But how exactly are we to do that – what is it we do to express love to God? Many Christians would say that we show love to God in our prayer, praise, worship, and so on. While this is true, of course, and we can express love in these ways, it is interesting that the Bible itself mentions only two specific ways that we love God.
The first way the Bible teaches love for God – in the words of Christ himself – is through our obedience. Jesus made many statements to this effect: “If you love me, keep my commands… Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me …Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching….” (John 14:15, 21, 23). The same principle is reiterated in the later books of the New Testament (“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments…” – 1 John 5:3, etc.).
This is something we also find throughout the Old Testament as well as the New – for example, in Deuteronomy 30:16: “For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws…” We see the correlation between love and obedience throughout the Pentateuch and then continuing through the Book of Joshua (Joshua 22:5) and beyond. In fact, there are more verses correlating our obedience with our love for God than those showing any other aspect of our relationship with God.
A second specific way the Bible shows we express love to God is found in the Book of Hebrews: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10). This principle is not always immediately obvious because showing love to others may not seem the same as loving God, but the two are inextricably connected.
Jesus showed this, of course, in the Parable of the Judgment in which he said: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’“ (Matthew 25:40). It is a fundamental concept of the Christian Faith that God holds our love given to others as equivalent to love given to him.
But we can also go beyond the specific teachings the Bible gives regarding loving God through obedience and service. If we look closely at Jesus’ words that we “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength,” we can see not only the idea of degree – that we love God as much as we can – but also the idea of extent – that we love God in every aspect of our being.
The aspects of our selfhood that Deuteronomy 6:5 enumerates represent an ever-widening circle. Our heart represents our inner thoughts, emotions, and will; our “soul” represents our physical being as a living person; our “strength” is the power we exert toward something. But our “strength” can have a broader meaning, too. The Hebrew word used in Deuteronomy 6:5 can sometimes be translated as an adjective – as “very”– or it can be a noun (as it is in this verse) – as “muchness” or “abundance.”
In other words, loving God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength encompasses loving God with our inner thoughts, our outer being, and even the extended circle of that which we own – our “abundance.” If we want to know how to love God, the full answer is that we can love God in every expression of every one of these areas – in the totality of our being.