One of the most memorable moments of my seminary days was during the school year 1968-69 at Fuller Seminary on the third level of the classroom building just after a class on systematic theology. A group of us were huddled around James Morgan, the young theology teacher who was saying something about the engagement of Christians in social justice. I don’t remember what I said, but he looked me right in the eye and said, “John, I love Jesus Christ.”
It was like a thunderclap in my heart. A strong, intelligent, mature, socially engaged man had just said out loud in front of a half dozen men, “I love Jesus Christ.” He was not preaching. He was not pronouncing on any issue. He was not singing in church. He was not trying to get a job. He was not being recorded. He was telling me that he loved Jesus.
The echo of that thunderclap is still sounding in my heart. That was 40 years ago! There are a thousand things I don’t remember about those days in seminary. But t hat afternoon remains unforgettable. And all he said was, “John,=2 0I love Jesus Christ.”
James Morgan died a year later of stomach cancer, leaving a wife and four small children. His chief legacy in my life was one statement on an afternoon in Pasadena. “I love Jesus Christ.”
Loving Jesus is natural and necessary for the children of God. It’s natural because it’s part of our nature as children of God. “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God” (John 8:42). The children of God have the natural disposition to love his Son.
Loving Jesus is also necessary because Paul says that if you don’t love Jesus, you will be cursed: “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed” (1 Corinthians 16:22). Loving Jesus is an essential (not optional) mark of being a beneficiary of God’s grace. “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with lo ve incorruptible” (Ephesians 6:24). If you hold fast to the love of anything above Jesus, you are not his disciple: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,0Aand whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).
Loving Jesus is not the same as obeying all of Jesus’ commands. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). That means that obedience to the commandments is the result of loving Jesus, not the same as loving Jesus. Love is something invisible and inside. It is the root that produces the visible fruit of loving others.
So here at the beginning of 2009, I join James Morgan in saying, “I love Jesus Christ.” And as I say it, I want to make clear what I mean:
I admire Jesus Christ more than any other human or angelic being.
I enjoy his ways and his words more than I enjoy the ways and words of anyone else.
I want his approval more than I want the approval of anyone else.
I want to be with him more than I want to be with anyone else.
I feel more grateful< /em> to him for what he has done for me than I do to anyone else.
I trust his words more fully than I trust what anyone else says.
I am more glad in his exaltation than in the exaltation of anyone else, including me.
Would you pray with me that in 2009 we would love Jesus Christ more than we ever have? And may our Lord Jesus grant that from time to time we would deliver quietly and naturally a thunderclap into the hearts of others with the simple words, “I love Jesus Christ.”
“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8).
- John Piper