Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:28-31).
The list of things needed to love God is not a catalogue of body parts: it is a radical demand for the totality of our being. Many times it is fairly easy to acknowledge the high expectations that God has for his people in general, but when it comes to rooting out our waywardness in particular, we erect spiritual blinders to the things closest to us.
A whole heart. God commands that his people be undivided in their loyalty to him, unreserved in their dedication to his — and rejection to their own — cause. It is what Jesus demanded when he told followers to deny themselves and take up their cross (Mark 9:345) and is what is demonstrated in the parable of the man who sold all he had to purchase the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46). When the king commissioned settlers to explore and conquer new lands across the sea, upon arrival the captain would burn the boats so that there would be no longing for the old but complete dedication to the new. What boats do we leave moored at the dock, just in case we need them? Do we fear going “all in” for God because others will see us as strange? Do we hold back some of our money, our time, our energy because we want to spend them in our old world?
All our soul. “Soul” here likely means our passions and excitements: what things get us the most excited? God expects that our greatest passions, our greatest excitement, our greatest joy will come from him. This doesn’t mean that God hasn’t given us things on earth to enjoy and be excited about. It does mean that Satan knows how to manipulate our passions and desires, and lead us to think that we cannot be happy or fulfilled or complete without having and enjoying something that God hasn’t given. Adam & Eve were lured with this very notion. We shouldn’t just let our passions and excitements happen to us, but guard them and ensure that they are the result of godly things. Do we get the most excited about football, hunting, and the latest Twilight movie or secular holiday tradition? Are we — by comparison, ho-hum about evangelism, spiritual warfare, holiness, temptation and worship?
All our mind. People don’t like to think. It hurts. And believers are generally no better about this, even though we are told such things as that our transformation into Christ-likeness is in part through the “renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1-2) and that we are to “train our senses to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14) and we are to “think about” worthy things (Philippians 4:8). Do we relish memorizing sports schedules and statistics but balk at reading Scripture? Do we absorb social media like facebook and Twitter like a sponge but shed spiritual media like books and journals or the meditation on scripture like water off a duck’s back?
All our strength. The old truism bears much truth: actions speak louder than words. If I claim to love football, and believe it is the greatest game, and encourage others to enjoy its manifold benefits, but haven’t seen a game in five years, all my claims to loving football ring hollow, especially if in the same time I’ve participated in every bowling match there was. If we claim to love God, but slight the study of his word, or praise his greatness, or enjoy his people, our strength is being wasted somewhere. If we claim to love God but ignore all he has commanded — most apparently in how we treat other people — then our actions are saying something different that our mind and our mouth.
We keep from God our heart, soul, mind and strength at our own peril. We won’t be perfect in any of these before Christ returns, but we are given the Spirit to keep on reforming them until then.