My church recently studied the First Epistle of John in a sermon series on “Living Deep.” At the end of the series, my pastor handed out a list of fourteen steps to help us go deeper in our faith. Step five on the list is: Examine yourself accurately, based on God’s truth.
Examine yourself accurately, based on God’s truth. When I read these words, I thought my pastor meant that you should look at yourself honestly and admit your sins. While that is an important step in growing closer to God, the message of the Bible verses the pastor provided for this step was something else entirely. So I am calling it: see yourself through God’s loving eyes.
The first Bible verse on the reading list was Zephaniah 3:17. The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. The image of God delighting in his people, rejoicing over them with singing, is quite different from the picture I had in mind – that of God being displeased with me because I am a sinner.
The image of God delighting in those he loves reminds me of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the story Jesus told to illustrate how great God’s love is. A man had two sons. The younger son left and squandered his fortune in wild living. When the money ran out and he fell on desperate times, he remembered how good he had it at home. He returned to his father and confessed that he was not worthy to be called his son. But the father was compassionate. He was filled with so much joy at the return of his lost son, he celebrated with a feast worthy of a king.
God is with us wherever we are. He sees our suffering. He sees our struggles. When we cry out to him, he is waiting with open arms to take us in and shelter us, just as a parent cares for a child. What love the Father has lavished, that we should be called his children!
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy (Psalm 30:11).
The prodigal son saw himself as unworthy of his father’s love. God does not see his children as unworthy no matter how sinful we are. He sees us as redeemable. Incredibly, he sees us as worth dying for.
Jesus didn’t tell us about the prodigal son’s life after he returned home but I am certain that he was a changed man. He had tried the ways of the world, indulging every desire, but was left him empty and unsatisfied. His father showed him mercy he did not deserve. I imagine that he was grateful and ready to live a life worthy of his father’s grace.
In Ephesians 2:1-5, Paul writes that those of us saved by Christ were once dead in our sins and transgressions. We followed the ways of the world. We were just like everyone else. Like the prodigal son, we lived to gratify the cravings of the flesh, indulging its desires and thoughts. We deserved God’s wrath because we were disobedient. But God loved us so much and was so rich in mercy that he made us alive with Christ. He saved us by grace.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
When you are made alive in Christ, you no longer want to conform to the ways of the world. You want to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. You want to follow God’s will – “his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
When you examine yourself accurately, as my pastor put it, you see God’s truth – you are his beloved child. True, you don’t deserve his love and mercy. On your own merits, you are not worthy to claim the reward of salvation. But in God’s eyes, you are worth saving. God is greater than our hearts. He is mighty to save. He is rich in love and mercy.
Reading List: Zephaniah 3:17 Psalm 30:11 Proverbs 30:5 John 15:3 Romans 12:2 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 Ephesians 2:1-5 Ephesians 4:24 1 John 3:20 1 John 5:13