How Deep the Father’s Love for Us

How can we come to a richer understanding of God’s love for us as Christians? Paul’s letter to the Ephesians goes a long way toward that goal. Consider first what the apostle writes at the beginning of chapter two:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Perhaps you’ve heard these verses before, even many times. If so, it’s easy to miss the shocking thing that Paul is describing. He makes it clear that those who now follow Christ did not always do so. Nor were we in some “neutral” camp. No, we were actually followers of another: the “ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (v. 2). In other words, whether aware of the fact or not, all Christians once showed allegiance to Satan himself. And in doing so we were “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts” (v. 3) and were “dead” in our “transgressions and sins” (v. 1). We were completely devoid of anything truly alive toward God.

It goes without saying that this is not a pretty description. There was nothing about any Christian that merited God’s approval and favor before we came to Christ. In fact, the situation was exactly the opposite. In one of the most sobering descriptions in the Bible, Paul says that we were “objects of wrath” (v. 3), that is, we were justly deserving of God’s punishment. Far from being people toward whom God was well-disposed, we were his settled enemies.

It is precisely while we were deep this state, when “we were dead in our transgressions,” that Paul says that God “made us alive in Christ” (v.5). Again, make sure that you catch what a surprising development this is. Left to our own devices, we might be tempted to liken this to something like a kind soul taking in slightly unruly stray who nevertheless showed a spark of affinity toward his would-be master. But that was not our situation at all. We had made no move to reconcile with him. We had not acknowledged, even grudgingly, that we were in the wrong, that God was the rightful ruler of all creation, that his purposes and character were to shape our lives. We had not come to realize that our joy and satisfaction were to be found in him. We were still rebels in our ugly defiance. Still dead. Still just as much deserving of his wrath as we ever had been.

And what was the impetus for God to bring us out of our desperate situation and into new life? Paul makes this crystal clear as well. “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy made us alive in Christ” (v. 4, emphasis mine). God loved those who were anything but lovable.

But the way in which God gave us this new life is more shocking yet. It cost him the suffering and death of his own Son. This is another point we’re tempted to gloss over, many of us having heard it more times than we could count. But think for a minute. Here is someone willing to give up his own beloved son to torture and death. For what end? To rescue enemies from a fate they very justly deserved. As Paul says earlier in his letter, our redemption came “through his [i.e., Christ’s] blood.” I can hardly bear to imagine putting my children in a similar position, making their lives the ransom payment for a sworn enemy. It’s horrifying to me.

And yet there is still one more element to the story. And it’s the most shocking aspect of all.

God did not merely give up his own son on our behalf. What is implicit in the passages above Paul and other biblical writers state specifically elsewhere: to reconcile his unfathomable love with his perfect righteousness, God the Father had to pour out his wrath toward our sin on his own Son. He was bound by his own character to lay on Jesus the penalty we deserved. This alone could make him both “just and the justifier,” i.e., allow him to exact the appropriate punishment for sin and give us right standing with him (see Romans 3:23-26; cf. Isaiah 53:4-12, particularly v. 10). The Father did not just give him over to another. He brought about the terrible, ultimate punishment himself.

To give us just a glimpse of how incredible this is, imagine a man who had lost his wife in the 9/11 bombings. Then consider what it would take for him to give up his child to punishment…as act of mercy and love toward Osama Bin Laden, freeing the latter from a death sentence and adopting him as his own (see Eph. 1:5). Finally, imagine him having to carry out the punishment of his child himself.

If you’re shocked at that thought, you should be. Yet that’s in the ballpark of what the Bible tells us God has done on our behalf. That is the extent of his undeserved love for us.

The result of all of this? “The praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (Eph. 1:6). Truly and deeply grasping what God has done for us in Christ can’t help but result in that very thing. As the psalmist says, “Let the name of the LORD be praised, both now and forevermore.”

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