I recently heard someone say, “We don’t deserve God’s love and so, as Christians, we should be grateful that God loves us.” Strange thing was, it didn’t fill me with gratitude. It just upset my stomach. Somehow, being told I didn’t deserve God’s love didn’t make me feel overly grateful. It left me feeling flat.
It’s a bit like telling a child, “You don’t deserve this ice cream, but I am giving it to you anyway because I promised I would. Now say thank you!”
The idea of deserving things has to do with justice and good works. And so David sings,
He has not dealt with us according to our sins or repaid us according to our iniquities (Psalm 103:10)
Death is wages and our sin deserves death (Luke 23:41; Romans 6:23). This idea is present throughout scripture. But being loved when we don’t deserve it, is not present in scripture.
God’s love is not wages. It is neither deserved or undeserved. God is love. And it was Love that stepped in and intervened for the world in order to pay the wages of our sin with His own death on a cross.
And so, David sings in the very next verse,
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His loving devotion for those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:11-12)
God’s love for you is not the finale to this drama. It is not something He gives to undeserving children as a gift after they repent. God’s love was the starting point for the whole story. God has always loved His children and it was this love that sent Him to the cross on our behalf.
Love is not the gift given to children who don’t deserve to be loved. Grace is the gift, given by a God who already loves us deeply.
What has this got to do with gratitude?
The one who hears and believes that God has taken upon Himself what we deserve does not need to be told to be grateful. Gratitude bubbles to the surface. The one who has the wages of sin exchanged for the crown of eternal life does not need to be told to be grateful. Gratitude and joy find their way out through the mouth in thanksgiving.
Being told you are loved but you don’t deserve it is a miserable business. It’s a miserable business if your husband says it and it would be a miserable, joyless gospel if God had said it.
But He never did.
God has loved you with the uncompromising full force of His will since before the world began. He loved you with full force still after you fell into the misery of your sin, knowing full well what that sin would do to you.
He doesn’t love us, “in spite of”, what we have done. He loved us then as He loves us now because we are his children, the work of His Hands. Jesus did not need to twist God’s arm to love us “once more”. God never stopped loving us with total commitment.
Love for this world is what saves us. His great love and delight over you are what saves you. Unconditional love. Everlasting love. It’s personal. He doesn’t love you in the abstract. His love for you is not calculated in a balance sheet.
When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep… then I was beside him, like a master workman… ejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man. (Proverbs 8:27-31)
His love is not a matter of deserving or not. Love is what you get from the God who loves you. He doesn’t love you because you finally got it right and chose to repent. No. It was His prior love that brought you to your knees in gratitude to begin with.
And so, the gratitude that now grows and overflows with joy (and relief) is the result of being so utterly loved by God, convinced that God has always has loved us and He will always love us. A God who has demonstrated that love, not by waiting for us to come to Him, but by making His way to us.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him (Luke 15:20)