How Do I Know if I Really Love Jesus?

Dear Roger,
How do I know if I really love Jesus? What does that look like in real life?
Sincerely, Jordan

Dear Jordan,

I have put together a simple checklist to help you analyze just how much you love Jesus. I’ll use Jesus’ interaction with Peter after the resurrection and Jesus’ experience with Mary when she anointed him for burial.

Let's begin with Jesus questioning just how much Peter loved him.

Peter decided to return to fishing after he witnessed the resurrection. I often wonder if he was feeling confused or depressed. He clearly wasn’t sure what to do without his Master—even though Jesus had told the disciples time after time.

So, Jesus—in His infinite love—appeared to Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

After cooking them breakfast, Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “You know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15)

Three times, Jesus repeated His question and request. “Do you love Me? Feed my lambs.”

We have only one word in English for “love.” “I love chicken. I love football. I love my car. I love my family. I love God.” We use the word “love” to describe a multitude of issues, emotions, and things.

But the Greek language, in which the New Testament was written, has four different words for love. They are:

  1. Storge is the lowest level of love. It’s a very casual word. Think, “I love pie.”
  2. Eros gives us the English word “erotic.” It describes sexual attraction.
  3. Philos describes deep friendship. For example, it is used to describe the relationship between a husband and wife. “Philos” might say, “He likes her a lot.”
  4. Agape may be categorized as divine, unconditional love. “Agape” loves the unlovable and expects nothing in return. “Agape” never quits. “Agape” describes how God loves us and how He desires that we love Him as well.

Now, look back at John 21 and Peter’s love for Jesus.

When Jesus met the disciples on the shore, He asked, “Peter, do you love me with divine agape love?”

Peter replied, “Lord, you know that I like you a lot” (philos).

Jesus then came down a level and said to Peter, “What I really want to know is, do you even like me a lot (philos)?”

Peter was heartbroken. But, what more could he say? He had denied Jesus three times, and now he’d abandoned his call and returned to his fishing business. Once again, he replied, “Lord you know that I like you a lot (philos).”

When I was a teenager, I remember being head over heels in love with this girl named Allison. Finally, I got up my courage and said to her, “I love you with all my heart. I worship the ground you walk on.”

And she said, “I like you a lot.”

Has that ever happened to you? Do you know the feeling? Think how Jesus must have felt.

Jesus was asking for divine agape love, but Peter had to admit that he did not have that much love for Jesus. He had denied and deserted Him, and yet, Jesus loved Peter with all his heart. Peter just did not have agape love to match it.

How much do you love Jesus? I think this simple checklist will be helpful:

Question 1: Do you love Jesus with divine agape love? Or, is philos as deep as you can go?

There's no doubt that Jesus is interested in our wholehearted devotion. But the measure of that devotion is only clear in our actions. Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is an excellent measure of what agape love looks like:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (13:4-8)

Does your love for Jesus translate into action? Does His love inspire you to treat others with agape love?

What is Jesus worth to you?

Question 2: If your heart is not fully devoted to Christ, why not?

Jesus has shown us one who did not love him enough. Now, let’s look at a woman who loved him more than enough! Is that even possible?

Jesus and his disciples were having dinner at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus several nights before the crucifixion (John 12:1-8).

According to cultural mores, the dinner was for men only; but Mary found it impossible to stay away. Her heart overflowed with agape love that she had to express.

Violating all cultural protocols, Mary rushed into the room carrying a jar of expensive perfume and began anointing Jesus. Perfume flowed from head to toe. She began washing his feet with her hair. Fragrance soon filled the house.

Mary’s love flowed from a grateful heart, and her sacrifice comforted Jesus’ heart. Can you imagine the privilege of comforting Jesus?

But all was not serene and beautiful. Where the rose grows, we also find the thorn. In the midst of all, Judas raised his voice.

"Waste!" The first recorded words of Judas—see how they revealed his wicked heart. He tried to cover his covetousness with a plea for the poor. What a contrast to the love of Mary!

Take a look at your own heart. Are you willing to give up the things that are precious to you out of your love for Jesus? Is anything holding you back?

What is Jesus worth to you?

A woman praying in a hallway, Christians must have faith

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Kieferpix 

Question 3: When was the last time that you rushed into the presence of Jesus?

When Mary came into the dining room, she risked incredible ridicule and shame. Women weren’t welcome there except as servants. But she was so overwhelmed with her love for Jesus that she didn’t hesitate for a moment.

Ignoring the stares and muttering of the disciples and dinner guests, Mary ran into the room and knelt at the feet of her Savior.

Judas was indignant. “Lord, tell that woman to stop it She's wasting it all on you. We could have given that money to the poor.”

Wouldn’t it be a sad state of affairs if the poor needed to depend upon Judas and his friends for their care? Jesus called Judas out immediately.

Out of love, Mary rushed into the presence of Jesus. Are you willing to run into His presence, no matter what other people think? Are you ever so overwhelmed by love for Him that you pray or praise Him no matter where you are?

What is Jesus worth to you?

Question 4: Think of some ways that loving Jesus is costing you.

They didn’t take many baths in the desert. So, the leftover fragrance of Mary’s perfume was still with Jesus on the cross. Imagine how the reminder of her love and understanding must have comforted Him!

Jesus said to Judas, “Leave Mary alone! She’s the only one who’s figured out what’s going on.” “It was intended that she should save the perfume for the day of my burial” (John 12:7).

Agape love always has a high cost. Judas didn't think that Jesus was worth very much. Mary thought that He was worth everything.

If you don't want love to cost, then don't fall in love. It cost Mary her life’s savings … and Jesus was worth it.

What has your love for Him cost you? Favor with others? Your job or a promotion?

Peter’s love for Jesus eventually cost him his life. We know that Peter was crucified upside down because he refused to stop preaching the gospel. How far he must have come! Peter met Jesus’ challenge to love Him with agape love and follow Him no matter the cost.

What is Jesus worth to you?

Question 5: How does loving Jesus find expression in your life?

I dare you to fall in love and not do something about it. A little child plucks a daisy with no stem and comes bearing it proudly to Mom. Why? Because she loves her.

Love seeks expression. A teenage girl was asked to define love: "It's an inward-ish, outward-ish, an all-over-ish feeling." That's a rather shallow understanding of love.

However, watch her as she sits, wiping the fevered brow of her firstborn child. Then ask her what love is.

You say that you love your wife and do nothing about it? I'll say that it's not so.

You say that you love your church and do nothing about it. I'll tell you it's just not so.

You say that you love Jesus and do nothing about it, then I'll tell you that it's just not so.

When we love Jesus, we act on our love.

What is Jesus worth to you?

Question 6: Do you love Jesus all the time?

Many beautiful gifts are ugly because they're not timed right.

Have you ever been to a funeral with beautiful floral arrangements?

I always feel like there’s a bit of tragedy in their timing. A small rose, given to the deceased by a loved one six months earlier, would have meant more than the thousands of roses that now cover the stage.

I imagine that I’d rather have one rose now while I am alive and can enjoy it than 10,000 after I am dead and gone. I imagine that we’re all like that.

Jesus said, "She came to anoint my body before My burial." Mary was right on time!

On the other hand, Nicodemus loved Jesus. After Jesus’ burial, he brought a wealth of spices and perfumes. But his timing was bad.

So, let us break the perfume now, and literally give ourselves away to others for Christ's sake.

That is the kind of love and surrender that Jesus has in mind when He asks us, “Do you love Me with divine agape love? Or do you come up short at philos?

Phileo love is not enough to impel a life of obedience, service, self-denial, and love for Christ. Only agape will do.

This is why some Christians can sing and come to church and pray and testify of their love for the Lord Jesus, and yet their lives show a rather shallow, immature experience with Christ. They have much phileo and little agapao.

Jesus didn’t ask Peter if he loved sheep. He asked Peter, “Do you love me?”

We minister for Christ because we love Him.

Then, the king will reply, and the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The king replied, “I say the truth, whatever you did for one of these least of these my brothers, you did it for me.” (Matthew 25:37-40)

What is Jesus worth to you?

Well, I hope this answer helps to stimulate your heart to love Jesus more deeply than ever before.

Love, Roger

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Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/PhotoAlto/EricAudras 

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his 35-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian. 

Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at roger@preachitteachit.org.

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