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.