We hear it all the time: God loves you. So often, in fact, it loses its impact because we take it for granted, at least in our heads. But quite frankly our hearts are another matter. There most of us usually feel loved only in fleeting moments of worship or prayer or maybe after doing some act of service. I think this struggle in our hearts occurs because we find it very hard to overlook our own failures. Even the best-behaved among us would have to admit they fail in one way or another all the time. So that leaves us with a pretty steady residue of frustration and shame. This is why when someone says, God loves you I think to myself I know that, but if Im honest I may not feel that love at all. Its more theological truth to me, than experiential reality. Please dont misunderstand me, Im very glad He loves me, it would be terrible if He didnt and I believe this truth completely. Im just saying, something inside forgets or doubts or cant hold on very long. Yet, obviously, the Apostle Paul did believe it and seems to feel it, and not just for himself. He seems deeply aware of Gods love for us as well. You can see it in the way he writes. Hes passionately convinced God loves and accepts all believers. In writing this greeting to the whole church in Rome he calls them the beloved of God and His holy ones.
Today lets examine three foundational words Paul declares over the believers in Rome, because for him they are three pillars upon which his whole gospel is built. And if our hearts can grasp what he is saying we too will revel Gods love.
Kaleo: a) to invite, summons; b) to name
Paul uses this word to define the community to whom he is speaking.
Who are the called of Jesus Christ?
Listen to how he uses this word: Romans 1:1, 6, 7; 8:28, 30; 9:24; 11:29; 1 Corinthians 1:26; Ephesians 1:18; 4:1, 4; Philippians 3:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:9, 11; Hebrews 3:1; 2 Peter 1:10, 11
The parable of the marriage of the kings son (Mt 22:1-14)
v3: he sent out slaves to call (the ones having been called) (literal)
v14: For many are called, but few are chosen
Listen to Jesus call:
a) Matthew 11:28-30 Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden
b) John 7:37 If anyone is thirsty let him come to Me and drink...
God invites all. Some ignore the call. Some gather with the church but their heart remains unchanged. Those who hear, repent and believe are welcomed in to the wedding feast. These are the called of Jesus Christ. The proud, powerful, socially privileged often dont respond. They have too much to lose (1Co 1:26; Mt 11:25-27).
This wedding feast is the hope of His calling (Eph 1:18).
So, the called of Jesus Christ are those who have heard Gods invitation to come to His Sons wedding feast.
Agape: the ones being loved by God with the selfless, giving love shown by Jesus Christ.
Paul uses this word to describe Gods disposition toward all who come to His Son. They are His beloved.
God loved all people, but He has sent His love to us in His Son and when we receive Him we embrace that love, and His love embraces us (Ro 8:31-39).
Everything in the Christian life begins with an encounter: meeting and falling in love with Jesus Christ. We dont find God, He finds us, and to experience Him is to feel beloved because that is His essential nature. When a man or woman yields to that love the new life begins.
Listen to the great Scottish preacher Alexander Maclaren: ...this consecration, which will issue in all purity and will cover the whole ground of a human life, is only possible when we have drunk in the blessed thought beloved of God. My yielding of myself to Him can only be the echo of His giving of Himself to me. He must be the first to love. You cannot argue a (person) into loving God, anymore than you can hammer a rosebud open. If you do, you spoil its petals. But He can love us into loving Him, and the sunshine, falling on the closed flower, will expand it, and it will grow by its reception of the light, and grow sunlike in its measure and according to its nature. So a God who has only claims upon us will never be a God to whom we yield ourselves. A God who has love for us will be a God to whom it is blessed that we should be consecrated, and so saints (Maclaren, Romans, Baker Book House, reprint, p.12, 1982.)
To all the ones in Rome, the ones being beloved of God, the ones being called holy (literal)
Paul uses this word to describe the completeness for the atonement which renders us sinless before God.
Pauls gospel was controversial even while he was still alive. He seemed to be saying if we respond to Gods call by repenting and believing in Jesus Christ God will accept us no matter what, and that just sounds too easy. What about long-standing weaknesses and patterns of sin. Surely God cant overlook those matters indefinitely. Our minds worry that at some point His grace will run out leaving us once again unholy in His sight. And since no one is quite sure where that line is we tend to live with a lingering doubt that we may have crossed it without knowing it and be in for a shock when we die.
Q: How can Paul preach this gospel with such confidence?
A: What makes Pauls gospel work is the new birth (Jn 3:3-8; Heb 8:8-12). It works when people have had a miracle take place inside them. You dont need to threaten the heart that loves God and wants to please Him. You need only teach, admonish and comfort that person.
Paul has great confidence in the Holy Spirit who lives in us to sanctify us (make us holy):
Philippians 1:6: For I am confident of this very thing that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 2:13 ...for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure
Yes, there are behaviors that if we continue to practice them prove that our heart is still rebellious (1Co 6:9, 10; Eph 5:3-7; Gal 5:19-25). But this doesnt disprove Pauls gospel, it simply reveals there can be people who say they love Jesus but whose hearts still love the world more (Mt 22:11, no wedding clothes).
Paul describes the internal guidance system (conscience) of a born-again person this way: Romans 2:14-16.
Lets say it again: What makes Pauls gospel work is the new birth. You dont need to threaten a person who loves and wants to please God. They have a new internal guidance system pressing them to become more and more like Jesus. Yes, if someone doesnt have a changed heart, being told they are totally accepted just the way they are might lead to lawlessness. But to those whove heard the summons to come to the Sons wedding feast, and by true repentance and faith have clothed themselves with wedding garments, God instantly calls them His beloved and His holy ones, overlooking their weaknesses and sins while daily transforming them into the image of His Son. So when Paul tells the whole church in Rome, you are called, you are loved and you are holy, he means it, he believes it, he feels it in his heart. And when we surrender to the truth of his gospel our hearts will revel in Gods love too.
When someone tells you God loves you, do you hear it only with your head or does your heart agree?
Describe a moment when you really felt loved by God.
Name something you stopped or started doing after becoming a Christian without needing anyone to tell you to do this.