The bible says, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) God’s love always precedes our love. That is why this is number 2 and not 3 or 4 in the love process. Keep in mind that loving God is not simply a matter of doing our best to keep the moral law. Some people have this mistaken notion that if they don’t perform good enough, God will not accept them. I think it is simply our default position to think that if we try to obey God, God will love us in return, and grant us acceptance into His kingdom. However, this is not a biblical understanding.
Ephesians 2:4-5 explains this amazing reality. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.” Here we see that God’s love always precedes our love. Cleary, that which is “dead” cannot love. But as the Spirit of God fills our lives, we begin to experience the love of our Heavenly Father. Over time this love begins to be reciprocated. We gradually fall in love with the One who saved us. We can actually say (and mean it) I love God.
I remember when my wife and I were still dating. For the first year of our relationship, we live 2500 miles apart. I was in Vancouver and Stephane was in Ohio, so we talked a lot on the phone. After a few months, I began to realize that I was falling in love with this woman. I kept my mouth shut for a while, but eventually came to the point where I just had to tell Stephane (over the phone) that I loved her. Even though my understanding of love was much less developed at this point in time, I knew without a shadow of doubt that I loved Stephane. It wasn’t too long after that she expressed her love for me.
Clearly, love is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. Just as we continue to grow more and more in love with our spouse, so too do we grow in our love for God. It is true that we are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 28:37) But I don’t think anyone would say they had this mastered immediately following their conversion to Christ. It is a process that God performs in our lives over months and years and decades. God turns our self-centered, world-focused hearts towards Himself, so that our affections and desires are rightly directed. Gradually, we begin to love God in place of the world and ourselves. What a beautiful process this is and we can praise God for this amazing work of grace in our lives.