Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…—Romans 8:1
For 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 8:38,39
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”—Hebrews 13:5
The Bible teaches that people are not whole. Originally, we were made in the image of God, and we are still pretty amazing, but sin has damaged us in a multitude of ways. We are not as wise, loving, healthy, smart, strong, brave, patient, joyful, peaceful, or faithful as we should be. We are all limping along through this life, and we have no idea how amazing humans will be when we are restored to our original glory. (Read Romans 8:18 & 19).
For me, one proof of just how broken we are is that we even have trouble believing what we believe. There are things Christians sing about each week, highlight in our Bibles, preach sermons about, tell others about, and post on social media about, that we still somehow find ways to doubt in our hour of need. We know these things are true, but in another sense we don’t know they’re true. We have trouble holding onto the very things we have staked our whole life upon. And one of the best examples of this is the belief that God loves us.
Last month I had conversations with two different individuals who have attended church for years, who definitely deserve to be called “believers,” who each said the same thing: “I’m afraid that when I stand before God in judgment He will reject me. I’ve done some bad things, and I fear that I’ll be condemned because of my failures.”
These are people who join together with their brothers and sisters in worship on Sunday mornings and sing “Oh, how He loves us.” They know that John 3:16 says “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 says nothing about “if you’ve been good enough.” It says God loved the world, and whoever believes in His Son will have eternal life. We all know this. And yet somehow doubt creeps in and says, “but does He really love me?”
Unconditional love is a hard concept for us. We’re not used to it. For many of us, nothing in our human experience convinces us that it truly exists. Our parents are supposed to love us unconditionally, and the good ones try their best, but they are human, and they have their own problems. Unfortunately, a lot of people grow up feeling like their parents’ love had to be earned, and they never quite measured up. Our spouses are supposed to love us unconditionally, but the reality of a lifetime partnership with a fellow sinner can bring out the worst in anyone.
So when the pastor says “God will never take His love away from you,” a part of us hears it and a part of us doesn’t. Unconditional love sounds like a great thing, but is it too good to be true? Can someone really love us even when we disappoint them time and again? Especially Someone pure and holy and perfect? Isn’t love a reward for being attractive and having a lot to offer and doing things right?
And yet our entire faith is based on the certainty of God’s love. In love God sent His Son to earth. In love Jesus willingly went to the cross. 1 John 4:16 says that love is at the core of God’s very nature: “God is love.” Romans chapter 8 says that nothing at all can separate us from God’s love. God has committed Himself to us, and His commitment doesn’t depend on our faithfulness, but on His.
In God’s design, unconditional love is the source of our security and our freedom. When a husband or wife is sure of their spouse’s love for them, they can go out into the world and be the person God made them to be, secure in the knowledge that they will return home to someone who is absolutely committed to them, no matter what. It’s the same with parents and children. God intended the home to be the rock-solid foundation from which kids can go out and face the challenges the world throws at them, knowing that no matter what happens, they are loved by the people whose opinion matters most. When marriage and family are done right, then when someone tells us about the unconditional love of our Creator, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine such a thing. We know what it means to be secure in the love of another.
But again, maybe you didn’t grow up in a home like that. Maybe parents and partners have failed you. Maybe you feel rejected and unworthy. Maybe you assume that God’s love is like human love, which, in your experience, isn’t so great. In that case, please hear God saying to you “I am not like them.” Psalm 27:10 says “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” Though a man or woman might break a marriage vow, God will not. As it says in 2 Timothy 2:13, “if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot disown himself.”
What would you do if you really, truly, deeply knew that the God of the universe loves you no matter what? If you were convinced He is committed to you? What fears would you be able to lay down? What steps of faith might you take? What if we really believed what we believe, that He will never leave us nor forsake us? In this new year, may God deliver you from the doubt that keeps you from experiencing life as He intended it. May He convince you of His love, and set you free.