“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
– 1 John 4:9-10, NKJV, emphasis mine –
Sometimes, when I’m not sufficiently humbled, God awakens me to just how much His reminders strike to the core of my beliefs.
It was a revelation to me, simple as it is, that what God tells us in His Word is not just a quaint collection of rules and promises with no connection to me.
Instead, I began to see that each tale of the disciples was confronting my faithlessness. The ordeal of Martha’s busyness was meant to bring me to a halt and consider my own reckless hurrying. Peter’s misstep in the Galilee waters shows me my own tendency to look at the towering waves rather than the powerful Wave-Maker.
So when I heard again a familiar verse in 1 John, I heard something new this time.
Love is like this, John says: Not that we loved God, but He loved us.
John ought to know, from three years eating and sleeping and talking and leaning on the chest of Love Himself.
He knows what Love is—Love is a God who put on skin and put eternal vision into two human eyes and limitless power into two rough carpenter hands. Who had a God-sized task and embraced it in the frame of a human man, had a journey only the Ancient of Days could make and walked down that path with only two dusty feet.
And just so I—so we—don’t forget, John writes this verse in the fourth chapter: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Propitiation is the Greek word hilasmόs. Not just a payment, or a reconciling, but a sacrifice that makes us friends. That is what His coming to die did—brought near those who were far off. Brought us into abiding, by the High Priest offering Himself as the spotless Lamb. (From Zodhiates’ Hebrew Greek Key Study Bible.)
Aren’t we tempted to think highly of our own love? The thoughts lurk at the edges of our minds—“Isn’t God so lucky to have such a loving child like me?”
And His coming—that, for sure, wasn’t because we loved Him so much that He could not resist coming for a visit!
What kind of love is this that picks out the most worthless, despised, hating creatures and says, “I want them”?
When the sparks fly from our eyes in our loathing, that’s when He loves us.
I wrote in desperation once, tears brimming, because of a young friend who was shouting in the next room, in total flagrant rejection of the cross-life, the Jesus life:
“I stand, inside-aching and wanting to scream prayers to heaven because this kid is hell-bent and doesn’t even care. How I can watch a soul rot right before me?
“I hate my life!” my friend finally shouted.
I half-wonder why the kid doesn’t just proclaim hate for everyone else too and get it out there. Because the self-consuming is blazed in red across angry cheeks and spits out in recoiling disrespect.
The back and forth of two counselors rip the child into a seat, say to sit up straight, try to crush out the unreal world-lust dreams with reality. And the kid’s middle-of-them words split up between their shouts and the child’s so sick angry.
I’m sick too, torn, worn of all the masking, now coming out oozing filth and hell-rage. Can’t deny how sickening a stench folly has.
I feel like the devil is arm-wrestling for a soul and he’s winning.
Oh, Savior, that everlasting arm! You have strength to save, to turn a heart of stone into flesh.
Please, interpose that blood! Please strike conviction into a heart so hard I can’t fathom, yet have a deep clenching that I could have been that too. Once I was, too.
I bite my lip, draw away from conflict that rips my heart. I want to keep crying to heaven for help for one world-lover of a child who has lived hell so long that heaven is despised. Who is so blind that godliness is disgust and a sin-wreck of a life is lusted after.
How, dear Father, Abba, is a soul so dead that it hates life? How is a beggar so blind that it spits at the Healer who could heal darkness-seared eyes with one touch? How is a child so deaf that it gnashes its teeth at the idea of a Song?
How did I not see the desperation before?
I hurt at the darkness—it chokes me, makes me cling to a Savior who gave grace to pull me out of this mire.
Don’t forsake this child now, Great God. Please, please, intervene. Please bring Your arm into this match and bring Satan to his knees. Please force the darkness to tremble, the life-chewing cancer of sin to remit.”
In another room, I wrote furiously, praying with so much pain that I marveled. Before, how had I not seen how deep our disgusting stain penetrates?
How had I never seen the desolate death exuded by my own heart, how desperately wicked I was? I knew that my heart depths were not any cleaner than that of the friend screaming a room over.
But there is a difference.
I’ve been washed.
I’ve been justified.
I’ve been sanctified, am being sanctified.
And the promised glorification is just a few heartbeats away—who knows how many but God?
So in remembering the defiant shouts of a so-lost friend, I see what Love is.
That a God would die for the rabble that shouts for His death.
That Jehovah would heal those whose hearts are decayed with sickness and touch lepers and make them fit to sit at His table.
That my Jesus would see me floundering in the blood of willful rejection and would wash me spotless and wrap me in His own robe. To be white-clothed in righteousness I could never earn, never even desire without Him.
So I see now, what a fool I am when I think my love is something to brag about.
“By Your perfect sacrifice, I’ve been brought near, Your enemy You’ve made Your friend.
Pouring out the riches of Your glorious grace, Your mercy and Your kindness know no end.
Your blood has washed away my sin. Jesus, thank You.
The wrath of God completely satisfied. Jesus, thank You.
Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table. Jesus, thank You.”
– “Jesus, Thank You” by Pat Sczebel –
So, not that we loved God.
But He loved us. Loved us.
Can you believe it? Us. Guilty, vile, helpless (from the hymn “Hallelujah, What a Savior”).
Our guilt, shame—it’s not for us to dwell on now, to return like a pig to wallow in it.
We remember so we can bless God for pulling us out of the mire.
To try to wrap our heads around redeeming love.
And then go on our way and sin no more.
And put on display to a pitch-black world the Love that will never let us go.
To go and do likewise.
“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us,
that we should be called children of God!”
– 1 John 3:1, NKJV –