lt used to be enough that God loves you. You remember those days, right after you internalized, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in might not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
And it felt so good, so freeing. All of a sudden, you felt humility and self-worth bleeding together, overlapping. But it didn’t take long. A few sermons, a few calls to start serving, to do your part, to use your gifts, to fulfill your “calling”; a few failures, a few skipped Bible studies, angry outbursts or nasty thoughts and suddenly you aren’t so sure God likes you.
Sure, sure, He loves you. He promised to never leave you and you know all the verses about His lovingkindness that endures forever, but yeah, not so sure He’s really all that proud of you. His love is obligatory, kind of like a parent’s. But He’s not calling you His friend. You’re pretty nervous to imply that you and God are all that close. So you cringe a bit when it’s your turn to pray out loud. You pick up dime-a-dozen devos instead of the real Word of God. God loves you, He has to, right?
You’re not the first Christian to feel this way. That’s why most of us spout off, “We are saved by grace through faith and not by works”, but then try ever so hard to do just the right things. The pulpit preaches that Jesus paid the price and we cannot earn salvation, but then, once we’re saved we discover the checklist of all the things we ought to do to insure our salvation. Sound familiar?
But if it’s true that God’s gift of salvation is free, then how is it possible that the maintenance of the same is so expensive? And if security does not come at a cost, then how can we convince our hearts to rest in the truth that God not only loved us enough to save us, but that He likes us enough to stay present with us in all our failures, to endure our screw ups, to fellowship with us in our weaknesses, to invest His Holy Spirit in us, to speak to us, to comfort us, to assure us of our salvation?
The secret is much simpler than you might fear. It is gratitude. In the KJV, Hebrews 12:28 says, “Wherefore we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:”.
In the English Standard Version, it reads, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,”.
The word translated as “grateful” in the second version is the same as is translated “grace” in the the King James. A succinct definition of the Greek word is this: The spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace, the merciful influence of kindness by which God, exerting His holy influence upon our souls, turns them to Christ.*
In both translations, it is easy to see that the kingdom has already been received, therefore the readers (you and I) are assumed to have accepted Christ as our personal Savior. The next step is to worship the King of this kingdom with gratitude.
When we gather around the thanksgiving table each November, it’s common to pass our plates with the query, “What are you thankful for?”. This is the same principle we must apply to our worship: What do we worship for? What are we grateful for?
The difference between “love” and “like” is gratitude. The concept of love has the potential to remain nebulous, but when that love is expressed in terms of gratitude it takes on a gritty tangibleness. Thankfulness requires knowing someone, recognizing their contribution. Thanksgiving requires that we internalize God’s love and recognize Him as good.
The next time you are fearful that you’ve let God down and imagine Him standing over you saying, “I will always love you, but I’m so disappointed, I don’t like you very much right now,” pause to thank Him. Thank Him for the factual evidence of His love. In this thankfulness it will become apparent that He does indeed like you. His affection for you overflows the boundaries of unconditional love into the confidence that He treasures you, has secured you and that you have no need to impress Him.
* Lexicon and dictionary notes taken from Blueletterbible.org