Before you read this, you need to read this: Ephesians 1-2.
This is one of the passages that as a counselor I encourage people to read as they struggle with depression, when their worlds are crashing around them and when they feel totally abandoned and alone. The Ephesian Christians, like many believers early in the faith, must have felt that way as well. (For more on the early Ephesian church go here for some great teaching.) One of the great attacks of the enemy is to confuse us of our spiritual identity. To make us think that while we face trial, we have lost something that we used to be and that we are now standing alone.
How does he do that? By planting seeds of doubt in our lives. The first place he attacks is the foundational truth that God loves us, because for us, God’s love is where it all starts.
We love because he first loved us.
- 1 John 4:19 (NIV)
Our hearts resonate with the idea that we are unloveable, that we aren’t worth the extravagant love of God. For some of us, when we hear about God’s love, all we can think about are the all ways that we have fallen short, all the ways that we have been hurt, all the prayers that have gone unanswered and we begin to doubt the love of God. We begin to doubt his interest in what is happening in our lives. Maybe we are like the child whose parents have found themselves in the middle of a mess. God isn’t pleased with the mess you’ve made but he is thrilled and ecstatic about you and who you are. So much so that:
"because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
- Ephesians 2:4-10)
When we are talking about the powerful truth of God's love we must be careful not to make light of our sin. Sin brings death, pain, destruction and hurt. I often think that one of the primary reasons God hates sin is because He is all too familiar with what sin does in our lives. But the point isn't our sin, the point is the love of God expressed by His showing us grace. The idea of that love is what the enemy would attack and what he strives to make us doubt.
Paul spends the bulk of the first two chapters of Ephesians simply reminding them of who they are and how they are seen by Jesus. It is almost as if every proclamation is made in direct opposition to an accusation or doubt. Go back and take a look:
1:3- Says we are "blessed with every spiritual blessing" while we think we are poor.
1:4-Paul says "he chose us to be holy and blameless" while we see ourselves as undesirable and guilty, unable to please God and unworthy of forgiveness.
1:5- Tells us that "he predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus" while we see ourselves as not fitting into God's family.
1:6- Speaks the truth that "he gives his grace freely", while we think that somehow we should earn it.
1:7-8 So beautifully states that "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance to the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all grace and understanding" while we still struggle to see why he did it and why he loves so much at all.
1:9- In this verse Paul states that "He makes known the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure", while we insist we are directionless and without any clue as to what, who, and where God wants us to be.
Did it ever cross your mind that God just wants you to stop right where you are and bask in His love, to drink up his grace? You don't have to stop with verse nine, you can keep going. But when you do, you will find that every proclamation Paul makes about how God views his people, (and how he views you, who you are, with your own quirks and things that make you unique) that God screams his love to you, God shouts his approval of you. This is the foundation of the message of the Gospel, that God, compelled by love, sent His Son, to die for humanity that we might have a way to be reunited with Him. Our message is the Gospel of Love. Not everyone shares the same message.
This weekend in an Arizona at a grocery store a mentally ill man shot over 20 people, including a congress woman, killing a nine year old girl, a judge and four others. Six people total were murdered on that chilling day. A church infamous for their hatred sent out a press release thanking God for the shooter, proclaiming that he was sent by God to cause this havoc and pain and that "God is sitting in Heaven laughing at you." As you read that line you should be cringing, you should be saying to yourself something along the lines of, "That's sick! That's not God!" That initial gut reaction is right on. You automatically reject their proposal that God is a God of hate who delights in the pain of innocents. When you see their protests on the news everything within you cringes and you reject their false belief that God is a God of hate and you are right to do so. But just as assuredly as you reject their corrupt view of God, so should you also reject those thoughts, accusations, and leanings that begin to tell you the same false message: That God doesn't love you, that He doesn't care, and He doesn't hear your prayers. This simply isn't true.
Paul spends the first third of the book of Ephesians reminding the Church at Ephesus of who they are in Christ and of how God sees them. We all need that encouragement from time to time. We live in a world mired by sin, where doubts seem to flourish as faith flitters away. This is why Paul wrote in Ephesins 3:14-19
"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."
This is my prayer now almost 2000 years later for all believers. I'll not soon stop praying it, and God will not soon stop answering it!
Grace and Peace,