Thursday, August 20, 2015

Have Faith in God's Love

This is the third post I have published recently about God's love for us.

A source of strength for the Church and its individual members is joy in God's salvation. "...Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10). "Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit" (Psalm 51:12). Without that joy, we can become discouraged in our efforts to overcome sin.

But that joy is hindered if we doubt God's love, perhaps because of trials or unanswered prayers.

Yet the Bible is clear that God loves us, though He tests us and corrects us with trials.

To be effective in overcoming sin and doing God's work, we need to trust God's love for us, His commitment to us, His faithfulness to us, and His power to help us, not only towards us collectively as the Church of God, but towards each one of us individually.

God can afflict us, or allow us to be afflicted, for several reasons. He can chastise us to correct us for our good. As a loving father punishes his son to teach lessons and to correct faults, so God sometimes inflicts punishment on us to teach us lessons and to motivate us to turn from our sins. This can occur whether we know we have the sin or not. Trials often cause us to examine ourselves more deeply, and God can use trials to help us see faults we never knew we had.

This can be very humbling. It is humbling to acknowledge to God and ourselves that we are being justly punished for our faults. It can be humbling to let fear of further punishment be a motivation for us to repent. Yet God does use fear of punishment as a motivator, and we should accept that. "Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known" (Deuteronomy 11:26-28). "But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the fruit of your body and the produce of your land, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. The Lord will send on you cursing, confusion, and rebuke in all that you set your hand to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, because of the wickedness of your doings in which you have forsaken Me" (Deuteronomy 28:15-20).

"Let all the earth fear the Lord; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him" (Psalm 33:8). "Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and depart from evil" (Proverbs 3:7). "In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity; And by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil" (Proverbs 16:6).

"Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, 'See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you' " (John 5:14). "And Jesus answered and said to them, 'Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish' " (Luke 13:2-5). "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:29-30).

"But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!" (Luke 12:5)

And when we are punished for a fault, we should take it patiently. "And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: 'My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.' If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed" (Hebrews 12:5-13).

"You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you" (Deuteronomy 8:5).

Suffering patiently can be hard to do when the punishment is greater than we think the fault warrants or when it is prolonged longer than we think it should. "I have repented, so why does this trial continue?", we might think. But God knows better than we do how long the trial should last or how severe it should be to drive the lesson home, and we have to trust Him and have faith in His wisdom and love to do what is best for us. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). This also is humbling. Our human nature wants control. Our carnal nature does not want to trust God to control our lives. But if we are to be prepared for the Kingdom of God, we must be like Christ, and we must submit ourselves to the Father's will without resentment or complaint (Luke 22:41-42).

But another possible reason is simply to test our faith. A trial is not always a punishment or correction for a fault. Sometimes the righteous are tested with trials to test and strengthen their faith. Job suffered a severe and prolonged trial, but it was not a punishment for his sin but rather a test of his faith in God's righteousness (Job 2:3-10, 27:1-6, 32:1, 33:8-12, 34:5-12, 36-37). Eventually he learned a lesson from that, and his faith in God's righteousness was increased. He learned the lesson that God was more righteous than he was (Job 35:1-3, 42:1-6).

Abraham's faith was tested when he was commanded to sacrifice his son. This was a severe trial for him. Imagine the turmoil in his mind. God gave him no explanation, so he may have thought, "what did I do wrong?" (Genesis 22:1-3). Yet, it worked out for good in the end, for by passing the test, Abraham qualified unconditionally for the blessings God would give him (Genesis 22:10-18).

This is why Peter said, in reference to the trial of our faith, "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:6-7). Our faith is precious to God, but it must be tested, and if we pass the test, it will be strengthened.

Sometimes doubts may come into our minds about God's love for us individually. We may think, "God loves the Church and the world, but not every individual and not me individually", or "God may love me, but not very much or He would answer my prayers". But that is not what God says about Himself. The Bible is full of instruction that God is a God of mercy and love.

"He who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:8). "And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16). God can't make a stronger statement about His love for us than that. He IS love.

The sacrifice of Christ is a statement about God's love. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). "For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:7-8).

"For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

And God's love is for every individual. "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

When God described Himself to Moses, He stressed His mercy. "Now the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, 'The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation' " (Exodus 34:5-7).

God LOVES mercy. " 'But let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,' says the Lord" (Jeremiah 9:24).

"Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever" (Psalm 136:1). That statement, "His mercy endures forever", is repeated 26 times in this Psalm!

"The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him" (Psalm 103:8-13).

"Sing praise to the Lord, you saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning" (Psalm 30:4-5). "Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful" (James 5:11).

Of course, if we want God to be merciful towards us, we have to be merciful towards others. We need to love our neighbors and we need to forgive those who sin against us. "And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself' " (Matthew 22:39). "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15). "For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13). Also see Matthew 18:23-35 and Matthew 25:31-46.

Yet, in understanding and trusting God's love, there may be one problem. The problem is not with God, but with us. We may not believe God's promises. We may not trust God to love us as He says He will. In other words, we may need more faith.

God can reaffirm His love for us in the Bible over and over, but that doesn't reassure us or give us joy if we doubt His word.

And doubting God's love for us because of trials, in spite of God's assurance in the Bible, can be spiritually dangerous. When we do that, we are doubting God's faithfulness and motives, and we may be arousing His anger by imputing wrong motives to Him in our minds. We can risk being like ancient Israel in the wilderness. "Nevertheless you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God; and you complained in your tents, and said, 'Because the Lord hates us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us' " (Deuteronomy 1:26-27). "Yes, they spoke against God: They said, 'Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? Behold, He struck the rock, so that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed. Can He give bread also? Can He provide meat for His people?' Therefore the Lord heard this and was furious; So a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel, because they did not believe in God, and did not trust in His salvation" (Psalm 78:19-22).

We have to believe that God loves us. We have to exercise faith.

And that starts with a decision and a commitment to God to believe and rely on His word and His promise to love us. It is a matter of attitude. Trusting and believing in God's love is the opposite of the attitude of complaining and grumbling against God in our minds and thoughts (even when we do not speak them out loud).

We have to trust God that God loves us and He knows what He is doing. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5). "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9). "Meanwhile the word of the Lord had come to Jeremiah while he was shut up in the court of the prison, saying, 'Go and speak to Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, saying, "Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: '...I will deliver you in that day,' says the Lord, 'and you shall not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are afraid. For I will surely deliver you, and you shall not fall by the sword; but your life shall be as a prize to you, because you have put your trust in Me,' " ' " (Jeremiah 39:15-18).

We need to have faith in God's love. For the Bible stresses faith in Christ and His sacrifice, and that sacrifice is the greatest and most compelling statement God can make to express His love towards us (Romans 3:21-26).

We need to believe God's promises, believe in His love for each one of us individually, and trust Him to see us through all our trials, physical, emotional, and spiritual. We can then have joy in God's salvation (Psalm 51:12), and that can give us more strength to overcome our sins and finish God's work.

No matter what our trials, no matter how severe they are, how many they are, or how prolonged they are, we need to keep the big picture in mind, which is this: God has all wisdom and all power, and He has promised us eternal life in His Kingdom if we stay the course and submit to Him. And once this physical life is over and we are in His Kingdom, none of the suffering of the trials of this life will matter.

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).

Believe in God's love, and trust in His mercy towards each one of us.

Here are links to posts in this blog also related to the subject of this post, God's love for us:

"Why Did Christ Have to Suffer and Die?", dated March 21, 2013, link:

"Give God Thanks", dated November 27, 2013, link:

"Don't Demand Old Covenant Blessings if You Are under the New Covenant", dated December 8, 2013, link:

"God's Love for Us", dated July 17, 2015, link:

"Christ's Love for the Church", dated July 27, 2015, link:

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Passover -- the Sacrifice of Christ, Chapter 2

God's Purpose for Mankind, Chapter 2

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