There is a popular meme going around on Facebook. It’s meant to challenge church teaching that requires us to change our behavior. It reads that “Religion says God will love us if we change. The Gospel says God’s love will change us.” I have to say at the outset, I hate memes. I’ve probably mentioned that before. Short little phrases like this tend to make us feel good, but we don’t really stop to think deeper. Today’s religion, at least most of the mainline denominations, doesn’t actually preach that God will love us if we change. They typically preach the other end of that incomplete message, God loves us just the way we are. The phrasing in this brings to mind that it is a critique of anyone who dares to preach a need for change in those who call themselves disciples of Christ. It reinforces that lopsided view of the Gospel. Yet, incomplete though the message is, the Gospel does indeed say God’s love will change us, among many other things.
What this message misses, as so many do, is the totality of God’s relationship to us. The truth is, God does indeed love us as we are. Which is why when we are chained in sin, His heart broke enough that Christ came to save us. He loves us so much that He is willing to do anything to save us from eternal separation from Him. But, the reason this is such a huge deal is something we truly do not comprehend. In all of creation, there is no being who actually knows us. There is no one who can see into our hearts and know the secrets we keep even from ourselves. There is no one who knows every thought and every action we have taken of every minute of our lives from before we were even born. There is no one who knows precisely what steps we need to take to get to our best good. There is no one, except God.
Think about that for a moment. And then think about this notion that God loves us just as we are and all the sound bite attitudes that leads to because we have such a shallow idea of love these days. “Don’t judge me.” “God made me that way.” “It might be right for you, but it’s not right for me.” “I have to do what I feel, and God will understand.” “I know I shouldn’t do that, but God will love me anyway.” We have so deluded ourselves about the very essence of love, particularly the holy kind of love that is God, that we actually believe our own excuses for bad behavior, and think we’ll be just fine with halfway. God knows better. Because there is more to the Gospel than God loves us just as we are, or that God’s love will change us, no matter how partially true those things may be. God SEES us exactly as we are, stained, murderous, rebellious. He does not celebrate that state, as we seem to think He does. He loves us in spite of those things. He loves us enough to offer us a life-line, a means to accept His help, and then the assistance we require to become holy.
And there’s the tricky part for we simple human beings who tend to focus on one little piece of something, particularly the pieces we like, instead of seeking to understand the whole. God sees exactly who and what we are. In order to help us, He substitutes His holiness for our sin so that we can accept the working of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in us to bring us into conformity with Christ, making us more holy. God’s love, if we truly accept it, leaves no room for “Don’t judge me.” It leaves no room for “God made me that way.” It rejects the very idea of “I have to do what I feel, and God will understand.” It leaves no room for the lies we tell ourselves, or one another, to make us easy in our sinful state. God’s love first convicts, or we would never seek His salvation and sanctifying grace. You cannot make the argument to God not to judge you, He is the Judge. You cannot hide behind God creating you the way you are, He is the Creator and He knows what He meant for you to be. You cannot live by what you feel, He is the truth, the life and the way.
More than that, He knows it will be hard. He knows that real love, not the pale reflection or the twisted parody we have made it, seeks the highest good of the object of that love. Only God actually knows what our highest good is, and if we accept His love, He will set about stripping away everything that does not fit with our highest good. Only God knows the plans He has for us, the timing for those plans and the paths He has laid out for us to take. His love will indeed change us, but I cannot say that this thought should bring us comfort if we are still stuck in a state of faith that has not moved past the idea that God does not expect us to change. Even for those who are fully grown in their faith, the giants of past generations who shaped the greatest revivals of history, that change is painful. It is a slicing of joint and marrow, and threshing of everything that is in us that is not of God. It is a reordering of the entirety of everything we have known in the world to line up with the Kingdom of God. It is being refined, as gold, by the Holy fire of Spirit until all that remains is that which is holy.
I don’t say all of that to put folks off. Because it is worth every agonizing step of the way, and Christ walks with us all along the path. There is no one on earth we can trust to always do exactly what is best for us, no other power that can grant us the promise of joy and peace that comes from the Holy Spirit. There is no thing on earth that will ever satisfy the longing for God we have in our hearts, no matter how hard we try. Christ tells us the kingdom of heaven is like a pearl of great price, worthy of selling everything we own in order to obtain it. It is worth being truly, fully, relentlessly loved. But, I worry for my brothers and sisters who are walking in the world today, steeped in the sound bite thoughts of modern theology. If our understanding of God’s love is based in our shallow emotions and increasingly disposable society, if we do not expect for the New Covenant to require sacrifice from us, as God moves to change us, we fall away. We reject those He sends to guide us because we don’t like what they have to say. We pick and choose what Scripture we like, or worse, try to make it say things it never did. In the end, we wind up following an idol of our own creation, that makes us feel comfortable in our state of sin. And Scripture tells us that sooner or later, that way leads to eternal death.
God loves us, even our most unforgivable parts. He desires to reconcile us to Him. He provided us the means to be reconciled and redeemed, in the Son and in the Spirit. But, His love is unchangeable and immovable, and He sets the terms of the Covenant. If we truly want God’s love to change us, we have to be willing to submit to Christ as Lord, follow His command, and be convicted and excused by the Holy Spirit. There is no short cut or easy way.
Pray always, and glorify the Lord.Tags: Absolute Truth, Acts of the Apostles, Baptism with the Holy Spirit, Christ, God, Grace, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Love, redemption, salvation