The God Who is There: Part 9 – The God Who Loves

John 3:16-21

Listen or read the following transcript from The Gospel Coalition as D. A. Carson speaks on the topic of Biblical theology from John 3:16-21.

Hello again. My name is Don Carson. In this session, I want to reflect a little on The God Who Loves. Some people think of God as an impersonal life force. Others think of him as a transcendent but distant deity who could not possibly be interested in the nitty-gritty of our little lives, still less actually love us. Others think of him as a sweet-spirited, super-grandfather figure whose main aim is to spoil us.

In fact, what the Bible says about God’s love is rich. It’s evocative, diverse, powerful, humbling, subtle, and utterly life transforming. Indeed, the Bible goes so far as to insist that the love Christians ought to have for each other should mirror and be part of the internal love life within God himself, as mind-boggling as the comparison seems to be.

While the love we have for fellow human beings who are not believers and who may, in some cases, be bitter enemies must reflect the love of God who sends his sun and his rain upon the just and the unjust alike, upon those who praise him and those who hate him. If there is any place in this series where I wish I could have taken time to expand one session to 10 or 20, this is it. What this talk provides is the merest introduction to one of the grandest themes found in all the Bible. This is The God Who Loves.

In a few moments, I am going to read the next verses in the same chapter we looked at in the first hour. That is, John, chapter 3, but picking up from verse 16. Before we do that, I want to talk a little more generally about love of God. For if there is one thing that our world thinks it knows about God (if our world believes in God at all), it’s that he is a loving God.

That has not always been the case in human history. Many people have thought of the gods as pretty arbitrary, mean-spirited, and malicious. That’s why you have to placate them. Sometimes in the history of the church, there has been more emphasis on God’s terror or his sovereignty or his holiness (all of which themes are biblical in some degree or another, some massively so) than on his love.

But today if people believe in God at all, they find it, by and large, easy to believe in God’s love. Yet with this being comfortable with the notion of the love of God has also come some fairly spongy notions of what love means. Occasionally, you’ll find somebody saying, “It’s Christians I don’t like. I mean, God is love. If everybody were just like Jesus, it would be wonderful. Jesus said, ‘Judge not, that you be not judged.’ If we could all just be non-judgmental and loving the way Jesus is loving, then the world would be a better place. Those Christians are so mean.”

Now there’s a certain kind of assumption there about the nature of love, isn’t there? It’s non-judgmental. It doesn’t condemn anybody. It lets everybody do whatever they want. That’s what love means. It’s true that sometimes Christians, God help us, are mean! It’s true that Jesus said, “Do not judge, that you be not judged.” But did he really mean by that, “Do not make any morally discriminating judgment”? Is that what he meant?

Why then does he give so many injunctions about telling the truth? Doesn’t that stand as an implicit judgment on liars, about loving your neighbor as yourself? That’s an implicit judgment on those who don’t. About loving God with heart and soul and mind and strength? That too is a condemnation of those who don’t.

In fact, in the very text where Jesus says, “Do not judge, lest you be judged,” he goes on to say just five verses later, “Do not cast your pearls before swine,” which means somebody has to figure out who the pigs are. In other words, when Jesus says something as important as, “Judge not that you be not judged,” there are always contexts. He is an astonishingly moral figure.

If what people think “Judge not, that you be not judged” means is that Jesus is abolishing all immorality and leaving it all up to you, they haven’t even begun to understand who Jesus is. Jesus does condemn the kind of judgment that is judgmental, self-righteous, hypocritical. He condemns that repeatedly and roundly. There is no way on God’s green earth he is condemning moral discernment and priority.

That means when we think of God’s love, we need to think of God’s other attributes too: God’s love (true) and his holiness (I will say more about that a little later in the series), his truthfulness, his glory (his manifestation of his spectacular being and loveliness; we’ll say more about that yet). But precisely because our culture finds it relatively easy to believe that God is a God of love, in fact, I think we have developed some pretty spongy notions of love.

The little book that was mentioned earlier (The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God) tries to lay out, amongst other things, five different ways the Bible speaks of the love of God. Let me run through them very quickly. These are probably not the only ways, but at least five different contexts in which the Bible dares to speak of the love of God.

1. There is love of God within the Godhead.

The love of the Father for his Son and the love of his Son for the Father. Later on, we’ll see this extends to the Spirit. I really haven’t mentioned much about the Spirit yet. There’s more to come. John’s gospel, for example, (the fourth book in the New Testament) says the Father loves the Son and commends everything into his hand.

The Father loves the Son and has determined that all should honor the Son even as they honor the Father. Explicitly, the Father loves the Son. We’re told explicitly the Son loves the Father and always does whatever pleases him. In fact, Jesus, just before going to the cross, says, “The world must know that I love the Father and always do what pleases him.” In the context, what pleases him is that Jesus should go to the cross on our behalf.

Why Jesus goes to the cross is, first of all, because he loves his Father and does his Father’s will. This love in the Godhead (people call it intratrinitarian love; if God can be referred to as the Trinity, then it’s love amongst the members of the Godhead) is perfect. Each one who is loved is lovely.

It’s not as if the Father says to the Son, “Frankly, you really are a hopeless case, but I love you anyway.” The Son is perfectly lovely, and the Father is perfectly lovely, and they love each other perfectly. That’s one way the Bible speaks of God’s love.

2. God’s love can be cast in a kind of providential setting.

God sends, we’re told, his sun and his rain upon the just and upon the unjust. That is to say it is providential and non-discriminating. It is an amoral love. Not an immoral love but an amoral love. He sustains both.

In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus can use that fact to say, “If God can send his sun and his rain upon the just and the unjust, then you shouldn’t make all these fine, fine, fine distinctions about who your friend is and who your enemy is and only love your friends and hate your enemies.” So there is a sense in which God’s love can extend so generously to friend and foe alike. That’s another context. Another way the Bible speaks of God’s love is this.

3. Sometimes it speaks of God’s love in a kind of moral, inviting, commanding, yearning sense.

You find God addressing Israel in the Old Testament when the nation is particularly perverse, saying, “Turn, turn, why would you die? The Lord has no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” He is that kind of God. He invites. We’ll discover here in a moment God so loved the world. But there’s a one. It’s not another kind of love; it’s a kind of speech, a way of talking about God’s love.

4. Sometimes God’s love is elective.

It is choosing. It is frankly discriminating. It chooses one and not another. “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Very, very strong language. In the remarkable passages in Deuteronomy 7 and Deuteronomy 10 … That’s the fifth book of the Old Testament. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. In chapters 7 and 10, God raises the rhetorical question, “Why did he choose the nation of Israel?” He ticks off the possibilities.

“Because you’re more numerous?” Nope. “Because you’re more mighty?” Nope. “Because you’re more righteous?” Nope. “He set his affection on you,” the text says, “because he loved you.” That is, he loved you because he loved you. In that context, this is why he chose Israel. It’s not, “And he loved all the other nations just the same.” In the context, he set his affection on Israel as opposed to the other nations because he loved them. It’s a sovereign choice. That’s another way the Bible speaks of God’s love. Then there’s still one more.

5. Sometimes once God is in connection, in covenant, in a kind of family connection, in an agreement connection, with his own people, then his love becomes quite conditional.

Thus, for example, the second-to-last book of the Bible, a little one-page book called Jude finds Jude (the half-brother of Jesus) writing, “Keep yourselves in the love of God,” which shows that you might not keep yourself in the love of God. There’s a moral dimension to it all.

Indeed, there are a lot of passages in both testaments where Jesus’ love for us is, in some sense, conditional on our obedience. Even in the Ten Commandments we saw words like this. He shows his mercy to generation after generation of those who love him and keep his commandments. There is a context in which the Bible can speak of God’s love in conditional terms.

Do you see how subtle that is, because you start asking “How do you put all this stuff together?” But after you get over the first shock, you see that it can’t be all that difficult, because we speak this way even of human love, don’t we? I mean, I could say with a straight face, “I love riding my motorcycle, I love woodwork, and I love my wife.” But if I put all three together in the same sentence too often, my wife will not be pleased, because they are really quite different contexts, aren’t they? They really have different weight.

Again, I can say, “I believe (so help me God) I love my children unconditionally.” I have a daughter in California who works with disadvantaged kids. If instead she became a hooker on the streets of LA, I think I’d love her anyway. She is my daughter. I love her unconditionally. I have a son who is a Marine. If instead he started selling heroin on the streets of New York, I think I’d love him anyway. He is my son. I love him unconditionally.

Yet in another context when they were just kids learning to drive, if I said to one of them, “Make sure you’re home by midnight,” if they weren’t, they’d face the wrath of Dad. In that sense, my love was quite conditional, thank you. It was conditional on obeying me and getting the flipping car home. In other words, there are different contexts where it’s the same kids, the same dad, but the language changes just a wee bit. Do you see?

I don’t think my unconditional love changed for them. There’s a matrix in which that’s true, another matrix where there are agreements and family responsibilities or, in biblical terms, covenantal obligations where God’s wrath might well break out. There are contexts in which God’s wrath is as wide as can be imagined. Some contexts in which it’s rightly said to be amoral and others where it’s selective.

People sometimes come along with clichÈs like, “God loves everybody just the same.” True or not true? The answer is yes. Some of the passages the Bible deploys language of love and really casts God’s love as amoral. He sends his sun and his rain out of love upon the just and upon the unjust. He loves people just the same. But there are other contexts like the fifth of the ones I mentioned where it’s dependent upon obedience and still others where it’s grounded in God’s own sovereign selection.

“You can’t do anything to make God love you any more.” True or false? It depends on the passage, because the Bible can use God’s love language in different contexts in slightly different ways. In one sense, you want to affirm that absolutely, because at the end of the day, you can’t earn God’s love. My kids don’t earn my love by bringing the car back before midnight. I’d love them anyway.

Yet at the same time, there are different contexts in which God’s love is spoken of. Be careful you do not make silly mistakes as you read the biblical texts by taking one verse out of its context, universalizing it and take no care to see the wonderful diversity of ways in which the Bible speaks of God’s love.

Now then let me read these verses from John, chapter 3. We’ve come to the end of the direct discourse about new birth and so forth. Christ has claimed special revelation. Then he has mentioned Moses lifting up the snake so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. Then we read verse 16.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. All those who do evil hate the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But those who live by the truth come into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” Now then, let me make a couple of comments. Let me draw some inferences from this passage and related ones.

First, in the Bible, it is simply astonishing that God loves us. By and large, that’s not the way we think. The Bible delights to marvel at God’s love. The reason we don’t think this way is not only do we think God ought to love, but “He especially ought to love me because I’m nice and neighborly and maybe even cute. I don’t beat up on people. I’m a pretty decent bloke. Of course God will love me. I mean, there’s nothing in me not to love, is there?”

You see, this is already so far removed from the storyline of Scripture, we have to rethink it again. Let me come in from the side door. It’s an illustration I’ve sometimes used with university students. Bob and Sue are walking down a beach. It’s the end of the academic year. The sun has made the sand warm. They kick off their sandals and feel the wet sand squish between their toes. He takes her hand, and he says, “Sue, I love you. I really do.”

What does he mean? Well, he could mean a lot of things. He may simply mean his hormones are jumping, and he wants to go to bed with her forthwith. He may mean no more than that. I’ll tell you what he doesn’t mean. When he says, “I love you,” he is in part saying that he finds her lovable. If he has any sort of romantic twist, it might actually come out.

“Sue, the color of your eyes.… I could just sink into them. The smell of your hair, the dimples when you smile.… There’s nothing about you I don’t love. Your personality is so wonderful. You’re such an encourager. You have this laugh that brings down a whole room it’s so contagious. Sue, I love you.”

What he does not mean is, “Sue, quite frankly you are the most homely creature I know. Your halitosis would stop a herd of rampaging elephants. Your knees remind me of a crippled camel. You have the personality of Genghis Khan. You don’t have any sense of humor. You’re a miserable, self-righteous, narcissistic, hateful woman, and I love you.” He doesn’t mean that, does he? When he declares his love for her, in part, he is declaring that at that moment, he finds her lovely. Isn’t that correct?

Now God comes along in this verse. “God so loved the world …” What is he saying? “World, I love you.” Is he saying, “World, your scintillating personality, your intelligent conversation, your wit, your gift.… World, and you’re cute! I love you! I can’t imagine heaven without you”? Is that what he is saying?

In other words, when God says, “I love you, world,” is he declaring the lovableness of the world? There are a lot of psychologists who use the love of God in exactly that way. If God says, “I love you,” it must be that, “I’m okay; you’re okay. God says we’re okay. He loves us. It must be because we’re lovable.”

Biblically, that is a load of nonsense. The word world in John’s gospel typically is not just a big place with a lot of people in it. Rather, the word world in John’s gospel is this human-centered created order that God has made and that has rebelled against him in hatefulness and idolatry and genuine broken relationship, infidelity, and wickedness.

That’s why already in the first chapter we looked at two sessions back, the so-called prologue of John’s gospel, we read (verse 10), “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” It’s why we read in this passage a little farther on (verse 19), “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world …”

That is, with the coming of Jesus, God’s gracious self-disclosure, his revelation, light that is so good and clean and pure, it has come into the world. But people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. People don’t want to be exposed to that kind of light. All it does is show up the dirt. But the text says, “God so loved the world …”

It’s as if God is saying to the world, “You are the people of the crippled knees. You are the people of the moral halitosis. You are the people of the rampaging Genghis Khan personality. You are hateful and spiteful and murderous, and do you know what? I love you anyway, not because you’re so lovable but because I’m that kind of God.” That’s why in the Bible this side of Genesis 3, God’s love is always marveled at. It’s considered wonderful, surprising, in some ways, not the way it ought to be. Why doesn’t he just condemn us instead?

Secondly, the measure of God’s love for us is Jesus. The measure of God’s love for us is Jesus! Look at verse 16 again. “God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son …” Now you have to understand that John’s gospel is rich in expressions that talk about the love of the Father for the Son, the love of the Son for the Father. There’s a wonderful chapter (chapter 17) that is sometimes called Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer where there’s a kind of extended meditation on the fact that in eternity past the Father loved the Son in a perfection of love.

The Son loved the Father in a perfection of love past our wildest, most generous imaginations. We’ve already seen that the God who is there doesn’t need us. There was a perfection of love in eternity past. Then when he does make us, we thumb our noses at him and want to become god ourselves.

God chooses to love us, in one sense, the whole world (to use one of John’s expression elsewhere in a yearning, inviting sort of way), even if in other passages it’s particularly focused and directed on some. In any case, the sum or the whole are all lost. He loves them in any case. It’s astonishing.

The measure of this love is Jesus. This Jesus who, before he became Jesus, as the eternal Son, was already one with the Father in a perfect circle of love in eternity past. Now the Father gives his Son for us. That’s how much he chooses to love us. God in his essence is giving himself. Indeed, when we say the measure of God’s love for us is Jesus, it really means two things. What giving Jesus cost the Father. You who are parents, would you gladly give your child so that others might be spared death?

It means something else as well. What love does Jesus show? The measure of God’s love for us is Jesus. If you want to see the full measure of God’s love, watch Jesus. Let me just remind you of half a dozen instances in Jesus’ life, half a dozen other texts in the New Testament that speak of God’s love or Jesus’ love.

You find him on occasion, for example, with a heart as big as all outdoors as he looks on a crowd that seems leaderless, religiously empty. He calls them sheep without a shepherd, and the text says he has compassion on them. You find him also playing with little children and setting up little children as a kind of model for what his own disciples should be. Little children don’t come to somebody who is angry, but they’re playing with Jesus and jumping all over him. He says, “Let the little children come to me.”

Or there’s this wonderful passage in Matthew 12. He quotes some words pertaining to himself from the prophet Isaiah 700 and more years earlier. The words are, “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight. I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.”

Do you hear those images? A candle. The flame goes out. Instead of squeezing out the smoldering wick, he fans it back into flame. We have a reed by the side of a lake, a place where red-winged blackbirds flock. It’s bruised, not very strong. He doesn’t snap it off. He builds it up. It’s a way of saying his love is gentle. It’s edifying. It’s compassionate.

Even when he is denouncing people and generations and groups for their sins, sometimes in very strange language.… We’ll come back to that before we finish this series. He can actually say to some people, “You snakes in the grass! You generation of vipers! Don’t you see what you’re doing?” Then at the end of the whole thing, you find him weeping over the city.

There are some preachers like Elmer Gantry in literature who are quick to denounce, but they’re hypocrites. There is a kind of moralizing preaching that denounces and criticizes and is upset by moral decay, but it’s all angry. It isn’t characterized by tears of compassion. That’s not Jesus. Then you find him on the cross. Did you see the film by Mel Gibson, The Passion of the Christ? A lot of the physical suffering was pretty accurately depicted. Whipped and beaten and broken, he cries, “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they’re doing.”

So moving is this love of God for some of the New Testament writers as shown in Christ Jesus, as measured by Christ Jesus, so moving that it is not uncommon that they’re describing something going on in theology or some truth or what Christ has done on the cross. They suddenly burst out with another reiteration of their awareness of how much they’re loved.

For example, in one of Paul’s letters (it’s a letter to the Galatian Christians) in the second chapter, he is working through some very deep stuff on what the cross achieved, what this strange thing called justification is. We’ll come to that tomorrow morning. As he describes Jesus’ death, he then breaks out, “… who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Indeed, the apostle Paul, when he is praying for another group of believers (this time in the city of Ephesus), tells them how he prays for them. He prays in this way, and he prays in this way. Then in the third chapter, he says, “Amongst my petitions for you is that together with all of God’s people, you will learn to grasp how long and wide and high and deep is the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

Using spatial metaphors to depict its limitless dimensions and then using paradox to know this love that is not knowable, that is past finding out, that is past knowing to know it, to experience it.… He says, “… that you may be filled to the full measure of God.” That’s an expression Paul uses when what he is saying is, “In order that you might be just as full as God will make you, perfectly mature. You cannot be a genuinely mature human being until self-consciously you are awash in the love of God. That’s what I pray for you.” The measure of God’s love for us is Jesus.

Thirdly, the purpose of God’s love for us is that we might have life. Look at the language of John 3:16–18. Different expressions are used. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That’s one pair (not perish … have eternal life). “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.” That’s the second pair (not to perish but to have life … not to be condemned but to be saved).

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” These are the opposites. The purpose of God’s love for us is clear and directed. Occasionally some people have depicted the love of God in Christ Jesus as if it is somehow self-sacrificing without an end. Jesus dies on the cross to prove how much he loves us, but so what?

Some wag more than a century ago in Britain said, “Would it make any sense for somebody to run down the Brighton Pier and yell, ‘World, world, world, I love you! I will show my love to you!’ and jump off the end of the pier and drown?” Would that prove love or that the fellow had lost it? The elevator didn’t go quite to the top.

Sad, maybe, but scarcely an exemplar of love. Jesus doesn’t go to the cross because he is a victim of fate. He doesn’t go to the cross as an abstract lesson. He doesn’t go to the cross as a mere example (though he is an example). He has a purpose in going to the cross. It is to save people from condemnation that is already on them. We’re back in the Bible storyline. He doesn’t come to neutral people and say, “I think I’ll condemn you. I’ll think I’ll save you.” He comes to people who are already condemned.

We stand this side of Genesis 3. In fact, since we’re already under God’s judgment, we are already a lost and rebel brood. He comes not simply to show an example and not (verse 17 says) to condemn them. The purpose of his coming and death on the cross is to save them. In this passage he does not depict at great length how he does that. There are other passages in John’s gospel that make that pretty clear.

There’s one spectacular passage in John 6 where Jesus says he is the Bread of Life, and unless we eat him, we’ll die. Now we read words like that today, and you think, “That’s jolly close to cannibalism.” Or those of us who are more religiously inclined might think, “Maybe it’s the sacrament of Holy Communion or something like that.” Originally, that’s not what it meant at all.

Don’t forget that in the ancient world, just about everybody worked at handcraft or on the farm. So they were much closer to the land than we are today. If you ask a 5-year-old or a 7-year-old today, “Where does food come from?” “Oh, from Jewel-Osco” or whatever your grocery chain is in this region. Isn’t that what they’ll say? You ask anybody in the first century where it comes from, and they’ll say, “From plants and animals.” They’ve grown it themselves.

Anybody in the first century knows you live because the chicken died. You live because the carrots have been pulled up and killed. All of this organic stuff we feed ourselves with, which we must have or we die, has given its life for us in substitution. Either we die or it dies. Maybe tonight when you go home, you’ll stop at McDonald’s or something more sophisticated. What will you eat? Dead cow. Dead lettuce. Dead tomato. Dead barley. Dead wheat.

Everything that had once been living and is now dead (except for a few minerals like salt, of which there may be too much), that’s what you will eat. It has all given its life for you. Either it dies or you die. Of course, in the case of the cow, it didn’t volunteer nor in the case of the lettuce. The point is not the voluntary nature of such substitution but the reality of it. Either you die or something else living dies so you may live.

Jesus dares take that language and says, “Unless you eat of me, you die. I die so you may live.” For the whole burden of the New Testament is that Jesus dies a substitutionary death. He does not deserve to die. But when God sent him to do his Father’s will, to go to the cross and die, it was with a purpose: to die our death so we don’t have to die, so we may have eternal life. That’s what the text is saying.

“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” He gave his one and only Son. “He did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” We do not finally ingest physically this Christ. We believe in him. We trust him and discover his life becomes ours as our death becomes his. His life becomes ours. Much of the New Testament is given over to unpacking precisely that point.

Finally, the means by which we come to enjoy this love and this life is faith. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Verse 18: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already.” The verdict is already passed.

I’m going to come first thing two sessions on to talk about faith at much greater length. We saw it already in the last session. Just as the people in the wilderness were saved by simply looking at, by trusting in, by believing the bronze snake God had provided, so also we believe in Christ. Finally, so also here.

Let me end this way. If all of this is true (and I believe with every fiber of my being that it is), then the first response to it ought to be gratitude, contrition before God, thankfulness for what he has done. But there are large voices in our world who think thankfulness before Jesus shows what an inferior, sappy, emotional, weak religion this is.

For example, Bishop Spong, a recently retired Episcopal bishop, writes, “What does the cross mean? How is it to be understood? Clearly the old pattern of seeing the cross as the place where the price of the fall was paid is totally inappropriate. Aside from encouraging guilt, justifying the need for divine punishment and causing an incipient sadomasochism that has endured with a relentless tenacity through the centuries, the traditional understanding of the cross of Christ has become inoperative on every level.

As I have noted previously, a rescuing deity results in gratitude, never in expanded humanity. Constant gratitude, which the story of the cross seems to encourage, creates only weakness, childishness, and dependency.” That’s a very common stance today. One of the best brief responses to it I have seen is by John Piper. He says this:

“Yes, a rescuing deity results in gratitude. That’s true. We cannot stop the mercy of God from doing what it does. He has rescued us from our selfishness and its horrible endpoint: hell. Our hearts cannot stop feeling what they feel: gratitude. You say this encourages ‘weakness.’ Not exactly. It encourages being strong in a way that makes God look good and makes us feel glad.

For example, Jesus said to the apostle Paul, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Paul responded, ‘Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’ His dependence made him stronger than he would have been otherwise. He is strong with the strength of Christ.

You say this constant gratitude produces childishness. Not really. Children do not naturally say, ‘Thank you.’ They come into the world believing the world owes them everything they want. You have to drill thank you into the selfish heart of a child. Feeling grateful and saying it often is a mark of remarkable maturity. We have a name for people who don’t feel thankful for what they receive. We call them ingrates. Everyone knows they are acting like selfish children. They are childish.

No, Bishop Spong, God wants us to grow up into mature, thoughtful, wise, humble, thankful people. The opposite is childish. In fact, the opposite is downright cranky. C.S. Lewis, before he was a Christian, really disliked the message of the Bible that we should thank and praise God all the time. Then everything changed. What he discovered was not that praising and thanking God made people childish but that it made them large-hearted and healthy.

He said, ‘The humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious minds praised most while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least.’ ” John Piper writes, “That is my experience. When I am ungrateful, I am selfish and immature. When I am overflowing with gratitude, I am healthy, other-oriented, servant-minded, Christ-exalting, and joyful.”

Do you see? We don’t finally close with Christ. God is the kind of God who pursues us and therefore we close with Christ. So many Christians across the centuries have testified to the way God pursued them. There’s a wonderful poem by Francis Thompson that talks about God as if he were the hound of heaven, chasing him down.

I fled him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

Up vistaed hopes I sped;

And shot, precipitated,

Adown Titanic glooms of chasmËd fears,

For those strong Feet that followed after.

But with unhurrying chase,

And unperturbËd pace,

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,

They beat—and a Voice beat

More instant than the Feet—

“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

That’s the God who loves. He is the hound of heaven. You see, that is what finally gives us meaning as we’re restored to the living God. Our meaning does not come from being independent. That is what may destroy us. Our meaning does not come from being rich. That may destroy us. In any sense, it is godless and will eventually damn us. In the words of another poet, Edwin Arlington Robinson …

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,

We people on the pavement looked at him:

He was a gentleman from sole to crown,

Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,

And he was always human when he talked;

But still he fluttered pulses when he said,

“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—

And admirably schooled in every grace:

In fine, we thought that he was everything

To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,

And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;

And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,

Went home and put a bullet through his head.

“All things betray thee who betrayest me.” Or again, the testimony of Malcolm Muggeridge, a cranky, brilliant, eccentric journalist, all over the map, creative, blasphemous, victorious, defeated, a spectacular career, converted in his old age. In his old age, he wrote …

“I may, I suppose, regard myself, or pass for being, a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets—that’s fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Internal Revenue [that’s the British IRS]—that’s success. Furnished with money and a little fame, even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions—that’s pleasure.

It may happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time—that’s fulfillment. Yet I say to you, and I beg you to believe me, multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing—less than nothing, a positive impediment—measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are.”

“For God so loved the world that he gave his Son.”


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The back-to-school season is stressful for moms and dads. New rhythms of school, sports, and other extracurricular activities can quickly fill up a family’s already busy calendar. Where do busy parents look for resources on discipling their family well? Aside from prioritizing church, what else can Christian parents do to instill healthy spiritual habits in their household?

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Get a FREE eBook to strengthen your family discipleship!

The back-to-school season is stressful for moms and dads. New rhythms of school, sports, and other extracurricular activities can quickly fill up a family’s already busy calendar. Where do busy parents look for resources on discipling their family well? Aside from prioritizing church, what else can Christian parents do to instill healthy spiritual habits in their household?

Matt Chandler and Adam Griffin cover these questions and more in Family Discipleship: Leading Your Home through Time, Moments, and Milestones. And we’re excited to offer this book to you for FREE as an eBook today.

Click on the link below to get instant access to your FREE Family Discipleship eBook now!

Get your free eBook »