I know God loves me, but does He like me?
“I love you, but right now I don’t like you!” Whether on our favorite sit-com or in real life, we’ve all heard those words at some point. We all assume that it is possible to truly love someone even when while disliking them because of their behavior. In fact, we’ve all experienced both ends of this equation and so we wonder if God feels the same way about us. “Jesus loves me. This I know. For the Bible tells me so. But He must be pretty ticked off at me right now because of…(fill in the blank)”
But is this true? Is it possible for God to love us and dislike us at the same time? Instead of picturing Him looking at us with affection, we picture Him looking with anger. “I didn’t think you’d still be doing that! Are you kidding me?! You are sooo lucky Jesus is here…”
This belief about the character of God is joy-suffocating and destructive to the Gospel. What I mean is this; if you have been re-born by the Holy Spirit through hearing the Gospel and believing in Jesus as the God-man sent to fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law by living a perfect life, dying a substitutionary death, and defeating death through His bodily resurrection, then GOD LIKES YOU! In order to believe this, you must see that the cross of Christ secured more than mere forgiveness for you (though it did secure that).
Here are a few more elements and implications of the Gospel that will help round out your belief about your standing with God.
1. Penal substitutionary atonement: In his death Christ has substituted himself in our place and has taken the just penalty of God against our sins. 1 John 4:9-10 says “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 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.” In his book “In My Place Condemned He Stood,” J.I. Packer defines propitiation as “wrath-quenching.” Jesus stood in our place as a wrath-quencher. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” 2 Cor 5:21 tells us. In the ultimate act of love and justice, God poured His wrath against our sin on His perfect Son. In Hebrews 10:12-14 we see that unlike the Levitical priests, who offered the atoning sacrifice yearly at Yom Kippur, Jesus only had to atone once. His work is finished and God’s righteous wrath against you was quenched by Jesus on the cross.
2. Justification: “An instantaneous legal act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight” (Grudem, Systematic Theology). Romans 3:23-26 says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Justification is the positive announcement made through atonement. Yes, the righteous wrath due you has been quenched, but there’s more. You have been given a right standing with God through Jesus. God has given us a completely “other” righteousness, the righteousness of Jesus. In Romans 5 we learn that we are either “in” Adam or Jesus. Our identity is either that of Adam or Jesus. Jesus offers us his righteousness as a free gift of grace. We take hold of that gift through our faith and once and for all we are seen by God as righteous.
3. Adoption: God makes us members of His family. Our oldest child, Elijah, is adopted and I can attest to there being great costs involved in the adoption process. Jenny and I desired to adopt Elijah and we sacrificed a great deal of money, time, and energy to bring him into our family. God desired to adopt you and he sacrificed a great deal (Himself) to bring you into his family. Ephesians 1:4b-5 says “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” This means that at the heart of the difficult doctrine of predestination is God’s adoptive love.
4. Union with Christ: “That intimate, vital, and spiritual union between Christ and his people, in virtue of which he is the source of their life and strength, of their blessedness and salvation.” (Berkhof, Systematic Theology) The bible describes our union with Christ in a variety of ways; vine and branches (John 15), the foundation and temple of God (Eph 2 and 1 Peter 2), head and body (Eph 4), and husband and wife (Eph 5). All of these biblical types (or illustrations) of union are pointing toward the “intimate, vital, and spiritual” that Berkhof speaks of. The branches draw life from and are connected to the vine. Temple walls are doomed without the necessary foundation, and the expert builder connects them inseparably. The body does the will of the head, while beating with the same heart. And the marriage of husband and wife is the most intimate and relational union, a union involving the self-sacrificial love of a husband and the submissively responsive love of a wife. Our union with Christ means that the Father would have to dislike the Son in order to dislike those who are “in” the Son.
God loves and likes His redeemed children because He loves and likes His only begotten Son. When thinking of our salvation, when we stop at forgiveness for sins we miss out on so much of the Gospel and it often causes us to feel as though we have to validate God’s favor through our good deeds (and feel like we’ve lost that favor when our deeds are bad).
You may read all of this and think, “okay, so I can do whatever I want and God has to continue loving and liking me…” This would be a mistake. Being the beneficiary of Christ’s finished work on the cross, as well as being intimately and relationally united with Him, will result in a desire to behold and display His glory in every aspect of your life. When confronted with your sin you will experience a “Godly grief” rather than a “worldly grief” (2 Cor 7). This means that you will stop worrying so much about yourself (“does God like me? is God angry with me? are people going to stop liking or respecting me?”) and start worrying about God’s glory and other’s good (“how does this reflect God’s character?).
Living as a redeemed child of God means that you will happily do the things that you know make your Father happy, knowing that He is infinitely happy in His Son (and all those who are in Him) for all eternity.