Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I saw a Peanuts cartoon recently in which Charlie Brown, talking with Lucy, wonders if God is pleased with him. When he asks Lucy if she ever wonders the same thing, she replies, “He just HAS to be!” Humorous? Yes, but touching on a profound issue we all relate to, for we all seek affirmation. At one level, that’s OK—God created us as relational beings and it’s natural to seek affirmation from others. But that desire becomes a problem when affirmation is sought not knowing that God, who knows who we truly are and are becoming, is pleased with us already.
For those not secure in this gospel truth, I recommend they read The Mediation of Christ, by Thomas F. Torrance. It powerfully proclaims a vital pastoral principle: Because the gospel is always Yet not I, but Christ, we must avoid casting people back on themselves. We work contrary to that principle when our preaching and teaching point people to their sinful nature, or impose long lists of things they must do to please God. Doing so tends to focus people on self rather than Christ. But the gospel truth is that we are who we are, and who we are becoming, not apart from Christ, but in Christ. In fact, we have no being apart from Christ. Everything that was ours he has made his own so that everything that is his, is now ours in him. Paul put it this way:
You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)
The Mediation of Christ helps us understand the good news that God really is pleased with us. That’s important to know in a world filled with so much bad news: the Chinese stock market imploding, Wall Street and United Airlines computer systems crashing, Greece on the brink of bankruptcy, ISIS executing thousands. Seeing all this bad news, some wrongly conclude that God is causing (or at least allowing) these things because of his hatred of sin. While it’s true that God hates sin, it’s not for the reason many assume. The truth is that God is not surprised by sin, and evil cannot thwart the plan he is working out in the universe. God hates sin because it damages and hurts his creation—it causes it pain and suffering, and that is not God’s will.
When God created the universe, he declared it good, even very good (Genesis 1:25, 27, 31). But how could God say that foreknowing that the creation would become so broken and diseased? Scripture (rightly understood) tells us that sin and evil entered the world as the absence of and defection away from what ought to be. Sin and evil are a corruption of God’s good creation and God is not the source—the creatures he created are, and we all are culpable. Yet God has good news for us—sin and evil do not change his love for his creatures, including humans who are created in his very image.
God was not caught off guard when in our pride and arrogance we rebelled against him. Along with his very good creation, God had a very good plan to assure his purpose for creation would survive even the greatest evil humans could devise. That is why John wrote about “the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). God’s plan was no fourth-down punt (to use an American football analogy), nor an emergency contingency plan. God created humanity to be in relationship with him and our failures were not unanticipated, they are not a showstopper. The opposite is true: God’s plan is the showstopper!
Regardless of what we do, or how much evil is in the world, Jesus is sufficient. He is the Son of God who assumed all original sin in the incarnation, all without sinning. In his purity, especially on the cross, he condemned sin in the flesh for the salvation of all humanity. That, dear brothers and sisters, is the good news of the gospel, which, as Paul wrote to the church in Colossae, tells us of the supremacy of Jesus, who is the very center of God’s plan:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Colossians 1:15-23)
In explaining who God is, Torrance reminds us that God never repents of being love. His love is always and everywhere unconditional:
It is his loving of the sinner which resists his sin that is His judgment of the sinner.… The total self-giving of the self-affirming God in love is and cannot but be the judgment of His love upon the sinner. He does not hold back His love from the sinner, for He cannot cease to be the God who loves and loves unreservedly and unconditionally. (The Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons, p. 246)
Yes, God is implacably opposed to sin for he takes no delight in seeing his creation besmirched. Yet sin and evil do not decrease God’s love for us. Note what God says through Ezekiel: “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone… so turn, and live” (Ezekiel 18:32 ESV).
In saying God is pleased with us already, we are not being antinomian nor “light on sin.” In The Doctrine of Jesus Christ, Torrance teaches that sin is a contradiction in the heart and at the basis of human existence—a corruption of our existence and a disintegration of our very being in relation to God. God, who has guaranteed that evil has no future, in mercy cuts and burns away the sin in us, condemning it to hell, and rescuing us for eternal life with him. God made this possible in Jesus where we die with him under God’s judgment—his No against sin, including the sin within us. With Christ we are ransomed and raised to newness of life. God’s love for us, therefore, is not based upon our works (good or bad). No, God is infinitely pleased with us, not because of what we do but because of who we are as his children and what he can do in and through us in fellowship and communion with him.
Let me share one more quote from Tom Torrance in The Mediation of Christ:
God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualized his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. (p. 94)
Even our individual repentance is flawed, and our Savior acts in our behalf on that too. Through his grace, we are “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). That means when God looks at us, he doesn’t see our sin—he sees the perfection of his Son—a perfection he is building in us by the Holy Spirit and that will be completed on the other side of our death, in Christ Jesus. It pleases God to reveal his Son in us (Galatians 1:15-16). Moreover, God sees the beginning from the end and he loves a good ending more than we realize.
Yes, God is pleased with you already, for you belong to him in Jesus Christ.
Feeling his pleasure as we proclaim the good news!
PS: For a short booklet (tract) that presents this gospel truth, including an invitation to receive Christ, see the post under the Church Development heading above, left (or click here). I encourage our congregations to print copies of this booklet for members to give to friends and family, and to give to visitors at church.