The love of God is a rich, warm, comforting promise that he assures us of in his word repeatedly. For example, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (ESV) What makes that promise of his love so powerful is the fact that God’s love for us is not based on how lovable we are. God doesn’t love us because we deserve his love or are somehow worthy of it.
God’s word is crystal clear about this. There is nothing about you that God finds appealing. When God first looks at us, he see corpses (think “The Walking Dead”) (Ephesians 2:1 & 5) When God considers the state of the fallen human heart, he describes it as “deceitful above all things and desperately sick.” (Jeremiah 17:9) The apostle Paul says bluntly that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) We – you and I – are these inglorious, deceitful-hearted, sin-sick corpses, and our holy God loves us.
I know that all of this is a blow to your pride and your precious self-esteem. Mine too! So, maybe I’ve got it wrong. Maybe God loves me because now I’ve got my life cleaned up. In other words, maybe God loves me because I’ve done something to make myself lovable. That would make me feel better about myself.
But wait a minute! Let’s think about that idea. It makes me feel better, but it seems to me that there may be some problems with it. First, if what I’ve just suggested is true, then it would mean that God’s love for me depends entirely on me. What if I have a bad day? What if I screw up? Maybe God might decide that he doesn’t find me so lovable after all. It would mean that everyday I’ve got to carry this heavy burden of trying to win and keep God’s love. I’m not sure it’s very good news to think that everything depends on me being good.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t want that. And here’s why. The truth is, I’m not all that well cleaned up – certainly not on the inside anyway. Maybe on the outside I look like a saint. (Those muffled guffaws you may be hearing are from my family who know that I don’t always look like a saint even on the outside.) What I know for sure is that on the inside, there’s still a lot of stinking, rotting swamp left in me. There’s still deceitfulness and sin-sickness in my heart.
Jesus actually talks about this very issue. The Pharisees liked to think of themselves as people who had their lives all cleaned up from sin. But Jesus called them whitewashed tombs – all beautiful and landscaped on the outside, but inside they were full of dead men’s bones and all manner of corruption. (Matthew 23:27) I can see my insides, and there are still plenty of dead bones and awful corruption in there. My insides are not especially lovable in the eyes of a holy God. I know that for sure. Maybe you’re different from me. But I hope you’ll forgive me if I have my doubts.
Honestly, if I have to make myself lovable before God will love me, there is simply nothing about that that is good news to me. But the gospel of Jesus Christ that we find in the Bible is entirely good news. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) Long before we think about loving God, he loves us. Long before we think about being good, God loves us. It’s not because we’re lovable that he loves us. It’s because he is Love. (1 John 4:8 & 16) The apostle Paul is very clear about this. God does not wait for us to get cleaned up before he loves us. His love comes to us while we are still spiritually dead corpses. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. . . . For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:6 & 10) That’s good news. That’s the best news possible.
But there is a further aspect to God’s love for us. It isn’t a passive love that simply watches the beloved from a distance. It isn’t a syrupy sweet love that simply wants the beloved to be comfortable and happy. God’s love for us is passionate, purposeful, and actively involved. His love for us is the love of a parent for a child. What father would ever say of his son, “My boy is turning into a genuine louse. His bad character is plain to see. But as long as he is content and happy with his life, that’s all that matters to me”? Does such a father really love his son? I would not say that such “love” is real father’s love.
Our Father in heaven loves us with a passionate, purposeful, and actively involved love. He loves us even though we are in our sin, but his love is not happy to leave us in our sin. His love will be at work in us, moving us, drawing us, pressing us toward the kind of character that we see in Jesus. That’s the kind of character we are designed to have within us. The more fully that character of Christ-like holiness becomes a reality in us, the more completely we will experience the fullness of joy and happiness that we were made for. The more we have within us the character of Christ, the more we will find that we are exactly who we were meant to be all along.
This is a good time of the year to examine our hearts to see where God’s love might be seeking to drain out the swamp of sin and death that remains within you (as it also remains within me). Cooperate with God’s Spirit to work his loving transformation in you, so that you can experience more and more of the joy and fulfillment that comes from living into the holiness for which God has made you and me.
© 2020 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.