Does God Love You?
I am incredibly excited that this week is the week of the release of my brand new book, The Great Love of God: Encountering God’s Heart for a Hostile World. Now, this is the first book I have released in something like seven years. Before I came to Jacksonville before I became the pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, writing was a regular part of my life. I don’t know exactly how many, but I was writing something like a book a year. I loved to write, I love to write. It was one of my favorite ways of doing the ministry of teaching that the Lord has given me. But when I came to First Baptist, and certainly when I became senior pastor, just a number of things started to happen. First of all, I became the pastor of a wonderful church full of remarkably delightful people who love Jesus and love the Bible and love their community. But there were just a lot of structural problems at the church. We just had a lot of problems. The facilities had not been taken care of. There were all sorts of staff problems we had about double the staff that we needed. There just had to be all of these changes made to the ministry. Property had to be sold. They were layoffs. These changes were hard. They were painful. And whenever you change things in a church, it just creates other problems. You have to make the changes, you can’t allow yourself to go bankrupt, but it just creates other problems.
Because you have to take away things that people liked, you have to remove things that made people happy. Most people responded to that really well. But there was a group of people who were just mean. They were nasty; they were hateful. They said things about me, to me online, in my face, behind my back, everywhere you can imagine things that were not true, things that were cruel, things that were demeaning and degrading, and just sinful. It wreaked havoc in my life, wreaked havoc on me, it did damage to my wife and to my kids. It was terrible. While all that was going on, I was also having nerve trouble in my brain that ultimately required four surgeries to fix, and so between trouble at church and trouble with Christians and trouble in my brain, I just wasn’t able to write anything. I was doing good to keep my head above water. In fact, I had several book contracts back in those days that I called the publisher and just said, hey, I need to get out of these. I can’t imagine being able to write these books right now. And on the other side of this trouble, I don’t know that I’ll even want to write these books that I’m under contract for. So I backed away from writing to focus on my church to focus on my health, to focus on my family. And a couple of years ago, as things started to calm down, as we fixed the problems with the church, praise the Lord. As things started to calm down, as my health started to improve, there was space in my life to write again, and I wanted to write about the single most significant thing that I discovered in those really difficult years in those really horrible years of hardship. The most dramatic reality that I encountered was the great love of God. And so I wrote this book to tell you a little bit about my experience, but more about what I discovered about God’s love to us to people who don’t deserve his love to people who need his love. And this week on the podcast, I want to talk about a question that has everything to do with God’s great love, and it’s the question that, sooner or later, any thoughtful person needs to have. And that’s the question, does God love me? Does God love you?
God Loves Because of Who He Is
I want to give two answers to that. Two answers to that that are similar but move in different directions. I want to talk to you. If you are wondering if God loves you. Maybe that’s an ultimate question in your life, and you’ve never been able to figure it out. And you don’t know where you think God doesn’t like you. I also want to address this question to you if you thought you had it figured out. But maybe there’s something going on in your life right now, some hardship, some difficulty, that makes you really wonder if God truly does love you. Whoever you are, and whatever the nature of that question is in your life. I want to try to answer it for you in a few ways on the podcast and then point you to this book coming out this week. It releases tomorrow, Tuesday, April 4th, for a fuller treatment of this. But if you wonder if God loves you, the first thing I want to say to you is yes, God loves you because of who he is. In 1 John 4:8, we read that “God is love.” God loves you because of who he is. God doesn’t love you first because of who you are. God doesn’t love you at all because of what you have done or not done. God loves you because it’s his nature to love. God is love, and because God is love, that means God does not know how to do anything other than love. And so before you know anything about yourself, you can know that God loves you because of who he is. That’s the words of the Apostle John in his first letter, but the Apostle John helps us answer the question in a different way to you can know that God loves you because of who he is.
But you can also know that God loves you because of who you are. This is the idea. And the Gospel of John 3:16, in the world’s most famous verse of the Bible, says, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” So listen, God loves you because of who you are. Now I want to be careful. I just said a moment ago that God loves you not because of who you are but because of who he is. And that is true. God’s love springs from his character. It isn’t drawn out of him by who you are, but who you are, has something to do with it. Because God is love, it’s his nature to love you. And John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world.” Now, the world doesn’t mean the globe of the Earth that we see in pictures of the Earth from outer space. It’s not; he doesn’t love this, this celestial body. What it means that God so loved the world is that he loves the people who are in the world, all of the billions of people who make up the population of the world presently, and extending all the way back into the past. God loves the world. If you are in the world, then God loves you. So because you are in the world because you are alive as the creation of God and because God is love, then yes, he loves you.
Do You Love God?
But we need to say more than that. Those passages I read that are at 1 John 4 and John 3:16. They don’t just stop with God being love, and with God loving you. John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. When you flip back over to 1 John 4:8, it says, “God is love in this. The love of God was made manifest among us.” Okay, so God’s love is a thing. What is it? How do we see it? God’s love was made manifest among us, that God sent his only son into the world so that we might live through him. God loves you so much that he sends his son Jesus Christ to live and to die and to rise, and when you look at that work of Jesus, you see love. When you believe in that love, you get what the Apostle Paul calls in Ephesians 2 great love, the great love of God that saves you from hell and gives you life with God forever, who is love. So does God love you? You better believe he does. It says nature to love. He doesn’t know how to do anything else but love you. He has made you. You are part of his creation. You are part of the world that Jesus came to save. And so the question is not does God love you? The question is, do you love God? And you must turn from your sin and trust in the love of God in Jesus Christ and be a participant of the great love of God.