This is a series to further explain the articles of “A Conservative Christian Declaration.” Purchase a print edition of A Conservative Christian Declaration here.
We affirm that Christians are able to speak of orthopathy, or rightly ordered affections and appropriate worship (Deut. 6:5, Matt. 22:37, Heb. 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.
Part of the image of God in humanity is the capacity to love, for God loves and he is love. Love is a function of the will, and not merely of the understanding. A right relationship to God involves more than an abstract or theoretical understanding of the truth of his Word. Rather, it includes grasping the truths of God’s perfections and mighty deeds and relishing these truths as beautiful and lovely.
The Scriptures clearly teach that the most important human duty is to love God. Moses commanded the people of Israel, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4–5). Jesus repeated this great “Shema” when he answered the lawyer’s question concerning the greatest commandment: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:29–30). By loving God in this way, we fulfill the great end for which God made us.
The greatest commandment at once demands not just love, but a certain kind of love over against other kinds of love. For instance, true love of God must engage every capacity of our personhood: heart, soul, mind, and strength. Furthermore, it must engage these capacities to their utmost: we must love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The duty of loving God rightly, however, implies the possibility of loving him wrongly, and that possibility raises the problem of orthopathy, or rightly ordered loves (or, more broadly, affections).
At its core, orthopathy is divine love—love born in us by the Spirit of God. No one can love God without loving his Son Jesus Christ, and this love of God in Christ comes only through the inner work of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14; cf. 1 Cor. 2:14–16). No one can love God without being made new, without being “born from above” by the Spirit of God. 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). The call to love God rightly 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. By either wrongly exaggerating his love for the animal or by wrongly diminishing his love for his daughters, he would be doing wrong by feeling wrongly. The appropriate expression of loves for different things is shaped by the natural use of those things. One salivates over food, laughs at jokes, takes in a sunset, kisses one’s wife. Paul does not bid husbands to love their wives any way they wish, but rather just as Christ loved the church.
Likewise, love for God ought to have a different shape or contour from the things that people love in this world. Consequently, the author of Hebrews bids us to “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” This kind of worship befits a God who is, who has always been, and who always will be, “a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28–29). Worship for God, by which our love for God is outwardly expressed, ought to be shaped by the object of our worship. Appropriate worship should never be offered in confusion and disorder, but in 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” (Eph. 6:24).
One kind of love for Christ is earthward and worldly, and it will die with the world that is perishing. Another kind of love for Christ is heavenward and incorruptible, just as the Lord that is its object. Christians ought to be people who have “reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). While even our best worship in this life finds acceptance only when offered in the name of Christ and bathed in the blood of the Lamb, the church must nevertheless 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).