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How Great a Love

From the series He Holds Me Forever

In this message, Theresa Ingram shares some of her journey through a painful past, that drove her to discover the truth about love and relationships, and how that discovery set her free to love in a way she never thought possible.

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Message Transcript

Love is a very powerful thing. It’s a powerful thing. And every day, God puts His arms around us and He wants to tell us how much He loves us and He wants to give us a great, big hug.

Too many times, we miss the signs. We don’t realize that He’s there. And it’s hard for us to remain in the realization of His love. And how many times does He hold out His arms for us and we run another way?

Or how many times does He bless us with material things in our lives and we get enamored with the gift and forget the one who gave it to us? And how many times in our lives do we go through our daily lives, day by day, and we miss the signs of His love?

Well, that’s what we’re going to look at. We are going to talk about how God loves us and our heavenly Father’s love is a lot different, it’s greater than the love that we receive from our earthly fathers. It’s the kind of love that can change a person’s life. It’s a powerful love.

And so, we’re going to talk about how He puts His arms around us and He shows us His love.

And so, if you want to open up your notes to the first lesson here, How Great a Love, we are going to look at how much God loves us.

In 1 John 3:1, it says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God.” And that is what we are. It says, “How great is His love.” This love is a unique kind of love. It’s a love that, it’s beyond what we can even imagine. It’s an out-of-this-world kind of love. It’s a love, as we talked about, that’s greater than an earthly father has for a child.

And it says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us.” He calls Himself our Father. It’s an affectionate term as a father to a child. And it says He lavishes His love on us. He pours it out on us. It’s given generously to us, that we should be called children of God.

And this “children of God” is the title for believers. That’s who we are if we have trusted in Christ as our Savior. We are children of God. And it’s – God has brought believers into a loving, intimate relationship as children with their Father. And it’s an amazing thing when you think about, that the God of the universe would adopt us as His children and allow us to call Him “Father”.

In fact, our self-identity, who we are, is based on the very fact that we are children of God. We belong to Him. We are daughters of the King. And as daughters of the King, we are heirs, we inherit all the blessings of heaven, everything that heaven has to give is our inheritance.

And it says, “And that is what we are.” It repeats, the fact, it’s a fact. We are children of God. And He loves us. He pours out His love upon us.

Well, what kind of love is this then that comes from God if it’s so great and it’s so different, what kind of love is it? Well, there are four kinds of love in the Greek language. And one of those is eros. And that means sexual passion. It’s a need kind of love. It’s based on the physical attraction and fulfillment. And then there is storge, which is a family devotion to one another. And then phileo, which is friendship. It’s brotherly love. It’s that companionship kind of love.

But then there’s agape. It’s the divine love. It’s a giving love. It’s used exclusively to characterize the love of God. Agape love. And agape love is a part of the very nature and being of God. It’s a part of who He is. Agape love is a giving love. It’s unselfish. It’s a love that gives, even when the object of its love doesn’t respond. Think about that.

That’s divine. It doesn’t come naturally to us as believers. But we can experience this love in our lives and we can give that kind of love to others as God gives that to us as He pours that out in our hearts.

And so, the definition of divine love is that highest and noblest form of love that sees something infinitely precious in its object. And that’s who you are. That’s what He’s saying to you that when He looks at you, you are infinitely precious to Him. That’s how much He loves you.

Well, divine love is defined by the way it is expressed to us, by the way it is expressed to those He loves. And so, we are going to look at: how is it expressed? How does God express His love?

Well, first of all, God’s love for me is a giving love. It’s a giving love. And we are going to look at two ways that He gives us His love. First of all, it is given sacrificially, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

You know, it’s hard to imagine why the Creator of the universe would desire a relationship with us so much that He would sacrifice His own Son on the cross to die for us, to bring us into relationship with Him. That’s hard to imagine that He would do that. That He exposed Jesus to rejection and to physical suffering. All these things, the wrath of God was poured out upon Jesus for our sins. And it could only have been because He loved us so much that He would do that. And if we ever doubt that God loves us, all we have to do is remember Jesus’ life and His death on the cross and if we want a symbol, if we ever want a symbol in our mind to remember how much God loves us, the symbol would be the cross. He has proven to us His love by dying on the cross.

He paid the greatest price He could ever pay to give us the greatest gift that He could ever give. It’s a love so great, it’s a love so great that on His way to the cross, do you know who He was thinking about? He wasn’t thinking about Himself. He was thinking about you and me on His way to the cross. That’s how much He loves us.

And then secondly, it’s given unconditionally. In Romans 5:8 it says, “But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” God showed us His love by sending His Son to die for us while we were ungodly, while we were undeserving, while we were His enemies. He died for us while there was nothing in us that could ever merit that kind of a love.

And He died for us when we were unworthy of His love. And all we had to do was receive it. That’s all we had to do.

And before we accepted Christ, there was nothing, there was nothing that we could ever do to make ourselves right with God. Nothing in ourselves to ever make us gain His favor, make Him love us. There was nothing we could do. But the Scripture says that He loved us first before we, before we ever knew Him or before we ever loved Him. And I thought about a newborn baby, how the parents when that baby is born and when they are really small, they loved that child so much. But the child at the time is unaware of the parents’ love.

And that’s how it is, how God loved us. He loved us so much before we even knew Him, before we were even aware that He loved us. In 1 John 4:9 and 10 it says, “God showed how much He loved us by sending His Son into the world to die on the cross, that we might have eternal life through Him. This is real love: it is not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”

And then in Deuteronomy 7:7, “The Lord did not choose you and lavish His love on you because you were larger or greater than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations.” He was talking to the nation of Israel here. And Israel was the smallest of all the nations. There wasn’t anything great about these people. He said, “It’s just because I loved you. Simply because I loved you.”

And so, He doesn’t love us because we are good people. He doesn’t love us because we are kind to others. He doesn’t love us because we come from a good family. He doesn’t love us because we are great in any way. But He says it’s simply because He loves you.

He loves you, He loves you, He loves you. And that’s all there is to it. And so, He loves you unconditionally and it’s a gift that was purchased at great cost by the cross of Christ. And the only response that we have is to either receive the gift or reject the gift.

You see, that’s the only response that we need to make and it’s so simple. And so, then if God loved me so unconditionally before I became a Christian, guess what, He still loves you today unconditionally after you’re a Christian. Some of us forget that.

It seems like for many people, it’s easy for them to accept the unconditional love of God at the time of their salvation, but then they live the rest of their lives as children of God trying to earn God’s love. How many of us do that?

You know, He loves me when I read my Bible and when I don’t. He loves me when I am in a good mood and when I’m in a bad mood. And He loves me when I fail and when I succeed. He loves me. He loves me when I sin and disappoint Him and let Him down and He loves me when I obey and I’m just doing great. I’m living such a righteous life. He loves me all the time.

And He doesn’t love me because I’m good. He loves me because I’m His child. He loves you because you’re His child and you belong to Him. And as we, by faith, received the gift of God’s love and forgiveness, at the moment of salvation, then we need to live by faith our Christian lives in the fact of God’s love.

You see, it’s a fact. And that it’s unconditional. Every moment of every day for the rest of our lives. How many of you believe that? We need to take that to heart as a fact.

God’s love for us is a giving love. But His love for us is also a boundless love. It has no boundaries. Ephesians 3:14 through 19, “When I think of the wisdom and scope of God’s plan, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from the glorious, unlimited resources He will give you mighty inner strength through His Holy Spirit. And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in Him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand as all God’s people should how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it, then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”

The apostle Paul was writing this, and he was in house arrest in Rome at the time, writing this letter to the Ephesian church. And Paul obviously had a grasp in his life of God’s love for him. And he also had an understanding of how important it is that the Church, that believers have a grasp and understanding of how much God loves them.

And so, he prayed this prayer and he prayed and asked that believers would have a solid foundation for their lives. That even in the midst of great persecution and suffering that these people were going through, that they would have a foundation and understand God’s love in their life, because it would make all the difference. And that they would be able to say at all times, no matter what they were going through, “He loves me. I know that He loves me.”

And he says, “May you have the power to understand as all God’s people should how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love really is.” You see, it’s all encompassing.

And if you look at your notes there, how wide is His love? How wide is it? Well, it’s wide enough to reach every person in the whole world. It’s that wide. There’s not a single person on this earth that God does not love and that He does not desire for them to come into relationship with Him. Not a single person!

God loves the man dying of AIDS in Africa. He loves the homeless child in Romania. He loves the people in India and China and El Salvador and Mexico. He loves everyone. There’s no person in this earth that God doesn’t love.

That’s why we send missionaries to all the lands of the world, because God loves them and that’s why we share about Christ with our neighbors and our friends and our family that don’t know the Lord, because God loves them. You see, His love is wide enough to reach every person in this whole world.

And His love always pursues them. He keeps searching for that one last sheep to come into His fold. And He doesn’t stop searching until everyone has had that opportunity to come into His fold. And it makes Him so happy. It makes Him so happy when His people come back to Him, that He says in the Scriptures that He throws a party in heaven when one of them come to know Him.

Well, how long is His love, then? Well, it spans all the ages past and all the ages to come. His love spans the length of our lives and into eternity. It’s that long. He goes with us into the future and He never stops loving us.

In Jeremiah 31:3 it says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” With an everlasting love. An eternal love. “And with lovingkindness I have drawn you.” And His love is so long that it goes with you the entire length of your life and into the future.

But it’s also so long that it will never fail. It will never fail. Nothing can ever exhaust the love of God. Nothing. And over and over in the Scriptures, we read about God’s unfailing love, about: His love endures forever.

He never runs out of it. It’s never exhausted. There’s more than enough for every child, for every child.
Well, His love is wide and His love is long. And it’s also high! It says His love is high. It’s so high that nothing can ever separate us. Nothing can ever separate us from His love. Romans 8:38 and 39 says, “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from His love. Death can’t and life can’t. The angels can’t. And the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away.”

It says, “Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He will never, never stop loving you.

Well, His love is high, and His love is deep. And it’s so deep that no creature can really ever truly understand it. It’s so deep that His love reaches down into the depth of our discouragement. There’s not a place we can go that’s so deep that His love will not be there. It’s so deep that it reaches down into our despair and our heartache. It reaches into our confusion, into our disappointments, and our failures. His love reaches every area of our lives and He puts His arms around us and He cares for us as a loving Father would His precious child.

And it’s so deep that there’s nothing, so deep there’s nothing we could ever experience in our lives where His love would not be there with us. He grabs down and He gets a hold of us and He holds us fiercely. And you can’t make Him let go, even if you wanted to. That’s how much He loves you.

Well, if God loves us this much, then we need to ask a question: how would this change our lives? How should this affect our lives if we know that He loves us this much, that His love is so great, that He would never let go of us?

Well, first of all, we can live with absolute certainty that God will take care of us. If He loves us this much, then we can live with absolute certainty that He is going to take care of us. Romans 8:32, “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?” Give us all things. If God loves us so much that He would sacrifice His Son to die on the cross, to bring us back into this relationship with Him, if He did that much for us, doesn’t it make sense that He would care for our lives, that He would take care of us? He cares about us in every aspect of our lives, down to the smallest detail. He cares about everything.

He knows you. And He wants you to have what is best and His best that He has to give. And this is the God who, in the Scriptures, He tells us that, “The young lions do lack, He says, “and suffer hunger; but those who wait on the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing.”

This is the kind of God that is taking care of our needs. He says that we can put all of our cares upon Him, because He cares for us. And He says that He cares about the lilies of the field. He cares about the birds of the sky – how much more does He care about you and your needs?

In Matthew, when Jesus was encouraging His followers to pray and they asked for whatever it is they needed, He said, “Or what man is there among you when his son shall ask him for a loaf will give him a stone? Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him?”

So, let me ask you, what is it that you need to see God take care of in your life? What do you need to see God take care of? What are you most concerned about?

“He that spared not His Son but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not with Him freely give us all things?” That’s a promise.

Well, secondly, if God loves me this much, I can live with the awareness that my life is very valuable and important to God. When Christ died on the cross, out of that great love, God shows you and me to be His very own.

Do you know what God says about you in Isaiah 41? He says, “I have chosen you and not rejected you.” You are chosen! In Ephesians 1 it says, it’s in your notes, it says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love, He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise and the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”

He has chosen us and He has adopted us as His own, as His children. You know, an adopted child is a chosen and wanted child. And He has chosen us and adopted us. And in Psalm 139 He says He knows everything about our lives. He says that every thought and every word that comes out of our mouths, He knows about it before we even speak the word.

And you know what? He still loves us! It doesn’t matter what comes out of our mouth and He thinks about us. He says He thinks about us all the time and that His thoughts for us are precious to Him and precious and good.

And I’m sure some of you know what it feels like to be rejected. Well, I have experienced a lot of rejection in my life in the past. And it’s hard to be rejected, to feel rejected, to be the one that is left out – to feel like that. To feel like everyone fits in but me. And to feel so alone.

And sometimes we experience so much rejection in our lives that it’s difficult for us to really believe that God wants us.

What I learned though is that I could run into the arms of my heavenly Father and He would never reject me, that He was waiting for me all the time to come to Him. And He says to us, He says, “I love you. And, in fact, you’re so important to Me that I sent My Son for you. And you’re so important to Me that I sent My Holy Spirit to live inside of you. You’re My sanctuary. You’re My temple. I love you that much. And I choose to dwell with you.” And He says, “I understand how you feel. I know how you feel. But I will never, ever leave you. I will never leave you. I will never reject you.” Because He says, “You’re My treasure. You’re My precious one.” We can live with the awareness in our lives that we are very valuable and wanted and important to God.

Well, the third thing here is I can live with freedom from guilt and condemnation because I will be forgiven and welcomed into His arms no matter how badly I have messed up. We need to remember that one.

He knows that we are going to make mistakes in our lives. He knows that we are going to mess up, that we are going to sin and that when we disobey, we are going to let Him down sometimes.

And he will discipline us as a heavenly Father, a loving Father would – any father should. But He wants us to run right back into His arms. In Hebrews 4 it says, “We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses but one who has been tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin.” He understands everything we go through. “Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.”

And it goes on to say, “Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” I love Hannah Whitall Smith’s writings. And I think she says this very well when she says, “Discouragement at our own failures is one of Satan’s greatest weapons against us. And the only way to baffle him, to baffle Satan, is to do what I say and so repeat.” She says, “Confess, be forgiven, and forget the whole thing.” You know? And I think that’s pretty good advice. How many times do we just hammer ourselves into the ground? And we don’t receive the forgiveness and love that God has to give us.

And no matter how badly, no matter how badly you have run from Him, or how badly you have messed up, your Father is waiting for you, to run right back into His arms for a love and a hug.

And the fourth thing here is I can live with the assurance that God deeply loves my unsaved loved ones and never stops pursuing them. In Matthew 18, it says, “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? And if it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. Thus, it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.”

You know, God loves our unsaved family members. He loves our moms and our dads, our children, our sisters, our brothers, our husbands – He loves our family members and our friends who don’t know Him. He loves them!

And because we know, the Scripture tells us that before we were saved, before we knew the Lord, He loved us. He loved us first as the parent loves the little baby. And He loves our unsaved loved ones in that same way. And so, we should never lose hope and we should never stop praying, because God loves them that much.

And the fifth thing here is I can live with the confidence that my future is secure in His hands, whether on earth or in heaven. Sometimes thinking about the future is a scary thing for us, but because God loves us, our future is secure. And we can face whatever comes into our lives with confidence, because He has a plan and His plan is good, that no matter what the circumstances are and no matter how I feel, His plan is good for the future.

And as we talked about before in Romans 8:38 and 39, that nothing, nothing in the future could ever separate us with the love of God. Nothing at all.

And then in Philippians 3:20 and 21 it says, “But we are citizens of heaven where the Lord Jesus Christ lives and we are eagerly waiting for Him to return as our Savior. He will take these weak, mortal bodies of ours and change them into glorious bodies like His own, using the same mighty power that He will use to conquer everything, everywhere.”

You see, our future is secure, whether today when we are on the earth or someday when we are in heaven, our future is secure, because God loves us that much. And this is the how great the love is that your heavenly Father has for you.

As a child, the only time I remember my dad ever touching me was when he spanked me. And the only other time was I remember being a little kid and being in the bathtub and him giving me a bath and scrubbing my head, scrubbing my hair. And he didn’t realize how strong he was, but it hurt when he scrubbed my head. And that’s the only times I remember my dad ever touching me when I was growing up.

And then when I grew up and I had children of my own and then my first husband left me, I experienced loneliness like I had never had in my whole life. It was just a terrible thing. And I longed for someone to come and put their arms around me, someone to hold me, and someone to comfort me. And there was no one there.

And one day, I was in the kitchen, I was visiting my parents and I was in the kitchen with my dad and he was cooking a meal. And that was one of the ways, I have learned, that he expressed his love. He liked to cook. And if he cooked you a meal, that was him saying that he loved you. But I didn’t understand that at the time. But he was cooking this meal and I was feeling so lonely and hurting so much. And as I was standing there watching him cook, I couldn’t stand it anymore. And I said, “Daddy, would you hug me? Would you hold me?” And he turned around and he put his arms around me. And it was the first time in my life that I felt my dad’s arms hold me and love me and felt the comfort of his strong arms around me.

And you see so many times our earthly dads, they don’t love us in the way that we need. But our heavenly Father says that He will put His arms around us, that He will never let go. And He will hold us forever.

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God.” And that is what we are. It’s a fact.