulness.” And lest you feel as though that’s an esoteric debate, there are real problems with this perspective. It essentially equates salvation with discipleship, which is one of the primary errors with Lordship salvation. There’s no escaping the damning pressure this puts on the shoulders of Christians, insisting that they make sure God is always, all the time, the number one desire of their heart. The emphasis would then rest solely on what I’m doing for God and how much I’m wanting him instead of what God has done for me.
Ideas such as these are what spurred another popular theologian to protest the nationally accepted church and nail 95 reasons why they were wrong onto their door. (See Martin Luther.) Ideas such as these are terrifying, sparking confusion and unrest in souls that truly want to know God. The greatness of the gospel is not that I love Jesus absolutely but that in spite of my sin and shortcomings he absolutely loves me. The gospel isn’t a command for you to do everything you can to make sure you’re holding on to Jesus. Christianity is not about you white-knuckling God with your faithfulness and desire. The gospel is the sweet relief that assures you that Jesus is forever holding on to you. Indeed, this is the truth of the gospel:
It does not wait for our seeking, it comes unasked as well as undeserved. It is not our faith that creates it or calls it up; our faith realizes it as already existing in its divine and manifold fulness. Whether we believe it or not, this righteous grace exists, and exists for us. Unbelief refuses it; but faith takes it, rejoices in it, and lives upon it . . . The office of faith is not to work, but to cease working; not to do anything, but to own that all is done; not to bring near the righteousness, but to rejoice in it as already near . . . the gospel is not a list of duties to be performed, or feelings to be produced, or frames which we are to pray ourselves into, in order to make God think well of us, and in order to fit us for receiving pardon. The gospel is the good news of the great work done upon the cross. The knowledge of that finished work is immediate peace.1
Such is the simplicity of our faith, that’s it’s not really about how faithful you are or how much you want God, but is summed up in the truth that God loves us regardless. If you want to call yourself a Christian, the only work you have to do is that which Christ declared: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (Jn 6:29) Your salvation is not up to your desires or wants or feelings, but in who you are trusting, resting, and believing in. So, ask yourself the question: Am I banking on my grip of God or his grip of me? One’s frail and feeble, the other eternal and omnipotent. I’m choosing the latter.
Horatius Bonar, God’s Way of Peace: A Book for the Anxious (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1864), 56, 85, 104–5.