It Takes Humility to Receive God’s Love

By Tom Gilson Published on November 28, 2017

It takes humility to receive God’s love. Why? Because we can’t earn it.

Not that we don’t try. Even people who know God loves us unconditionally can’t help trying to earn his love. It’s because we don’t just want to be loved; we want to be good enough to be loved. We want to show that we deserve God’s love for all the good and special things we do.

The fact is, we really are worthy of His love, but not by our own works or goodness. We are worthy because He has deemed us so, out of His own love and goodness. But that’s hardly satisfying when what we really want is to show Him, “By golly, I’m good enough!”

It’s Called Legalism

The idea we can work our way into God’s favor is called legalism. Of all the errors Christians have made down the ages, both in doctrine and in practice, legalism has been our favorite. It was the Pharisees’ favored error, too. We dream up doctrines that say that our works can make us worthy.

Of course they can’t. We can’t do anything to make ourselves worthy before God. We’re just not in His league that way. Not even in the same ball park, not in the same galaxy. Sorry if that crushes your pride; it’s crushed mine, too.

The great news is that God loves us anyway! But some of us have trouble even with that. I think that might be — though it’s dangerous to say — because there is something of a paradoxical insult in the way God loves us.

Humbled? Insulted, even? Then you get the point. Looking for God’s love anyway?

If we could stand before Him, you see, and tell him, “Thank you very much, God, for your love; and of course everyone can certainly see what I’ve done to earn it” — if we could only say that, now that would be something to be proud of. We could really feel good about ourselves!

But that’s not how it is. We could never face God that way; not without first shrinking Him down to our size for, say, a man-to-man talk or some such thing. But a God we could shrink would no longer be the object of our worship. He’d be the subject of our manipulation instead.

Legalism As Manipulation

And I think that’s often what legalism is about: manipulating God, trying to get on His good side, so that we can get good things from Him or feel good and special about ourselves. Every teenager can sense manipulation a mile away, though; how much more do you suppose God will see it and resist it?

Yet here’s the astonishing thing: We try to shrink God to our size so we can impress him — and how God must laugh at that! — yet he emptied himself (Phil. 2:5-8), and in a sense shrank Himself down to our size. It was on His initiative, not ours. And that makes all the difference. He was born a babe in a stable, grew up in a craftsman’s home, wandered for a few years and taught a rather small band of followers. He did it on our level.

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In the course of all this He met two kinds of responses. Some people insisted on being impressive before him. He defeated them both by argument and by His works. Some, however, saw the grandeur of God in Him, and He set them on a course toward a Kingdom.

And still today, it is those who humble themselves before Him who will be lifted up.

The Humility of Being Loved

For many of us, the hardest part of all this is knowing it’s His own goodness, not ours, that motivates God to love us. We need not earn it; we never could earn it; but for those who want real love, He gives it abundantly and without measure. It comes with just one condition: that we accept it on His terms, not on our own. Because our terms aren’t good enough. Only His are.

Humbled? Insulted, even? Then you get the point. Looking for God’s love anyway? Then bear the insult, if it seems that way to you. Look to Him for His goodness, and enjoy His unconditional favor. He gives it to show His own goodness, not to make us look good.

Thank God, though — He gives it!

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  • faithmcdonnell

    Thank you so much, Tom Gilson. This was so powerful and so needed. I am sharing widely.
    By the way, trombone is my favorite brass instrument — having grown up in The Salvation Army.
    Faith McDonnell

    • Kathy

      Yes, thank you, Tom! It IS difficult to wrap our heads and hearts around the concept of our Father loving us just as we are. Our approval comes through what Jesus did and our trusting in that, not what we did or are doing. How freeing that concept is, but I’m still working on fully coming to grips with that and living like I really believe it.

      • Me too. That is, I’m still working on coming to grips with it. Pride is persistent, or rather I am persistent in pride. I can’t make it go away; if I could, then I’d be proud of myself for doing it! Any change in that part of me has to be God’s work. So the only thing I know to do about it is to meditate on truths of God’s unconditional love, and to confess and seek God when I see it popping up. I pray He will work in us all!

        • Kathy

          “I can’t make it go away; if I could, then I’d be proud of myself for doing it! Any change in that part of me has to be God’s work.”

          “…that no man should boast”. You are so right, Tom! So many people are striving to be “good enough” on their own in a myriad of ways. How much is good enough and how much do we have to perform to earn God’s acceptance? He provided the remedy for us, we must just stop resisting it.

          As you said, it’s not easy to do…most of us can attest to that. We think “There must be something more i HAVE to do!” Our love and gratitude to God when we are able to rest in that realization will prompt us to do good and obey only His teachings in His Word…no more stressing and striving.

    • Thank you so much for that, Faith.

  • Murball

    Good read!

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