He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” (John 21:17)
Do we, like Peter, get offended when confronted by the same challenge? If we do, it’s perhaps because, like Peter, it’s easier to say we love Him than to live that love and reveal the reality of it in our daily lives. The problem comes in because we define our love for Him in natural human terms. Loving Jesus is, first and foremost, supernatural. It is of the Spirit. We cannot truly love Him on a human level. It is only when we are empowered and enabled to love Him through the Spirit working in our spirit that the reality of the kind of love we need to have for Christ becomes clear.
Loving Jesus can only be measured by whether we are obeying Him.
Jesus Himself put this truth to us very clearly in John 14:15 and 23, but it’s a reality that is seldom preached and exhorted. It is all too easy to get seduced into the fleshly definition of worldly love that relies on words to convey it rather than actions. This is natural love, the kind that delights in sweeping emotion and romantic words. Loving Jesus, if we look at the Bible, is something far deeper. It is something that has the power to transform both us and our lives, as well as those around us. But, in order for this to manifest in us, we must first get rid of the fleshly response the word love usually engenders.
We live in a ‘feel good’ society, once in which self-gratification is the primary objective. This manifests even in the church, and particularly in what passes for worship in the corporate setting. Worship is the ultimate adoration of man to God, yet it has been hijacked by both man and enemy and often manifests as an emotional tool to manipulate a feel good atmosphere. We lose sight of the fact that loving Jesus is not about us at all, and what we may get or feel as a result. It’s totally, completely, and utterly about Him alone. There is no place in loving Jesus for self-gratification. There’s no place for feeding the emotions at the expense of the spirit, thus keeping us perpetually in a state of superficial love that leaves us far from the place God intends for each one of us.
Peter is a wonderful example. He walked with Jesus, learned directly from Him, was His constant companion, and was blessed with spiritual insight and wisdom from Christ Himself. There is no doubt that Peter loved the Lord, but His love had not yet gotten in deep to that place where he loved so completely that He was truly willing to die – and did die – for Jesus. Loving Jesus, for Peter, remained a natural, human emotion until it was challenged head on. Peter was called to demonstrate his love for Jesus in extreme circumstances. When what he perceived as real love failed him, he was a broken man.
This, sadly, is often how God will deal with each one of us if loving Jesus remains a superficial, easily expressed human emotion. The issue is not the emotion in and of itself, because God gives us emotions for His purposes. We are, after all, made in His image, and if we have emotions, He must have them too. The critical issue is whether we are ruled by the emotions, or whether our spirits rule our emotions. All too often, we stop at the emotional level and never allow loving Jesus to seep into the spirit and to become a supernatural love.
This happens, quite simply, because we’re surrounded by the things of the world which influence our thinking and our standards. Our world is rapidly becoming more and more superficial – the increase in the demand for psychologists and various ‘inner healing’ therapies is proof of the truth that human relationships, with their current lack of depth, do not meet the emotional needs of people. In the same way, while the ‘first flush’ of loving Jesus may survive for a time – a kind of honeymoon period directly after salvation and our ‘betrothal’ to Jesus – it must deepen to a spiritual level in order to be sustained.
The influences of the world and outside, fleshly pressures, also contribute to the failure of a love that has not been empowered and enabled by the Spirit. Anything that is of the flesh will always ‘side with’ the flesh. It is only the spirit, through the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, that can lift us into the supernatural where God intends us to live. If love between God and man were not supernatural, the cross would have had no purpose. What Jesus did was bring spiritual liberty, forgiveness, healing, and wholeness. It has nothing at all to do with the natural. Only the supernatural can overcome the natural. Unless loving Jesus becomes supernatural, it will always fail, just as it did with Peter, when under concerted pressure or attack.
We should remember that Jesus warned Peter in Luke 22:31 that Satan wanted to sift him like wheat. We are not excluded from sifting. The enemy is always after those who declare their love for Jesus. When we speak things, they have supernatural repercussions. If we verbalise loving Jesus, it’s like a warning flag in the spiritual realm. It’s like a direct challenge to the powers of darkness, a declaration of war, and we can be sure that they will respond. Peter is evidence that we need to mean what we speak. If we don’t – if our love remains superficial and surface human emotion – we have no real spiritual foundation on which to stand when challenged.
It’s very easy to blame the devil for our weaknesses and failures. It’s a wonderful way to direct attention away from our own culpability and lay the blame elsewhere. But, as Christians, Satan only has the ground and the victory that we give him. We must never lose sight of this truth. He works by using the materials we provide, and our emotions and mental processes are rich resources if not controlled by the spirit through the power of the Holy Spirit. If we live our Christian lives still in fleshly, feel good emotional experiences, if it never digs deep to a spiritual foundation, Satan has exactly what he needs to launch an attack and destroy us using us as his weapon. Loving Jesus cannot survive an enemy onslaught if it is not supernaturally based and controlled.
For Peter, loving Jesus totally and completely only came once he was broken and stripped of self. The pride that had led him to declare his devotion to the death was removed. The illusions of loyalty and grandeur fell beneath his fear, and the things he truly believed were rendered valueless. He had nothing left of himself on which to depend. The flesh was removed, the natural was removed, his self-reliance was removed until he stood before Jesus with nothing. The moment of restoration came when he accepted that loving Jesus was so much more than words and surface emotion. It was, quite literally, an ‘unto death’ kind of loving.
In this moment, Peter discovered the real ‘key’ to loving Jesus: we love Him because He first loved us – with a supernatural, all-consuming love that has no place for fleshly, natural desires. He discovered that loving Jesus means loving Him as He loved us – totally and completely, not emotionally but supernaturally. The discovery and acceptance of this kind of love was what transformed Peter from the simple fisherman into the bold and great apostle who ultimately died a martyr’s death. He was able to willingly lay down all to manifest his love in total obedience. Like Peter, it’s something we discover only when face to face with Jesus. It may mean that brokenness may first be necessary to strip self and reveal our weaknesses clearly. But is a brokenness that brings a restoration that is essentially supernatural.
Thank You, Jesus, for showing us the true nature and measure of what it is to love You. Help us to move past the love of the natural and into the supernatural, to be willing to surrender all that hinders this, and to come to a place of loving You so completely that we can obey You in all things.