Have you ever had that gut wrenching feeling that “I’m late” or “I missed my flight?” How about as a kid, standing in line, hoping to be picked to play with the rest of the kids in a game of pick up basketball, “please don’t be last,” but as they get closer to the end you are thinking, “please just pick me, this will be horrible if I don’t get picked?”
When I was in 5th grade on the first day of school, something like this happened to me. My family had just moved from a small town to the suburbs and I didn’t know anybody. In the small town, I had lots of friends and was accepted as “cool” for the most part, but making new friends wasn’t easy for me and I had a lot of confidence issues because of my upbringing and personal health problems. On that first day, I was late walking into class and had that sinking feeling in my chest. As I walked into the room it felt like the whole room was looking at me… because they were. I scanned the room from the left to the right, making eye contact with each of the students. I didn’t get one inviting gesture, and it seemed like things were in slow motion. Like the scene in Forest Gump – where Forest was getting on the school bus and all the kids were saying “seat taken” and scooting over so he couldn’t sit down – I started to feel so rejected. As I got to the very end of the room, a kid (who that day became my best friend for life) waved and said “come over here man.” That feeling of relief is pretty great, right? Being accepted is probably one of the most important moments in our lives; I know it is for me anyway.
With this in mind, there are two things that I believe are very crucial for us to understand as followers of Jesus. Point number one: we need each other to feel accepted into the family of God in order for us to thrive and accomplish all that Jesus said to accomplish (1 Corinthians 12:12-21). We are the hands and feet of Jesus and He accepted us and continues to accept us at our absolute worst (Romans 5:8). From personal experience, many believers came to know the Lord because they were hurting, because they needed hope, and they wanted acceptance (Matthew 11:28-30). My entire life it was as if I was on the outside looking in. No matter where I went, how many friends I had, how good at sports I was, I was always looking for acceptance. Years later, I now know that this feeling was a desire to know God. A desire to understand my purpose and to know that I was loved.
As members of His church, we certainly aren’t the only people in the world who have the capacity to love, but we know where this love comes from and we have the fruit of the spirit, which gives us the capacity to love like He loves. In the Old Covenant, Jesus explains that we are commanded to love our God and love others like we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). But we are in the New Covenant, and we have a higher call. Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
When we accept people just as they are, and love them as if they are our friend or brother, no matter where they are, they will see the love of Jesus in us (Romans 2:4). This is absolutely foreign to the natural man in our world. Look at the comment of any news article that involves gross injustice and perversion and see some Christians say things like, “I hope he burns in hell.” Religion says to “clean up” so we can love you, fall in line and obey God, otherwise you might not belong to us. I am not saying that people shouldn’t obey their conscience; I am not saying that people shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions; I am not saying to turn a blind eye to injustice; I am saying, however, to love people no matter what they do. I believe people need to know how loved they are, and to see that God adores them. And that even though they might not be making the best decisions, even though they have hurt people and have done things they are ashamed of, feel guilty because of, and they might suffer consequences for their choices, they still deserve the love of God. Jesus says, “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45). And even though we could always do more to love, this isn’t to make you feel like you aren’t doing enough. The point is to start now. To love now. To forgive now. To release your fear and start loving people now. Life is short.
The second point, and this is pretty straight forward: how do you know you are in? First off, Jesus died for the sins of the world, and He tells us to believe (John 1:29; 3:16; 6:29; Romans 10:9-10). Early in my walk with God I was so happy and blessed and full of joy to know God loved me. I was hearing from Him regularly and amazing supernatural things were going on in and around me for several months. One day I woke up and I didn’t “feel” his presence. I wasn’t sure what was wrong, I begged and begged him to come back and I started to fear. I thought to myself, “Maybe I wasn’t saved, oh my goodness what do I do?” I started listening to my New Testament on my phone, and when I heard the verse where Jesus says “those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit won’t be forgiven…” (Luke 12:10), I freaked out! “Oh no, what do I do!” I started searching frantically online. I had that sinking feeling in my chest and anxiety started to rise up within me. I read a few things online that made some sense, but I came upon one page that said something that provided a ton of relief. It said, “If you have found this page, you have not blasphemed the Holy Spirit. The fact that you cared so much to find this out shows that you love God so much that it kills you to think that you aren’t forgiven by Him.” This isn’t exactly what it said, but it was very close. A peace and calmness came upon me and I called my mentor. He told me basically the same thing and then gave me a great verse that has helped me to this day, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but it is the glory of kings to search it out” (Proverbs 25:2). Another brilliant thought is that God wants us to live by faith, and that requires that we learn to trust whether we feel him or not. We live by faith and not by sight, and up to that point in my short walk with God He was giving me an encounter that I needed in order to know Him, but in order for me to grow in faith I had to learn how to trust Him.
I know a great woman of God who went to a new church in the past couple of years with her husband. Her husband has always struggled with this, knowing if he was saved or if he was “going to hell.” Through a very hard past and theology from churches that had made him question his faith by taking verses out of context like “I never knew you, depart from me….” (Matthew 7:21-23). He walked up to the pastor of the church, which was quite hard for him to ask him a question about his faith, and he said, “Pastor, how do I know I am saved?” The pastor replied, “maybe you are not.” With no love or explanation, he just dropped that on him. Devastated, fearful and heartbroken this man now doesn’t go to church. This man who is hurting refuses to go to church because of a theology that much of the church has that uses the Bible in a way to make people perform better, and even then God might not let them in. To that man, “God loves you. He has always loved you. And He will always love you. At your very worst, God was willing to lay his life down for you. He knows your struggle. He knows the pain you have and He isn’t happy it happened to you. He didn’t cause these things to you, He is for you. He wants you to give him your burdens, your troubles, the things you hold onto that you think you can’t be forgiven of. Jesus loves you because He loves you and you are created to know Him. Give him your burdens and you won’t regret it. The very fact that you care if you are saved, the fact that you care if you know Him, the fact that you don’t want to go to hell, the fact that you want to know if you are forgiven is evidence that you are. You are enough. Right now. Give him your life, and you won’t be sorry.”
I hope this post blesses you and gives somebody the piece of mind to know that they are loved by God right where they are. I hope this helps you learn the importance of loving people in this same way, that you grow in love and the goodness of God flows from your heart as you shine brightly to a world that desperately needs to know the love of our Father.
Written by: Andrew Strobel