Letters with Love: We Are Loved
By Pastor William McDowell
We often sing about it. We hear messages about it. We place it on t-shirts and even read about it. What is it? The love of God. We sometimes refer to Scripture as a love letter from God. Perhaps the most well known and often quoted verse in Scripture is John 3:16,
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 ESV
The verse that follows it goes on to show us how much we are loved by God.
“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” John 3:17 ESV
Together we see love and purpose. Most Christians can quote these verses easily, yet when it comes to living the reality of them, some are tripped up. How does someone who says they believe these verses end up living a life of shame? The written answer seems simple and trite. They don’t know or understand how much they are loved by God.
Certainly the true depth and breadth of the love of God is beyond human explanation. It’s actually hard to fathom. In Romans, Paul writes, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Rom 5:6-8 NLT).
Thinking about the love of God while praying for the church in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote this, “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God” (Eph 3:18-19 NLT).
He knew that the love of God is truly beyond human comprehension or understanding, so his prayer for them was that they experience it. The love of God can’t be explained; it must be experienced.
God Demonstrates His Love for Us
The love of God is demonstrative particularly in view of Christ and what He has done for all. You and I are included in “all,” and yet somehow some of us still deal with shame. Perhaps we need to reframe how we see the demonstrative nature of the love of God. When Adam and Eve sinned, their response to sin was shame. They hid themselves as if they actually could hide from God. David wrote,
I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night—but even in darkness I cannot hide from You. To You the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to You. Psalm 139:11-12 NLT
It is impossible to hide from God. Like Adam and Eve who sewed fig leaves together to hide their nakedness, we also try to hide from each other. Our folly, like theirs, is that somehow we think we can also hide from God. They thought they needed to, and we at times adopt the same mindset. It was perhaps incomprehensible to them that the perfect and holy God would still want relationship with them. That is exactly what He wanted then and still wants with you and me now. Whenever we stumble, we can fall prey to shame and as a result almost expect condemnation.
What is shame? It is an emotion caused by a guilty conscience. It is seen as something that brings a reproach. It is a real emotion, place, and state of consciousness that unfortunately many professing believers struggle with. The writer of Hebrews deals with it head on when talking about Christ and what He has done for us on the cross and in His resurrection. “And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By His death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting Him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water” (Heb 10:19-22 NLT). Our guilty consciences, the source of shame, have been cleansed by the blood of Christ. This allows us not to run from God, but to Him boldly, in worship and prayer. Without the burden of shame, we are invited into intimate relationship with our Father.
Leave Behind Rejection and Embrace Discipline
Let’s be honest, we read the Scripture, and even what I’m writing now as I quote the Scriptures, and some of us still have trouble letting go. We preach, lead worship, sing, play an instrument, pray, worship, lead meetings, and go through everyday life with a filter, lens, or invisible cloak of shame. How is it that we do so? Is it possible that there is a misappropriation of God’s divine activity in your life? Is it possible that you are mistaking conviction for condemnation, especially considering that the expectation of a guilty conscience is punishment? Is it possible that you are mistaking divine discipline as rejection? The writer of Hebrews brings out a beautiful truth for us:
“And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as His children? He said, ‘My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when He corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes each one He accepts as His child.’ As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as His own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as He does all of His children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really His children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in His holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way” (Heb 12:5-11 NLT).
You are expecting rejection because that’s what shame makes you believe. However, God loves us too much to leave us alone. We shouldn’t be afraid, but rather we should be encouraged by divine discipline, which is the confronting of our sin, because it is proof that we are loved. It is proof that we are His children. It is yet another demonstration of the love of God which Paul said can’t be fully understood but rather experienced.
Would you pray this with me? “Father thank you for the sacrifice of Christ who shed blood on the cross to cleanse me of my sin and my guilty conscience. Help me to walk out the freedom from shame daily and to truly experience Your love which is beyond my understanding. In Jesus name, Amen!”
Your brother in Christ,
Pastor William McDowell