Responding to the Love of God

Ephesians 2:1-6 – “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)….”

In the previous post I wrote about the “hesed” love of our God for us.  A love that is always gracious, always kind, always merciful, always pursuing, unfailing and relentless. This great covenant love of our God not only overcomes our stubbornness, our rebellion, trespasses and sins; it overwhelms them with mercy, grace, kindness and relentless pursuit.  And still, no matter our responses to Him, our God deals with us out of this love.

Please do not misunderstand.  This is not some kind of “Grandpa and Grandma” love that ignores the harmful choices we make in our lives.  In this great love for us there are consequences, there is discipline.  Our selfish choices are harmful to us and violate our very purpose for existing.

The opposite of love is not hate; the opposite of love is self.  The principal feature of our rebellion against our God as a race is our preoccupation with self.  This is the message of Isaiah 53:6 – we have turned each one of us to our own way.  We chose self over our God, and now this self-focused paradigm and pervasive rebelliousness defines us as humans.  Whatever is selfish cannot love, and cannot really comprehend true love. Our God desires to purify us from this selfishness and restore to us our divine capacity to love.

What must be our response to this “hesed” love of our God, this covenant love He lavishes upon us? It is only right that we respond to Him in kind, with a covenant love. Hosea the prophet gives is instruction about responding to our God’s love in Hosea 6:1-6. “Come, let us return to the Lord. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us.  “He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, that we may live before Him.  “So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; and He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth.”

Israel had wandered far from a true faith in their God.  Time and again they would begin to worship the false gods of the people with whom they shared the land.  They would pursue their own self-interests and ignoring their God. This disobedience would repeat many times.  After much patience and countless warnings and pleas to return, our God would finally step in with punishing severity.  This He did for their own well-being and to return them to the purity to which they were called.

And so this word from God through Hosea.  “Come let us return to the Lord, for He will heal us.”  Here the prophet is relying on the covenant love of God.  There is in this plea confidence that if they will return to their God, His love for them will lead to healing.

“So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord.”  The prophet is pleading not for a behavior change, but for a change in the relationship they have with their God.  The Hebrew term here, “to know,” is a term of intimacy, not factual knowledge.  The Lord is pleading for a deep, intimate relationship with them that would prevent them from returning to their folly.

We cannot love deeply one whom we do not know deeply.   So to Israel our God is expressing His desire and the expectation that His children will return to intimacy with Him.  He desires that they will love Him as He loves them, with a loyal, covenant love that is steadfast and pursuing.  His message to them is this: “For I delight in loyalty – covenant love in return for my covenant love for you – rather than sacrifice – religious observance.” 

Apparently, the Israelites believed that if they offered up the required sacrifices and religious observances, they were “in” with their God.  They could then do as they pleased.  They were ignoring the greatest commandment, to love their God with all of their heart, soul, and strength.

It is easy to fall victim to the same thinking as the Israelites in Hosea’s time.   If we just give our God enough of the religious stuff He wants, He will be okay with that.  We can then get on with living our own lives.  How easily we forget that the reason for which we were created, the reason for which we were redeemed was to bring us into a self-sacrificing, all-consuming covenant love for our God.  There is only one proper response to His covenant love for us.

How do we respond to our God’s covenant love for us? “For I delight in loyalty – covenant love in return for my covenant love for you – rather than sacrifice – religious observance; and in the knowledge of God – a deep and intimate friendship – more than religious observances.”  Our only appropriate response is nothing less than a love that never fails.

To lay aside our self-interests to pursue our God is a life-long battle for us. Whatever is selfish cannot love, and cannot really comprehend true love. Our God knows this, and He has provided a way for us to love Him as we should.

Stay tuned for the next post.

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