Two Ways to Rob God's Love of Its Power
Whenever we talk about the love of God, two dark tendencies in our hearts threaten, like thrives, to rob God's precious gift of all its power.
The first thieving attitude of the heart says, “Of course God loves me. No big deal. Why wouldn't he love me?” This robs God's love of its power by assuming that we are the kind of people who ought to be loved, or that we deserve God’s love, or that we are worthy of his love because of who we are, what we possess, or what we have done.
It should go without saying that when it comes to our relationship with God, words like “ought” and “deserve” and “worthy” only move in one direction (and it ain’t toward us). Our actions don’t make us worthy of anything from God. Nor does God owe us anything, as if we have put him in our debt somehow. God loves us because of who he is, not because of who we are.
It’s an important distinction, and we miss it at our own peril. Jesus did not die for us because we were lovely; he died in order to make us lovely. That is the difference between cheap grace and costly grace. Both agree that God's love is free to us, but only one recognizes that what is free to us cost God everything. As C.S. Lewis said, “It costs God nothing to create nice things: but to convert rebellious wills cost Him crucifixion.”
The good news that kills the first thief is this: we are loved by God—it’s true—but his is a love so costly that everyone who sees it can’t stop thanking God, can’t stop honoring him, and can’t stop responding to God with love for him and love for others. When we look on the cross of Jesus, that is what we ought to see: God’s amazing love, not our amazing worthiness. His love is amazing not because we deserved it, but precisely because we didn’t!
The second thieving attitude of the heart says, “There is no way that God could ever love me. I don't even love myself.” This thief robs God's love of its power by thinking that our sins are greater than Christ's ability to save.
And while it may sound humble or contrite to say, “There’s no way anyone could forgive me,” this is actually a false humility that is elevating our personal standards above God’s own. If God says that the sacrifice of Jesus is enough to forgive us, then we need not beat ourselves up anymore. His standards are infinitely higher than our own, and yet he says there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1).
This does not diminish the reality of ours sins, but it does increase our appreciation of God’s love. It enables us to see that our sins are very great indeed. We are more sinful and wicked than we ever dared to admit to anyone, even ourselves. But we also see that in Christ, we are more loved and accepted than we ever dared to hope. Both are true at the same time, and this is the good news that kills the second thief.
What this means is this: the more you see your own sins for what they are, the more precious and electrifying and powerful God’s love will be to you. As Jesus tells us, “Whoever is forgiven of much, loves much.” And this is why Martin Luther said, “Let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.” This is why the apostle Paul says, “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus or Lord.”