What is necessary in order to love the Lord? And can anyone love God, even without accepting Christ?
If a person is going to love God, he must first know the one true God. In other words, he needs to have a relationship with Him. Warm and fuzzy feelings for your "higher power" is one thing. Knowing God personally, specifically, and spiritually is quite another.
Jesus said, "God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:24) In order to worship and love God "in spirit," the love must originate from your inner being. That is, from your spirit.
You see, you were created in the image of God. He is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. You are body, soul, and spirit. (see 1 Thess. 5:23) Your soul involves your mind, your emotions, and the realm where you think and make decisions.
When you enterered the world, only your body was alive, but not your spirit. Each one of us was born with a sinful nature. (see Psalm 51:5) And so our spirit was basically stillborn right out of the gate.
Some people think they love God even though they do not worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They wrongly assume that sincerity and belief in almost any higher power is enough to love God. Thankfully, Jesus set the record straight.
Jesus once told some religious leaders, "You do not know me or my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also." These Jews thought they knew the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But Jesus told them they didn't know God. Imagine how shocking this must have been to them. You can almost hear them saying, "What do you mean we don't know God? Who are you anyway to make such an audacious claim?"
Christ's message threatened their preconceived notions about God, religion, and truth. The prophets had clearly foretold the coming of the Messiah. And yet, when the Messiah finally arrived, many of those who saw Him refused to place their faith in Him.
One of the most striking passages in the New Testament states, "Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him." (John 12:37) Talk about stubborn. They "would not" believe. It was a deliberate choice to reject Christ as the Messiah. And in so doing, they remained spiritually dead and separated from God.
Many of the Jewish leaders in Christ's day were extremely ticked off at Him. They saw Jesus as a threat to their religious authority and spiritual stature. But Jesus didn't back down. Instead, He went for their religious jugular as it were and was brutally honest with them about their true spiritual condition. He did this because He knew they had been deceived by an evil angel with far greater power than their own. Christ loved people enough to tell them the truth even when it hurt.
After all, "Better is open rebuke than hidden love." (Proverbs 7:25)
Jesus told these religious leaders, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but He sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:42-44)
The Lord continued, "Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don't you believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God." (John 8:45-47)
Jesus always made it clear that being religious is not synonymous with being in God's family. Repentance and faith in Christ is what brings a person into the family of God, as the Holy Spirit works the miracle of the new birth within your spirit. It's just like Jesus said: "Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." (John 3:6)
It is impossible to love God without the new birth. And spiritual conversion only happens when you finally rely upon what Jesus did for you at the cross. Once your spirit comes alive, you begin to love the Lord through the power of the Holy Spirit.
You see, everything begins with God. He is the Creator, the Redeemer, and the One who first loved us. Without God's love, we would be eternally lost. Thankfully, Christ came to rescue us, and so "we love because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19)