This is the second in a 3-part post-Easter sermon series entitled “God’s Love!” Each of these messages focuses on one important aspect of of God’s love based on a passage from 1 John. Today’s message is that God loves and accepts everyone of us regardless of what we do or say, whether we are good or bad.
Sermon #1: “Love Is a Verb!”
Scripture reading: 1 John 4:7-21
How do geese know where to go for the winter? What makes a dolphin leap from the water? How does a robin know how to construct a nest, or a spider a web, or a caterpillar a cocoon? If you drop a cat from a high height, how does it know to twist its body and spread its legs? In a word, instinct.
It’s not just animals that behave instinctually; humans do as well. How does a 5-minute old infant know to start sucking in order to eat? What causes us to ‘fight or flight’ in the face of danger? When we get bad news out of the blue, why is our first response almost always some level of denial? “No way! That can’t be true!” we might say.
God has built into creation many instinctual impulses for which we have no scientific explanation. It’s just the way it is. That’s how we’re wired.
There’s one particular human instinctual impulse that has tripped us up for as long as we’ve been around It’s the fact that God built into our spiritual DNA a natural longing for the perfect: a perfect love, a perfect happiness, a perfect contentment, and a perfect peace. Just as a baby comes into this world with an instinctual longing for a mother’s milk, so every human being is born with an instinctual longing for that which is perfect.
This longing for the perfect is reflected in one of the Scripture readings in my devotions this week. It regards the descendants of Moses’ brother Aaron. After God gave Moses the Law and the blueprints for the desert Tabernacle, he assigned Aaron to be their first high priest. And then God assigned the task of carrying on that priestly role to all of Aaron’s male descendants. They became the priests who performed the various sacrifices to God on behalf of the people.
So, here’s what this passage says:
The LORD said to Moses, Say to Aaron: None of your future descendants who have some kind of imperfection are allowed to…make an offering [to God]. This includes anyone who is blind, crippled, disfigured, or deformed; anyone who has a broken foot or hand; anyone who is a hunchback or too small; anyone who has an eye disease, a rash, scabs, or a crushed testicle. No descendant of Aaron the priest who has an imperfection will be allowed to offer the LORD’s food gifts since [they] have an imperfection” (Lev. 21:16-21).
On the surface, this is presented to the reader as a rule directly from God. “The LORD said to Moses, Say to Aaron…” One could certainly argue the case that this is exactly how it happened. God spoke, Moses heard, and someone wrote it down.
But there’s another school of thought about how regulations like this eventually found its way into the codified law, which is that the compliers of the law, including Moses himself, brought their own human biases and life experiences to the table. This would mean what they heard from God got filtered through these biases and life experiences. Kind of like how you and I “hear” God today. Distinguishing God’s voice from our own can be a tricky thing; it’s very easy to hear one’s own voice and attribute it to God. So it’s possible that in the case of regulating what qualifies a person to bring a sacrificial offering to God, what we get is a regulation points to a truth from God but also reflects a human perspective. And probably most often they weren’t even aware that that might have been happening.
Here’s how I see it. I think the regulation that only a physically perfect person is qualified to bring a sacrificial offering before the LORD reflects our human longing for the perfect. We believe God is perfect. And we naturally long for the perfect. And not wanting to bring an imperfect offering to a perfect deity, and believing that a perfect God would want the same, we set up a regulation that minimizes the possibility of this happening by saying that only a physically “perfect” person can stand before God with an offering on behalf of the people. Otherwise, they’re unacceptable to God – so says this line of thinking.
A moment ago I said that this particular instinctual impulse regularly trips us up. And that’s because even though we all consciously know for a fact that we’re not perfect, and that we’ll never be perfect in this life, the broken part of us condemns us for it. Self-condemnation is a plight common to all of us. Even the most overtly self-confident struggle with self-condemnation. And even the most spiritually astute and mature have to consciously monitor their own thoughts, because our default is to berate oneself for not being as good as we believe we should be.
There are some killer feelings out there that anyone of us is susceptible to experiencing if the situation is just right. Shame. Guilt. Disgrace. Remorse. Self-reproach. And beneath each of these is often the question, Does God still love me? It may be that someone who professes no faith couches the question a little differently, but the sentiment is the still same: Am I lovable?
I would say that asking that question is normal; in and of itself it’s not automatically a sign of a waning faith. The problem comes when we answer that question out of our human brokenness rather than God’s Word. That is, when we draw a conclusion about God based on our subjective feelings rather than standing on the objective truth of Scripture.
If I ask, “Does God love me?” and then look at my actions and thoughts as indicators of my worth, then it would be real easy to conclude that God doesn’t love me. Why? Because the part of me that longs after the perfect will try to twist the truth and lead me to believe that God only accepts perfection. So it only makes sense that God doesn’t love or accept me, because I know that I’m not perfect.
But that’s a lie. In fact, we might even say it’s the Big Lie. It’s the big lie that every single person has to grapple with in this life. And the good news is that the more time you spend in God’s Word, the more time you spend wrestling through your questions with the help of other Christians, the more time you spend worshipping God, the easier it gets to quiet that voice whenever it pops up.
What does God’s Word tell us?
1. God IS Love
It tells us that God is love. (1 John 4:16). Please don’t miss the significance of this proclamation. It doesn’t say, “God is loving,” although that’s true. It doesn’t say, “God loves,” although that’s true. It doesn’t even say, “God is the embodiment of love,” although that’s true as well, and probably comes closest to what it does say. The bold truth proclaimed in 1 John 4:16 is that God IS love.
To say that God and love are inseparable would true, but it does a disservice to the truth trying to be proclaimed. And that’s because to say that God and love are inseparable makes it sound like they two separate entities that just happened to be forever fused together. But the deeper truth is that God IS love, just as I, Drew Hart, AM human. Humanness is the very essence of my being. Love is the very essence of God’s being.
2. God created love
Scripture tells us that it’s God who created what we know and experience as “love” in this life. Which makes sense since is based in God’s very nature. You and I may feel love instinctually, and act it out by natural impulse, but it’s not man-made. 1 John 4:7 says, “Dear friends, let us love each other, because love is from God.” It’s from God who is love.
3. People can know God
If the love we know and experience is of God, then this is an indicator that people are able to personally know God. Verse 7 continues: “everyone who loves is born from God and knows God.” One of the foundational truths about human beings is that God created each of us in his image. So, if love is God’s nature, and we’re created in his image, then God’s love is built into our own human nature. And by virtue of the fact that God is love, and God’s love is built into our nature, then in a very real sense, the ability to personally know God is built into our human nature.
4. God loved us first
Our ability to love others, and even to love God, is a byproduct of God’s love being poured into us first. 1 John 4:10 – “This is love: not that we loved God but that he loved us.” It all starts with God’s love.
These four Scriptural truths lay the foundation for the last one I want to point out, which really gets to the heart of today’s message. God’s love in you—not just for you, but more importantly, in you—is the key to not getting tripped up by your longing for the perfect, especially when it leads to shame and guilt when you’re not living up to your own expectations.
Are you familiar with the biblical notion of Judgment Day? Both the Old Testament and New Testament point to a day in human history when every person ever created will face our Maker, and everything we said, did, thought, desired, etc. will be laid on the table before God, who will then make a ruling on our eternal existence. It’s a day of final reckoning. Jesus talked about it in Matthew 25, where he likened it to God separating the sheep from the goats.
On the surface, it should be a scary thing; we should lose sleep worrying about it. But here’s the good news: as followers of Jesus Christ we don’t have to lose a minute of sleep about Judgment Day. Here’s what John writes in today’s reading:
“God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. This is how love has been perfected in us, so that we can have CONFIDENCE on the Judgment Day, because we are exactly the same as God is in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out all fear, because fear expects punishment” (1 John 4:16-18).
Here’s the point: God’s love in us makes us perfect in his eyes. When Judgment Day does finally roll around, followers of Jesus Christ have nothing to fear, because in spite of our sin and imperfections, the Father will only see his perfect Son in us when we stand before him. Jesus Christ is our hope and our confidence.
We also have nothing to fear today because the same is true right now, in this moment. We are loved and accepted by God not because we’re perfect, but because we’re created out of his love and in his loving image. Nothing we can do or say or thing can change that fact.
Sure, feel free to ask the question, “Does God love me? Does he accept me for who I am?” But be sure to base your answer on what he tells us in his Word, which is that no matter what we do, he will always love us.
If ever you feel a cloud of shame or guilt beginning to hover over your spirit, drive it away by reminding yourself of this truth: God still loves me!