Do you love God?
14 questions to test our hearts
How an old Puritan can help us discern
In reading Thomas Watson’s All Things for Good, I came upon a chapter on the phrase “to them that love God.” Watson was deeply concerned with discerning whether we truly loved God and, therefore, the promise of God’s goodness in suffering might apply to us. The heart of Watson (like many Puritans) was bent on a deep experience adn knowledge of God.
So, if you have ever doubted or questioned your love for God, let me offer 14 tests (or signs) that Watson gives to ascertain whether true love for God exists within us. If we fail a test, that does not mean that we have no love for God. However, Watson would encourage us not to assume (or have strong assurance) that we do, unless we are progressing in these ways.
14 Questions to test our hearts
Test 1: Do I often find myself thinking about God?
To Watson, this was the first sign of love. “He who is in love, his thoughts are ever upon the object” (Watson). If God is your treasure, then your heart will be with him. If you love God, you will find yourself transported often into musings and long contemplation of who he is and what he has done. If you think nothing of God and he is absent from your heart and mind, you do not love him.
Test 2: Do I desire to be closer to God?
“Love desires familiarity and intimacy” (Watson). Like the Psalmist, does your heart and flesh cry out for him and long to be with him (Ps. 84:2)? True love craves intimacy. Just as lovers cannot be long away from each other, so should the lover of God long to be ever closer to him. How do we do this? By those means of grace that God has promised his presence in: scripture, prayer, and fellowship with believers in worship. A heart of love for God never does these out of duty, but simply because they are the means by which they come closer to him.
Test 3: Do I feel sorrow when I sin against God?
Godly grief is a true sin of love. To Watson, a child that loves his father cannot help but weep when they offend him. Like Peter, how he wept bitterly after sinning against Christ (Matt. 26:75), do we shed tears of godly sorrow for how we have hurt our gracious savior and Lord?
Test 4: Am I eager to obey God?
Watson called this the “fruit of magnanimity.” It means that love turns our cowardice into courage, like a hen who flies upon a dog to defend her chicks. It’s like the apostles when they said they “could not but speak the things which [they] had seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). True love for God cares too much to not courageously speak and act for him.
Test 5: Am I sensitive to when others dishonor God?
If you truly love God, you will not be unaffected when evil is done (or said) against him. As Watson puts it, “How far are they from loving God, who are not at all affected with his dishonor?” If we love him, it will grieve our hearts to see his glory suffer around us. In the same way a husband is angered by slander spoken against his wife, we should care when God is dishonored.
Test 6: Do I hate sin enough to fight it?
“Love of God and love of sin cannot dwell together” (Watson). The scriptures regularly tell us this. Love for God is the result of a change in our soul's direction. True repentance means we turn our hearts away from sin and to God. One way to test this is asking if there are secret sins that we tolerate. Of course we will fail, but do we hate it when we fail? As Watson might put it, love for God and love for sin are as far apart as heaven and earth themselves.
Test 7: Do I consider myself dead to this world?
Love for God leads us into crucifixion. We must die to ourselves and the broken world around us (Gal. 6:14). “When a man’s heart is raised above the world in the admiring and loving of God, how poor and slender are the things below” (Watson). An early sign of the Christian’s faith was their willingness to give up all they owned and give it to the kingdom of God (Acts 4:35). Do you still cling dearly to the things of the world? Or have you died to its lurings?
Test 8: Am I afraid of displeasing God and becoming distant from him?
To Watson, he saw godly fear expressed in two ways: 1) We are afraid of displeasing God. 2) We are afraid of losing his presence. The more we love God, the more afraid we become of grieving his heart. And the more we love God, the more we fear his presence being removed.
Test 9: Do I love what God loves?
Watson gives four examples of things God loves: his Word, his day (the Lord’s Day), his laws, and his church. To all these and many more, we can join him in considering whether the things that God’s heart delights in are what our hearts take delight in. If we do not find joy in what God does, then our love for him must be small, if it exists at all.
Test 10: Do I think well of God, even when I suffer?
As 1 Corinthians 13 conveys, love tries to think no evil of its object. Even when God leads us into dark seasons filled with suffering, true love will refuse to think ill of God. Even as we lament before him, we choose to rest in his good character and sovereign will. “You who are apt to murmur at God, as if he had dealt ill with you, be humbled for this; say to yourself, if I loved God more, I should have better thoughts of him” (Watson).
Test 11: Do I obey God, even when it’s hard?
Love for God takes us beyond obedience when it is convenient or easy. To Watson, true love is seen when we obey in things difficult and things dangerous. When it is hard to kill our sin and forgive our enemies, will we do so? When obeying him will cause us to suffer, will we do so? Many say that they love God but turn from him as soon as suffering knocks. This is not true love.
Test 12: Do I try to help others see him as glorious?
True love is always commending and rejoicing in its object. If we love God, we shall want him to be known and worshiped and rejoiced in by others. “Love cannot be silent; we shall be as so many trumpets, sounding forth the freeness of God’s grace, the transcendency of his love, and the glory of his kingdom” (Watson). Love is like a fire that sets our lives ablaze to declare his greatness!
Test 13: Do I long for Christ’s return?
The early church was driven in hope by the thought of Christ’s appearing. And the language often used is that of love (ex. 2 Tim. 4:8). We shall love his coming because we will be fully united with him to enjoy him forever. To Watson, his longing focused on two “jewels” Christ will bestow on us: his love and his likeness. We will be wed to our groom and we will be made to be like him. True love for Jesus will long for this!
Test 14: Am I willing to do even the humblest of tasks with joy?
I found this an interesting place for Watson to end his tests. But to him, love is a “humble grace.” Pride cannot exist in perfect love. Love for God will make us want to visit the sick, help the poor, and do even the lowliest of tasks with joy. In the same way a mother will do things for her child that anyone else would find repulsive, so does our love for God lead us to humble acts of service (out of love) for Christ and his people.
“These are the fruits of love to God. Happy are they who can find these fruits, so foreign to their natures, growing in their souls.” Thomas Watson
True love transforms
The heart behind all of these questions is found in Watson’s final encouragement: “These are the fruits of love to God. Happy are they who can find these fruits, so foreign to their natures, growing in their souls.” That is the whole point. True love is foreign to our nature. It is the death of who we were and making alive of who Christ is, in us. All of these tests are examples of ways God transforms selfish, fearful, unguided, hopeless, and broken people into selfless, courageous, zealous, hopeful, and joyful people.
It is less helpful to ask if we pass all these tests perfectly than to simply ask, “Am I growing in these ways in my soul?” If you are, then praise God and feel certain that you do truly love him. If you are not growing in these ways, then flee to the cross, repent of your sins, and look on the glorious face of your gracious savior. Come to him, look at him, and fall into a love that leads to death and resurrection; a love that transforms from the soul outward; a love that saves, sanctifies, secures, and will one day glorify; a love that we received from God first and now pour back out upon him.