“How could God love me?” We’ve all been there, and if you’ve never asked yourself this question, it will come at some point—or at least it should, if you understand yourself correctly. The Scripture does not speak favorably of the human condition. We are “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) and are naturally enemies of God (Romans 5:10) who can do no good at all whatsoever (Romans 3:10). And the remedy that’s been offered to us, we don’t even want (v.11). We exchange the truth for a lie and we direct our worship towards created things rather than the Creator Himself (Romans 1:25). We make ourselves God and we cater to our own preferences and cravings (Philippians 3:19), placing ourselves at the center of our universe. We love ourselves too much and God too little, if at all. This is the biblical testimony of mankind before God and we must all reckon with this reality if we are to understand rightly our own selves in relation to God
But this raises a dilemma: in this condition, how could God love us? How could God look upon us and feel love, warmth, and kindness towards us rather than wrath, indignation, and contempt? Certainly God has every right to punish us and banish us from His presence forever (2 Peter 2:3-9). Yet we wake up each morning to sunlight, fresh air, alive, breathing, able to live another day. And we use these gifts of God to serve our own purposes rather than His. But even still, God is patient and long-suffering with us, not condemning us, but even blessing us! Why? What have we done? How could God love us?
To understand this, we have to shift our focus off of ourselves and examine not the love that God has for us, but the love that God has for His Son. At His baptism, God says of Jesus, “this is my Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). God loved Jesus with an eternal love that existed “even before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). God loves Jesus so much that “He has given all things into His hand” (John 3:35), and it’s because of His love that God “shows Him all the things that He Himself does” (John 5:20). God so loved Jesus that He “was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him” (Colossians 1:19). Such is the nature of the Father’s love for the Son.
It’s with this background understanding of the Father’s love for the Son that we can begin to understand God’s love for us. It’s Jesus perfect nature—His sinlessness, His purity, His glory—that allows God to love Him with an eternal, unconditional love. And it’s these very things that Jesus gives us—sinlessness, purity, and glory—that allow God to love us.
Ephesians 5:26-27 is describing the kind of love a husband should have for his wife by detailing the way in which Jesus has loved the church. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you” (John 15:9), Jesus says. And it’s here that Paul explains in great detail what that love drove Jesus to do. He gave Himself up for the church “so that He might sanctify her” (v. 26). Now the term “sanctify” is not used here in the sense of “progressive sanctification”, being progressively made more and more into the image of Christ, but rather “definitive sanctification”, which speaks to the reality that we have been set apart by God as Holy. We have been sanctified. Christ’s death on the cross for our sin allowed His righteousness to be credited to us (2 Corinthians 5:21), so that now God looks upon us as being sinless in a way. We are covered in the righteousness of Christ, and God is not angry with Christ’s righteousness, but is pleased with it.
Christ’s death on the cross for us sanctified us and also “cleansed :us: by the washing of water with the word” (v. 26). Every defilement that tarnished us has been removed, washed away by the blood of Jesus. Meaning there are no accusations that the enemy or even God Himself can bring against us. Can God accuse His Son of ever having defied Him? Can the enemy accuse Jesus of ever having engaged in sin? “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect?” (Romans 8:33). No, we stand blameless before God. We are pure.
Christ has given us His sinlessness and His purity, but most amazingly enough, Christ has shared with us His glory. All of the washing and the purifying was so that Christ “might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be spotless and without blemish” (v. 27). Jesus said, “I have given them the glory that You gave me” (John 17:22), and Jesus makes true on this statement by “calling us to His own glory and excellence” and making us “partakers of the diving nature” (2 Peter 1:3-4). He does this “through the gospel, that you may have a share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:14). Truly, we will not be able to say that Jesus ever withheld anything from us, but He has given us all of Himself. His righteousness, His purity, even His own glory.
So beloved (and maybe that term is taking on a new meaning for you), the question is not “how can God love me?”, but rather, if we are to believe the testimony of Scripture, if we are to take serious the work of Christ on our behalf, and if we are to rightly honor the Bride of the Bridegroom, we should ask the question: “why wouldn’t God love me?” Now on the surface, that question sounds arrogant and pompous. And it is certainly so for those who ask that question outside of repentance and faith in Christ. But for the church, that question is not one that comes from a sense of puffed up pride, but of confident reliance upon the promise of God and the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. If we stand before God clothed in the righteousness, purity, and glory of Jesus Christ, then we cannot ever wonder how God could love us—that’s not the mystery here. The real mystery is how God couldn’t love us.
Ephesians 5:25-27, ”He gave Himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be spotless and without blemish.”