Every single one of us has thoughts and feelings about God and ourselves that are not true. Perhaps you believe that because of a particular sin you have committed (or continue to commit) God couldn’t possibly love you. Maybe you feel rejected and alone—like God doesn’t care. Or you might think that you need to constantly work at being good to earn God’s love.
But these things are not true! God loves each one of us regardless of how we think or feel! His love for us is the foundational truth that breaks the lies distorting our thoughts and feelings. Through understanding and experiencing God’s love we actually become the people He created us to be; we grow in being filled with the fullness of God and loving others as Jesus loves us.
Paul prays for the believers in Ephesus to know the riches of God’s love. Hear his words as a prayer for you: “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:14–21).
Wow! Paul describes God’s love as having width, length, depth and height. How can we know this love that “passes knowledge”? How can we “comprehend” it?
Let’s look again at these verses. Before Paul prays for us to know God’s love, he prays for us “to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
Our life in Christ begins by faith—by believing in Jesus, the Son of God, who died for our sins. John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Through faith in Jesus, our spirit is born again and we have eternal life.
But we as human beings were created by God with a soul and body as well. We have a spirit, a soul and a body. Salvation of the spirit isn’t all that God has planned for us. The soul and body are also in need of transformation. God’s intent is that our soul—our mind, will and emotions—comes to know the love of God. When this happens, our body will radiate that love to others so that we become living expressions of God’s will on earth.
After initial salvation by faith, God desire is that we abide in greater and greater knowledge and experience of His love. Paul’s prayer continues, “That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Paul is praying for us to know, in our soul—in our mind, will and emotions—the vast extent of God’s love. So, what is keeping us from comprehending and knowing?
Be assured, Satan cannot, in any way, stop God from loving us. But he can and does send lying thoughts and feelings to twist our ideas about God and ourselves in an effort to prevent us from fully receiving all that God has for us. Lies buried deep in our souls keep us from knowing, understanding and experiencing God’s love. Satan tries to deceive us into thinking that God’s love is like the limited, fickle, conditional “love” the world has to offer. All too often we wrongly believe that, for one reason or another, God couldn’t really, always and forever, love us.
And sadly, these deceptions are often supported by religion—including Christianity. Our distorted views of God and self can be reinforced by teachings we hear (or think we hear), by what we witness in the lives of other Christians or even by wrongly interpreted Bible verses. We may think we need to do something “good” or be “obedient” before God will love us. So, we try to pray more … do more “good” things … obey rules … all with the underlying misconception that doing such things will earn us God’s favor and affection.
But, in God’s design, we do not earn His love. Rather, we simply accept that we are loved. There is a huge difference!
“God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). God is not just loving. Love is not merely one of His attributes. Love is God’s very nature. God is love. This means that God wants what is truly good for us. He has our best interests at heart. His love tells us that we are forgiven, not condemned; remembered, not forgotten; valued, not worthless. It is true that we have sinned. It is also true that God hates sin. He hates sin because it destroys the people He created and He wants us to be transformed. Nevertheless, your sins—past, present or future—do not stop God from loving you. You are His precious child. He values and adores you.
Yet, precisely because God is love, Satan tries to twist and contaminate our understanding of God’s love for us. In childhood, when we are young and vulnerable, the “father of lies” (see John 8:44) works his deceptions into the foundational structure of our souls. It isn’t that we were taught wrong ways of thinking and feeling; it is more like we caught them. We caught them from imperfect parents and caregivers … who caught them from imperfect parents …who caught them from imperfect parents … clear back to Adam and Eve.
After Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God and eating of the forbidden fruit, they lost sight of God as He really is. Their distorted images have been transferred on down the generational line to this present day. We are born into this world with Adam’s sin nature. However, once we are born again in Christ, we have a new nature capable of seeing God as He really is. But the old, lie-riddled nature still tries to hold on.
Here are a couple of examples of how Satan’s lies foster false images of God and self, images that affect our ability to receive God’s love.
Example #1. John’s biological father wanted John’s mother to abort him. In his young life, uncaring stepfathers and unkind and selfish older brothers and sisters further reinforced John’s feelings of being rejected and unloved. As a result, he internalized the lie that he was unwanted, worthless and undeserving. Put yourself in John’s shoes and imagine trying to receive God’s love.
Example #2. Mary came from a hard-working, high-achieving, Christian family. She knew her parents loved her. But she also believed they loved her more when she did more good things. After all, if she performed well, they heaped on the praise. But if she did not live up to expectations, Mary’s father punished her. As a result, she grew up thinking that God loved her, but that He would love her more if she did good things and less if she did bad things. Put yourself in Mary’s shoes and imagine the stress of constantly trying to do more good things so that God would love you. Imagine the fear of sinning and somehow short-circuiting God’s love.
Now think about yourself for a moment. What might be a foundational lie you have believed about God’s love for you? How might lies imbedded in your early experiences have affected your ability to receive from God?
Each one of us has a “twisted love story.” I know; I am the Mary in the example above. That is how I was raised. Those were some of the lies I internalized.
Satan’s lies prevent us from accepting God’s care and compassion—from becoming who God created us to be. Our spirits are saved; we have eternal life. But accepting Christ does not automatically ensure that our souls—our mind, will and emotions—are in line with God and infused with His love. And because our souls are misguided, our bodies radiate that misconception to the world.
We break distorted images of God and self by opening ourselves to God and letting Him expose and replace the lies we have believed in our soul with truth. Then, out of that healing, God’s love will flow forth—through our body—as something we naturally share with others. It is a gradual process; the lies don’t get replaced all at once. Knowing God’s love allows us to trust Him in deeper ways … so He can wash away more of our deceptions … so we can know more of His love. In this way, the healing, love-growing cycle continues.
Even when our thoughts and feelings prevent us from accepting it, God surrounds us with His love. He wants our mind (thoughts), will and emotions (feelings) to be filled with truth. As we come to know and believe more of His constant, unconditional love, renewed thoughts and feelings will follow.
Let’s revisit John—the one who felt rejected. Distorted thoughts and feelings in his soul caused him to falsely believe, “You are unwanted.” “You are not valuable.” “You are unlovable.” And so, John came to think of God’s love for him as consistent with the lies about love already established in mind. John perceived God’s love for him as shown by the dotted line in Diagram A—as close to zero.
But in truth, God’s love for John is higher than the highest height. It is infinite in magnitude and stretches on into eternity.
In my case, distorted thoughts and feelings in my soul caused me to falsely believe, “God will love me if I obey Him. But when I sin, He won’t.” I perceived God’s love for me as shown by the dotted line in Diagram B—as bouncing wildly up and down depending on the good or bad I judged myself to have done.
But God’s love for us can’t be reduced to a graph. It is vast beyond all measure.
What does your dotted line look like? In what ways are the thoughts and feelings in your soul lying to you about God’s love for you? What is your “twisted love story”?
Contrast your dotted line with God’s actual love for you—constant and unchanging … stretching out infinitely in all directions into eternity.
Paul’s prayer assures us that God “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” With the understanding God is able to do more than we can even imagine, let’s take a look at “the width and length and depth and height” of His love for us.
Width—God’s love for us stretches out in infinite width. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). Can you think of a better way to describe endless width? East and west never meet. The width of God’s love is seen in Jesus’ arms stretched out horizontally on the cross—one to the thief on the left and the other to the thief on His right. People of all religions as well as those of no particular religious persuasion, each and everyone, He longs to gather in His wide-open arms.
Length—God’s love stretches the length of our entire existence—from beginning on into eternal life. God didn’t start loving you on the day you accepted Christ. He didn’t start loving you on the day you were born or the day you were conceived. Ephesians 1:4 says, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” God loved you from the beginning and He will continue to love you on into eternity.
Depth—Jesus’ love reaches to the lowest hell. Isaiah 53:8–9 tells us, “He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked.” The Psalmist says, “If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there” (Psalm 139:8). On the cross, Jesus took our place as sinners deserving of eternal damnation; that is the depth of Jesus’ love for us. Nothing—absolutely nothing—you have ever done or can ever do will stop God from reaching to the lowest depths for you.
Height—Love carries us from the depth of hell to the height of heaven. On the cross an exchange took place … and it wasn’t a fair trade. Jesus took our sin upon Himself and gave us His righteousness. When God the Father looks upon us, He doesn’t see our sin; He sees the righteousness of Christ. Paul tells us, “But God, who is rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us … made us alive together with Christ … and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4–6). God delights in you. He has raised you up to the height of heaven to sit with Jesus.
God will always love us with His vast, personal love. He doesn’t change. But our belief in Him changes us.
Paul’s prayer reflects God’s desire for you. Jesus is longing that you—you who are reading or hearing these words—come to know that you are cherished with a love beyond measure.
Perhaps you have already processed in your mind a lot of this information. You’ve seen the graphs. You’ve heard the Scriptures. But maybe, if you are honest with yourself, something is keeping God’s love from being real in your life.
So … just sit quietly for a few minutes and let yourself receive. Meditate on the words “rooted and grounded in love.” Imagine yourself as a young tree. You are withered and dying because you have believed yourself unlovable in some way. But now you are being transplanted into the rich soil of God’s perfect love. Your roots stretch down into the cool, refreshing earth and drink deep of life-giving water and nourishment. Your branches spread wide as your leaves soak up life-supplying air and sun. You are being “filled with all the fullness of God.” You are receiving God’s love and flourishing in new life.
Amazing God! Amazing Love!
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