My Wretchedness and the Love of God
The world that we live in today has a decided view of what love is. It tells us that love is something that is tolerant and accepting of everyone. Something that is excited to see you. Something that gives us butterflies. Something that sees you as perfect. Something that has fallen in love with our flaws. Something that we cannot live without.
Some of what the world says about love is true, but most of it is not. That view that society has of love has impacted our view of God and His love for us, rather than our view of God impacting how we view love. God created everything including love, and that means He gets to say what love is. That means that we must understand who God is.
Holiness of God
The foundation of who God is, is holiness. God is nothing if not perfectly holy. In my blog post, Correcting Christian Clichés: Jesus is my Homeboy, I talked about God’s holiness. Let’s first define what holiness is. Holiness is the complete separateness that God has from man, and His utter perfection in all that He is and does. Scripture is full of passages that talk about God’s holiness, but perhaps the most evident is Isaiah 6, when Isaiah comes into the presence of God:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
I am going to come back to this passage later but first, let’s focus on God. God is described as holy three times. He is only called “holy, holy, holy,” not “love, love, love.” This shows that God’s primary attribute is His holiness. Now compare that to Isaiah’s response. He confesses his unworthiness and his utter sinfulness. God, not ignoring Isaiah’s sin, not saying, “Oh you aren’t that bad,” not minimizing his sin, cleanses him and makes him holy.
Wretchedness of Man
You see God loves you in spite of you, not because of you. This is a very controversial, counter-cultural statement. We live in a society that sees that there is something redeemable in every person. The fact is there is nothing redeemable within us. Romans 7:18a says, For I know nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. It is only because of God that we are worth anything.
Now, hear me out. Once you hear and understand my point, you will see that Christians value people so much because of our understanding of sin and who God is. To illustrate what I am saying let’s compare two paintings. One is an impressionist painting by a high school student of the Flint Hills in Kansas at sunrise . The other painting is a cubist painting by Picasso of women bathing. Which one is worth more? The one by Picasso. Now, there is nothing in the paint or the canvas that makes the painting valuable. It is not the frame or the size of the painting. It is not even the style or the beauty of the painting, because then it would be the sunrise painting (no offense Picasso). It is the artist that makes the painting valuable.
In the same way, you are valuable because of God, not because of something in you. This is such a blessing because if my value were up to me, I would be in so much trouble. One day I will be old and fat and wrinkly. I will lose my ability to walk, or my ability to think and remember things. At that point from a practical secular stand point I will have no value. Not only that, but my sinfulness and disobedience to God would shatter any good qualities I just so happen to possess. But because my value and worth is in who God is, I will always have value. So that means that no matter what you look like, what abilities you have, or what you have done, you have value. You are that precious painting because of your Creator. The world focuses on the person to find value, But Christians see that the value of people is in our Creator, who will never change.
Going back to the passage in Isaiah, we read that Isaiah sees how sinful he is, and God sees it too: “…Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” God doesn’t make light of his sin. The fact is once we understand how sinful we are, and that God knows that and agrees with that, and loves us anyway, it only heightens His love for us. If we trivialize sin, we trivialize God’s forgiveness. If our sin does not mean anything then God’s forgiveness doesn’t mean anything. There is no reason for Jesus to have died for us. God just sent Him here to die the most painful death imaginable for nothing.
Imagine a god who would send his son to die for nothing. That god would be a sick and terrible god. Thank God that that is not the God we serve! God saw our wretchedness and he saw how evil we are and He still loved us. Our sin is not a small thing. It is what separates us from God forever. The Bible says that liars will not see the kingdom of Heaven. That’s not just people who are racist, sexually immoral, or murders, but liars. We all have lied. An essential part of being saved is understanding just how sinful we are. We have to know and understand how sinful we are and that there is no way that we could be right with God on our own.
To Whom Much is Given
To further explain my point here, let’s look at two married couples, married couple A (Anne and Alex) and married couple B (Beth and Ben). In married couple A, Anne has eaten the last brownie. Her husband, Alex has been waiting for his dessert all day and was upset, but he quickly forgave her. Now married couple B has a vastly different situation. In this marriage, Ben caught Beth in adultery. This broke him and he is in great distress over it, but just like the first husband, he quickly forgave her. Which husband showed more love? The one that forgave his wife for eating his snack, or the one that forgave his wife for cheating on him? The second one of course.
Does this example sound familiar? Well, there is an entire book of the Bible written about Hosea who was married to a prostitute. God commanded him to marry her and to continually seek after her, even when she left him time after time. This was a picture of God’s love for Israel. What a beautiful and painful picture this is! Because just as this shows God’s love for us, it also shows our weakness, and in spite of that God loves us.
In the New Testament, Paul writes in Romans 5:7-8, For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This is God’s love for us: That even when we were living in rebellion against Him, He came down and reconciled us to himself. If, hypothetically,our sin was a merely point of view or a preference, and God chose to love us even though we disagreed, that love is not as strong. It is easy to love people who merely disagree with you; I can love people who don’t like coffee or chocolate. It is so much harder to love people that have sinned against me. That love must be stronger to cover that sin.
All over the Bible there are scriptures that tell us how bad we were before Christ. We were “ungodly and unrighteous” and we “suppressed the truth” (Romans 1:18), “sinners” (Romans 5:12,19), our minds were “full of evil thoughts” (Matt. 15:19), “dead in your trespasses and sins”, “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:1,3), “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). After passages like these, in particular Eph. 2 and Titus 3, we see the most beautiful words in scripture, but God.
You see, once the stage is set for how horrible we are, it makes God’s love all that much brighter. Those passages talk about God’s rich love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness in a way that is so powerful. The fact is that God loves you so incredibly much, in spite of who you are. His love for you is dependent on Him, and it has more to say about Him than it does about you. This means that there is nothing that you can do to shake it or lessen it. Take encouragement from that.
So what does this mean for us? Well first, we should not shy away from talking about God’s holiness and our sinfulness. We should not see God’s holiness and His love as mutually exclusive. We should rejoice that our value is in Someone who is eternal. We should rejoice that God chose to love us, in spite of us. This should cause us to worship Our Father in Heaven and praise Him for His love. But not only that, we should strive to imitate His love:
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect ~Matthew 5:46-48.
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