“Christian minds have been conformed to the modern spirit: the spirit, that is, that spawns great thoughts of man and leaves room for only small thoughts of God.”
― J.I. Packer, Knowing God
Growing up, I loved sparknotes.com. For those of you unaware of this little jewel, then your entire life has been a waste. (Just kidding.)
SparkNotes is a website that provides all sorts of tools that make reading easier. Some of the most useful tools it provides are abridged versions of books that contain the most crucial details of the story, without any of the fluff, allowing you to get the gist of the book in a fraction of the time. In the era where we have all the information we want at just the swipe of a smartphone, this is a tool that most of us should find useful. Who has time to read a book anyway? (Sort of kidding.)
Wouldn’t it be cool if there were a SparkNote for the Bible? Wait, before you think I’m being irreverent, hear me out. I’m not saying that the Bible as a whole isn’t important. But wouldn’t it be awesome if we could sum up the entire Bible in just a few sentences? What if we could glean instruction from the Scriptures that is so crystallized, that everything else stands on it? What if we could sum up all 10 of the commandments that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai in one sentence?
Leave it to Jesus to wow us with this very thing. That’s exactly what he did when he was asked what the greatest commandment was. His response was startling to some:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
— Matthew 22:36–40
So, there you have it. Jesus just gave us the SparkNotes for the Bible. Thanks, Jesus!
Okay, not really. There is certainly much more to learn from the Bible than just what God wants us to do.
Nevertheless, if love for God and others isn’t our primary motivation behind our actions, then there is something severely out of alignment in our faith. That’s powerful stuff.
So that’s it. Just love God and others. That’s all we need to do, right? Well, not so fast. Notice how specific Jesus gets with the command. He doesn’t just command us to love God in some sort of emotional, feel-good way. Loving God with just our hearts is not the greatest kind of love.
Think about marriage for a second. Anyone who has been married for some time knows that the emotional feeling of love cannot carry the weight and responsibility that marriage brings. Love is only successful in a marriage when both partners are loving each other with their entire beings.
This is a love that is all-encompassing, including every facet of our human experience, beyond just circumstance-based feelings. A love that includes not just our emotions, but also our passion, our will and our intellect. Love that misses one of these components falls short of biblical love.
Jesus is saying we are to love God in this all-encompassing way.
Notice how Jesus includes loving God with all of our minds in this list. We are supposed to be intentional about cultivating a relationship with God that utilizes the minds that he gave us. We are supposed to seek, understand, ask, learn, memorize and meditate on who God is, what he wants for us, and what he wants us to become.
Loving God with just our emotions will only take us so far. When life gets tough, or when something tragic happens, if we aren’t properly equipped with the knowledge of God — who he is, what he promises, what he has done for us and who we are to him — then we could very easily form our relationship with God on what we are currently feeling.
This is dangerous, which is why in Romans 12:2, Paul implores us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Instead of basing what we believe and feel about God on our emotions alone, we need to continue growing in our knowledge of God.
So, in the spirit of SparkNotes, I will leave you with one of the central quotes of the great J.I. Packer’s book, Knowing God:
“If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all…
Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord.”
― J.I. Packer, Knowing God