R.C. Sproul Jr. wants to help us believe God. That's the purpose of his forthcoming book, Believing God: Twelve Biblical Promises Christians Struggle to Accept (March, 2009). As I mentioned yesterday in my reflections on chapter 1, I'm taking the next couple weeks to blog through each chapter as a means of commending the book and strengthening my own faith. Today I'm taking up chapter 2: Our Heavenly Father Loves Us (1 John 3:1).
Sproul is convinced that many Christians struggle believing the promise of God's love for us seen in texts like 1 John 3:1: "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him."
I've suggested in this blog that believing God loves us is probably not one of the most pressing problems in evangelicalism today. And yet, Sproul's reminder here is helpful. He suggests that our struggle to believe God loves us is partly because many Christians "misuse our minds to wriggle away from this overwhelming promise" (14). Sproul offers three ways we might do this:
1. Some Christians think of God's love as a mere action rather than emotion. In other words, we can believe that he forgives us, but not that he loves us in any kind of emotive sense.
2. Some Christians, like the neo-orthodox, want to think of God only in terms of a "transcendent other." This kind of thinking, according to Sproul, makes it difficult to grasp a text like 1 John 3:1.
3. Some Christians think that the Father doesn't really love us, but only "Christ in us." While this kind of thinking stems from a sense of our unworthiness which can be a good thing, Sproul argues that it ultimately undermines the full import of the Father's love for us.
Sproul outlines three things we need to grasp if we would grow in believing God loves us. The first is that as Christians we are now sons and daughters of God--members of His family:
What a staggering shock--He loves us as His sons. Or, equally staggering, we are His sons and He loves us. How might we differ if we believed simply this? How might we cease to clamor and claw our way toward the approval of men? How might we enjoy the fruit of joy, peace, and patience because our deepest longing has been fulfilled? How might our fears dissipate if we knew deep in our hearts that we are the beloved children of the Lord of all things? How might we live in peace with the brethren if we knew not only that we are the children of God, but so are they? That not only are we beloved of the Father, but so are they? How might we put to death the sins of slander and gossip if we knew we are His children? (17)
Second, Sproul wants us to see that God's love is not fickle or adolescent:
... how firm might the peace be if we understood that this real, emotive love from our Father is an unchangeable love? God is not some date from junior high. He doesn’t write our name on His notebook, only to erase it when some new love comes along. If we are His children now, if He loves us now, then we can know for certain, for the rest of our lives, no matter the hardship of circumstance, that we will always be His children and that He will always love us (17).
Third, Sproul reminds us of what we actually inherit as sons and daughters of God:
Our Father, because He can never die, makes us heirs of the one thing worth having, the very reality of which every other blessing is but a reflection. What we inherit, and what will delight us into eternity, is God Himself. He is His greatest possession, and as His heirs we will inherit Him. Of course, we will always be His. He, after all, is our Father and our Maker. But the glory of His grace is that He has also promised that He will be ours. He is our exceedingly great reward (20).
These are powerful reminders and helpful correctives to false thinking within the church today.
My only critique of the chapter is that there is no mention of the cross of Christ. This is strange in a chapter on the love of God for his own. Consider just one example of this connection in the Bible from Romans 5:8: "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (cf. Romans 8:31-39). When I begin to doubt the love of God for me I run to the cross.
With faith strengthened I move to chapter 3: Confession, Forgiveness, and Cleansing (1 John 1: 9).