What’s so good about God’s love?
God’s love is something we sing about, hear about, and read about all the time. We are maybe even sometimes at risk of reducing God’s love to mere sentimentality – good for giving me an emotional pick me up until I get around to the more practical and concrete things in life again. Easter is maybe the time to remember – the love of God expressed in the death of Jesus Christ on that cross two thousand years ago is about more than a feel-good moment for us today, it is the most decisive, transformative, and “practical” event in human history.
God’s love was active – meaning he took the initiative. God does not love passively. Jesus did not come like a well-wisher hoping we would all feel a little bit better. Jesus is not like those relatives you see once a year, who have to occasionally feign an interest in the goings-on of your life. God’s love is not another opinion telling you to look on the positive side of things – or trying to show you how to think more positive thoughts. Jesus loved you passionately, heroically, and actively.
He took the initiative. Jesus did not die just to change the way you feel (about yourself or about the world), or to show you how to love people better (sometimes called the moral influence theory of atonement). He died to save you. To effect a change in your life. To move you from a category called “dead in your transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) and “by nature deserving wrath” (Ephesians 2:3) and move you to a category called, “alive in Christ” (Ephesians 2:5). That is the movement we make by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8) and it is what Jesus died to accomplish in your life.
And really, how could God’s perfect love work in any other way? Author and theologian John Stott shares the following example, “If you were to drop off the end of a pier and drowned, or dash into a burning building and be burnt to death, and if your self-sacrifice had no saving purpose, you would convince me of your folly, not your love. . . just so the death of Christ on the cross cannot be seen as a demonstration of love in itself, but only if he gave his life to rescue ours.”
Imagine this - you are at the beach with your family, and you look over at your kids playing and enjoying themselves in the sand. In that moment, you are so overcome with love for them that you run to the end of the pier and drown yourself in the lake to leave them with an example of your love. Does that sound like love? No, that’s folly. And if you run into a burning building in the very least you better be saving a cat, because otherwise that’s folly too.
The point is Jesus’ love is not passive, it is not just to make you feel better, it is not just to leave an example for you to love better and try harder. It actually, literally, saves you. It is an active, effective, and goal-driven love. To make a way when there was no way.
We all at one point in our lives tied ourselves to the tracks and were waiting for the freight train of God's wrath to obliterate us. We did this intentionally and callously. We did this with mirth in our mouths and self-delusion in our hearts. And yet while we were sinners, he loved us. Jesus stood in the way. He was struck by the train and died, but stopped it and rendered it motionless. You were, “by nature deserving wrath” and Jesus ensured that wouldn’t happen.
The love of the cross is not vague or ethereal. It is not about vague hope, but concrete forgiveness. It is not just about the people “out-there” who bother you, but the monster inside of you. It is not a fairy tale, or a nice sentimental story we remember to have a little pick-me-up in an often-dreary world, but it is the most decisive moment in human history and in the lives of all who place their faith in Jesus. There is nothing as practical. No act so perfectly designed to reach down to the depths of your soul and up to the heights of heaven.
And, wonder of wonders, this all took place “While we were still sinners.” While you were at your worst. At that moment Jesus loved you.
At that moment. At your worst moment. That moment you said those words you wish you could take back. That moment of anger when you blew up at your kids. That missed opportunity when, in truth, you were too ashamed of Jesus to mention his name. That time you wounded a friend you can’t get back. That moment you closed your laptop screen and wished you could rewind time. That mistake that has been haunting you and that source of guilt that you carry. At that moment Jesus loved you.
At that moment God’s love expressed in Jesus’ death on the cross was coming for you. You did not have to make yourself right or clean up, fix your hair, or make something of yourself first. Jesus loved you even when you were “dead in your transgressions and sin.” Jesus was pursuing you when you were at your worst, and he will keep on coming for the worst of you.
How can I know this? How can you be assured of this? How can you know he loves you at your most shameful, and when you feel the most dirty? Because he already proved it. Romans 5:8 says Jesus’ death is all the proof we need to be assured of God’s intense love for us. This is not the story of an angry Father who got really mad and had to be beat his son up (as teaching about the cross has sometimes been caricatured). This is the story of a passionate loving Father who sent his Son, Jesus, to take on flesh and to die in our place, receiving our punishment, so we could receive life and be “alive in Christ.” And we get to spend all of eternity celebrating how good God’s love really is.
This article was originally published in The Recorder, Vol 59 no. 2