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How do I know God loves me? Romans 5:1-11 6/12/15 Josh Monteiro

posted 8 Dec 2015, 07:06 by Bert Weenink   [ updated 8 Dec 2015, 07:08 ]

This sermon was not recorded, so here is the written text:

“He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me. He loves me not.” The image of the young person, pulling petals off a daisy and wondering if a particular someone loves them is instantly recognisable. I like him or her. Do they love me? And in that state every word and look and action of the love interest gets analysed. Did he look longer at me than the other girls? Did she pay more attention to me than the other guys? Sometimes, and especially to others looking on, the love or lack of it is evident. Other times, it’s ambiguous, and awaits further action- for someone to take the initiative, for someone to express their feelings.

Well what if the question is “Does God love me?” How do we answer that? Some people might think it is the wrong question to ask, an inappropriate question. Sometimes people think that to be a Christian is simply to believe ad to have no doubts, no questions. I think that is behind the attitude I sometimes come across- I wish I had your faith. If faith in Jesus is opposed to doubts and questions, then we have a problem. Because most people will have doubts and questions at some point.

If faith means total certainty and no doubts and questions, then it seems like something that is irrelevant to most people outside the church. They have questions, they have doubts, and they can’t see how one could lose those without switching off their brain. They think Christianity requires either an overwhelming experience that removes all doubt, or stupidity. And so they do not think it is for them, they don’t investigate it at all.

But making the mistake that true faith means no doubts and questions can also affect Christians. They suffer from doubts, they have unanswered questions, but they feel unable to ask them. Church becomes a place where we pretend to have more certainty or more confidence than we really have. We do not feel able to bring our doubts and questions to light- and so they can fester under the surface, undermining our joy, and eventually, like those ink holes that sometimes appear, causing the whole house to come crashing down. 

Doubts and questions are not signs that we lack faith. Faith means putting our confidence in God not having all the answers. If you are on a cliff face and someone lowers a rope to you, you may have questions about the rope, you may have doubts about its strength, and yet if you take hold of the rope and climb you have faith in it. In these verses from Romans 5, Paul is speaking to those who have put their faith in Jesus and yet they have doubts and questions. In particular, their doubts cluster around the question of God’s love for them. How does God feel about me today? Does he love me? How can I know that he loves me today, when I am suffering, when I feel rubbish, when I have messed up again? And will God continue to love me- will he love me on the day of judgement, or will he give up on me because I am a disappointment?

As we look at the question of whether God loves us, we’re not picking the petals off daisies saying he loves me, he loves me not. We’re not at that uncertain stage of the relationship. Paul is writing to Christians in Romans 5, and the question is more like the question of a married person- how do I know my spouse loves me? It’s not a complete unknown, a speculative attention to subtle clues. It is a question that can hopefully be confidently answered on the basis of a long history of loving actions, of a present reality to the relationship that reassures us of love, and of promises for the future. If you haven’t trusted Christ yet, then what Paul says here about the love of God is like God’s marriage proposal to you. He is declaring his love to you this morning and inviting you to accept him and let him lavish his love on you, showing you his love over an eternity together. If you have accepted Christ then this morning God is reminding you and reassuring you of his love- his love past, present and future. As we go through Romans 5:1-11, we will see how Paul is encouraging us to be confident of God’s love, addressing our doubts by helping us see that God loves those who trust in Jesus now, has demonstrated his love in the past, and will certainly keep loving us in the future. If you have trusted Jesus and yet have doubts about his love for you personally- let God speak to you this morning. While doubts do not mean we lack faith, doubts do rob us of our joy in trusting Jesus. God wants all his adopted children, all those who trust in Jesus, to be confident of their heavenly Father’s love for them today. 

1) God’s love present (1-5)

In vv1-5, Paul lays out the reality of God’s present love for us. He does that in two ways. First, he reminds us of what is true of us if we have trusted Christ. He thinks his readers minds get filled with other realities and they need to be reminded of what they enjoy in Christ regardless of feelings or circumstances. But he also goes on to speak of our experiences of God’s love in the present.

a) Believed. In verses 1-4 Paul reminds us of things that are true if we have trusted Christ as our lord and Saviour. “Therefore since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus.” We might not live in a peaceful house, we might have a stressful workplace. We have emotions raging inside us. But none of that changes an objective fact. If we have trusted Jesus then we have been declared righteous by God and there is now peace between God and us. Our circumstances and emotions don’t change that. There is peace between God and me. He is not angry with me. He’s my friend. He loves me and wants me close to him. The Psalmist often speaks to his soul. And that is what we should do when we doubt God’s love- I have trusted Christ- therefore I am right with God and I have peace with him. He’s not looking no me with suspicion as a potential terrorist, but welcoming me into his house as his child.   

Or to put it in the language we used at the start, of the spouse wondering if they are loved- this is God saying- look at all that I give you day by day. I love you. I invite you to share this wonderful house of peace and grace with me. I listen to you, every word you say. I have given you my credit card, and my credit is good. See that I love you by how I treat you, by what I give you today.

“Through Jesus we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” Before we trusted Jesus, we stood on our own record- and our failures counted against us. When we sinned, when we did what was wrong- and we all have- God judged us. But now through Jesus death we stand in grace. We stand- firmly- in a place where God does not judge us on our record but on Christ’s. If we feel useless, or have done wrong, God does not stop loving us and throw us out. Through Jesus we stand in grace.

What happens when we doubt God’s love for us because of our feelings or our sin is that we have allowed our experience to obscure Jesus’ promises. We say that we trust Jesus, and our doubts are because of our own feelings and weaknesses and sin. Of course Jesus is reliable. But what we are in practice doing is letting our feelings trump Jesus’ promises. If you trust Christ as the saviour from God, then remind yourself of what his salvation wins you. Whatever your feelings, if you trust Jesus you have peace with God and stand in grace not in judgement. If you have trusted the rope, the wind may make you feel precarious, and when you stare down at the drop beneath you you may feel queasy and unsafe. But the rope itself is holding, and you are being pulled up the cliff. And your confidence will be restored when you look at the rope which is not giving way, and look up to see that you are getting nearer to safety. Remember what it is you believe. Look at Jesus. Ask yourself whether he would lie, or let you down. If he keeps his word and he has the power to keep hold of you- then don’t let your emotions or fears drown out his promises. If you have trusted Christ, you are right with God, have peace with God, stand in a place of God’s gracious love not demanding judgement. Speak those truths to yourself, memorise Scriptures like this, listen to songs which proclaim these truths.

And remember that Jesus never promised an easy life for those who followed him. The Father spoke from heaven to declare that he loved Jesus, but Jesus went through many trials and then died on a cross. Jesus guarantees a glorious eternal future, and that our suffering will not be in vain but used by God. So our difficult circumstances which threaten to overwhelm us do not mean god does not love us here and now. “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope.” If we see an easy life, a prosperous life, as the sign of God’s love for us, then we will think that God did not love John the Baptist and he did love king Herod. But if we put on the glasses Jesus gives us, we see that life for God’s children in this world will involve suffering, because of the sin in this world. Our suffering does not mean God does not love us. It means he is working in and through us, making us like Jesus and using us to help others know Jesus. Suffering is a tool of a loving Father who loves us too much to let us fit in too well with this world of sin, doomed to destruction. 

God loves us. Believe it. And that is not me saying- just believe despite there being no evidence. No- if you doubt that Jesus really existed, if you doubt that he was the eternal God made flesh, if you doubt that he died for sins and was raised to reign forever- then come and talk to me, and we can look together at the evidence. But what is ridiculous is to say- I believe all that, I trust in Jesus, but I don’t think God loves me because I feel rubbish today, and my life is filled with difficult circumstances. We are not joining the dots up. We are not letting what we truly believe to be true guide us. How can you declare Jesus to be God and then say that his promises aren’t true for you? How can you say that Jesus died for sins and then say that you don’t feel God loves you today because of a sin you have committed or because you forgot to read your Bible this week? Speak to your soul and declare what Christ says to be true- you are made righteous, have peace with God, stand in a place where God’s love, which you don’t deserve, pours down on you like a waterfall. You have hope of enjoying God’s glory, and even suffering is not a sign of God’s anger but of his loving discipline, training us to be like Jesus. Here and now God loves us and we must remind ourselves of what is true in Christ.  

b) Experienced. But Paul also encourages us that here and now we experience something of God’s love. Look with me at verse 5. “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Paul thinks that in the midst of trials and doubts, those who trust Christ will have the Holy Spirit working in them. And the Holy Spirit, God in us, brings to us living water, God’s love. Now it is possible that this verse is referring to our love for God, or our being God-like in loving others. But a meaning which later gets used in Romans 8 is that the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts and helps us to know, with confidence, almost to experience, that God the Father loves us. Paul sees that as normal for Christians. It’s as if God not only tells us he is good and gives us good things but comes and hugs us. Of course I love you. One of our CDs of children’s songs speaks of “four hugs a day, that’s the minimum”. Children need tangible expressions of love- parents hugging them. Spouses need tangible expressions of love. And God wants to hug us, to pour his love beyond understanding into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Whether in particular experiences or as an everyday reality, Paul expects the Christians in Rome to have this sense of God in their heart, God letting them know that he loves them. And that does not always coincide with specifically religious activity. Eric Liddle, the Olympic runner of the 1920s who went on to become a missionary to China said this: “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” Some people find their sense of God’s presence is more real when going for a walk in beautiful countryside, or listening to music by themselves, than when in church. But the important thing is that our heavenly Father wants us to know his presence and his pleasure, wants us to know how much he loves his dear children.

Now sometimes this confidence, this experience of God as loving Father, doesn’t immediately coincide with trusting Christ. Real Christians who once knew God’s presence in this way can go through dark patches where they do not have this experience, this joyful confidence, this warm reality of God in them and God loving them. But in our doubts, it is worth coming back to this basic reality- do I know God is in me? Do I know the Holy Spirit living in me? Do I know that God loves me not just by reasoning from basics of faith but almost intuitively, or by experience? If you do, then rejoice, and let that reality be something you dwell on and rejoice in. God is at work in your inner being. And if you have trusted Christ and either never had that sense of his love, or not known it for a long period now, then ask God for it, and push in towards God in prayer, asking that he would pour his love into your heart by the Holy Spirit. Our heavenly Father wants his adopted children to know that they are in the family. And as hugs tell children they are loved, making real the reality that is always there in parents, so God wants to make real to us the love he has for us. He wants to do this often- if we will make space in our lives and hearts for him to act.

2) God’s love past (6-8) seen

God’s love for us in the present is something we believe and hold onto, and also something we experience by the Holy Spirit. But if we want an objective proof of God’s love, we have to look at God’s love past. As a husband or wife might look back to marriage vows, to past care through difficulties, to special trips and memories, to sacrifices made for them by their spouse, so Paul wants Christians to look back to have confidence that God loves them. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

As Paul looks back on the event of Christ’s death, he sees God love displayed particularly clearly because we really didn’t deserve it. He looks around at society and recognises that in general people look out for themselves. Perhaps people might sacrifice themselves for a good person, or someone closely connected- a parent might die for their child, a solider might die to protect a good general. We see these examples of heroism and love and we admire them from distance- even in the recent Paris attacks we heard tales of people putting their bodies in the way of bullets to rescue family. There is real heroism and goodness and love, seen in these sacrifices. But none of it compares to God’s love for us.

Because we weren’t righteous and good people who enjoyed good relationship with God. We were v6 powerless and ungodly, v8 sinners. We were against God, evil doers, guilty, rebels, and enslaved in our rebellion and the cycle of evil in this world. We were horrible. And by contrast God is perfect, Christ is righteous, God is worth far more than us and is far better than us. And yet God showed his love for everyone to see by Jesus dying on the cross for us. This is love- not that God loved us according to what we could offer him or how well we had done at living righteously. This is love- that God loved us when we were still enemies, still sinners, still ungodly. God loved us and came, as Jesus, to let us do to God what our evil hearts desired. We wanted God dead so we could sit on the throne. And he came and we killed him. We nailed the only perfect man who ever lived to a cross. We mocked as he hung there. But he did it all for love. As we hated him and killed him, he loved us and gave up his life for us. Do not think Jesus is a helpless victim. When he comes again with a word he will destroy the armies that oppose his rule. He could at any moment have blasted this evil world into atoms. Even as they spat at him and mocked him, he upheld the universe and he chose to die because he loved us.

If I don’t feel loved, if my emotions are troubled, then I look to the cross. If you have been a Christian for a while you probably are in danger of taking the cross for granted. Wonder at the love that means your creator died for you when you were an evil, helpless enemy. If circumstances make you doubt that God loves you, look at the cross and see that the God who gives himself up to such a death for you loves you and will not hold back in doing good for you. If your sin- a single terrible one, or a horrible habitual struggle- makes you doubt God’s love for you, then look to the cross. God died for you when you were his enemies. He loved you and went to the cross knowing all the evil in your heart. He loves you and he showed that he loves you by a costly, painful sacrifice. The one truly good and righteous man who ever lived died so that you might be forgiven. The King of Kings on throne of the universe left his throne for a cross to rescue you- you whom he created, you who were a spoiled creation, you who were a speck of dust in comparison to his glory streaming out across the universe. God loves you. And he has broadcast that on loudspeakers through time and space by sending his Son to die for you. Suffered under Pontius Pilate, died for your sins.

Without the cross the reality of evil and suffering might easily lead us to wonder if God was really good. But this event puts an end to our doubts. God’s love is displayed, in human history. The blood of Jesus stands against our doubts- if we want to say that we trust Jesus but think God does not love us, he points us to the scars in his hands and his feet and asks us what more he can do to show us that he loves us. 

3) God’s love future (9-11) confident

In the present we trust what Jesus says is true about how we stand with God, in his love, and we experience his love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. As we look for objective evidence of God’s love we look to the past, to the cross which shows us God’s love in his gracious, undeserved initiative of self sacrifice so that we might life. But what about the future. Will God keep loving us? Is he really going to take care of us? As we face an uncertain future, with potential for illness, poverty, family conflicts and accidents- will God really take care of us? As people who we thought loved us let us down, or betrayed us, or were unable to help us- is God’s love really going to keep going? Will he keep loving us?

As we face the future Paul wants us to have confidence that God’s love will not fail because of how far his love has already taken us. He draws the contrast between how far God has already taken us- shown by the cross- and what is left for God to do. If you were in a car, stuck in the mud at the bottom of a steep hill, and someone came in a tractor and dragged you out the mud, and up the hill, and all that was left was short way across the flat to of the hill, would you worry that the tractor couldn’t do it. After all that has been done, is there any reason to doubt that they will finish it.

So twice Paul compares what God has already done with what remains, and asks us whether it is likely God will fail at this point. Since we have been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! Justification- being declared righteous by God, was an amazing act of God’s grace. We were guilty. We were in the wrong. We deserved to be cast out of God’s presence. But by Jesus blood, by his death in our place, we have been declared righteous. Good enough. It was costly, it is was undeserved. And if God can at such great cost declare us righteous, then now we are in Christ don’t you think his wrath which will come upon evil will pass over us. God has done the great work of making us righteous. We can trust him to then save us from judgement on the wicked. We will be saved on that last day when evil is consumed and wat is left is renewed in glory.

And Paul says it again. “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” We are aware of the costliness of being reconciled to enemies. Nelson Mandela’s courage and willing to sit with those who had mistreated him enabled South Africa to move relatively peacefully beyond apartheid. It was costly. When someone has wronged us, the desires for justice and punishment are strong. Those who slander us, those who exploit us, those who attack us, those who ignore us- there is pain in what is done. And it is costly to forgive and be reconciled. The cost to God of reconciling to himself enemies who wanted him dead was the death of his Son. The costliness of reconciliation becomes clear when we consider the monsters who live in this world. PolPot took power in Cambodia with the Kymer Rouge, and forced everyone into the fields, executing anyone who was educated and their families. God hates such men. He hates their evil. But in Christ’s death God makes a way possible for even such a man to repent and be reconciled to God. PolPot himself did not repent. But there are villages in Cambodia today where ex Khmer Rouge officials have turned to Christ. God has welcomed into his family mass murdered who killed children. When we gather round the throne of heaven on the last day to worship Jesus, alongside us will be men who tortured and stole and raped and killed. Our stomachs sicken at the thought. But God is purer than us and he hates their evil more. But by Jesus death on the cross he wipes away the wicked pasts and brings power to change people for the future. That is amazingly costly. That is what he has done for us. And if his death reconciles us to God, Jesus resurrection life given to us by the Spirit saves us from death and judgement and brings us safely to eternal life. His death brings us from the darkness into the light, into the family, into the presence of God. Once there, we will be brought safely through all opposition and difficulties.

Will God’s love for you fail in the face of future doubts, difficulties and sins? Remember what God has paid already. He has paid the ultimate price. And God does not leave work half done. He does not fail to keep his promises. He has paid the price to forgive you and welcome you into his family. And now his love is securely fixed in you and will inexorably bring you to glory.

God loves you. If you have trusted Christ you are securely in his arms of love. If you have not trusted Jesus he is declaring his love for you this morning and inviting you to respond and come into his family.