I’m so selfish and sinful that even when I tell God I love Him it normally means little more than I’m happy with the circumstances of my life. As long as things keep going smoothly, as long as He does what I wish, as long as He does things my way, I call it love. But when the road gets rocky, or the way gets too steep for my comfort, I rebel. My affection wanes.
But not really.
If that’s what my heart means by love for God, then it wasn’t affection for God in the first place, and it couldn’t really wane. It wasn’t love for God; it was love for me. It was self-love all along. It just masqueraded as piety. Real piety, real affection for God, isn’t a masquerade. If my expression of love for God were born of real piety, it would be rooted in His character, the shattering and bracing character found in Christ, Who upends the idols of my mind and of my impiety, and Who drives them from the temple of my heart with a whip, if that’s what it takes. If I am really to love God, I must love the One revealed in Christ, and not in the conformity of His gifts to my desires. My desires, after all, might sometimes be the worst thing for me. If so, God’s goodness and love would set them aside in order to give me what I need, not what I want.
I find it so humiliating. Even in my moments of spontaneous outbursts of alleged affection for God, it’s sometimes nothing more than my pleasure at having reduced God to my Cosmic Errand Boy. Even after years of faith, my best moments are still just echoes of the first sin, displacing God and putting myself in His place.
Selfishness goes so deeply down into our hearts that we can never cut it out, never fully set it aside, not in this life. None of us has plumbed the depth of our own evil. We cannot. We cannot because evil isn’t simply what we do; it’s what we are. I’d have to shed myself before I could shed my sin. Under every layer of my sin lies another layer deeper down. If I could peel the onion down to its last layer, I’d still find sin, and when I’d discarded that last remaining layer, my sin would be gone, and so would I.
I need a new me. We all do. That’s what God provides, and that why He provides it. Regeneration means a new you. Regeneration means you are born again and that new life is given you. In that new condition, you finally can alter your fundamental orientation. By God’s grace, and only so, can you look at God’s character rather than at your own circumstances in order to see Him as He really is. You do it by looking to Christ, by spending time with Him, by listening to Him talk, by watching Him work, and thereby learning in Him what God is really like. You learn that God is not the magic genie who grants your wishes. God is the One revealed in Jesus. To know Jesus is to know God. To see Jesus is to see God (John 14: 9). To love God properly and well is to relate to Him in the way the Son relates to the Father. There is no better way. There is no other way (John 14: 6).