THE SELFLESSNESS OF “JESUS LOVES ME”
There’s a prevailing notion among theological conservatives that a Christian singing about God’s love for him is self-centered. As a theological conservative myself, I bought into this for years, thinking I had achieved a heightened state of spirituality where my love for God and my neighbor had deposed my love for myself. Little did I realize, I actually spent those years holding the fullness of God’s love at arm’s length and robbing myself of the abundance God had for me in those seasons. I’ve spent time recently talking with Christian brothers who have also been tricked in this way, using Scripture to exhort them toward rejoicing in the words “Jesus loves me.” I hope, whoever is reading, this helps you do the same.
We were discussing Steffany Gretzinger’s song, “Out of Hiding,” written from God’s perspective. The chorus goes, “I loved you before you knew what was love. I saw it all, still I chose the cross. You were the one that I was thinking of when I rose from the grave.*”*
That last sentence bothered me, and I wasted no time in telling my friends exactly why. I thought it was absurdly selfish for any one person to say that she personally was on Jesus’ mind during the crucifixion and resurrection. I justified that thought by saying, “God’s glory among all the peoples of the earth was more likely top-of-mind for Jesus.” While that could be true, those words came from a place of inability to accept God’s personal love for me, and I did theological gymnastics to make that seem like a good thing. In what I felt was a righteous reproach against consumerist, Millennial Christianity, I rejected the notion of praising God for loving me. In acts of spiritual virtue signaling, I would say, “Why would I praise God for loving for me, when I could give him so much more praise for loving all people? All nations?” I also resorted to self-condemnation, thinking that unless I came before God in total self-abasement, I would be guilty of taking advantage of his grace. These were symptoms of a grave spiritual sickness: I was unable to accept from God what I could not earn. I believed in my mind that God’s love and salvation were a free gift, but I did not believe it in my heart.
O Lord, how my adversaries have increased! Many are rising up against me. Many are saying of my soul, “There is no deliverance for him in God.” But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the One who lifts my head. I was crying to the Lord with my voice, And He answered me from His holy mountain.
When I began the Psalm, my prideful heart thought it was only natural that David was in this predicament because he wasn’t exactly father of the year. But then God whispered something in my ear that hit me like a ton of bricks: “It didn’t matter. I loved him and he loved me.”
In that moment I realized more fully than ever that God saves us because he loves us, not because of what we can do for him. In Psalm 3, David didn’t waste his breath apologizing for any failures as a father, or even acknowledging them. Instead, he cries out to his own Father, giving him glory and believing he would respond on account of his great love. God’s personal, individual love for us is always the decisive factor in our lives. God hears the prayers of his people because he has set them apart for himself (Psalm 4:3). Only by God’s love for us can we come into his house (Psalm 5:7).
Love is the currency in God’s economy. God demonstrates his love for us in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection (Romans 5:8); and in return for his great kindness, he receives glory (Ephesians 2:6-7). If this holy order of operations is not expressed in our personal lives with God, how can we effectively facilitate it in someone else’s? The answer is, we can’t. That’s the selflessness of declaring, “God loves me.” We are to BOAST in the hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:2) – the hope that will not disappoint us because God first poured his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). Until we fully embrace God’s love for us as individuals, we cannot be a conduit for conveying his love to those around us.
Jesus did not suffer and die so we could justify ourselves through good works or spiritual virtue signaling. No, he went through that unfathomable pain so HE could do it FOR us (Romans 4:25). In my old mindset, I thought I was giving Jesus’ work on the cross its proper respect, but I was actually treating it with contempt. To give our Savior the true glory he is due, we need to embrace his love fully, to glory in it, to boast in it, to abide in it every moment and greet it every morning.
Paul writes in Ephesians 5:1-2, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Brothers and sisters, let us walk in the way of love by first acknowledging the reality that we are dearly loved children of God.