One’s nature determines much of one’s desire for God. What is inherited from Adam and from biological ancestors, partly determines what one desires. Unless the human’s sin nature is miraculously transformed, he or she is without power to love God ultimately, and without the position or tools to pursue God (Jer. 13:23; Rom 3:10–12; Eph. 2:1–3). Fallen and deformed human nature does not love God’s beauty until it is radically corrected. The effect of regeneration upon one’s relationship with God and one’s consequent potential to abide in him, is foundational to loving God (1 John 4:7–8; 5:1). Being goes before doing, though doing influences being. God’s change made to a believer’s being is fundamental, for it transforms the Christian’s state and position before God. C. S. Lewis perceived that a change in the sinner’s nature was actually the secret to loving God:
“Here is the paradox of Christianity. As practical imperatives for here and now the two great commandments have to be translated “Behave as if you loved God and man.” For no man can love because he is told to. Yet obedience on this practical level is not really obedience at all. And if a man really loved God and man, once again this would hardly be obedience; for if he did, he would be unable to help it. Thus the command really says to us, “Ye must be born again.” Till then, we have duty, morality, the Law.”
Scripture’s answer to the question, “How does one love God?” is, “by means of God graciously disclosing himself to a new heart” (Exod. 33:13–18; Deut. 30:6; Ezek. 11:19– 20; 36:26–27; Matt. 11:25–27; 1 John 4:19). This divine disclosure is often called the “presence of God” (Exod. 33:13–14). For the Old Testament people of God, the presence of God was particularly manifest at the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle and the Temple (Exod. 25:22; Ezek. 10:18). Moreover, with the coming of the Incarnate Son, God’s presence was especially manifest on earth (John 1:1–18).
The Upper Room Discourse (John 14–17) is partly given to explain how the disciples are to know the presence of God after Christ’s departure. After the ascension of Christ, the revealed presence of God would be known through union with Christ by the indwelling of the Spirit (John 6:56; 14:16–23; 17:23, 26; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 1:3; 3:16–19; Col. 1:27). The Spirit of God illuminates believers to know spiritual realities and to love them (Eph. 1:15–19). In other words, the basis of experiential communion is positional union with Christ.
Union with Christ is the foundation of the Christian life, from which all spiritual blessings flow (Eph. 1:3). In the Pauline epistles, virtually every element of Christ’s work is connected in some way to union with Christ. Henry Scougal writes,
“True religion is a union of the soul with God, a real participation of the Divine nature, the very image of God drawn upon the soul, or, in the apostle’s phrase, ‘it is Christ formed within us’. Briefly, I know not how the nature of religion can be more fully expressed, than by calling it a Divine life”
Lewis writes of beauty words that could also be said of love for God: “We do not want merely to see beauty…we want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses, and nymphs and elves”
Similarly, Edwards states: “That which men love, they desire to have and to be united to and possessed of. The beauty which men delight in, they desire to be adorned with. Those acts which men delight in, they necessarily incline to do”
Achieving this union involves a work of all three persons of the Godhead. The Father lovingly chooses believers in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4–6; 1 Pet. 1:2), and so will never condemn them (Rom. 8:34) or forsake them (Heb. 13:5; John 10:27–29), but rather adopts them into his family (Eph. 1:5) and reserves their inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4). His work prompts believers to worship in his presence.
Through union with Christ (Rom. 6:4–10), the Son’s perfect life, death, resurrection, ascension, and high priestly work have propitiated God’s wrath at believers’ sin (1 John 2:2), forgiven their sins (Col. 2:13–14; Eph. 1:7), justified them (Rom. 5:1; 2 Cor. 5:21), reconciled them with to God (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21; 2 Cor. 5:18), regenerated them, given them eternal life (Col. 2:13; John 1:12), sanctified them (1 Cor. 6:11), and seated them with Christ in the heavenlies (Phil. 3:20; Eph. 2:6), making them accepted (Eph. 1:6) and completed (Col. 2:9–10). The Son’s work gives believers every permission to worship in his presence (Heb. 10:19–22).
The Spirit draws, sanctifies (1 Pet. 1:2; 2 Thes. 2:13), regenerates (Titus 3:5; John 3:3–9), and then indwells believers (1 Cor. 6:19; Ro. 8:9–10) thereby uniting them with Christ and imparting the very life of Christ and divine nature (though not the divine essence) to them (Gal. 2:20; 1 John 3:24), being the seal and down-payment of their future glorification (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13–14; 4:30). Since he is God’s Spirit, when he indwells their spirits, he reveals the things of God (1 Cor. 2:10–13) using the Word of God, and illuminates Christ’s beauty to the seeking heart (John 15:26; 16:14), giving believers both desires and enablement to love God (Phil. 2:13). The Spirit’s work gives believers power to worship in his presence. This prompting, permission, and power speaks of internal inclination, not of external constraint.
Scougal again: “The love which a pious man bears to God and goodness, is not so much by virtue
of a command enjoining him so to do, as by a new nature instructing and prompting him to do it; nor doth he pay his devotions as an unavoidable tribute, only to appease the Divine justice; but those religious exercises are the proper emanations of the Divine life, the natural employments of the new-born soul.”
The work of the Father, Son, and Spirit creates a permanent, ontological union with God in Christ. Through this union, a new nature with new inclinations is imparted. The union is the means of perceiving the revelation of God, of loving the perceived revelation, and of returning love to God.
No love for God is possible without true conversion and regeneration. Love for God requires a new heart, with new relish, new perception. A regenerate believer, through his or her union with Christ, is in the presence of God through the indwelling Spirit, and can now perceive and love the glory of God as revealed in Christ. For this reason, Evangelical spirituality first requires conversion through repentance and belief in the Gospel (Rom. 10:9-10). It then insists on true regeneration, and on believers examining themselves to know if such a union is theirs (2 Cor. 13:5; 1 John 5:10-12). It further disciples believers in the knowledge of their union, explaining their position in Christ, before proclaiming the walk that should emerge from it (Eph. 1:3; 4:1).
In short, correspondent love for God is cultivated through the presence of a true ontological union with God. This position supplies a potential. The new nature must “become what it is”. It must actually move towards experiential union with God, which is the process of correspondent love.