“Do you have your receipt?” This question is a part of our daily life. We make purchases, and we keep up with our receipts—especially when the items are costly.
I’m afraid that we often apply responsible consumer practices to our spiritual relationship with God. As our circumstances change, we can sense a greater or lesser experience of God’s love. Seasons of temptation can lead us to think God has forsaken us, while times of abundant blessing may convince us that God loves us, and ordinary days can make us doubt the vitality of his love. We may be tempted to believe that how we feel and what we do can affect God’s love for us. And in seasons of encroaching darkness and despair, we might wonder if God is reconsidering his purchase.
Did he keep the receipt?
God’s love for you precedes Christ dying for you.
I remember a stage in my Christian experience when I felt the need to qualify many things that I said so that friends around me didn’t correct everything I said. Anticipating the theological anvil getting dropped on my foot, I’d quickly add parenthetical comments to dot the proper i’s and cross the requisite t’s. One day I remember saying that God loved me, and then before I could punctuate the sentence, I completely let the air out of the balloon by footnoting the statement with more qualifiers than the Mishnah. At about the same time, I was reading John Owen’s Communion with the Triune God and found Owen’s reminder helpful. He reminds his readers that the God who is love (1 John 4:8) sent Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins (v.10). This love for his people is antecedent to the sending and purchase of Christ. God loves his people before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4ff).
Swish the gospel tonic around in your mouth, without the dilution of qualification.
The reality of the gospel reminds us that this love is undeserved; it’s unmerited (Rom. 5:7–8). It also does not teach that Jesus convinced the Father to love us. Instead, Jesus comes to seek and save sinners like you and me, precisely because the Father loves us. Swish the gospel tonic around in your mouth, without the dilution of qualification. Passages like John 3:16 are all the more staggering when you do.
God loves you, not merely a future version of you.
The Scripture was undoubtedly written for people like you and me, people with gospel amnesia. We can preach sola gratia and sola fide all day long to those who don’t know Christ, but when it comes to living out our Christian experiences, we can slide into an unhealthy theology of works-righteousness.
We know how this goes.
When we feel the sting of sin and shame of its guilt, we can hide from God. Like our first parents, we stand behind the fig leaves of business, distraction, and even religious activity. We are content to hide behind this mirage until we burn off the spiritual calories of our self-indulgence. Like eating pizza or ice cream after a good workout, time with God can only be enjoyed after adequately after personal sacrifice.
This often happens because we believe the lie that God doesn’t love us now—in our weakness—but instead in the future, more godly version of ourselves.
This is gospel amnesia. Remember the truth of the gospel? How did this whole thing go down?
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:6–8)
Isn’t this amazing? God loves us in our weakness, unrighteousness, sinfulness, and status as an enemy (Rom. 5:10). God will certainly make us more like Christ, but his love for us is shown in how it began (while we were lost), how it works itself out (sanctifying us), and how it culminates (glorification). God loves his people right now—at whatever stage of sanctification they are. And he delights in bringing us home. God loves us to the end.
Jesus doesn’t keep the receipt for those whom he has purchased, because he doesn’t make mistakes. His love remains infinite, eternal, and unchanging. Love like this overflows and submerges our doubts and puny conceptions of it. What’s left to do but receive it, rest in it, and return it to him in joyful delight?