Soul Activity, pt. 1

Luke 10:27


You are what you love, but you do not always love what you think you love.


I stumbled across a series of lectures given by James K. A. Smith, delivered at Wheaton College this week. Mr. Smith and I would not see eye to eye on every point of theology, but he made numerous statements that hit me in the gut like a sucker-punch. And here is the greatest of all of them: “You are what you love, but you may not love what you think you love.” 

You are what you love. Each of you are shaped most by what you love the most. From the beginning of time, God’s Word has made it clear that we are made to be lovers. We are shaped by what we love. But the problem is, we do not always love what we ought to love, want to love, and desire to love.

Maybe you have heard it said, “You are what you eat.” If that is true, then I am a bowl of Moose-tracks ice cream sprinkled with organic kale. I should love kale, but I love ice cream more. I could herald my love for kale from the rooftops, but if you place a bowl of Moose-tracks in my path, my actions will demonstrate what I really love.

And so, I ask you a question, one that I will repeat when the message is over: “What do you love the most?” Since you are in church today, I assume you know the right answer. The right answer is, “I love God the most.” But the right answer is not always the real answer. Listen, the answer to life is loving God with all that you have, and all that you are, and all that you hope to be. This is the right answer, but it is not always the real answer.

I believe there is a two-fold problem. At times we all struggle with how we feel and how we fit in. How do I feel? Why do I feel the way that I feel? Where did these feelings come from? And then, how do I fit in? How do I know that I am accepted? How can I please others? What do I need to do to be acceptable? These two problems serve as a barrier to our relationship with God. The first is a question of emotion: how do I feel about God? The other is a question of acceptance: how does God feel about me? Even this is a question of emotions, because if we do not feel like we are accepted, we will either work to fit in, or just give up even trying.

When we cannot answer the first question accurately, we create an emotional barrier to God. When we cannot answer the second question accurately, we create a legalistic barrier, whereby we delude ourselves into thinking if we keep the right set of rules, God will accept us. Both of these questions can be summed up like this: how do I feel about God, and how does God feel about me?


In Luke 10:25, a lawyer stood up and put Jesus to the test. “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And the man answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

The man gave the right answer. The secret to really living is really loving God. But the right answer is not always the real answer. This man, this lawyer knew the law, but rightly stated the secret to living is not keep a set of rules but nurturing a love relationship. Loving God is a precondition to really living. Loving God is a precondition to knowing God. And I think this lawyer was struggling with these basic questions: how do I know that I love God, and how do I know that God loves me?

In our churches, we spend more time teaching people information about God than we do teaching how to nurture a relationship with God. Information about God is useless unless it pushes you into intimacy with God. Information about God is pointless unless it presses you more into a relationship with God.

When God breathed His breath into Adam, He created a being that was alive emotionally, spiritually, physically, and intellectually. To be fully human is to be alive emotionally, spiritually, physically, and intellectually. When one or more of those facets is not plugged into the unabashed adoration of a marvelous and magnificent God, we are not fully alive.

We do a good job in our Baptist Churches teaching people how to live eternally. We preach and proclaim the taint of sin that has totally corrupted our soul, and we tell people they need to be saved eternally. But, in my opinion, we do a rotten job telling people how to live abundantly. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly.” It’s right here, right at the intersection of these verses (“you might have life more abundantly,” and “you will have eternal life if you love God with all your heart…”)that we see the truth that Jesus is trying to proclaim.

The lawyer asked, “What shall I do to be saved?” This is a question of eternity. He wanted to know, “What laws do I have to keep? What rules do I have to follow? What is my punchlist to complete? When will I be acceptable to God?” But Jesus, turns to the lawyer, and turns the law on its head, and reminds him: you were made to love and be loved. You can never keep enough rules to make God love you. God loves you for who you are, not what you do!

In response to Jesus’ question, the lawyer said, “Thou shalt…” Doing his best to uphold the tradition of the law, the lawyer speaks in a command. “You must! You have to! You shall.”

But perhaps this makes you bristle. “How can someone command you to love?” I remember when my sister and I would get into a spat of some form over something really ridiculous. My parents would say something like, “You will love your sister.” I remember thinking, “I don’t want to, I don’t feel like it, you can’t make me love her.” I did not understand that love is a choice. At its core, love is a choice. Love is a decision. But my feelings were blocking my decision to love.

So why would God command us to love Him? The simple answer is that God knows what is best for you. Back in Deuteronomy 6, God says “love me, and it will go well with you, you will multiply greatly, you will live in a blessed land.” Love me, and you will know what it means to really live.

Friends, this is the heart of the Gospel. This is the essence of the Gospel. God’s love is extended to you through Jesus Christ to open the door to an eternal love relationship. So listen, this Gospel that I am proclaiming to you is greater than the law; it is the realization of the freedom that comes in loving Jesus Christ. It gives you release from the bondage of wounded emotions and the baggage of legalism.

Loving God is more than gratefully acknowledging He saved you from hell and that He is sending you to Heaven. That is like saying you only love your dad because he bailed you out of jail and fed you when you were famished, but never engaged you emotionally. God’s love is so much more than that. It is an invitation to live in constant communion with the God of the Universe in a dynamic love relationship. This is not law; this is liberty!

Information about God is useless unless it leads you towards intimacy with God. Rules without a relationship are shallow. Learning about God is pointless unless it pushes you to love God more. But I believe it is right here, right at this juncture that we get stuck because we think, “If I can just do enough, God will love me! If I don’t do enough, He won’t love me!”

Our problem with legalism leads us to have a love problem because it leads us to a misunderstanding of God’s love toward us. And so I want to break down the rest of this text this week, and as long as it takes, to take you on a journey where you can be set free from the bondage of the emotional baggage and the burden of the law and to simply learn to love God. If you begin with love, you will keep the law. If you begin with the law, you will never truly learn to love.

I am not advocating for what scholars call “anti-nominionism,” that is to say, “no law.” The law has a purpose and a place, but it is not the beginning. The law is not the beginning of love. Love is end of lawlessness, licentiousness, and legalism. The law brings bondage. Love brings freedom. And when we understand this, we can learn to truly love God in the same way that He loves us.


“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…” The heart is the center of the human experience. It is a place where we feel. To feel is to be alive. Life is not the absence of feeling but the presence of feeling. Dead men do not feel.

To be human is to feel. We have feelings of anger, fear, frustration, hurt, sadness, depression, loss. We have joy, happiness, contentment, peace, excitement, anticipation.

Through all of this, God wants us to direct those emotions in a loving manner towards Him. God wants us to share those emotions with Him.

God loves you whether or not you feel like He loves you! The problem is we take the baggage of this world and apply it to God. Because we have been treated in unloving ways in this world, we deceive ourselves into thinking that God doesn’t love us. Because we have been let down by others, and because we have let down others, we deceive ourselves into thinking that we have let God down, thus He cannot love us.

When we come to Christ, every one of us is holding loads of emotional baggage.

  1. A mother who abandoned us
  2. A step-father who abused us
  3. A friend who deceived us
  4. A spouse who divorced us
  5. A child who rebelled too long
  6. A cousin who died too soon

And we lug the heavy load of all the emotional baggage all the way to the foot of the cross and we say, “Jesus take my sin and give me eternal life,” but we never address the emotional scars that are keeping us from experiencing the abundant life God has intended for us.

The problem is not with Jesus’ desire to take our emotional baggage; the problem is with our determination not to part with our emotional baggage. 

Listen, sometimes we fall in love with our scars because they give us an identity. 

  1. I am abused
  2. I am abandoned
  3. I am deceived
  4. I am divorced

We love these scars because when we touch them, we feel something, and there is something inside us that knows that to feel is to be alive. And because we are stuck here, we are blocked, we think that if we can just work harder, keep the law better, do more, serve more, behave more, God will love me more. God cannot love you more than He already loves you, but you can love God more than you already love Him.

Jesus is saying, “Love me with your emotions. Let me heal your emotions. Let go of your emotional baggage and simply love me.” Let go of your baggage and live in my love!

Let go of your pain because I accept you as a person! The One who carried the weight of the cross can carry the weight of your emotional baggage.

Psalm 147:3 says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Jesus’ bleeding heart is the cure for your broken heart. The scars on His hands are the cure for the scars in our heart.

The wounds in your heart can be a wedge in your relationship with Jesus. You cannot fully love Him until you realize He already loves you!

Remember how I began, “You are what you love but you may not love what you think you love.”

  1. Do you love your guilt more than Christ who is merciful
  2. Do you love your abandonment more than Christ who is Friend
  3. Do you love your unforgiveness more than the Christ who forgives
  4. Do you love your hurt more than the Christ who heals
  5. Do you love your identity as a victim more than you identify with Christ who IS victorious?

You will never go forward with Christ until you are healed from the emotional scars of your past. You cannot hold onto the nail-scarred hands of Christ, and the emotional scars of your past.

Loving God emotionally creates a space for God to infuse the cracks in your life with the presence of His Spirit so that we can learn what it means to be whole. And once He makes us whole we can then discover what it means to truly live. And once we learn what it means to truly live, then, we can truly love.

Loving God creates a space for more than just what we can get from God; it creates a space where we can get to know God. But there is not enough space to get to know God if we are continually blocked by our emotional baggage.

In the book The Cry of the Soul, Dan Allender and Tremper Logman wrote: 

Ignoring our emotions is turning our back on reality. Listening to our emotions ushers us into reality. And reality is where we meet God…Emotions are the language of the soul. They are the cry that gives the heart a voice. However, we often turn a deaf ear–through emotional denial, distortion, or disengagement. We strain out anything disturbing in order to gain tenuous control of our inner world. We are frightened and ashamed of what leaks into our consciousness. In neglecting our intense emotions, we are false to ourselves and lose a wonderful opportunity to know God. We forget that change comes through brutal honesty and vulnerability before God.

Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III, The Cry of the Soul (Dallas: Word, 1994), 24-25.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Love God with all your heart, your emotions, your feelings…” Let go of the bad. Let in the good. Stop working to earn God’s love and just bask in the height, the depth, and the breadth of God’s love for you.

When you do, you will discover that not only is He the Savior of our Soul, but also the Healer of our Broken Heart.

Perhaps you are thinking, “Preacher, this all sounds great, but what does it mean?”

You have my daughter Madison to thank for the answer. As we were sitting at our kitchen island I asked Maddie, “What do you think it means to ‘love God with your emotions?’” She stopped, screwed up her face for a moment and thought. Then she said, “People always say that kids my age are ‘led by our emotions.’ Maybe loving God with your emotions means that you are simply led by His emotions.”

That, friends, is utter brilliance. It is absolutely profound. Being led by God’s emotions means that you love what God loves and hate what God hates. Being led by God’s emotions means that your heart beats as one with His heart. His heart in you, you heart in Him. His emotions lead your emotions.

  1. God’s heart loves you, so you can love yourself.
  2. God’s heart loves others, so you can love others.
  3. God’s heart accepts you for who you are and not what you have done.
  4. God’s heart forgives your past mistakes, so you can forgive your past mistakes.
  5. God’s heart forgives those who have harmed you, so you can forgive those who have wronged you.
  6. God’s heart wants to step into your past and bind all the wounds, the scars, the hurt, the anger, the frustration, and the fear, so that you can be set free from the wounds, scars, hurt, anger, frustration, and fear.

APPLICATION:  The only way you can know the heart of God is to draw near to the heart of God, and as you draw near to the heart of God He will transform your heart to look like His.

  1. Allow yourself to feel. To feel is to be alive. It may not feel great, it may feel awesome, but just allow yourself to feel and communicate with God about those feelings.
  2. Allow yourself to heal. Where there is hurt, find healing. He mends the broken-hearted.
  3. Allow yourself to kneel. Bow before God and bring Him all of your emotions, the good, the bad, and the ugly. As you do, you will find a Comforter. Love God will all of your heart, because He is LOVE.


I began with two fundamental problems: how do I feel, and how do I know that I am accepted? How do I feel about God? How does God feel about me? Face your feelings. They demonstrate you are alive. Let God heal your feelings. Then you will live abundantly. How will you know if you are accepted? Stop using the law as a ladder to heaven and simply draw near to the heart of God who desperately, passionately, purely, and completely loves you. Then you will know what it means to live abundantly.

When you take a flight somewhere, often you will check your baggage. Think about it. You hand your valuable luggage over to a complete stranger who assumes the responsibility of making sure (most of the time) your baggage arrives safely at your destination. You don’t carry it! You don’t feel the weight of it! You are not responsible for it. For the entirety of the journey, someone, or something is carrying it for you.

Come to God’s grand baggage check today. Unburden your emotional baggage on Him. His arms were strong enough to carry the cross. He can carry your hurt too, and in exchange will give you joy. He can heal your scars. He can wipe away your tears. And then, and only then, you will learn what it means to love God with all your heart. Come to God’s grand baggage claim today and let go of all of your good works and simply rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Check your bags. Give Him the weight. Allow Him to carry them to your destination. After all, He is the ultimate destination.

“You are shaped by what you love, but you do not always love what you think you love.” What do you love the most today? How do you feel about God? I cannot answer that question for you. How does God feel about you? That I can answer for you: He loves you more than you know today. As you grow to know Him more, you will feel the passion of His heart for yours.


Leave a Reply