Here is a truth the devil really doesn’t want you to know: the commands of God are not burdensome (1 John 5:3). The devil wants you to believe God’s commands are torturously burdensome and the death of your happiness. The devil wants you to believe that God is withholding joy from you in the limitations he places on you.
But that is the insidious photonegative of reality. The commands of God are only liberating, especially in their limitations. What the devil knows, and we often fail to see at first, is that trespassing beyond God’s merciful limits is not the freedom of self-determination — it’s selling ourselves into bondage. Whenever we obey a command of God in faith, he sets us free or keeps us free from the blinding, oppressive, destructive slavery of sin and increases our capacity for joy. The commands of God are not burdensome; they are the narrow gate to life and true freedom (Matthew 7:13–14; John 8:32).
And the greatest of all of God’s commandments is that we love him with our whole being (Matthew 22:37–38). It’s the greatest commandment because it is the fountainhead of all the others. It is the very heart of every other joy-producing commandment, and the only way we can faithfully obey those commandments (Matthew 22:40).
Oh, but the great commandment is so much more! It opens for us a world of unparalleled and fathomless beauty. For the greatest affection we can ever experience is love (1 Corinthians 13:13), and the greatest love we can ever experience is love for God. And we can only experience this greatest love because the greatest Lover loved us with an infinitely greater love first (John 15:13; 1 John 4:19). From the wellspring of God’s love for us, and our reciprocal love for him, flows the capacity to love everyone else (1 John 4:7; Matthew 22:39).
This greatest of all commandments opens the door to the heaven of heavens — what Jonathan Edwards described as “a world of love” — where we experience the fulfillment of our deepest longings: the fullest joy and pleasures forever (Psalm 16:11). In keeping this commandment there is truly a great reward (Psalm 19:11).
It is a horrible, wicked, demonic deception if we hear in this commandment a narcissistic, insecure, tyrannical God who simply insists he be highest in our affections or to hell with us. I have no doubt this is how the devil views God. But that is the devil’s own evil heart projected onto God, and the distorted view he wishes everyone else to believe. For the pure see God as pure, but the crooked — the devil and all who follow his deception — see God as tortuous (Psalm 18:26).
Yes, hell exists. But it is not a sadistic cosmic Auschwitz created by a divine despot. It is the great and just woe reserved for those who call the greatest good the greatest evil by judging God to be tortuous and choosing the bondage of sin over “the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Isaiah 5:20; Romans 8:21).
No, in commanding us to love him most, God is bidding us to enter the door of heaven. He is commanding our greatest happiness! He is commanding that we receive and treasure the most valuable Treasure, that we experience the deepest satisfaction in the most satisfying Person, that we most enjoy the most Enjoyable, that we trust most the most Trustworthy. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to obey this commandment? It is 200-proof Christian Hedonism.
Such is the insanity and tragedy of sin. All of us have disobeyed this commandment and refused heaven, preferring the empty, destructive deception of self-determination (Romans 3:23). And therefore, we could all be sentenced to the great and just woe of being sent away from the presence of heaven forever (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
But that was not what God wanted. God wanted mercy to triumph over justice for us (James 2:13). God wanted grace to triumph over condemnation for us (Ephesians 2:8; Romans 8:1). God wanted his love to triumph over our hate (Romans 5:8). Therefore, God showed his love for us by sending “his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” so that we “should not perish but have eternal life” (1 John 4:10; John 3:16). This is love! This is how much he loved you.
Without the cross, the greatest commandment would be the sentence of death to us. All it could produce in us is terrifying condemnation. For sinners can never love the triune God with all their being. Hell would be our destiny. But through the cross of Jesus, this commandment becomes pure gospel to us. For when we receive Christ, his perfect love for his Father is credited to us!
And that means heaven, that expansive world of love, is now open to us. We can receive foretastes of it now in increasing measure as we walk by the Spirit (Romans 8:4). And when the Lord Jesus finally sees us “safely into his heavenly kingdom,” we will receive the ability to fulfill this command and experience the full range of its soul-satisfying benefits (2 Timothy 4:18).
It is also pure gospel to us that God’s greatest commandment does not command our performance, but our affection. Isn’t that wonderful? God is most concerned that we experience the joy of love, not that we merely jump through behavioral hoops.
The glorious secret of Christian obedience, that gracious divine conspiracy, is that the more we experience this joy of being loved by God and loving him in return, the less his behavioral commandments feel anything like hoops for us. Rather, they become our joyful means of expressing our love for God as he mercifully shepherds us through the narrow gate.
That’s why Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). These are not the manipulative words of a dysfunctional father meant to guilt his children into doing what he wants. Jesus was revealing a glorious reality: love is the only motivation for our obedience that God wants. God wants us to obey him out of love, not fear of condemnation (1 John 4:18). Because he knows that when we love him, his commands are not burdensome.
The devil does not want you to know or believe any of this. He wants you to hear drudgery and boredom and bondage in God’s commands, especially the greatest command.
But God wants you to hear his love in his commands, especially his greatest command. God wants you to hear life in his commands. God wants you to know that his commands, which Jesus has already kept perfectly for you, now form the faith-path for your hard trek through this valley of shadow to the narrow gate that leads to life. And this gate will open to you the most expansive world of joy you will ever know: heaven, God’s world of love.
Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God