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Article 4: On Ordinate Affections

conservative declaration squareThis is a series to further explain the articles of “A Conservative Christian Declaration.”

We affirm that it is possible for Christians to speak of orthopathy: rightly ordered affections and appropriate worship (Deut 6:5, Matt 22:37, Hebrews 12:28). As the doctrines of the gospel are fundamental to Christianity, so is rightly ordered love for God.

We deny that Christianity is merely assent or commitment to a set of doctrinal propositions that explain the gospel.

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Part of the image of God in humankind is the capacity to love, just as God loves. Love can be said to be a function of the will (as opposed to the understanding). We might call it a more lively inclination of the will. It is not just to understand the truth of God’s Word like a theory or in the abstract. We must understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ as true and relish it as beautiful and lovely.

The Scriptures clearly make it man’s duty to love God. Moses told the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love theLord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Jesus refers to this great “Shema” when he answered the lawyer’s question concerning the greatest commandment: “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” (Matt 22:37-38). By so loving God, we fulfill the great end for which we were created.

The greatest commandment at once demands not just love, but a certain kind of love over against other kinds of love. For instance, the love cannot be limited, either in the different capacities of our being or in degree. It is a love that demands all. Again, all we are observing here is that there is a right way and a wrong way to love. Once this is admitted, we are in the realm of orthopathy, rightly ordered loves (or affections).

At its core, orthopathy is divine love–love born in us by the Spirit of God. We are unable to love God without loving his Son Jesus Christ, and this love comes only through the inner spiritual work of Spirit of God (2 Cor 13:14; cf. 1 Cor 2:14-16). It is impossible to love God without being made new, without being “born from above” by the Holy Spirit. In John 1:12-13, those who receive and believe Jesus Christ are the same ones who are “born . . . of God.” The fruit of the Spirit is love (Gal 5:22; cf. Col 1:8; 2 Tim 1:7). The Holy Spirit pours God’s love into the believer’s heart (Rom 5:5). We love God and the people God loves because of the indwelling Spirit of God (1 John 4:16, 19). Those who do not love Christ fall under a curse (1 Cor 16:22). When we call people to have right love for God, it is first and foremost a call to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Those who have so believed the Gospel ought then to order rightly their love for God and to worship him appropriately through Jesus Christ.

Human beings love all sorts of things, and we order our loves sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. It would be silly for a father to love his pet dog more than his daughters. Similarly, it would be abhorrent if that man treated his daughters like he does his dog–in either raising the love for the animal or in lowering the love for his daughters, he is doing wrong. You see, the expression of the love we have for different things is shaped by both our natural use of and love for those things. I salivate over food; I laugh at jokes; I take in a sunset; I kiss my wife. Paul does not bid husbands love their wives any way they like; no, they must love them as Christ loved the church.

Likewise, our love for God ought to have a different shape or contour from the things we love in this world. This is why the author of Hebrews bid us “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” Simply put, this is the worship that fits a God who is, who has always been, and who always will be, “a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28-29). Worship for God, wherein our love for God is outwardly expressed, ought to be shaped by the object of our worship. This means, for instance, that it should never be in a state of confusion and disorder, but of wisdom, peace and harmony (1 Cor 14:23, 33, 40). Paul likewise stressed the necessity of orthopathy when he concluded his letter to the Ephesians: “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.” You see, there is a love for Christ that is earth-ward and worldly; one that will die with the world that is perishing, and there is a love for Christ that is heaven-ward and as incorruptible as the Lord that is its object. We ought to be people who have “reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21). While we know that even our best worship in this life only finds acceptance when offered in the name of Christ and as bathed in the blood of the Lamb, it is still incumbent upon the church to call up all her powers to “become what she is,” worshiping in accordance with the reality that the Spirit of God indwells her (1 Cor 3:2-4; 16-17; 5:7-8).

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About Ryan Martin

Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too.

One Response to Article 4: On Ordinate Affections

  1. […] as we have already shown in Article 4, right affections are central to biblical Christianity. Some affections are appropriate for […]

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