Recently I wrote a post on the All About Eve blog that the theological invitation “Believe in Jesus for eternal life” is more concretely summed up with the statement “God loves you.”
I wrote that many people have trouble understanding what it means to believe in Jesus for eternal life. And while this invitation is referred to over and over in the Gospel of John (e.g., John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47), this offer of eternal life is often equated with the fact and foundation of God’s love for humanity.
So I believe that if we really understand God’s love for us, we will have also understood that He gives us eternal life freely through Jesus Christ.
Therefore, when someone says, “I don’t know if I have believed enough, or believed the right thing,” one way to help people sort through this is to ask if they know that God loves them.
And I mean REALLY loves them. No conditions. No limits. No ifs, ands, or buts.
This sort of understanding of God’s love is so radical, it revolutionizes everything we think about God, Scripture, ourselves, and the church.
Understanding that God loves you infinitely and completely no matter what you have done in the past or what you do in the future, whether you change or not, this is equivalent to understanding that God gives you eternal life freely by His grace.
This sort of teaching about love is what grants people freedom from sin, freedom from religion, and freedom from fear.
I have previously written about this on numerous posts in numerous ways.
But here’s the thing that I have come to realize in the last couple of days:
The church has bastardized the biblical concept of love.
I doubt you could find a church in the world which does not preach the message that “God loves you.” But so few churches and Christians actually understand it or believe it.
Yet rather than try to fight this misunderstanding about love, I think might be best to start saying something else instead.
Rather than saying “God loves you” to people, maybe we should start saying “God likes you.”
Yes, yes, I know. “Like” is a much weaker word than “love.” But there are countless millions of people who would agree in a second that God loves them, but who do not for a second believe that God likes them.
To understand what I’m talking about, let’s back up a bit. In Christian circles, it is not uncommon to hear someone say this: “I love my neighbor … but I don’t like them.” Or maybe instead of your neighbor, you have said this about an in-law, the church gossip, or a rude deacon.
When we say we love someone but don’t like them, we mean this: “I love them (because I know I am supposed to), but I don’t want to hang out with them or be their friend.”
This sort of idea is often preached in our pulpits as well. Again, you will sometimes hear pastors say this: “As Christians, we are supposed to love everybody, just as God loves us. But even though you love them, you don’t have to like everything about them. Remember, we love the sinner and hate the sin!”
Do you see? We have this attitude toward others because we think this is God’s attitude toward us. We think God loves us, but doesn’t really like us. At least, He doesn’t like us the way we are now. He likes some future version of us where we have cleaned up our lives, gotten rid of sin, read our Bibles and pray more faithfully, and witnesses regularly to our friends and neighbors. That future “fixed” person is the one God wants to be friends with and hang out with; not the “broken” and sinful person we are now.
So you see? Though we believe God loves us, we don’t really think He likes us.
But here is the Gospel truth as revealed in Jesus Christ: GOD LIKES YOU!
Let me bring this down to earth a little bit more.
Think of a famous author, actor, or musician you would love to be friends with.
For me, I think of people like N. T. Wright, Brad Paisley, and Keanu Reeves. I think it would be awesome to be best friends with these guys. You know … to have such a good friendship that it became informal … that they just drop by my house to see what’s going on, and I could do the same for them. It would be assumed that we watch football together on Monday nights. That when we went camping, we would invite the other along. That if we just wanted to chat about life and theology, we would call up the other person first.
Do you have someone in mind who is like that? Someone you would love to get to know, hang out with, and have “inside jokes” with?
Usually, when we think about God, we tend to put God in the place of these famous people we want to know. We think, “It would be so cool if God and I were on a first-name basis. If I could call God any time I wanted. If we could hang out like best friends.”
But here is the actual truth: When God thinks about you, He thinks about you the way you think about the famous people you want to know. The way I think about being friends with N. T. Wright, Brad Paisley, and Keanu Reeves, that is how God thinks about me.
God likes me so much, He dreams about being on a first-name basis with me! He dreams about hanging out with me to watch a football game. He dreams about just showing up at my house with no other purpose than to say, “What’s happening?”
And this is the same way God feels about you.
More than anything else, He wants to hang out with you. He wants to be your friend. You are the famous person He would “name drop” to all the angels when He talks about what He did over the weekend. More than anything, God wants to be on a first-name basis with you. He wants to be the one you think of calling when things are going great, and the one you call when things are going bad.
God likes you so much, He wants to even hang out with you when you are weeding your garden, filling your car with gas, and running errands to Sears.
And best of all, God likes you just as you are. He doesn’t want to be friends with some “better and improved” version of you. He wants to be friends with you … as you are right now.
God likes YOU.
This is the truth about God that many people do not believe and cannot accept. They cannot believe that the God of the universe is so madly in love with them, so infatuated with them, so in awe of who they are and what they like and the sorts of things they do, that He would “like” every single one of your Facebook posts, would “Favorite” every single Tweet, and would “Repin” every single picture on Pinterest.
God is your biggest fan, and He dreams of just being in your presence.
God likes you.
This is the Gospel message. This is what Jesus came to reveal.
Do you believe this?
Jeremy, I agree with your concern about our society’s bastardization of the word ‘love’.
However, David Paxton correctly points out in his book, “Is John 3:16 The Gospel?”, that John 3:16 is in the past tense and there is no New Covenant example of Jesus, or any Apostle, referring to God’s ‘agapeo’ for unbelievers when talking to them …and only when they were speaking about, or to, Jesus Followers.
Therefore, is the popular North American “Love Gospel” not a perversion of the New Covenant’s actual teaching about a person’s need to “believe in” Jesus free gift?
Since it’s every Jesus Followers’ job to “make disciples”, not ‘converts’ (Matt. 28:18-20), might your core concern about unbelivers not grasping the essence of our need to ‘believe’ a non issue?
Is this not especially true since Holy Spirit is the ‘Saver, not preachers who misuse, according to Pastor Paxton, the Hollywood-diluted word, love?
BTW, Pastor Paxton also suggests a truly faithful-to-the-Greek translation of agapeo is ‘care’, not ‘love’. If you want a subsitue to the common translation, might not care, regularly used of mothers’ for their children, be preferable to the prosaic word ‘like’?
John Keller says
The author is David Pawson, not Paxton.
Pawson’s contention is demolished instantly when one realizes John 3 is a conversation between Christ and the UNbeliever Nicodemus.
Leo Beltran says
I think the problem is that with most people God seems for like a dead beat dad. He never talks just sends us letters to read, nothing to personal.
Agree, I feel like that most of the time.
Matthew Richardson says
I have personally recieved His guidance and protection. I don’t doubt He loves me. It is my own love for myself that sometimes wanes.
Matthew Richardson says
Excellent point Jeremy. =)
Vaughn Bender says
Brennan Manning always said in his books: God Loves you as you are, and not as you should be, because we will never be as we should be. (not this side of heaven anyways) 🙂
Tony Cutty says
Brilliant. Sharing now.
Michael Howarth says
Dude you mean so much to me.
I think God likes you and me and the addicts, dealers, prostitutes, murderers and you-name-its. We’re the ones who have trouble liking so many of these people. We often include ourselves. If we really don’t think God likes them, why would we think he likes us? Isn’t that what so much religious posturing amounts to: trying to convince ourselves God ought to like us because we’re somehow better than those other folks?
Those we know on the you-name-its list do not believe that the people who subscribe to the “love the sinner, hate their sin” doctrine really like or love them. “Love” gets defined as quoting Bible verses to the “sinner”, verses that usually tell the “sinner” they’re damned and hell-bound or something similar. Somehow “love” rarely includes getting to know the person, spending time with them, hearing their story, or inviting them into one’s life. Many times it does not even include remembering their name. That reminds us of a used car, life insurance or real estate salesman. We are their best friend until they make the sale or lose it. Then they immediately forget us.
God does not forget us.
Leo & Taco;
Have you ever asked Holy Spirit what you need to do to hear more clearly from Him?
“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children!” ~ Romans 8:16 is true for every true Follower of Jesus.
Blessings in Jesus!
Taco Verhoef says
My kid does not need to do anything for me to want to talk to him and teach him the way he should go.
Would God as portrayed by Jesus not be the same kind of father or even better then me?
Imagine talking to someone who attempts to justify the horrific crimes against humanity committed by Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin. What would you think of such a person? Even if they condemned such behavior today, their justification of brutal crimes committed in the past would not be excusable. You would look upon such a person with disgust and contempt and consider them incredibly immoral.
So let’s take a look at Christianity. Practically every version of Trinitarian Christianity, from fundamentalist to liberal, sees Jesus as the God of the Old Testament. To deny that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament is to deny the Trinity. If Jesus is the God of the Old Testament he is guilty of some of the most barbaric, horrific acts of infanticide and genocide known to man. Yet Christians of all stripes pray and worship this mass murderer of men, women, and little children.
Any Christian who refuses to condemn and denounce the God of the Old Testament is immoral.
Emilio Gomez says
Not sure where people get this doctrine of the Trinity from. I cant find it anywhere in the bible.
The ‘God Loves you unconditionally’ gospel. Like over 2000 years no one has understood it right and now suddenly it’s just that God Loves you’.. fine, but He also said ‘If the world hates you, remember, it hated me first”…why did they crucify Him? Because the world hates God. His Loving ‘us’ ‘just the way you are ‘ also contradicts what Jesus himself said, what James, and Paul wrote.
I was just reading Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism. It leaves no doubt that we are to believe God loved Jesus (beloved), and was well pleased with him. In a way, the early favorable impression formed listening to Jesus derived it’s ‘authority’ (as one having authority) from this certitude of dwelling in the love of God as of a father. It seems to me that if one comes to the Father one could expect to be received in love. On the other hand, in order to arrive at Christian joy, it seems ‘… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure’.
This clinging to belief has its place, but not every confessor will be recognized.
Aidan McLaughlin says
This is your most likable and rational blog I have read yet. Really like it!!! And it’s a beautiful conception of love. I honestly believe that because God is love itself that we can only ever get close to it this side of the grave. And this is like marriage. Do we ever actually fully ever love or spouses 100 percent. Again. Not this side of the grave. Whomever goes first. But yes. Really like like. And like a lot. Lol Don, t think I would like you though Jeremy. Lol lol lol. Hate football so Monday nights would be of the agenda for starts!! Lol lol lol lol. But I, m sure we could find common ground somewhere. Like sitting together admiring Kim bassinger for instance. Lol lol lol. My Kim, s a good lookin bird as well! I like her to. Lol
It made me cry, because it was so assuring and a confirmation of my experience with God. He likes me.
Sure he likes you . . . unless you are engaging in sin. Then he throws you into hell. God’s love is not without conditions. You only get the prize if you become who God wants you to be. God seems to be just like anyone else in this sense. Everyone wants something from you. Nobody really loves anybody the way they are. There’s always some improvement or change that ought to be made. Just like everyone else God cares enough to save some people from themselves, but the majority of humanity will be dumped in the garbage fire known as hell. In the end, God will have completed the destruction of more lives than any being in creation. He certainly had no problem flushing humanity down the drain during the flood. Sadly, I think I can believe Satan more when he says he hates humans than I can God when he says he loves us.