If you’ve spent any time in the churches of Christ, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the steps of salvation presented in this order. And of course it’s true, we are called by God’s Word to do each of these things as part of becoming a Christian. But there’s one “step” we don’t tend to include despite it undoubtedly being something critically important. In fact, without taking this other step, a person should not have any expectation of going to heaven. It’s a step that should be the foundation for all of the other steps, but sometimes it’s skipped entirely. Though we might think it to be something that is understood, it really isn’t.
A person simply can’t be saved if they don’t have a love for God.
Jesus called loving God the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-38). When questioned by the Rich Young Ruler, Jesus saw a man who claimed to have kept the commandments perfectly… so Jesus challenged his love for God by making the man choose between his possessions and the Lord. At the end of his first Corinthian letter, Paul added that “If anyone does not love the Lord, He is to be accursed” (1 Corinthians 16:22). It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the entire point of the Bible was to show God’s love for us that we may understand it and love Him in return.
We’ve likely all been there at a time in our lives, knowing that we aren’t loving God as we should. But the point is that our love will grow over time, that the more we understand about Him and what He’s done for us the more we appreciate, admire, and adore Him. Unfortunately, I’ve seen far too many people (and one would be too many, though the number is more than that) who never even started with a love for God. At times we can be so quick to give people the steps to salvation and a correct understanding of doctrine that we fail to help them develop an adoration of Jesus Christ, which is really what all of this is about.
“But how can you judge a person’s heart?” one might ask. Jesus said that we will know people by their fruits. Can we really say that someone who refuses to make assembling with the church a priority is bearing the fruit that comes from a love for God? What about the person who shows no sign of regeneration, immediately falling back into their old ways of sin? What about those of us who grew up in the church and knew all about God and the Bible and yet never really developed a deep and abiding love for Him?
Consider how a love for God changes the spirit behind each of the typically discussed steps. When we’re operating out of a love for God first and foremost…
- Hearing the Word of God isn’t a one-time thing, something just relegated to Sundays, or an obligation we have to complete each day. Instead the Word becomes to us what it was to the Psalmist in Psalm 119, who was overflowing with praises about his love of God’s testimonies and statutes, saying, “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Psalm 119:97)
- Believing isn’t merely a mental acknowledgment of the existence of God, but an acceptance and adoration of all that He is. We believe in His love for us, and therefore we submit to His ways because we know they are what are best for our lives.
- Repentance isn’t just a call to say “I’m sorry” about the things in our past and “I’ll try harder” not to do them in the future, but an opportunity to show God our deep sorrow for violating His commandments and a strong desire to be formed into different people.
- Confession isn’t saying “I believe Jesus is the Son of God” before being baptized, but accepting that He is the Lord and being willing to stand up and make that claim on a daily basis because we are proud to be His children.
- Baptism isn’t just a moment we can look upon to feel safe about going to heaven as it often becomes. Instead, when fueled by that love, we see it as the moment of our adoption as God’s children, the point at which we take a new family name (Christian) and were given every spiritual blessing and the hope of the eternal inheritance He has prepared for His own (Ephesians 1).
- Living faithfully isn’t something we do out of a sense of requirement, but what we can’t help but do because of His great love for us. (1 John 4:19)
Our entire understanding of Christianity is only put in its proper perspective if that love for God is in place in our lives.
Every Sunday there are thousands of people who gather to worship God who can check each of the boxes of the so-called steps of salvation. Sadly, the number of people who would also be able to claim a love for God in addition to the other steps is going to be smaller than the original number, possibly significantly so. If your love for God has lessened over the years, if you sit in the pew and feel nothing, if you feel no draw to read your Bible or pray, I hope you’ll keep this most critical step of salvation in mind.
Please know I don’t write this article from a place of judgment, but one of introspection that I wanted to share to hopefully benefit others as these thoughts have convicted me. My own love for God is something that I am constantly trying to develop, as I wrote a couple years ago. It should be every Christian’s goal to love Him more each day, and as we reach out to the lost to help bring them to Christ, too, may we never let them skip the most important step.
By Jack Wilkie