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Do I know that God loves me?
And we ourselves know and believe the love which God has for us. God is love, and those who live in love live in union with God and God lives in union with them. (1 John 4:16 TEV)
All the passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John.” It was preached in the 1940’s and re-published as one volume (formerly in five Volumes) in 2002 by Crossway Books.
The great question is whether we can join John and the first Christians in saying that we know this love of God to us. After all, there is little value in our profession unless it leads to some practical result in our lives. John was writing to men and women in a difficult world, even as we are in a difficult world; and the thrilling thing, he tells them, is that although the whole world lies under the power of the evil one, it is possible for our joy to abound.
How can my joy abound? How can I walk through this world with my head erect? How can I come through triumphantly? Well, here is the main thing: I should know this love which God has towards me. If I have that, I can say that `neither death, nor life ... nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Romans 8:38-39). Therefore, the questions come to us one by one: Do I know this love? Can I make this statement? It is made everywhere in the New Testament. Paul is fond of stating it generally, and yet you find that he also delights in stating it particularly: `. .. the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me' (Galatians 2:20). No man could state the doctrine of the atonement in all its plenitude and glory like the Apostle Paul, and yet here he says, He died for me; He loved me. This is personal knowledge, personal appropriation. You find this everywhere in the New Testament. For example, `Whom having not seen,' says Peter, 'ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory' (1 Peter 1:8).
Do we do that? These people did not see Him, and so we cannot argue and say, `It is all very well for those first Christians; they saw Him. If only I could see Christ, then I would love Him.' But they did not see Him any more than we see Him. They had the apostolic witness and teaching and accepted this witness and testimony. They loved Him and rejoiced in Him `with joy unspeakable and full of glory.'
Read your hymnbook. Do you not find that the hymns are full of this sentiment, this expression of love towards God and towards the Saviour, this desire to know Him more and more, this personal, experimental awareness and knowledge of Him? Or read Christian biographies, and you will find that this is a theme that runs right through them all. The Christian position, thank God, is not merely that I accept theoretically certain ideas about the love of God. It is something that I experience, that I know. Look at that great statement of Paul's: `I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day' (2 Tim 1:12). `We do know,' said John in effect, `the love that God has for us'; Christian people must know it. Do we know it?
I keep on repeating my question because it is to me the most vital question that we can ever face in this life and world. Let me put it like this: I do not know what the future holds for me; nobody does. Our whole life and world is uncertain, and I say that in a world like this the supreme matter is to know that God loves me---to know that I am in that relationship and that whatever happens around me, God will always be with me. Whatever may or may not come, God loves me, and I am a child of God. If I know that, then there is a sense in which anything else does not matter very much and cannot vitally and essentially affect me.
So the question remains: How may we know this---how do we know that God loves us? I will, first of all, give a general answer to the question. First, I have an increasing awareness and an increasing realisation that I owe all and everything to the Lord Jesus Christ; I am utterly dependent upon Him and the perfect work that He has done for me in His life and death and resurrection. I am bound to put that first because John puts it first. How do I know that God loves me? Is it because of some sensations or feelings? No! Rather, in the first instance, the first thing is Christ, what I feel about Christ, what Christ is to me. `In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.' Do you know for certain the love of God to you? Is He central? Is He vital? Is He essential? Do you know that you are entirely dependent upon the fact that Christ is the Son of God and that He died on the cross on Calvary's hill and bore the punishment for your sins and took your guilt away? Is it all centred in Him?
If it is not, I say, go no further. If Christ is not absolutely essential and central in your position, I am not interested in what you have to tell me about your knowledge of the love of God. For the whole argument of the New Testament is that it is there that God has manifested His love, and if I do not start there, I am ignorant of what God has done. How can I love Him if I ignore that amazing manifestation and demonstration of His eternal love? That is the first test.
But let me come to the particular, and here I am simply going to give you a series of questions or statements. I agree with John that we must be particular, we must have detail. I shall suggest to you ten tests which you can apply to yourself to know for certain that you know the love of God to you.
Here is the first. It is a loss and absence of the sense that God is against us. The natural man always feels that God is against him. He would be very glad if he could wake up and read that some bishop or other had proved that God never existed; he would be ready to believe it. The newspapers give publicity to anything that denies the faith; they know the public palate. That is why the natural man is at enmity against God; he feels God is against him. That is why when anything goes wrong he says, `Why does God allow this?' And when men and women are in a state of being antagonistic towards God, then, of course, they cannot love God. So one of the first tests, and I am starting with the lowest, is that we have lost that feeling that God is against us.
Secondly, there is a loss of the fear of God, while a sense of awe remains. Let us approach Him `with reverence and godly fear,' writes the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (12:28). John is going to elaborate on that; that is the rest of the fourth chapter. We lose that craven fear of God, but oh! what a reverence remains.
Thirdly, there is a feeling and a sense that God is for us and that God loves us. Now I put it like that quite deliberately because it is so very true to experience. I have lost that sense that God is against me, and I begin to have a feeling and sense that God is for me, that God is kind to me, that He is concerned about me, and that He truly loves me.
Fourthly, I have a sense of sins forgiven. I do not understand it, but I am aware of it. I know that I have sinned; `my sin is ever before me' (Psalm 51:3), as David says. I remember my sins, and yet the moment I pray, I know my sins are forgiven. I cannot understand it, I do not know how God does it, but I know He does it, and that my sins are forgiven.
A sense of sins forgiven in turn leads me to the fifth test: a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving to God. No one can believe that God sent His only begotten Son into the world to die on the cross without feeling a sense of praise and of thanksgiving. It is all pictured in the story of that man of Gadara, the man possessed with a legion of devils. No one could cure him, but Christ drove the demons out, and the man who was cured wanted to go with Jesus. `He ... prayed him that he might be with him' (Mark 5:18). I imagine that the man said, `Let me be Your slave---let me carry Your bag or polish Your sandals---let me do anything I can for You---You have done so much for me.' Or think of Saul of Tarsus there on the road to Damascus. The moment he saw and understood something of what had happened to him, he said, `Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?' (Acts 9:6). That is, what can I do to repay You---how can I show my gratitude? Do you feel a sense of gratitude? Do you want to praise God? Do you want to thank Him? When you get on your knees in prayer, is it always petitions, or do you start with thanksgiving and praise---do you feel something welling up within you? A sense of gratitude and a desire to praise is a further proof of the knowledge of God.
Then sixthly, there is an increasing hatred of sin. I sometimes think there is no better proof of a knowledge of God and knowledge of the love of God than that. You know, if you hate sin, you are like God, for God hates it and abominates it. We are told that He cannot look upon iniquity (Habakkuk 1:13); therefore, whatever your feelings may be or may not be, if you have an increasing hatred of sin, it is because the love of God is in you---God is in you. No man hates sin apart from God.
Seventh, there is a desire to please God and to live a good life because of what He has done for us. The realisation of His love should make us not only hate sin, but also desire to live a holy, godly life. You may say your heart is cold. You are not aware of any strong emotion. But do you desire to live a better life and to please God more and more? If you are, you love God, because our Lord said, `He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me' (John 14:21).
Eighth, we have a desire to know Him better and to draw closer to Him. Do you want to know God better? Is it one of the greatest ambitions of your life to draw closer to Him, that your relationship to Him may be more intimate? If you have within you the faintest desire to know God better and are doing something about it, I say you love God.
Ninth, I will put this point negatively, and yet it may be the most important of all. I am referring to a conscious regret that our love to Him is so poor, along with a desire to love Him more. If you are unhappy at the thought that you do not love God as you ought to, that is a wonderful proof that you love Him. Love is never satisfied with itself; it always feels it is insufficient. The men and women who are unhappy because they do not love God more are, in a sense, people who ought to be very happy, because their very unhappiness at their lack of love is proof that they do love. Let me put that in the words of one of my favourite sayings, that great and wonderful and consoling sentence of Pascal's: `Comfort yourself; you would not seek me if you had not already found me.' Love is dissatisfied, and so if I feel my heart is cold, it is a sure proof that I love Him. The unbeliever is not aware of the fact that his heart is cold, and so the negative becomes gloriously positive.
My last test is that we have a delight in hearing these things and in hearing about Him. That is one of the best tests. There are certain people in the world---alas, there are many---who find all that we have been saying utterly boring; all that we have been saying would be strange to them. Such people are spiritually dead; they know nothing about all this. So whatever the state of your emotions may be, if you can tell me quite honestly that you enjoy listening to these things and hearing about them, if you can say that there is something about them which makes things different, and that you would sooner hear these things than anything else in the whole world, then I say that you know the love that God has for you and that you love Him in return.
These, then, are some tests which seem to me to be the most practical and the most immediate that we can apply. Let me sum them up like this: Jesus Christ, the realisation of who He is, that God sent Him into the world; the realisation of what He has done by coming into the world and going back again, that He is my all and in all; the realization that He is my Saviour and therefore my Lord, because if He has done that for me, then He has done it so that I might be rescued and redeemed out of this element of sin and that I may live a life pleasing to Him---it is all in Him. The key is my attitude towards Him. Can I say with Paul, `That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead' (Philippians 3:10-11)? You need not start traveling the mystic way, you need not try to work up feelings; there is only one thing to do: face God, see yourself and your sin, and see Christ as your Saviour. If you have Him, you will have everything else. It is all in Him; without Him there is nothing.
`We have known and have believed the love that God hath to us.' Do you know that God has so loved you that He sent His only begotten Son into the world and to the cross on Calvary to die for you, to rescue you and redeem you from your sin, and to make you a child of God?
May God grant that we may be able to join in this mighty chorus on earth and in heaven which goes on saying, `I know---yes, I know the love which God has to me'. [511-516]
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