I’m all about conversations. Anywhere, anytime. And in most of my conversations over the last nine years of ministry, probably before that too, most of the questions have revolved around three ideas: does God love really love me; how do I get into/stay in God’s graces; do I have a purpose in this world?
Big questions, right? I wrestle with them myself at times. And I have to say, like many, we often go looking for these answers in not so helpful ways. For example, when we don’t believe that God loves us, we search and often find love in wait for it…yes, all the wrong places. When we can’t figure out how to receive God’s grace, we spend time and energy and effort trying to earn God’s and others’ approval to the point of harming ourselves. And, when we believe that we have no purpose in this world, we can sleepwalk through a lot of our days, confused and empty.
Fortunately, there are definitive answers in the Bible to these questions.
First, does God love truly love us? We’ve heard that God loves the world, that God is love, but I think what we are really asking (and hoping) for is does God love me as flawed and messed up as I am? And does God love me particularly as opposed to generically? And the answer is “yes!” Listen, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5).” I feel very loved by a lot of people and I am grateful for it all, but none of that love ever brought me from death to life! And when it says, “great love for us” that kind of love is “agape” love which is sacrificial, costing the lover – and in this case, it cost God His only Son to fulfill His love for us. It’s a love we don’t deserve and can never fully repay but it’s still ours. As the hymn “To God be the Glory” sings, “O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood, To every believer, the promise of God; The vilest offender who truly believes, That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.” This amazing love is simultaneously for the whole world and yet particular and individual for us.
Second, we’re often wondering how to earn and keep God’s grace and blessing. We often operate as though if we work harder and just be “better people” and are perfect, then God will “like” us and bestow His grace upon us. Not the case. Listen to this, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).” God is not focused on performance and perfection. He knows we can’t measure up to His holiness, that’s why Jesus came to us. There is no application process, there is no tryout, there is no test, no exam! Trusting in Jesus as Savior and Lord is what opens this wonderful gift of grace that covers all of our sins and makes us “good” with God. There’s nothing to perform or earn, Jesus did it at the cross already!
So what are we supposed to do with our time and lives if we don’t have to earn God’s grace? Well, we’re free to do what we have been designed to do. “For we are God’s workmanship (or handiwork), created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).” We are often asking what our purpose in life is. We usually think work, interests, parenting and other things. All okay if in the proper perspective. Because as this verse reveals, our purpose is to do “good works” for which God designed us in Christ. What are good works? Revealing who God is through our words and actions, loving, forgiving, uniting, healing, caring for those in need. When Christ and these are our focus, we find purpose and fulfillment far beyond anything else we have ever known. This doesn’t mean automatically quit your job; it just means evaluate what your focus is. And if you feel purposeless, seek to discover your particular purpose (because you have one) through these “good works.”
So, a love that transforms, a grace that is free, a purpose that is divine – win-win-win! And you know, when you think of all of these together, they are really about identity. To be a person who is loved, free (of sin and guilt) and purposeful, well, isn’t that what we all want? Just speaking for me, that’s the ultimate. If I could live like that everyday, I would be, we would be, invincible in the best sense. This is because, as the “workmanship” of God, we find our maximized existence when we are “in Christ.”
You know, many of us spend a lot of time being “of Christ” meaning we believe more or less, go through the motions but basically sit on the sidelines. But to be “in Christ” is to be out on the field, engaged with, influenced, shaped, and seeking to follow Jesus daily.
As C.S. Lewis said, “The more we let God take us over (move toward being in Christ), the more truly ourselves we become – because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be. . .It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.”
Let’s start today to let go of the fear, the “fruitless searches”, the emptiness, the confusion, the drive to be acceptable and perfect; and actively embrace the One in whom we find the love, grace and purpose we so desperately desire – a truly abundant and fulfilling life…and ourselves as God designed and sees us.
Rev. Christopher B. Wolf
Christopher B. Wolf is the author of Giving Faith a Second Chance: Restarts, Mulligans and Do-Overs (2007) and With You Every Step of the Way (September, 2011).
“It is a matter of sharing and bearing the pain and puzzlement of the world so that the crucified love of God in Christ may be brought to bear healingly upon the world at exactly that point.” N.T. Wright