Why I Love and Worship God

Why I Love and Worship God

Often I’m tempted to think one of the most basic differences between me and some fellow Christians is why we love and worship God.

I love and worship God because of Jesus.

Pietist leader Nicholas Ludwig Count von Zinzendorf once said that if it weren’t for Jesus he wouldn’t believe in God. I wouldn’t go quite that far. I think there is enough evidence for a supreme being, an intelligent designer and creator of the universe, that I would believe in God even if I did not know Jesus.

However, if I did not know Jesus, I would not love or worship God.

Is that somehow wrong? Blasphemous? Heretical? Evidence of putting something or someone “above God?” That seems impossible if Jesus is God.

A basic item of Christian orthodoxy is that Jesus is God. To be sure, Jesus is not “all” of God in the sense of there being no persons of God other than Jesus. However, to posit a God who is unlike Jesus would seem to me to verge on heresy—at least.

Even very conservative evangelical theologians have said that saints of God before Jesus loved and worshiped Yahweh because of the promise of a Savior—the Suffering Servant God would sent to redeem them. Even then, through the prophets, they had an intimation of Jesus. God’s “steadfast love” was their rock for loving and worshiping him.

If you ask me whether I would love and worship God if I had never heard of Jesus I can’t answer you. Can you answer such a question? The reality is, I have known God through Jesus my entire life. I have never known God apart from knowing Jesus. When I think of God I have always thought of Jesus’ character, his love for me, his humiliation, his self-sacrificing death and glorious resurrection.  Do I have a relationship with the Father and Holy Spirit? Yes, of course, but not apart from Jesus.

“If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” (John 14)

So when someone asks me “Would you still love and worship God if it were revealed to you in a way you couldn’t deny that God is not at all like Jesus?” I interpret the question as asking “What if Jesus is not the revelation of the character of God?” Of course, first, I say “That’s impossible.” But to make my point about God being Jesus-like and no other, I play along with the purely hypothetical game and say “No.” That’s not at all the same as implying it’s possible and to say so is to reveal confusion about logic. A hypothetical answer to a hypothetical question never implies that one things it’s possible.

Am I then putting Jesus over God? Hardly. God is the one who put forward Jesus as the perfect revelation of himself. To suggest that one would continue loving and worshiping God if he were not like Jesus is to suggest a “hidden God” behind Jesus who is unlike him. Then what’s Jesus for?

Then, of course, we come to the question “What was Jesus like?” Ah, there’s another difference. I cannot read about Jesus in the New Testament and the earliest church fathers (who knew men who knew Jesus) and have a personal relationship with him and even begin to imagine that he only loved some of the people he encountered and only died for some people. That is not the Jesus I know.

So, I embrace my Calvinist brothers and sisters while grieving for their profound confusion and distorted images of God and Jesus. Of course, they (at best) do the same with me. This is no minor matter to be papered over with “Let’s just not talk about it and love one another.” Love one another—yes. Not talk about it? How can that be? “Speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) isn’t just about correcting heresy or confronting gross immorality. If I think what I believe is true and what a fellow Christian believes is in error, even if I think he or she is saved and a true disciple of Jesus Christ such that we can worship together and cooperate in all kinds of endeavors, how can I be silent about his or her error—especially if he or she brings up the subject?

Surely, if Jesus only mission was to die on the cross for our sins, the Son of God could have become incarnate as a thirty-three year old man (or whatever age) and been crucified. That he chose to be born and grow up and spend three years (we think) living among people and teaching and healing and casting out demons, that is, loving people in action, demonstrates that his life had a purpose, not only his death. What purpose? Well, in part at least, to demonstrate the heart of God. Obviously, then, God considered that people before Jesus, however, faith-filled they may have been, just didn’t “get it” when it came to understanding God truly. He had to come among them as one of them to show his character and will for human life.

It seems to me that people verge on heresy when they posit a God “behind Jesus,” a “hidden God” unlike Jesus. Or suggest that it is possible to know God truly apart from Jesus. (By “know God truly” I don’t mean “savingly.” I mean know his character truly.)

"There is a factoid I like—that Gleason Archer knew Albert Einstein! Thanks for giving it ..."

My Most Important Book
"I hope with you. This has been my adult life’s passion as a theologian (and ..."

My Most Important Book
"Thank you very much for this and may I suggest you read on...to my follow-up ..."

Who Is the Most Influential American ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Andy

    I join you in “grieving for their profound confusion and distorted images of God and Jesus.” Some of them family. Others life long friends. I’m hoping that years of time and God’s proven patience will break through – to eventually enjoy the loving relational nature of God.

  • Very well said. I have often wondered why folks would worship a God who is seemingly unlike Jesus. Put differently, when people describe God in ways that seem to me to be incompatible with the character and example of Jesus, I can understand why they might fear such a God, or wish to placate his anger, but I cannot understand why they would love him. Likewise when they attribute to God things that I simply cannot imagine Jesus having done, I sometimes wonder why they would worship Jesus, who seems so unlike the God in whom they believe.
    I choose to see God through the lens of Jesus and what I see then is a God who is worthy of worship and love in the most complete sense.

  • Bev Mitchell


    Essential words. Thank you for putting it so forcefully and clearly. As a young biologist with none of the wonderful written resources that we have today to help separate the wheat from the chaff in 1960s evangelical theology and biblical interpretation, it was faith in Christ and a personal relationship with him that kept me centred. Later, a clearer understanding of how that personal relationship depended completely on the relationship between Christ and the Holy Spirit added energy to the relationship – batteries really were included. As for God the Father and especially how we define or describe him, that all seemed philosophical and not really the centre that was needed to keep one focused. I now work on getting all three properly together in my thinking, as they should be. Blogs like yours are a great aid in this very interesting and enjoyable spiritual quest.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    Obviously, then, God considered that people before Jesus, however, faith-filled they may have been, just didn’t “get it” when it came to understanding God truly.

    I think that you are correct. God is not revealed completely unless revelation of Jesus is a part of that.

    I do have some questions about what you said about OT faithful – that they believed in salvation and redemption from a promised Savior (like the example of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah). If that is true, why don’t we read more about that in the OT writings? From most of the OT saints, I don’t get a hint of a clue about that from them. Nor do I get many clues from their prophetic messages – they seemed to be much more concerned about following the Law of God or being faithful to a covenant that was “surpassed” in Christ. I understand that it might be easier for us to look back and see Jesus pictured in the Passover Feast or to see Jesus role as the perfect sacrifice when compared to the temple sacrifices, but expecting that they saw these in similar ways seems implausible. Could you elaborate more and set me straight on this?

    • rogereolson

      Okay, let me clarify. Often when writing here I say something that, while generally true, requires qualification. But there’s not sufficient time to dot every “i” and cross every “t” the way I would (at least try to) in a scholarly book or article. I believe God saves whoever repents and throws himself on God’s mercy–as did the Ninevites–without knowing very much about God. But throughout the OT there are strong hints and prophecies of a coming Savior from God. I think for the mature, thinking Hebrew believer in Yahweh, trust in that promise was part of his or her relationship with God.

  • K Gray

    The life (not death) and words of Jesus in the gospels can be viewed as seemingly arbitrary (why are only certain people healed? Why not help poverty? Why parables that only some can understand? why does Jesus obey some rules snd bresk others?) and sometimes unloving ( Why so many harsh words about destruction and burning and gnashing of teeth and calling people hypocrites and sons of satan? Isn’t Jesus kind and mild and loving to everyone?) or witholding ( why cry over Jerusalem from afar? why didnt Jesus ever heal a precious suffering baby or rescue tortured slaves, as far as er know?) But only if one misapprehends love, or tries to assess Jesus by modern humsn standards. These are the same issues many people have with God in the OT.

    • rogereolson

      “Can be viewed,” but shouldn’t be viewed as arbitrary. Jesus did many more miracles than are recorded. The only people he condemned were those who hated others (as shown through words or actions). I never claimed that Jesus’ love was sentimental “niceness.” You’ve been coming here since I started this blog and I think you should know that I have never portrayed it that way.

      • K Gray

        No, and I certainly did not mean to refer to you in any way. What I should have said is that these things concern me about young people, primarily. Some have a picture of Jesus that does not include His “harsher” words, and a picture of God in the OT that focuses on only that and not on His love. As parents and Sunday School teachers, we have a task on both sides.

  • Chad

    Roger, thanks for this post. I just finished reading your book, “Against Calvinism”. It is the best book I’ve read to date on the subject. Half way through its counterpart and I find myself asking, “Is this the best they’ve got?” He’ll have to address the concerns you raised in your book and in this post to start to get traction with me. Keep up the great work.

  • This week some Calvinists have gone absolutely nuts at me because I told them I would not love God if it were shown to me that Calvinism was true. Some were implying that I think I’m bigger than God and one twisted my statement to mean “If God is not like I wasn’t Him to be, I will not love Him. He must fit my mold”. I am profoundly annoyed at this dirty tactic Calvinists use. They are smart enough to know what I mean and should know better than to try to make it seem like Arminians would not love God if He didn’t submit to their (our) preconceived ideas. You can’t imagine how these Calvinist’s reacted; one would think I was claiming to be a Satanist!

    In fact, one of those Calvinists wrote a blog based on Romans 9. I didn’t like the blog because it assumes that the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 is correct and then goes on to give the reader the impression that if s/he doesn’t agree with a Calvinist’s interpretation then s/he is actually disagreeing with the Bible. I am annoyed.

    Roger, it’s getting worse in the trenches! Please tell me Calvinists aren’t really getting away with this nonsense.


    • rogereolson

      This is interesting because another visitor here has suggested that I am making a mountain out of a molehill. He doesn’t understand what is truly going on “in the trenches,” so to speak. Passionate, overly zealous, mostly young Calvinists are telling their “friends” and acquaintances that all alternatives to high, five point Calvinism (viz., John Piper’s Calvinism) are unbiblical and dishonoring of God. My books and this blog have unleashed a flood of e-mails and other communications to me about this. Of course, I already knew it from years and years of teaching theology in three Christian universities.

  • Roger – I’ve been following your blog for a while and enjoy it (and your books) very much. Thanks for your ministry! I was reading Anselm this morning and found this fantastic quote (interesting in light of the discussion of nominalism, etc.):

    “Moreover, when it is said that what God wishes is just, and that which He does not wish is unjust, we must not understand that if God wished anything improper it would be just, simply because He wished it. For if God wishes to lie, we must not conclude that it is right to lie, but rather than he is not God. For no will can ever wish to lie, unless truth in it is impaired, nay, unless the will itself be impaired by forsaking truth.” (Cur Deus Homo I.XII).

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for that good word of support from Anselm who was, of course, a realist (as opposed to a nominalist). (Of course, he came before those categories were fully formed, but looking back retroactively we can say somewhat anachronistically that he was an anti-nominalist realist. He believed, as I think virtually all Christians did before Abelard, Ockham and Biel, that God has an eternal nature and character that govern his behavior.) This is, of course (!) what I meant when I said to the student that if it were revealed to me in a way that I could not doubt or deny that God is as Calvinism teaches (taking that to its logical conclusions) I would not worship him. I meant, as Anselm says here, he would not be God. He might be a supreme being, the creator of everything, but he would not be God as I know God–through Jesus Christ.

  • John I.

    The fact that God was and is incarnate in Jesus, who as a man was a being created by God in His image, is of greater significance than Calvinists seem to realize. Jesus, who is God-man, reveals that our understanding of morality is the same as God’s. Jesus lived a life that affirms our most basic moral intuitions and if those intuitions were not true, and departed from God’s actual character, then Jesus would have had to reveal those differences by the very fact of being God.

    Therefore, our most basic moral intuitions–those one’s that are in sync with those of Jesus–are not so corrupted by the fall that they bear no resemblance to the true God. In fact, the opposite is true. It is revealed by Jesus that our basic moral intuitions are part of what it means to bear God’s image, for Jesus not only bore God’s image in his humanness, but he was also God.

    Thus, when Jesus claims to come to seek and save all men, and our moral intuition resonates with this and universally sees it as meaning all of humankind and not just “all kinds” of men, we have connected to a truth of God. We are seeing, understanding, and feeling something that is true about God. )and by universally, I mean universally outside of that small percentage of global Christians who are TULIP believers).

  • The question of ‘why’ we love and God and worship God is a great diagnostic question that can shed some light on personal matters of faith, theology, and philosophy. I find that love and devotion to God is the sweetest for me when I am gracefully reminded that the Good News really is Good! It seems that so many people see the message of the church as bad news. Some outside the church know only of a caricature of the gospel that is all condemnation. While some in the church bypass (for whatever reason) all the great things to celebrate, in order to argue about or harp on issues that are really only secondary in nature.

  • sean carlson

    I very much enjoy the writings of the young, restless, & reformed. They’re full of passion & zeal, & seem to hold their reformed convictions with an attractive humility. My question for you is where are the “young, restless, & Arminian?” If they’re out there I’d like to read them. I myself am either a lapsed Calvinist or a lapsed Arminianist. Never have been able to dot all the “i’s” & cross all the ‘t’s” as some in both camps seem to do.

    • rogereolson

      You are asking my opinion so I’ll give it to you. You (and others) may not like it. During my relatively long lifetime in evangelicalism I have seen many movements full of passion and zeal arise. (I disagree with you about the “young, restless, Reformed promoting their beliefs with “attractive humility” as that has not been my experience.) Most of them have some truth but it is taken to an extreme. Just because others who do not agree with them do not display the same passion and zeal (which are subjective and not indicators of truth) does not say anything about the overall health of the movements’ contributions to Christianity. I dare say that if we Arminians promoted our beliefs with the same passion and zeal many of the leaders of the young, restless, Reformed movement display we would be dismissed as demagogues and fanatics. Besides, there are passionate, zealous Arminians around. They get dumped on ferociously by Calvinists: Greg Boyd and Robb Bell are two of them. (I consider them Arminians whether they claim the label or not.)

  • spella

    Dr. Olson,
    Thank you so much for your blog and writings and for acknowledging the Jesus we love – fully man and fully God and not some mysterious being floating in the hemisphere without heart or soul or humanity, or a “front” for God.

    Your writings have been such a blessing to me. I wrote a review of Against Calvinism on amazon, revising it the other day, because my first endeavor sounded so angry. But I was finally able to articulate what I’ve been feeling for months. Thanks for giving me a voice. I will never forget it.

    • rogereolson

      You’re welcome. And thanks to you.

  • Jack Harper

    Roger your blog on why you love and worship God seemed to turn into a Calvinist debate of sorts. I think most of us that have experienced God’s love and presence in our lives can attest that to see God as a cruel, manipulative and unkind person goes against his character that we see in Christ(Heb.1:3). I would agree with you that the saints in the OT loved God apart from knowing Christ, but we also need to remember that God had planned redemption from the beginning(Gen.3:15) and despite the misunderstanding of the then people of God, it was still God’s plan to send his son for all mankind. We have the privilege of looking back over centuries of biblical history and seeing what God has done. I think we can safely say that if God didn’t want to use his son to bring salvation he could have, but he did and Praise God for such a wonderful gift to mankind…

  • Samuel

    Dr. Olson,

    Can you cite the reference for your Zinzendorf quote? I find it very interesting.

    • rogereolson

      I would have to spend time looking for it that I don’t have. If I happen to run across it I’ll try to remember to post it here sometime in the future.

  • Najwa

    I don’t think people in OT knew God, apart of a certian messenger or prophet they would get astray over and over again. The only relationship God had is with his prophets to whom he revealed the Christ as Job said “I know that my redeemer lives” Job knew he needs a redeemer that what made him faithful to the end. OT people just tried to follow the law which they failed to because they didnt see Jesus. I a former druze I can say boldly that I love and worship God only because of Jesus, his words and acts of love or even his harsh words out of his perfect sense of justice introduce me to know a mighty, merciful, loving and just God. I dont care if there is another god or anything else out there, but like Jesus there is none. And if He chosed me or I chosed Him, I dont know, I only know that we chosed eachother as a perfect husband and wife.