It’s remarkable how difficult it can be to let ourselves be loved by God. For many of us, the love of Jesus comes through loud and clear, but God the Father often seems distant or looming. Many of our perceptions of God have been distorted by earthly shadows—fathers, employers, leaders, etc. To move forward in loving and being loved by God, we must replace our false ideas with biblically saturated truth.
God’s attributes—including love—aren’t like human traits that strengthen or weaken nor are they like moods that come and go. God is all of his attributes perfectly, all the time. And yet, we still struggle to believe it can be true, that this great God can love us messy and stumbling sinners. Sometimes we don’t feel his love on a day-to-day basis like we desire, so walls of doubt shut him out. Other times we unwittingly read the Word not through the lens of his love and grace to us in Christ, but through tinted lens of condemnation and guilt.
My hope is that by dwelling on God’s immense love for us, we’ll move from a general, vague idea to a sweet and personal experience. God wants us to know him like this and desires for his love to draw us near to him. And once the fountain of the Father’s love is opened, we’ll find ourselves stepping into new streams of gratitude, contentment, joy, and security. Here are four examples from the New Testament of how God clearly and convincingly displays his fatherly love to his children.THE
- FATHER’S LOVE IN SENDING
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” (John 3:16)
The Father’s love for us is nowhere clearer and more compelling than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, and undeserved. The same Scriptures proclaiming Christ’s love in dying also reveal the immense love of the Father as the sending source. He so loved us that he gave his only begotten Son (John 3:16). This world-famous verse advertises the pursuing love of the Father. It’s not a nebulous or general love, but his particular love to actual persons like you and me.
Whether from the lies of the accuser or deception from our own minds, Christians can act as if Jesus is the good guy who convinces the fear-inducing Father to show mercy. In reality, the Father desires to be in relationship with us so he dispatches the Son to bring us back. This unmerited love of God shines even brighter against the backdrop of our dark and ill-deserving condition. That’s why the Apostle John erupts with the words, “Here is love!” when he thinks about the Father sending Jesus to bring wayward children into his family. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). The cross is the exclamation and the evidence of how much the Father loves us.
- THE FATHER’S LOVE IN REVEALING
“And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.” (John 12:45)
Many children grow up feeling like they don’t really know their father, either because he’s missing or because so many dads struggle to be emotionally present. They might pay the bills, offer advice, show up to the events, and truly love their kids but still not know how to open their heart to their kids through honest and frequent conversation, sharing how they feel (a word that causes many of us men to groan), or giving affirmation or physical affection. The child then can feel like despite years of being around their dad, they don’t really know him and they don’t truly feel known by him. They wonder how their father feels about them, what he was really like, and there’s always a distance in the relationship.
God loves us by not only making clear how he feels about us—stating his love and delight in us throughout the Bible—but also revealing who he is to us. He not only brings us into a relationship with him, invites us to draw near to him at any time, but he also makes himself known to us so that we might know him. He reveals aspects of himself in creation, makes himself known in the Word, and then sends his Son to provide a perfect image so we know what he’s like.
As the Word, Jesus is the self-expression of God. The incarnation points to the Father’s love because it proves he wants to be known in a way that is clear, intimate, and according to truth. Because God is not like us in so many ways and cannot be seen or touched, there are moments he might seem remote or intangible. Jesus takes our vague or slightly distorted notions of God and gives us the real picture of the Father in his fullness of grace and truth. We should look to the incarnation of Jesus to see just how near the Father has come. The Son shows us the Father, and through Jesus the invisible God is visible.
It should astound us that the infinite, transcendent, and perfect God would make knowing us and being known by us one of his highest priorities. What a joy that God is a Father who doesn’t just show mercy—and that would be wonderful enough—but he wants a real relationship where we know and love him. Our perceptions of God become fuzzy when we look at earthly figures of fathers or authorities. However, when we look at Jesus, the character and compassion of the Father is clearly and accurately displayed.
- THE FATHER’S LOVE IN ADOPTING
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.” (1 John 3:1)
God the Father’s love can be seen in the friendly and familial vocabulary describing a believer’s relationship with God. We are called his sons and daughters. God wants to be known and seen in this way which is why he draws on the affectionate language of Father and children. “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son” (Gal. 4:4-7). Paul was well aware how quickly we retreat back to fearing God as slaves so he presses home the truth we can trust Him as children.
Imagine two people in your mind’s eye. First, imagine someone you feel comfortable with because you’re loved and accepted. When with them you don’t ever have to worry about being anything other than yourself. Now visualize a second person who creates an uneasy sense of the need to measure up or being on your best behavior. Think of the difference if you were just sitting in your living room with either person watching TV together or talking. How free do you feel with the first person versus how hesitant or anxious you feel with the second?
Because of our justification in Christ, the Bible describes God the Father as the person in the room we should completely trust and find rest with—awake to the fact we are truly known and, therefore, don’t ever need to hide or withdraw. The Father doesn’t hold back love from us or wait to shower us with love until we’ve earned it. God’s love is a steady, powerful stream of unconditional love to his children.
But it’s also a joyful love that delights in being our Father and having us as his children. I have friends who have adopted children into their family. The day they bring them home and the day they go to court to finalize the adoption process are two of the most joyful days in their life. They can now say, “You are ours. You’re part of our family. We get to be your parents and you get to be our child. Forever.” Or I think about the two days my children were born and the joy I felt when I finally met them. That feeling of joy, delight, and overwhelming love only grows over the years. Our daughter and son are young, but as I recall moments like holding them as babies close to my chest or the toddler years where their personality comes through, my heart warms with a powerful, joyful love for my children.
When the Bible uses language of God adopting us (Rom. 8; Gal. 4) or us being born into his family (John 1:12-13; 1 John 3:1), it does so to communicate to us how God delights in us as his beloved children. Like I’ve done with my children, God holds us close to his heart (Is. 41:11), carries us in his arms like (Is. 41:11), and walks with us hand-in-hand (41:13).
- THE FATHER’S LOVE IN DISCIPLINING
“For the Lord disciplines the one he loves.” (Heb. 12:6)
The Father loves us not despite discipline but through it. I know this point is a hard sell, but the Bible connects the dots. God’s discipline is a calm but firm correction, never a fit of rage. He aims to teach us not reject or punish. The Bible links discipline and love to cement in our mind that discipline is for our good and part of training and parenting us (Heb. 12:3-11; Rev. 3:19). The fact that God corrects his children should encourage us just how much he cares. He is involved and concerned about the kind of people we are becoming and our long-term joy. Discipline provides proof he will never give up on or leave us in our sin.
A beautiful scene in the TV show “Parenthood” depicts this idea. One of the families adopted a young boy, and early on he misbehaves and acts out his bad habits. The mom thinks they should keep looking the other way, but the dad reminds her they’re his parents now. He’s their child so they need to treat him like family, not like a guest or stranger. Since he’s now their boy and they want what’s best for him they make the tough choice to give correction and explain what he’s done wrong.
Love isn’t looking the other way or letting your children do things that will harm themselves or develop habits that will one day shoot them in the foot. It’s being involved and doing whatever is for the child’s good, even when it’s the painful parenting work of teaching, correction, and discipline. As God’s children, we also need to remind ourselves that discipline isn’t the same as displeasure. In fact, it demonstrates God’s commitment to us. God treats us not as strangers or guests who he has no relationship with but as a father who deeply loves his sons and daughters. When we rightly understand discipline as a loving act rather than an act of anger or displeasure, God’s discipline can prove his love and be a chance to deal with the issues that might get in the way of experiencing his love.
LOVING HOW WE’VE BEEN LOVED
When we don’t live in light of God’s love for us, we’ll either shy away from Him out of fear or exhaust ourselves trying to win his approval. My hope is that as we let the truth of God’s love drip from our heads to our hearts we’ll be refreshed in security and rest.