The little girl talked fondly to her. In fact, she had never done otherwise. And though she had only one eye, and was blind in the other, and though deaf and unable to speak, she was adored. When the other children entered into the room she instinctively embraced the helpless doll even tighter. To her, this baby was precious and nobody else could have her.
But the time would come when other interests would compel the little girl to forget her, and, within the year the tattered doll held little interest in her heart.
Not so with God toward you.
God’s love toward His own is a fixed reality, a permanent passion. It keeps us secure. Paul expressed how totally convinced he was of this fact:
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
Perhaps nothing is as astounding to me as this fact: God loves me. Nothing demonstrated that fact more than the cross of Christ. But what is more difficult to comprehend in the ongoing “present” is that I, as a fumbling and often pathetic believer, will never find myself separated from that love. I’m kept by the unrelenting love of God.
A question arises out of this: How can God keep on loving me when I seem to be going the opposite direction? This was Jesus’ subject in a colorful passage in Matthew 18. After describing the way to come in to the kingdom of God (as a child, or with a child’s kind of trust), then Jesus asserts that His “little ones” (these are believers, see vs. 6) are protected in two ways.
First, Jesus asserts that his love protects his children, his “little ones,” by making it tough on our tempters. His warning to those who would lure us into sin is stout:
But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! (vs. 6-7)
I’ve seen a millstone in Palestine. It is similar to a truck tire made out of concrete. You would never want to take a dip with one of those around your neck. And that is an improvement over what it will be like for those who entice believers to sin. He even says that angels assigned to believers are stationed in heaven, before the face of God, ready to do His bidding on His children’s behalf. Offenders had better listen.
Second, Jesus shows His love for his children by chasing them down and bringing them back when they stray. Here He calls his little ones “sheep,” a favorite term for Christ—and too close to the reality for most of us to admit.
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. (vs. 12-15)
The point here, in the context of the chapter, is that Christ will not let true believers (His “little ones who believe in Me,” vs. 6) fully and finally go away. He goes and gets you, like shepherds do, when sheep stray. And then he rejoices over you because of your repentance. He knows where you are!
This is what Peter stated as well in an often misunderstood passage: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any [that is, any of us] should perish but that all [that is, all of us] should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The “us” and the “all” in this passage are believers, as the surrounding verses and the context of the entire letter reveal. God is not willing that we who are His should perish, and therefore He pursues us, warns us, blocks us, makes life miserable for us—whatever it takes—and brings us back through repentance.
But how does this happen? You may not like the answer, but it speaks of the passionate love of God as few other concepts do: God disciplines us—sometimes through the church, and sometimes through other means.
Jesus made this plain in Matthew 18:15-17, just following His illustration of finding the stray sheep. He explains how churches deal with sinning members. Though church discipline is out of vogue today, it is given to us by the Head of the church and churches do not have the luxury of forgetting it. Why? It is one of the remarkable ways God shows His love toward us. It’s one of the most compelling reasons for us to become part of a true church. We believers ought to say, as we are tempted to stray from God, “God loves me, and these people love me too much to let me get away with this.”
True believers cannot finally resist such love. If you can, you were never a Christian in the first place, and the church will have to exclude you as a “heathen.” Christ used that word in Matthew 18.
But look what God says in Hebrews 12! You have to read this because it is one of the greatest assurances of His love you will ever find:
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all [that is, all believers] have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness (verses 7-10).
I don’t know how you feel about such passages as this one, but to me, I find comfort in it. He will bring me back to share in His holiness. I would rather come the easy way, by listening to His Word and to good counsel and to the Spirit’s warnings. But if I shun these, and go ahead deeper and deeper into my sin, then I have the promise of the amazing love of God that He will go get me. If that doesn’t happen, then I’m illegitimate and not a true son anyway, and I may as well find that out sooner rather than later.
His unrelenting love is my security.
We can misunderstand love because it often comes in hard knocks and chafing rubs. God is a master parent toward His children, however. If His love is to keep us, which it most certainly does, then He will exercise it in a fashion that is uniquely personal. By pursuing us, making it difficult on those who might lead us to stumble, and by loving discipline either through the church or other means, He is fully able to keep us near. So, on the one hand, love produced the payment for sin through the cross that fixes our state with God objectively, but his parental love also holds us close to His heart emotively as well. I have seen people appear to be Christian who have apostatized (left the faith), but the Bible asserts that they were just sincere pretenders instead of Spirit-born children. Love will bring the true Christian back, however.
He keeps us in His love (that is, secure in His heart), but He also pursues us by His love. And this may be the greatest truth of all.
This is a chapter in an unpublished book by Jim Elliff, Safe Enough to Die; Sure Enough to Live.