Who this series is for:
- If you ever feel tired of trying, trying, trying to be the kind of person you think God wants you to be, the series that starts right now is for you.
- If you believe that God loves the world, but you’re not so sure he loves or particularly likes you, this series is for you.
- If being a Christian has begun to feel like a long list of things you must do, and a long list of things you must not do, this series is for you.
- And if you wonder if then God would approve of you if you’d just get your act together, quit sinning, and start behaving like a better Christian, then the series that starts right now…is for you!
The most important thing
Straight up, I know of nothing more important than settling the question of God’s love for you. There’s a story of a man seeing a psychiatrist because he’s so stressed and feels like he’s beginning to come apart at the seams. In a flash of honest insight, he blurts out this challenge to the doctor: “Make me sure that there is a God of love, and I will leave here a well man.” Show me that God loves me, and I’ll face all of my problems up against that rock-solid backdrop.
I fully believe that you can handle just about anything life throws at you so long as you know, believe, and feel that God loves you and that you have a group of people who love you. It is for those twin purposes that God gave us his Son and the local church: so that you can genuinely feel that God loves you, and that you can feel and know there’s a group of people who love you and will stick with you.
The title for this series is Living Out of God’s Love. Because one of the most difficult things to believe is that God really does love you; that when God looks at you, he likes what he sees. Why we struggle to internalize that, we’re going to unpack. Then how to move into God’s love and live out of it, that’s what we’re going to wade into.
My prayer for in this series is that the Holy Spirit will fill you so that you will believe, feel, and live from God’s love for you.
An ancient prayer for you to experience today
Pastors typically conclude messages with prayer: I want to open this series with a prayer for you. It comes from the apostle Paul’s letter to the local church in Ephesus. What he prayed for them, I pray for you right now. Receive this:
“I pray that out of [God the Father’s] unlimited resources he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and [I pray that you may come to] know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” 2
Amen, may our time in God’s Word over the next several weeks bring this into your experience. (Ephesians 3:16-19)
A good companion to this series is James Bryan Smith’s book Embracing the Love of God: The Path and Promise of Christian Life. It spoke deeply to me when I first read it more than twenty years ago, and its exposition of Scripture is the basis for this series.
What’s the most profound theological thought?
One of the most prolific Christian thinkers of the 20th century was the Swiss theologian Karl Barth. His most significant work was over six million words long and filled 9,000 pages – one of the longest works of theology ever written. Brilliant man and deep thinker. When asked to name the most profound thought he had ever had, he answered, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
That simple little children’s tune captures the greatest thought you can ever take to heart, and let influence you: Jesus loves you, this I know, for the Bible tells you so. I want to convince you of that, beginning this week with three timeless truths about God’s love. 1 John 4:8 declares that God is love; I want to give you three timeless truth’s about God’s love.
If you want to jot these down to help fix them in your mind, here’s the first…
Timeless truths about God’s love
1. God has always loved us first.
The apostle John, who referred to himself as ‘the one whom Jesus loved,’ writes…
“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins… We love because he first loved us.”
1 John 4:10, 19
Straight up, if God’s love was dependent on us loving him, we’d all be doomed. John corrects that kind of mixed-up thinking, insisting God loved you first. Any love we have for God is because he loved us first.
Think of the passion of young lovers, where one sets their heart on winning the love of the other. It’s always heartwarming to ask couples how they met, and whose heart went zing first. They love to tell the story, and it’s wonderful to hear the story. And almost always, the simple act of a couple remembering and retelling of that loving pursuit rekindles the affection between them. You see it on their faces. You hear it in their voices. Revisiting that passion rekindles the passion anew. So it is with God’s love…for you. Rarely do we take time to focus solely on how much God loves you, and all that he has done so that you can feel his love for you. This is what we’re going to do throughout this series, keep retelling God’s love story…for you.
What John declares is so radical and so unexpected! It means…
- When you were far from God and he was distant from your thoughts, he was already.loving.you.
- When you were unbelieving or rebellious against God, if you thought he even existed, he already loved you first.
- Any time your mental or emotional image of God gets out of whack, is misguided, or is flat out wrong, he still loves you first.
- When you fall into sin and then come back to your senses, God loved you first even while you sinned. His acceptance of you is not based on your love. It’s based on his love. God always has loved you. He always does love you. And he always will love you.
“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins…We love because he first loved us.”
The Danish theologian Soren Keirkegaard chewed and chewed and chewed on this verse and eventually turned it into a prayer, praying this:
“You have loved us first, O God, alas! We speak of it in terms of history as if You have only loved us first but a single time, rather than that without ceasing You have loved us first many times and every day and our whole life through.
When we wake up in the morning and turn our soul toward You – You were there first – You have loved us first;
if I rise at dawn and at the same second turn my soul toward You in prayer, You are there ahead of me, You have loved me first.
When I withdraw from the distractions of the day and turn my soul toward You, You are the first and thus forever. And yet we always speak ungratefully as if You have loved us first only once.”
- If you will believe this, that God loves you, it can begin to change everything about you. Even if no circumstances in your life change for the better, but you come to truly believe and feel that God loves you, this is the game-changer.
- This is the fuel meant to get you out of bed and bring direction to your day.
- God’s love is the tide meant to lift you up when sin or circumstance pulls hard downward.
- This is the power that can redirect your relationships away from pettiness and bitterness.
- God’s love is the steel in your spine that can make you stand tall before God as a loved son or daughter rather than wallowing in shame.
- If you come to truly believe and feel what John declares, that God has always loved you first, this can become the most important thing about you. And that in turn will begin to season, to brighten, to influence everything.
“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins…We love because he first loved us.”
God loves you first. He has always loved you first.
Here’s the second timeless truth about God’s love:
2. There’s something about us that God finds deeply lovable.
The New Testament letter to the Christians in Rome reads like a legal case in its opening chapters, progressively making the case that we all know God exists and is powerful. We all fall short of what God intends, instead giving in to sin. We all therefore stand before God guilty of failure to love him and one another well. Sometimes, churches give off the impression that that’s the entire story.
But to go there is to entirely miss the good news of Jesus Christ. That same letter to the Romans makes a massive, unexpected, and delightful pivot when Paul declares in chapter 5… 4
“When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners… Here is how God has shown his love for us. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:6, 8
Fix this image in your imagination: you’re in heaven’s courtroom. Satan details every charge against you: every time you went against conscience and did the wrong thing; every time you intentionally chose not to do the right thing; every sin in all its ugliness, it’s all there, longer than a CVS receipt. After all the damning evidence is seen and heard, out in the open, undeniable and inexcusable, the judge turns to you and asks, “How do you plead?”
You have no excuse. So you plead, “Guilty, your honor.”
The moment you do, the judge declares you innocent, acquitted, free to go with the court’s favor. Never again may Satan haul you back into court to pin condemnation against you. Why not? Because the Judge has declared it so.
“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
There’s just something about us—there’s something about you—that God finds deeply lovable.
True story: During a conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith.
They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death.
The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.” God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. After discussion, the conferees had to agree.
The biblical revelation that God loves us no strings attached seems to go against every instinct of humanity. Every other world religion is an attempt at earning approval. Only the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus convey that there’s something about us, even in our sin, that God finds deeply lovable.
Adapted from What’s So Amazing about Grace, Philip Yancey
And the great news is that you didn’t make that happen, so God’s love isn’t dependent on you; he decided to act out of love, because this is who God is. God is love, and love is what he does. The unique message of the Christian faith is that when we could not do anything to deserve God’s embrace, God went out of his way to bring his embrace personally. It was love that moved him to act on our behalf.
Someone has said it this way: if God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it.
If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it.
If God had a smartphone, the home screen would feature his favorite picture of you.
He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning, along with the occasional spring snow squall just for kicks.
Whenever you want to talk, He’s right there listening with full attention, as though you’re the only person in the world.
And let’s talk about the Christmas gift He sent you in Bethlehem, not to mention that Friday outside Jerusalem, sinners on either side of him, assuring paradise to one who simply believed—not based on anything that criminal had done.
Or this: God could live anywhere in the universe—and He chose to make himself at home within you, within each man, woman, and child who says yes to his love displayed in Jesus.
Face it, friend. God is crazy about you. There’s something in you that God is drawn to, that he finds deeply lovable.
Adapted from Max Lucado
Dan Meyer writes,
“Look at it this way, God knew everything about you and me. He saw our capacity for selfishness; he knew ahead of time the callousness that exists in our hearts; he knew that we were capable of doing the unthinkable; he saw those messages that go through our minds about other people. In other words, there is never anything we are going to discover about ourselves that God has not already taken into account. There is nothing we are going to come across as we uncover our inner darkness about which God will say, slapping his forehead, ‘Ah, if I had known that about you, I would never have given my life for you!’ No, ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’”
God has always loved us—and you—first.
There’s something about us—about you—that God finds deeply lovable.
And third, the third timeless truth about God’s love is that:
3. Nothing can rip us away from God’s love found in Christ.
Romans chapter 8 builds toward this hard-to-believe unbelievable conclusion as Paul puts to the test what it would take for you to be torn away from God’s love. He writes:
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:1, 38-39
For the one who trusts in Jesus, Paul realizes, nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of what Jesus has done. It’s settled.
If you feel like God doesn’t particularly like you, consider what we see in the gospels. How did ordinary people like you feel when they were around Jesus? It is unmistakably clear that when people were around Jesus, they felt…loved.
Yes, there were exceptions, but not the ones we would expect. Those whose lives were a mess, in a whole variety of ways, felt surprised at Jesus’ welcome, that he wanted to be with them, that he enjoyed hanging out with deeply flawed people. He loved them. And they felt loved. He loves you. And he wants you to feel loved. 6
Here’s a way to think and feel about it. Our daughter will soon head off to college. She’s not yet in the habit of checking her checking and saving accounts, and so I expect at some point—maybe a bunch of times—she’s going to overspend. She’s going to head into debt.
When that happens, what do you think my wife and I should do? If she calls embarrassed and eshamed, should we reply with an angry text and a screenshot of the overdraft fee? Should we make her pay it back and do so with interest?
Listen: We can talk about money management all you want, but if your kid goes into debt, you pay the debt for them. You transfer funds from your account to theirs. Sure you talk about change moving forward. You give them coaching and show them how to handle money better. But if they zero out the account again, you do what parents do: cover their debt. You’re ready to meet their need before they even feel their need.
This is what God did for you long before you sensed your debt before him. Before you realized you need for a Savior, Jesus came as Savior. Before you felt any need for a Lord, a trustworthy Leader, Jesus came onto the scene as Lord.
So today, and the next time you feel your need for God’s love, know this now and believe it: God already loves you. And he always will love you.
If you have never personally trusted in Jesus to be your Savior, forgiving your sin, paying your debt, you can trust him today and begin to rest in God’s love rather than a sense of owing anything to God. If you have not yet asked Jesus to become your Lord, the one who leads you daily throughout this life, you can ask him to begin that today. I want to invite you to pray a prayer of faith, asking Jesus to come into your life. If that’s something you want, and you feel your need today, pray this after me. Let’s pray.
God, I feel drawn to trust in you today. I readily admit there are ways I don’t love God or certain people very well. I take it by faith that you, moved by love, sent your Son for us, including for me. Jesus, I’m asking you to come into my life today. Come in as Savior, and forgive my sin. Come in as Lord, and lead me from this point forward. Empower me to walk with you daily and for as long as I live. Thank you also for the church, for the chance to forge deep friendships fueled by the love of God. Take me deeper in grasping your love and living out of it. Thank you, God. Amen!
And for all of you, let me pray again the prayer we began with, from Ephesians chapter 3:
“I pray that out of [God the Father’s] unlimited resources he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and [that you may] know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
Until next week, God bless you & make you a blessing!