Is Love a Choice or an Emotion?
- Randy DeVaul Contributing Writer
- 2023 19 May
Have you heard any good love songs lately? These songs tell us how we feel if we are in love and how we should feel if we are “wronged.” We have songs that can get us “in the mood” and songs that help us justify leaving one person for another because of how we feel.
Unfortunately, “loving” someone based on emotion or physical appeal also means people can fall out of love just as easily as they fell in. Once that feeling is gone, so is the person.
As a disclaimer, this article is not suggesting that someone commit to or remain in a dangerous relationship because they are coerced to believe that it is love.
People have been sold a lie as to what love is or should be. No wonder people feel empty inside. No wonder people today are emotionally drained and confused with no direction, purpose, or hope. Imagine feeling like you are no longer loved.
What Is the Biblical Definition of Love?
We have been following an ill-conceived definition of love. To right the ship, as it were, we must return to the true definition of love (Colossians 2:8).
It’s about making a commitment to a person that helps us work through tough times. This is far different than what our culture today is telling us.
The Bible, as our source of truth, clearly defines love as an act of the will — a choice — more than an emotional response.
Certainly, we may show emotion when we realize that God loved and loves us, regardless of our sins and our shortcomings. We cannot lose sight, however, that displaying love is an act of the will.
The Bible is replete with instructions, commands, and principles on God-loving people (John 3:16; Romans 5:8), people loving God (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37; Luke 10:27; John 15:12), and people loving people, including our enemies (Matthew 22:39; I John 4:7-8; Proverbs 25:21; Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27).
It is impossible through human strength to “feel” like loving God or others. It is through agape love — God’s love — that we can follow His command to love.
This Greek word, agape, means “goodwill, benevolence, and willful delight in the object of love… Agape love involves faithfulness, commitment, and an act of the will” (agape love).
Biblically, love is a noun and a verb. 1 John 4:8 says that God is love. It is His character, His very nature. In other words, everything that God does flows through His character of love. Because of His love nature, He demonstrates that love is action (John 3:16; Romans 5:8).
God willfully chose to demonstrate His love toward us at our lowest point. Scripture says that there is none righteous (Romans 3:10) and that all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard (Romans 3:23).
God says that in and of ourselves, we cannot earn or enter God’s presence because of our sin nature. But God, through His love, provided a way for sinful mankind to have a relationship with Him, giving those who choose to accept His gift of grace the imputed righteousness of Jesus.
God no longer sees His children as sinful, condemned, and guilty of death (Romans 6:23, 8:1), but sees us in Jesus’ perfect righteousness, remembering our sins no more (Hebrews 10:16-17). In doing so, He calls us to the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
Since humans cannot live up to or attain God’s perfection, how are we changed and how do we fulfill God’s mandate to be reconcilers?
Is Love a Choice?
The Bible says we become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are not only made new but we are immediately given the Holy Spirit to guide us (John 16:13), grow us into His character (Galatians 5:22-23), and transform us into His image (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). God gives us the spiritual tools necessary to do His will.
As believers, the Bible says that we can now love God (demonstrated act of our wills) because He loved us first (I John 4:19). We demonstrate our love for God through obedience (Psalm 128:1; 1 John 2:3, 5:2-3) — an act of our will — we choose to obey and follow God.
We must choose to serve God (Joshua 22:5, 24:14-15; Psalm 119:30; Matthew 6:24) and, as we do, we choose or allow the Holy Spirit to control our lives (Ephesians 5:18), which allows us to obey (2 John 1:6; 1 John 2:5).
God also instructs believers to love their enemies. This one is a bit harder to do, as the natural or sin nature of people is to seek revenge or to get even.
But God desires for His children to be different as God also loved and forgave us in our deepest sins. God clearly states that we are to love and forgive others just as God has forgiven us (Proverbs 24:17-20; Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27-28).
Believers can love as God loves by imitating Him, walking in love as Christ loved us (Ephesians 5:1-2). Believers have that strength — not on their own — but through the power of the Holy Spirit controlling them.
This does not mean that believers are to overlook, condone, or accept sin. God says that through giving us discernment and wisdom, we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and to reprove, rebuke, and exhort others (2 Timothy 4:2).
This practice is not to judge, as God judges sin, but to choose to love the person to bring them to God and find His forgiveness (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).
Finally, no discussion of God’s love can be complete without reviewing the character of God’s love as described in the Bible’s “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13. As we briefly review the passage, you can replace the word “love” with “God” since God’s character is love.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
As you read this passage, think about your relationship with God, with your significant other, with other believers, and with your enemies. Do you exhibit love’s characteristics? The first trait of the fruit of the Spirit is love (Galatians 5:22).
God giving His children the Holy Spirit and allowing (choosing) the Spirit to control us, we can display God’s love to others.
The Apostle Paul at the beginning of the chapter states that even if he could speak like the angels, or prophesy all of the mysteries of God, without doing so in the love of God, all would be in vain, worthless, and of no value.
What Does This Mean?
Displaying God’s love is a choice. The Bible also teaches that as we align with God’s will, He will give us the desires of our hearts.
In other words, our emotions and heart-felt actions will, over time, align with what we choose to do. As we are obedient to God, He changes our hearts so we want to do His will.
Following God is a choice that we make. So, it only makes sense to know that obeying God is also a choice. When God commands His children to love Him and others, we are not following a feeling or an emotion but a willful choice to obey.
We can successfully do so by choosing to allow the Spirit to guide us. We choose to accept and outwardly demonstrate God’s description of love so we can apply God’s love to all that we do, including in our personal relationships.
We must commit to follow Christ’s example of loving others as He loved and loves us. We have nothing to fear, nothing to lose, and everything to gain by choosing to follow God’s ways as He transforms us into the image or reflection of Christ (Romans 8:29).
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Randy DeVaul serves as a community/crisis response chaplain with a national Christian response team and as a deacon, missions coordinator, and small groups leader in his home church in Central Florida. Published regularly since February 2000, Randy is a regular contributor to international, regional, and local trade, lifestyle, and news publications and author of three workplace safety books. You can follow him here and here.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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