How Do I Know That God Loves Me?
In nearly 20 years of pastoral ministry I have seen two kinds of people who struggle with the concept of God’s love. On the one hand we have those who simply assume God loves them and give it very little thought. On the other hand many doubt God’s love for them as they tend to evaluate his love based on their circumstances.
How do we know God loves us, and what does His love look like? How we answer these questions, and we all hold answers to those questions whether we are aware of them or not, is what determines our view of God and the health of our faith.
How do we know God love us? Many are assured of God’s love through his gentle or generous providences. Many believe the proof of God’s love can be found in the good things he gives us in this life. Prayers answered the way we desire, God loves me! Provision in a time of need, God loves me! Beautiful sunsets, delicious food, a happy family, a successful career—God loves me! Of course, this begs the question, does God not love those whose lives are characterized by loss, affliction, sorrow, and need?
While it is fair to say that God’s benevolence is seen in the many ways he provides for both the righteous and the unrighteous (Mt. 5:45), we cannot look to our circumstances for assurance of God’s love. Not only would that lead us to believe that God loves some more than others, and often the wicked more than the righteous, but it also undermines faith.
When we assure ourselves of God’s love through what he provides for us, we will then question his love when our needs are unmet. God might appear temperamental, unfair, or uninvolved if we allowed our changing station in life to be the hermeneutic by which we understand God’s love.
If we cannot base our understanding of God’s love for us on our circumstances, what do we base it on?
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9 ESV)
The love of God was manifested, presented publicly, in the sending of his Son, Jesus Christ. When it comes to the “sending” of the Son of God this does not merely mean his appearance on earth, but everything from his incarnation to the crucifixion and resurrection. (Gal. 4:4, 5; Rom. 8:3; 1 Jn. 4:10) God’s love is ultimately seen in what he did for us 2,000 years ago. And what did God do in sending Jesus? He sent a substitute who would accomplish the righteousness required of us, and atone for the sins we have committed. The word John uses to explain God’s love for us on the cross is propitiation. The word essentially means to satisfy, but more specifically propitiation is the satisfaction of God’s wrath against our sin through the death of Jesus Christ. (See also Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17)
How do we know God loves us? Because Jesus died for us. Through his sacrifice sin is paid for and God’s wrath against us came to an end. When we are wondering what God thinks of us as his people, when we are in doubt of God’s affection for us, we look back. God’s love is not seen today in our satisfaction in this life, but yesterday in his own satisfaction in his Son. God’s love is best seen, not in a pleasing providence in our lives, but in divine propitiation in the death of Jesus Christ.
R.C. Sproul God's Love: How the Infinite God Cares for His Children (David C. Cook, 2012)
Neil Tolsma This is Love: Tracing the Love of God Throughout the Biblical Story (P&R Publishing, 2012)
J.W. Alexander God is Love (Banner of Truth, 1985)