A Follow-Up Question
Years ago, when D. James Kennedy’s Evangelism Explosion was a popular tool for sharing the good news of Jesus, the first question the evangelist would ask is, “If you died today, do you believe you’d go to heaven?” If the respondent answered no, then on with the gospel presentation. If they replied yes, the follow up was, “Why do you think you’d be let into heaven?” If they gave an “I’m a pretty good person” answer, then on with the gospel presentation. But if they professed to trust in the finished redemptive, substitutionary work of Jesus on their behalf as sin-bearer and righteousness provider, then they were good to go.
But there is a follow-up question that needs to be asked. Desperately. If you have the confidence of heaven to come, what does God think of you right now? At that point, many eyes shift toward the ground in a stare of discomfort.
- “He is probably disappointed.”
- “I think he regrets forgiving me.”
- “I wouldn’t like me very much if I were him.”
Here is the issue. Even if I believe God forgives my past sins and that my future is in the glory of heaven on earth, I may struggle to believe that the Father loves me in the present. Oh, he may have to tolerate me. But treasure me? No way.
This mindset, of course, is a lie coined by Satan and embraced by the flesh.
Part of the problem is that we fail to take into account the advice of the 19th-century Scottish pastor, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, who quipped, “For every one look at yourself, take ten looks upon Jesus.” Sadly, I tend to take one look at Jesus for every ten looks at myself. Ugh.
The reason for gazing upon the Savior more than yourself is that the believer’s identity is no longer their own moral record but is the moral record of Jesus credited to them, having been received as a gift through faith. So, when I look at myself, I may behold a miserable sinner. However, in our new identity, the Father sees a beloved son or daughter clothed in the perfect righteousness of the Son.
What this means is that those who receive the gift-righteousness of Jesus as their own are now as holy, pure, and perfect in the eyes of the Father as Jesus is.
Remember, Jesus died for us when we were unlovable sinners, and that atoning grace has not been left in the past. Nor is it merely reserved for a time in the future. No, the gospel calls us to embrace with full, unrelenting confidence the present value of Jesus’ blood.
The Inauguration of Jesus’ Formal Ministry
I think this is why the Father covered Jesus with the famous words of Mark 1:11 at the inauguration of Christ’s redemptive ministry. He would be severely tempted by Satan, rejected by his own people, and crucified as a common criminal, enduring eternal judgment upon sin. It was going to be unthinkably grueling work to complete. In the midst of suffering, he would need to be convinced of the Father’s love.
It is instructive for us that Jesus receives words of affirmation at the beginning of his ministry, not just at the end. He is validated before he does anything validation worthy. The Father wants his son to know in no uncertain terms that Jesus is his delight—knowledge that would become fuel for the hope and resolve the Savior would need to fulfill his calling.
The same is true for all believers. In Christ, we are not validated as beloved sons and daughters after we prove ourselves or earn the Father’s favor. God validates us at the beginning with an affirmation that never fades.
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Isn’t this what every boy wants to hear from his Daddy, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
If you are an adopted child of God through faith in the “it is finished” work of the risen Jesus upon a cross, you are not only forgiven but have been declared holy, perfect, and well-pleasing to God. Hear me: you are his delight.
That is what the Father thinks of you… right now. “You are mine, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Why Do I Love You?
When my son was a young boy, he was really fast. He gets that from his mama and grandfather, both known for their speed on the track. I don’t remember when Kristy (the fast mama) and I started this, but before bed, we’d ask him this question, “Do we love you because you are fast, or smart, or handsome, or funny?” He had learned the correct answer and would recite it with a confident smile.
“No, you don’t love me because I’m fast, or smart, or handsome, or funny. You love you because I am yours.”
This is what we need to hear as children of God at the start of the day, at noon, and as we go to bed. This is what pastors need to hear at the beginning of vocational ministry, or whatever it is we think will keep him loving us. It is not our gifts or effort or goodness.
He loves us because we are his.