Excerpt from The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges, pgs. 122-23
How then can we develop this love for God so that our obedience is prompted by love instead of some lesser motive? The Scripture gives us our first clue, or point of beginning. when it says, “We love God because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our love to God can only be a response to His love for us. If I do not believe God loves me, I cannot love Him. To love God, I most believe that He is for me, not against me (Romans 8:31), and that He accepts me as a son or a daughter, not a slave (Galatians 4:7).
What would keep us from believing that God loves us? The answer is a sense of guilt and condemnation because of our sin. Charles Hodge said,
The great difficulty with many Christians is that they cannot persuade themselves that Christ (or God) loves them; and the reason why they cannot feel confident of the love of God, is, that they know they do not deserve His love, on the contrary, that they are in the highest degree unlovely. How can the infinitely pure God love those who are defiled with sin, who are proud, selfish, discontented, ungrateful, disobedient? This, indeed, is hard to believe.
A tender conscience that is alert to sin, especially those “refined” sins such as pride, criticality, resentment, discontent, irritableness, and the like, is a great advantage in the pursuit of holiness, as it enables us to become aware of sins that lie deep beneath the level of external actions. But this same tender conscience can load us down with guilt, and when we are under that burden and sense of condemnation, it is difficult to love God or believe that He loves us.
James Fraser said, “But whilst the conscience retains the charge of guilt, condemnation, and wrath, there cannot be purity, or sincerity of heart toward God, or sincerity of the love of God. Human nature is so formed, that it cannot love any object that is adverse and terrible to it.” What Fraser was essentially saying is that we cannot love God if we think we are under His judgment and condemnation.
This means that we must continually take those sins that our consciences accuse us of to the Cross and please the cleansing blood of Jesus. It is only the blood of Christ that cleanses our consciences so that we may no longer feel guilty (Hebrews 9:14, 10:2). To paraphrase James Fraser, “The conscience once cleansed no longer retains a charge of guiltiness and of judgment for it. So there are two ways of having a good conscience. One is by not having transgressed; the other is by having the guilt taken away by the application of the blood of Jesus.”
When our sense of guilt is taken away because our consciences are cleansed by the blood of Christ, we are freed up to love Him with all our hearts and souls and minds. In fact, not only are we freed up, we are motivated in a positive sense to love Him in this wholehearted way. Our love will be spontaneous in an ourpouring of gratitude to Him and fervent desire to obey Him.
Jesus said, He who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47). In the context of that statement He essentially says the converse is also true: Those who have been forgiven much love much. Therefore, we can say that the extent to which we realize and acknowledge our own sinfulness, and the extent to which we realize the total forgiveness and cleansing from those sins, will determine the measure of our love to God.
So if we want to grow in our love for God and in the acceptable obedience that flows out of that love, we must keep coming back to the Cross and the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. That is it is so important that we keep the gospel before us every day. Because we sin every day, and consciences condemn us every day, we need the gospel every day.