One of the leading causes of spiritual coldness, apathy, indifference and
inertia is a lack of assurance of God’s amazing love for us. Like the
Laodicean church of Revelation 3:14ff we are neither cold nor hot. If we
are not daily living in the light of the truth that, “I am His and He is mine”
then a fog of spiritual malaise will inevitably overtake us. The message of God’s staggering and astounding love most vividly expressed in the cross of Christ is not breaking through and moving us. Therefore, this lack of assurance, confidence, joy, liberty and peace are symptomatic of not grasping, or rather not being grasped by the love of God in Christ.
In Romans 8:35-39, that great crescendo of God’s persevering and conquering love, Paul is not speaking as an objective observer with rational observations to make. He is speaking from personal experience and deep personal convictions hammered out on the anvil of real life. Paul’s conviction of God’s love is radically God centered and Christ focused. He is not moved by the idea of some generic, unconditional, positive regard, but with a love that bleeds, suffers, experiences abandonment and dies. We hang on to Him because He hangs onto us. We love Him because He first loved us. All man-centered theology is at its roots works righteousness. Assurance is always grounded on what we do. If I am faithful and endure then I will receive ultimate approval. Yet, I will never know the solid rock of assurance until the end. One will live with doubt of God’s love and can never rest.
The good news is we endure and persevere because God perseveres with us and preserves us. We will not fall away forever for one and one reason alone. His relentless, pursuing, passionate and conquering love will not let us go. In Romans 8:31-34, Paul’s argument regarding God’s love is legal and objective. In Romans 8:35-39 Paul emphasizes more the personal and relational dimension of God’s love. So how are we to understand the love of God?
The amazing discovery of faith is that God is above all one who gives, i.e. one who gives Himself by emptying Himself. He has revealed Himself to be the one whose goal is to bring us to share in His glory and in the richness of relationship to Himself. Love is the relational glue or Velcro that holds us together. In relation to our sin His love expresses itself as grace. In relation to our need, helplessness and misery, His love expresses itself as mercy.
One mistake we often make when thinking about God’s love is to understand it as sort of an infinite extension of what the word means to us. In doing so we domesticate, relativize and humanize, idolatrously remaking God’s love into our own image. We often use analogies of the love of a father, mother, brother, wife, husband, friend, etc. These are helpful but God’s love transcends these analogies and goes far beyond what they mean.
The way to grasp it is to hear again the story of God’s persevering struggle with Israel. The prophet Hosea is a glorious place to start. But the climax of God’s loving heart is revealed most graphically and radically in the gift of His Son for a sinful people. When viewed from this perspective his love is seen as strange and incomparable. It is self giving but even that seems too pale. It is a love that stops at nothing and is resolutely devoted to the other,
regardless of however far away and hostile that other may be. It is a love that is disinterested, i.e. it is not motivated by the attractiveness, beauty, worth or value of its beloved. Virtues do not increase it; vices do not diminish it. No sacrifice is too great to enrich people who did not ask for it and even actively or passively oppose it. For this strange and amazing disposition of our triune God’s heart toward us we have no better word than love. One reason we find it so difficult to believe in God’s love and to accept it with heart and mind is because we cannot imagine ourselves loving anyone who responds to us the way we respond to God. It is the finite trying to grasp the infinite.
So to sum up, what does it means to say that God loves us? The love of God is His coming and bending down, stooping and condescending that both presupposes and bridges the infinite gap between the holy and the sinful. His love is free and sovereign. He gives Himself freely and decisively. God does not need us in an ontological sense, i.e. He does not need us to complete Him or to relieve His loneliness. We do not enrich the community of our three-in-one God, nor do we increase His glory. Yet, at the same time, the most amazing, astounding truth is that God wants us. He wants to do nothing else but to be our covenant partner. He longs to have us in His presence and for us to know Him intimately and for us to find our joy and delight in that relationship.
God’s love is a jealous love that sounds strange to our ears. He really and fully wants us for Himself and He wants to be fully with us in the union and exclusiveness of that relationship. His love cannot rest easily with our idolatry and unfaithfulness. He can tolerate no other lovers. He will brook no other rivals. His love crosses our path to break our resistance. In His jealous love God demands our total allegiance and our surrender to fellowship with Him. Every crutch will be removed in order that we will lean and rely only upon Him.
God’s love has a goal. He not only wants to be present with us, but being present with us will change and renew us into His image. He wants us to look like Him. He wants us to love like He does, that is to be perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect (perfect in love).
Having said all of the above a most difficult question now faces us. No matter how well suited a person is for this love, often in the presence of this unasked for and jealous love, that person turns out to be an enemy and a rebel. God desires to give Himself to the person as holy love. But if the person refuses this relationship God will in His patience deal with him in such a way as to make him realize his situation and compel him to turn around. God’s holy love is a consuming fire. For those who resist it, it becomes wounded love, i.e. wrath for the sake of His holiness. There is a limit to the duration of His patience with sinners rejecting His love. If we keep on ignoring Him now, one day He will ignore us forever. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
However, the Gospel leaves no doubt that we may surrender ourselves in complete confidence to the gracious love of God when we refuse to choose wrath. We are an estranged people but God meets us here as injured love and works to make us aware of our estrangement and to induce us to surrender to His love. From Genesis 3 to Revelation 22 God’s “Where are you?” is a continuous announcement of that fact. The story reaches its culmination in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ where holiness and wrath come together upon our vicarious Savior who bears our estrangement and wins for us the gifts of faith and repentance. We being enemies are graciously recovered by His love. We are now His friends. Think about His love daily. Nothing warms the heart more than soaking in the glory of such love.