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How do I know that God loves me?
Henri Nouwen says, “. . . one of the greatest temptations of a monk is to doubt God’s love.” and “the great adventure of the monk: to really believe that God loves you, . . .. even while you are aware of your sinfulness, weaknesses, and miseries” (The Genesee Diary, Oct 27 1974). Even Henri Nouwen has his moments of doubt, “During my months of anguish, I often wondered if God is real or just a product of my imagination. I now know that while I felt completely abandoned, God didn’t leave me alone” (The Inner Voice of Love, 115). Now, if a monk, who spends full time contemplating and meditating on God, has doubt that God loves him; we have to seek doubly hard to know that God loves us.
But before we can know that God loves us, we need to be certain that God is love. On what authority do I base the statement that God is love? How do I know that God is a God of love? What is the basis of my knowledge? Where can I get the knowledge that God is love? What is the proof that God is a God of love? How do I get the evidence that God is love?
Ultimately, I can reduce the answer to:
1. I base it on my own or someone else’s philosophical concept that God is love, or
2. I trust and accept what the Bible tells me that God is love.
Since I cannot fully trust in a philosophical concept that God is love, I choose to believe what the Bible tells me:
“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).
“Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love (1 John 4:7-8 TEV).
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (Jesus Christ), that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 NKJV).
Believing that God is love does not automatically make us know that God loves us. Why? For two main reasons:
1. Our selfish nature---that we look after self first, last and always.
2. Our sinful nature ---we want our way instead of God’s way.
Our Selfish Nature consists of:
· Self-centredness---looking at self, watching self, examining self and always regarding self.
· Self-conceit---how ready we are to defend self and to condemn the same things in others!
· Self-indulgence---we are very indulgent with self; we prohibit things in the other person, but it does not matter if we do the same thing ourselves.
· Self-pleasing---always doing things that please us.
· Self-seeking---always out for self interest.
· Self-pity---why should people treat us like this?---we have done no harm; we are not in the wrong at all---why should people be so difficult?---we are given a hard time and it really isn’t fair.
· Self-sensitiveness---how touchy we are, how easily wounded, imagining difficulties and attacks, seeing them when they are not there, an abominable sensitivity.
· Self-defence---always on the defensive, waiting for people to be unpleasant, and because we are like that, we almost make them unpleasant---we are on the defensive.
· Self-assertion---asserting self; we desire things, and we must have them.
· Self-sufficiency---we want to be in a position to say that ‘I am a self-made man who worships his creator (himself).’
Our Sinful Nature consists of:
Envy, spite, vindictiveness, irritation, unkindness, filled with all kinds of wickedness, evil, greed, and vice; full of jealousy, hate, fighting, deceit, and malice; gossiping and speaking evil of one another; always criticising, whispering, backbiting; hateful to God, insolent, proud, and boastful; think of ways to do evil; have no conscience, do not keep promises, and show no kindness or compassion for others.
How can God love such a person? Why should God ever consider loving such a person? Does God love us because we are lovable? Does He love us because we are such kind and wonderful people? Do we deserve His love? No. There is only one way to know the love of God, and that is to know that we are hopeless, damned sinners, that we can do nothing to change ourselves. We can never put ourselves right with God; we can never make ourselves fit to stand in the presence of God. We must realise that we are lost and undone and heading straight for hell. But, in His infinite love, God sends His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to save us.
Thus, our understanding of the person, Jesus Christ, is absolutely essential to our understanding the love of God. For God has shown His love for us in what He has done for us or in us through Jesus Christ.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “Look at the world into which He (Jesus Christ) came. You remember His birth and what we are told about it. This is the sort of world that the eternal Son of God, who had come from heaven, came into: There was no room for Him and for Mary and Joseph in the inn. The selfishness of mankind was such that even a woman in this condition did not get a room and had to go into a stable; so the Lord of glory was placed in a manger in a stable. That is the sort of world He came into; a selfish, grasping, self-centred world in which every man is out for himself.
“You also remember the story of Herod and the massacre of the innocents---all the malice, envy, hatred, and bloodshed. And, oh, the poverty into which He came! Can you imagine what it must have meant to Him, the Lord of glory, the eternal Son of God who came out of God’s eternal bosom, to see sin firsthand? To look at the ugliness of evil and sin and see it face to face? The shame of it all and the foulness of it all! We are measuring the love of God, and that is the measure of it. How could He in all His purity and holiness ever come from heaven and live for thirty years in the kind of world in which you and I are living? How could He have done it? How could He stand or bear it? But more, God sent Him, we are told, to be ‘the propitiation for our sins.’ What does this mean? Here, of course, is the great classic doctrine of the atonement, and it means that God sent Him into this world in order that He might become the sin offering for us. It means that God ‘hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). It means that Jesus Christ is not only the priest, but He is also the offering, the propitiation, the sacrifice offered. God sent Him into the world in order that God might punish our sins in Him. He has made His Son the sacrifice; it is a substitutionary offering for your sins and mine. There we see the love of God not only in the world He came into, but in the propitiation, the sacrifice, the atonement, the substitutionary death, so that you and I might be delivered. Herein was manifested the love of God, that God sent His only begotten Son to death, to the cruel shame and agony and suffering of the cross, to be made sin for us who Himself knew no sin and so was innocent. He raised Him again from the dead and thereby proclaimed that the sacrifice was enough, that the law was satisfied, and that everything was complete. I say again, you do not begin to know anything about the love of God until you see that if Christ had not died on the cross in that way, God could not forgive sin. I say it with reverence: that is God’s way of making forgiveness, for without the doctrine of the atonement you do not understand the love of God. Let me beseech you, never again put the love of God and doctrine as opposites. It is only in this way you understand the love of God. He has been made ‘the propitiation for our sins.’ In other words, as the result of what He has done, God forgives us for our sins; by His death we are reconciled to God in Him; we have redemption through His blood. In Him we are reconciled to God, pardoned, forgiven, and restored. Yes, and even more, God sent His Son into the world, that we might live through Him. We receive the gift of life; we begin to live, because He came. We are given His nature; we are given His power. He becomes One who resides in us; we live in Him, and He is in us; we live through Him. There we again rise to the height.
“That is what God has done for us in His love through Christ--—pardon, forgiveness, peace, reconciliation, life anew. We begin to live in a new world, and we see new possibilities. We know something of His mighty working in us and the power which operates in us. That is how the love of God is manifested . . .
“Finally, why has God done all this? Why has God had anything to do with such creatures as men and women, dead in trespasses and sins, rebels---hating Him, being against Him, turning His world into a living hell? Why did God ever even look on them, let alone send His only begotten Son to them, and even to the cruel death and shame of the cross, making Him a sin offering? Why has God done this? What led Him to do it? What is this love of God, and wherein does it consist? ‘Not that we loved God, but that he loved us,’ moved by nothing but His own self-generated love. Though we are what we are, ‘God is love,’ and His great heart of love, in spite of all that is in us, unmoved by anything save itself, has done it all.” (“Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John.” 436-438)
Now do I know with certainty the love of God for me? St Paul knows. St John knows and he tells us, “. . . 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).
Again, Martyn Lloyd-Jones tells us, “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 Timothy 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 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? 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.” (“Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John,” 512-513)
So, God is love and He proves His love for us by sacrificing His Son, Jesus Christ, who died for our sins. He loves us unconditionally and He showers His grace on us. His grace means undeserved favour from Him to us. We don’t deserve to be saved by Him. We don’t merit it. We can’t earn it. It is not our works that save us. We can’t pay God back for saving us. His love is a free gift to us. He has only one requirement: that we believe that He sent His Son to save us. It is nothing but pure grace. For grace does not depend on what we have done for God but rather what God has done for us. It is God’s grace that saves us, “For it is by God's grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God's gift, so that no one can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:8 TEV).
Charles Stanley says, “Grace is God’s kindness and graciousness toward you without regard to worth or merit. You can’t earn grace, you can’t buy grace, and you can’t barter with God to receive grace. It is a free gift of God to you. There is only one thing you can do related to grace, and that is to receive grace. . . . .
“When I fully experienced God’s love in my life, I had a new perspective on grace. I was able to relax in the fact that God was extending to me the fullness of His grace. I could obtain no more grace. Christ Jesus purchased it all for me. My role was one of receiving, of thanksgiving, of loving God with my whole heart. There was nothing I needed to do. There was nothing else I could do. It had all been done for me.
“Why does someone continue to strive to win more of God’s approval through good works?
“First, old habits. Anytime you do something for God because you think you should do it in order for God to like you better, love you more, or approve of you more highly, think again. That’s an old habit. That’s part of old-creature thinking. That’s not a part of what Jesus obtained for you on the cross.
“If you are trying to pay God back for saving you, then you haven’t accepted or received His grace.
“If you are doing good works in order to put yourself into a position to deserve eternal life, then you haven’t accepted God’s grace. The only means to obtain eternal life is to believe in Jesus Christ as God’s atoning sacrifice on your behalf.
“If you are trying to suffer for your sins in order to be worthy of salvation, then you haven’t accepted God’s grace. . .
“If you are confessing your sins again and again and again in hope that God might hear you and forgive you, then you haven’t accepted God’s grace. You don’t win forgiveness because of confession. The Cross made forgiveness possible.
“There is nothing, nothing, nothing you can do to win or deserve or prove yourself worthy of God’s love and grace toward you. There is nothing you can do to make God love you any more than He already loves you.
“Works do not add up to salvation. Rather, Christ Jesus saved you in order to do good. He is the One who enables you to do good works. He is their author and their motivation.
“God saves us so that we might be motivated to do good works. When it comes to having a desire to do good works, God pours it out. We don’t pump it up.
“Holy living doesn’t put us into a position to receive God’s love and forgiveness. Rather, God’s love and forgiveness become our motivation for holy living. We no longer have a desire to do anything that might hurt the heart of the Lord who has loved us so completely and so lavishly” (“The Reason for my Hope,” 50, 52-56).
The question is why does God pour out His love on us? Why does God want to save us at all? What is His aim for us? What is His objective? What is His purpose of saving us? His ultimate purpose of salvation is to transform us and to enable us to love as He loves. That is what salvation is for: to enable us to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves. And the Bible tells us “Salvation is to be found through Him (Jesus Christ) alone; in all the world there is no one else whom God has given who can save us" (Acts 4:12 TEV).
On the practical level, what makes us His adopted children is that we are born again, we are born of God. The one thing that makes us Christians is that we are born of God. That we share in the divine nature and we are partakers of His divine nature. We lean on Jesus Christ to enable us to love. Everyone who is born of God loves, for God is love. The only people who can love as God loves are those who have received the nature of God. We need the divine nature within us before we can truly love one another. If something of the divine nature is in us, and the divine nature is love---‘God is love’---then there must be this principle of love within us. It must be here, it must be manifesting itself. If we are not conscious of this life within us, and if we are not manifesting this life somehow or other, however feebly, then we don’t have Christ in us.
If I say I am born of God and the nature of God is in me, then there must be some of this love in me. ‘Every one that loves is born of God,’ and everyone who is born of God loves---the two statements mean the same thing, so that this is proof positive, final evidence, of my new birth and that I am born of God.
So, in our daily living, do we feel any love within us towards that person we naturally dislike, that person who is so irritating and that person who can be so hurtful to us? Are we forgiving? Do we have a sense of compassion and care? Do we pray for that person? Can we truly feel sorry for him? That is what love does. If we are born of God, we must, however feebly, have compassion for him.
The whole test of the Christian is to love the difficult person and to manifest 1 Corinthians 13 with the trying person.
Yes, we still do not love adequately and this calls for more patience towards others, it calls for sympathy and it calls for understanding. John is asking us Christians to do all we can to help one another, to bear with one another, not to be antagonistic, not to become irritated. If we see our brother at fault, be patient with him, pray for him, try to help him, be sorry for him, instead of feeling it is something that is hurting us. See it as something that is hurting him terribly and doing him great harm and robbing him of so much joy in his Christian life.
That is what love means---that we somehow detach ourselves from the problem and do not think of it in terms of that which is hurting us, but look upon it as Christ did, and have compassion for that person, take hold of him, love him out of it.
I know that God is love, and when I am tempted to question the love of God for me, I still say God is love. I know that more and more; and as I know more and more that God is love, I see that nothing matters but love. And the more I see this in God, the more I want to look at Him, and the more I love my brethren; and the more I love my brethren, the more I prove that God is love. For God is love, and love is of God, which means love comes from God, love is from God and love flows from God. Thus, the more I know God, the more will I know that God is love, and the more will I know---love.
The conclusion I come to, since I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, is:
When I start to love that trying person, then and only then, do I know and I experience that God loves me.
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