This morning, during our Family Bible Hour opening at church, we sang that old children’s favourite, “Jesus Loves Me.” In the particular three-verse rendition that we sing in our church, a verse of response is added:

I love Jesus, does he know?
Have I ever told him so?
Jesus wants to hear me say
That I love him every day.

Yes, I love Jesus; yes, I love Jesus;
Yes, I love Jesus, because he first loved me.

This is a wonderful response for a believer to the truth that “Jesus loves me” but is ultimately meaningless to an unbeliever. Unbelievers simply do not love Jesus. Unbelievers do not love God.

Earlier today, shortly after we arrived home from morning worship, my wife received a text message from my five-year-old daughter’s Sunday school teacher, who told us that she would like to address with us some of our daughter’s behaviour in class this morning. We promised her that we would see her after the evening service.

As I was dressing her for Sunday evening worship, my daughter asked me a question that, in the context of the moment, came completely out of the blue. “Daddy,” she said, “I don’t love God, do I?” I had no context for knowing where the question came from, but it was a wonderful opportunity to share important truth with her.

I told her that I don’t know for sure if she loves God. Love for God, I explained, is shown in keeping his commandments (1 John 5:3; John 14:15). One of those commandments is for children to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1; Exodus 20:12). When she disobeys her parents, she disobeys God, but if she loves God, she will want to keep his commandments. I tried to explain that obedience will never be perfect, but love for God is displayed in a consistent striving for obedience. I’m not sure how much of it sunk in, but it was a good moment nonetheless.

When we spoke to the Sunday school teacher after evening worship, she informed us that it had been a generally trying class that day. All the children had been distracted and disruptive, and my daughter had added to the chaos with persistent tattle-telling. After trying for some time to quieten the class, the teacher eventually urged them to remember their need for the gospel. She highlighted the fact that their disobedience was evidence of lack of love for God, and that they needed to plead with him for a new heart. She then asked the children whether they loved God. Each child in the class claimed that they did, in fact, love God—except my daughter. As she spoke to us, I realised the source of the earlier out-of-the-blue question.

The teacher said that she was encouraged by my daughter’s honesty, but obviously burdened for her salvation. Addressing her behaviour with us was simply a loving effort to help her—and us as her parents!—realise again her need for a Saviour.

As I reflect on the day, and on what seems to be a common theme of loving God, I am thankful for a number of things.

First, I am thankful that gauging love for God is not such a difficult matter. In the world in which we live, love is not easily defined—and when it is, it is usually defined in terms of feelings. It is possible, we are told, to fall in and out of love. Love is transitory, and any obligations it carries with it are really not to be taken too seriously. Loving God, however, is clearly evidenced by obedience—and not by a transitory obedience, but, as Eugene Peterson has put it, a “long obedience in the same direction.”

Second, I am thankful for a godly and wise Sunday school teacher, who neither overreacted in to my daughter’s admissions to not loving God, nor swept the claim under the rug as a statement betraying a misunderstanding of the question. Instead, she understands the truth that children are not born loving God, but that they desperately need to. I am thankful for a teacher who understands the gospel, and who prays for and pleads with the children under her care to see the need for a new heart, and to ask God for it. I am thankful for a teacher who takes seriously her ministry as one who works to help parents raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, and therefore who is willing to inform parents of spiritual needs that come to the surface during her class.

Third, and ultimately, I am thankful to God for the gospel, and for the ministry of the Holy Spirit in bringing the gospel and its implications to bear in the life of our children. I find it difficult to discern exactly how much my daughter understands about the character of God and the consequent heinousness of sin. I know that, the older she gets, the more defiant her displays of sin get. While we are frequently told what a delight she is, and how polite and friendly she is, we see the darker side of her sin nature on a daily basis. If her claim to not loving God is anything to go on (and I pray that it is!), she is perhaps coming to see this herself.

Of course, where there is a realisation of sin there is always hope. I would far rather have my daughter question her love for God than dismiss her Sunday school teacher’s question with a blasé wave of the hand. Those who don’t love God do not have to remain that way. There is hope in the gospel.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

(1 Corinthians 6:9–11)