So great is the natural depravity of the human heart that some people find themselves being more pious than God. One example of this is Eve. When tempted to eat of the fruit of the tree, Eve replied that God had told her not to eat of it, but then she added, “neither shall ye touch it.”
“Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? 2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: 3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.” (Gen. 3:1-3)
Individuals have a tendency to add to God’s law in order to be more pious. Certainly the Pharisees did this, and by doing so added a great burden to the lives of people.
“For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” (Matt. 23:4)
Today, the tendency continues. There are religious structures that tell Christians they cannot drink any alcoholic beverage, including fermented wine. They cannot go to any movie, listen to certain forms of music. Christians are told to give seed faith money to a particular ministry, even when they cannot afford to do that.
Being more pious than God finds its most harm when we deny the grace of God in our lives believing that we are unworthy of His mercy. Instinctively individuals know they should suffer in some way. Shame and guilt tries to find forgiveness in acts of self-redemption. It is at that point Satan finds a way to take advantage of the situation.
The person with a sensitive soul begins to weep and mourn. Such a person thinks bad thoughts about themself. They pray, and ask God to forgive, only to confess they do not feel forgiven. They think their sin is too great for the grace of God. What really needs to be done, is to ask God to forgive them for not believing Him, and receiving His abounding grace to sinners. Read afresh the promise of God.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
The promise is given.
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chron. 7:14)
Christians become more pious than God when the Lord says, “I forgive you,” and the heart responds, “I am not worthy,” and then continues to wallows in shame, guilt, and remorse. The result of this false piety is a heavy burden of the heart’s own making.
Well-meaning ministers of the gospel sometimes encourage this false piety, by planting seeds of doubt in the soul. They do not want grace to be cheap. So questions are asked. “Is your repentance authentic?” “Is it deep enough?” “Have you done penance?” Other ministers are not so well meaning. They understand the value of guilt, and use it to manipulate people’s behavior, and control their lives.
In all of this, it is possible for a person to become angry, because they cannot feel forgiven. Many individuals cannot believe that God loves them. Their sin is too great. They are nothing more than a hypocrite. They have yet to behold the love the Father has bestowed on His own.
“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.” (1 John 3:1)
This is a breathtaking passage of Scripture for hurting hearts. The greatness of the grace of God is on display. God is saying something very significant to individuals. God is saying, “I love you.”
But not only does God declare His love, He demonstrates it in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, who died a violent death at Calvary so that sinners need never experience the ultimate wrath of God.
Because the wrath of God against sinners is satisfied, God is free to display His mercy to the point that souls are called the children of God, not because of how great they are, but because of how gracious God is.
Because it is hard for some to grasp the great grace of our great God, because it is hard for individuals to submit to love, and to rejoice in it. So theological constructs are developed. We say that God forgives us, but that forgiveness is different from His love.
With this theological construct in mind, a image comes to our hearts about the day of our death. We are taken into the heavenlies where we see Jesus Christ the righteous judge. There is a long line of people standing before Him. We take our place in line. When we get closer we see the Lord sitting behind a high bench in a white robe. A gavel is in His hand. Nearby is a stand on which the Book of Life is open. The Lord asks us how we plead. Because we know the Bible, we plead the blood of Jesus. The Lord agrees that our name is found in the Book of Life, and declares us, “Not guilty!” We are then free to walk around the bar of justice where we see the pearly gates. They are opened, and we walk through. It is all very legal and formal.
However, the text of 1 John 3:1 says something far greater. The Bible says that God loves us. And there is a picture of the love of God that is not formal, but tender. In the Biblical picture, there is no line to stand in. There is no bench to stand before. And the Judge does not sit on a high seat. Rather, He steps down from the bench, takes His robe and girds it up around His waist in order to run towards His child who is coming home. And when the Lord gets to us, He does not cry, “Not guilty!” Rather, He cries, “My child!” “My child!” God is not obligated to love individuals just because Jesus died for them. No. God loves individuals because He chooses to love. It is His good pleasure to love.
The love of God is not to be reduced to an intellectual assent on His part to be loving towards His creation. Does the Lord not give us daily bread? Does He not allow sinners to live? Yes, God is very loving. But the love of God is much deeper than that.
“The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.
When years of time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men, who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.”
Frederick Lehman, 1917
There is a sense in which it is true that God cannot love us as we are in our natural state, because the nature of man is altogether corrupt. God is a holy and righteous God, and so He cannot love that which is unrighteous.
However, before anyone despairs in that thought, hear this gospel truth. “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us so that, by being placed in Jesus, sins are covered, and the love of God is free to flow.” Let this gospel truth be grasped. While we were yet sinners Christ died for the ungodly. Herein is our hope.
“And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. 6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. 11 And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” (Rom. 5:5-11)
What God really loves about us, is that God loves Jesus in us. The believer shares a vital union with Christ so that the love the Father has for the Son of necessity, is extended to the person who is in Him. The love of God, for you, and for me, and for anyone who will come to Christ, and receive Him as Lord and Saviour, is real
Once the concept of the love of God is grasped, then the rest of our lives can be lived enhancing that love, for love deepens and grows with time and experience. Bill and Gloria Gather wrote a lovely chorus expressing this truth.
“Since I started for the kingdom
since my life He controls
since I gave my heart to Jesus
the longer I serve Him, the sweeter He grows
The longer I serve Him, the sweeter He grows,
the more that I love Him, more love He bestows.
Each day is like heaven, my hearts overflows,
the longer I serve Him, the sweeter He grows.
Ev’ry need He is supplying,
Plenteous grace He bestows;
Everyday my way gets brighter,
the longer I serve him, the sweeter He grows.”
Do you know the love of God? Have you experienced it personally, by faith in Jesus Christ? Would you like to know the love of God, and feel His love? Then call upon the name of the Lord. Bow your head and confess to God that you are a sinner in need of a Saviour. You have not loved Him, but you want to, and you want Him to love you in this very hour.
If that is the desire of your heart then be assured that God loves you, and that His love is eternal. “The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” (Jer. 31:3)