As Christians, we believe God loves us, and Jesus shows that love. We look at the cross to remind us: it shows us how much he loves us and to what extent he will go for love of us. So we know he loves us very much. But what does his love mean in practice? How do we relate to this Jesus who loves us? Is Jesus soppy and sentimental about us? Is he a “soft touch” who we can hit up to get things we want? Can we “get away with murder” and he won’t mind? Or is his love a sort of “tough love” where he tells us “my way or the highway” because “it’s for your own good”? Do we have to earn God’s love? When we do bad things, does God’s love for us stop? What is this love of Jesus all about?
Let’s consider each of these questions separately.
First, do we need to earn God’s love? The answer is No. Thank goodness for that, because we can’t earn it: there’s nothing we could do that would be good enough to match the goodness of God. The fact is: Jesus loves us for free. We don’t have to earn his love, we already have it. He loves us right now. That’s a fact, not a hope. This fact is why the Christian revelation is called “gospel”, which means “good news”. The fact is here, the news is out: you do not have to do anything to make God love you. Jesus came to show it, and he showed it on the cross. It’s done. He loves you already!
But does this love stop when we do wrong? Is the love of God like “cancel culture”, where you’re OK until you blurt out something bad, and then you’re cancelled? No, Jesus’ love for us does not stop when we do wrong. If anything, he shows love more when we do wrong. Jesus illustrated this by telling a story, the parable of the lost sheep [Luke 15:1-7]. He explained that God’s love is like that of the shepherd who loves his sheep so much that when one is lost, he goes looking for it and does not stop until he finds it. Then he rejoices that the sheep that was lost is now found. Similarly, Jesus’ love does not stop when we wander off: no matter what we do, we cannot stop him from loving us. We should still do our best to do what is right, because we can certainly stop ourselves from loving him, and that’s not good. But no matter what, he will never stop loving us. That is what the cross is about: Jesus will put up with anything, even torture and death for himself, rather than stop loving.
Because Jesus’ love is so big, does this mean that he’s a “big softie”? Is he soppy and sentimental? Many of us have seen occasional sappy doe-eyed images of Jesus in religious art. Is that really what he is like? Whatever we want, we can just do it and if it’s wrong, he will forgive us? Is he like a doting uncle, who hands out treats and ignores even the worst misbehavior? No, that’s not it either. Jesus does not like wrongdoing, not so much because of what it does to him (again, the cross shows that he is willing to put up with a lot of personal mistreatment directed at himself), but because of what it does to us. He cares about us, and because of that, he wants us to be good. He loves and cares about other people, too. and is not at all happy when we mistreat them. Because of this, he is no “softie”: he holds us to a high standard. But his attitude is not “my way or the highway”: rather, he himself will help us meet that standard. If we fail to meet it, he will help us to try again. He never stops calling us to be better, and even if we are tempted to give up on ourselves, he will never give up on us.
This is what the love of Jesus is all about: he loves us already (we don’t have to do to anything to earn it), and he will not stop loving us if we do wrong. His mercy is greater than our mistakes. Jesus will always call us to a high standard, and he will help us reach it. Even if we are tempted to give up, he will never give up on us. This is real love, this is the love of God.