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Understanding True Love series
The world's greatest love story and how to experience God's love personally.
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Lesson 13: How to Experience God's Love: Part 1
One of the deepest needs of every person is the need to be loved. To feel lonely and unloved can be devastating. Yet this is the way most of us feel at one time or another. A teenage girl wrote,
“Within the last year, three of my friends tried to commit suicide. Life was too much for them. They couldn’t bear it. This world ate them up until their only thought of escape was death.
“Loneliness is universal. It eats inside your system. It brings a feeling of emptiness, a fear of death, and a gnawing hunger of wanting to be understood and loved. Loneliness is a sickness. It hurts. For some, it hurts so much that they do anything to run away from it.
“You can have a million close friends and still be lonely. You can be the best looking, most popular, most successful person on earth, and still be lonely. No matter what you do, where you go, or what you try to be, loneliness still eats your heart out.
“Lonely people need love: warm, flowing love—love can kill loneliness.”
People desperately need to be loved! Every person needs to be loved by someone who is important to him or her.
Whatever your situation may be, there is a love which can fully satisfy you. It is a love which everyone may experience. What love is this? It is the love of God and the love of His Son, Jesus Christ.
The same girl who wrote about loneliness found the cure for her loneliness in God and His love. She wrote,
“God is love. Jesus showed us God’s love…He left the glories of Heaven to humble Himself in the fashion of a man—as God walking among men to show them His love. He was obedient all the way to death on the cross, but on the third day, love burst the bonds of death with resurrection power…Ask Jesus to come into your heart right now and fill you with Himself, bringing love and mercy…He will take away your loneliness.”
The world's greatest love story
The world’s greatest love story is found in the Bible. It is a true story and it concerns you and me. It is the story of God’s love for us.
This love story began with the creation of man. Of all the living creatures which God created, man has the highest place because he was created “in the image of God.”
God gave man the ability to choose. He could choose to love and obey God or he could choose to disobey God and go his own way.
We know what happened—man chose to rebel against God and go his own way. This is true, not just of the first man, Adam, but of every one of us. The Bible says, “…we have turned every one to his OWN WAY…” (Isaiah 53:6).
Because of our rebellion and disobedience, we are separated from God and we do not experience His love.
Not only are we separated from God, but we have trouble getting along with each other. The reason for this is simple: We all want to have our own way. We all have something inside of us which says, “I will have my own way. I will do what I want to do!"
This attitude of selfishness and self-will is in the heart of every person by nature and it is the root cause of all our troubles. It causes more family problems and destroys more marriages than any other one thing.
As long as we are going our own way and doing our own thing, we do not experience God’s love. But God still loves us and seeks to bring us to Himself. That is why He sent His Son into the world.
Jesus loved us enough to die for us
Though He was the Son of God, Jesus chose to lay down His life for us. No one took Jesus’ life from Him. He chose to lay it down. Jesus said,
“...I lay down My life that I might take it again. No man takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself...” (John 10:17-18).
The death that Jesus died was the most cruel and shameful death possible. Roman soldiers took off Jesus’ shirt and tied His hands to a post. Jesus was beaten with a whip made up of many narrow leather strips with pieces of sharp metal woven into them.
When Jesus was beaten with this whip, the sharp pieces of metal cut into His flesh. His back became a bleeding mass. Men mocked Him, spit on Him, and placed a crown of thorns on His head. He was compelled to carry a heavy cross to the place of His crucifixion.
Jesus was crucified at a place called Calvary. His hands and feet were nailed to the cross. Two thieves were crucified with Jesus, one on His right side and the other on His left. These men were very wicked. They were dying for their sins. But Jesus had no sins of His own. He was dying for our sins.
Why did Jesus have to die?
Many people do not understand why Jesus had to die on the cross. They say, “Why couldn’t God just forgive us? Why did Jesus have to die?”
The reason God could not “just forgive us” is that God is the righteous Judge of the universe, and we have broken His laws. He has said, “...the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4).
We all have sinned; therefore, we deserve to die. God loves us and wants to forgive us, but He cannot be unrighteous. God always does what is right. The Bible says, “The Lord is righteous in all His ways.” Because He is righteous, God cannot overlook our sins or pretend that He does not know about them.
How did God provide salvation for us and yet maintain His righteousness? He did it by taking our punishment in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ.
An old man was brought into a courtroom. He was charged with stealing some bread. The judge asked him if he was guilty. The old man admitted that he was guilty, but added, “I stole the bread because I was hungry.”
The judge was a wise and kind man who loved people. He said to the man, “Sir, I am in sympathy with you, but we cannot permit people to steal because they are hungry. You have broken the law, and you will have to pay a fine or go to jail.”
The old man shook his head and said, “I have no money.”
Then the judge did a wonderful thing. He took off his robes as a judge, laid them on a chair and went down to where the man was standing. Placing his hand on the man’s shoulder, he said, “As your judge I had to sentence you, but as your friend I want to pay your fine.” The judge took money out of his own pocket and paid the man’s fine.
We are like the man who had broken the law and could not pay. We have broken God’s holy law. We deserve to be punished. God the Son loved us so much that He laid down His robes as our Judge, and came into the world to die on the cross for our sins.
The most precious truth in all the Bible is that the Son of God loved us so much that He left Heaven, became a man and died on the cross for our sins.
Because Jesus Christ paid the just penalty of our sins, God can righteously forgive us when we trust Christ as our Savior. God does not overlook our sins or pretend that He does not know about them, but He forgives them because He sees the blood of His Son which was shed for them.
We should never doubt God’s love for us. He has shown His love for us in giving His beloved Son to die for us. The Bible says,
“God shows His love for us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Why don't we experience God's love?
If God loves us so much, why is it that we do not experience His love? The reason we do not experience God’s love is that we are separated from Him. In order to have God’s life and experience His love, we must be “born again.” Jesus said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
What does it mean to be “born again”? It means to be born into God’s family by a spiritual rebirth. We cannot be born again physically but we can be born again spiritually. To be born again, we must repent of our sins and take the Lord Jesus as our Savior.
What it means to repent
To repent means to “turn around.” The reason we need to “turn around” is that we have been going the wrong way. We have not been going God’s way. Instead, we have been going our own way. The Bible says,
“We have turned every one to his own way.”
Deep down in the heart of every one of us there is something proud which says, “I will do what I want to do!” That is sin. It hurts God’s heart because He loves us so much. Jesus said, “Except you repent, you will perish.”
Repentance is not shedding tears over your sins. Many people weep and cry out to God and yet do not repent. Repentance is not going without food or afflicting your body. No one can get rid of his sins by doing these things
Repentance is not just being sorry for your sins. A man in prison may be sorry that he is suffering for his wrong-doing. Yet, if he were released, he would go back to his old ways.
Repentance is not fear. Sometimes, in a time of great danger, men who have been accustomed to cursing may become quiet and even cry out to God for mercy. But, when the danger has passed, they go back to their cursing. They have not repented.
Repentance is a change in my heart attitude which results in a change in my actions. I realize that it was my sins that put God’s Son on the cross. I realize that the Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me. I ask God to forgive me of my sins for Jesus’ sake. I tell God I am choosing to go His way and not my way.
Grandmother's Knitting Needle
A man told the following story of how, as a boy, he came to repent of the sin of stealing:
“I was raised by my grandmother. She was a fine Christian lady. She loved me, and I loved her. But when I was a boy, I had a bad habit of stealing. We were poor and I took things that did not belong to me. My grandmother punished me about my stealing, but that did not stop me. When I saw something I wanted, I took it.
“One day my grandmother called me over and said, ‘Son, I have been punishing you because of your stealing and it hasn’t seemed to do any good. I love you too much to let you continue doing this. The next time you come home with something that doesn’t belong to you, I am going to take one of these metal knitting needles and heat it red hot in the fire. Then I am going to burn your thieving hand with it so badly that you will never forget it.’
“I didn’t take anything for a long time. I knew my grandmother meant what she said. But in time I went back to my old ways. I came home with my pockets bulging. My grandmother noticed it. At first, she said nothing. Finally, however, she could stand it no longer.
“‘Empty your pockets!’ ordered my grandmother. I did so. Out came a knife, two balls, a top, an eraser, and some pennies.
“‘Son, where did you get those things?’ No answer. Again, ‘Tell me, where did you get those things?’ Still no reply. ‘Well, then, I shall do what I said I would,’ said my grandmother.”
“She went over and put the metal knitting needle into the fire. When it was red hot, she called me over and said, ‘Son, give me your hand.’
“I was trembling as I held out my hand, but I knew I was wrong. I knew that I deserved it. Then my grandmother paused and said, ‘Son, so that you may understand the seriousness of your wickedness, that you may comprehend it and never forget it, that you may be cured of it, an example must be made. Look now.’
“With that she opened her hand and drawing the knitting needle quickly from the fire, she plunged it through her own thin hand.
“A little sizzling, a slight sharp odor, a little smoke. That was all. She drew it out again. Holding out her hand, she said, ‘Don’t take your eyes from it.’
“That ended my stealing. That day I realized the seriousness of my offense and what it cost the one who loved me so dearly and one whom I loved.”
What was it that caused the change in this boy’s heart-attitude? He realized how much his grandmother loved him and what she suffered for him.
When we realize how much Christ loved us and what He suffered for us, it causes a change in our heart-attitude which results in a change in our actions.
There is no greater love than the love which Christ has for us. The Bible says,
“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
What is your response?
In His Word, God has told us that all those who repent and take Christ as their Savior will be with Him forever in that beautiful place called Heaven. On the other hand, the Bible tells us plainly that God has prepared a place for those who do not want to love and obey Him. Hell is the eternal world of the rebellious and disobedient.
If you realize that you have been going the wrong way, turn to God now. God says, “Turn at My correction: behold, I will pour out My Spirit on you” (Proverbs 1:23). God is saying to you, “If you will only turn to Me, I will do everything for you.”
You may say, “But how will God receive me after the way I have treated Him?” If you turn to Him in true repentance, He will receive you with love and forgiveness. The Lord Jesus made this clear in one of the most beautiful stories in all the Bible. We know it as the story of The Prodigal Son in Luke, chapter 15. We will quote the scripture first and then tell it in present-day dialogue so you can better understand the story.
The Prodigal Son
A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, “Father give me the portion of goods that falls unto me.”
“Father, I would like to get my part of your estate.”
“Why, son? Is something wrong?”
“No, not really, but I am tired of this place, I want to live my own life. I want to be free.”
And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country.
As the son left home, he met a stranger at the gate who greeted him and asked, “What’s your name, son?”
The son answered, “My name is Matt. What’s yours?"
“Well, some people call me the devil, but I don’t like that name, I don’t look like the devil, do I?”
“No, you don’t,” said Matt. “You look like a very distinguished person to me.”
“Well, I am, son. I have lots of friends among the rich and famous. I helped them get rich. By the way, where are you going?”
“I’m going out to have myself a big time. I told my father to give me my money so I could go out into the world and do what I want to do.”
“Smartest move you ever made, son. You only go through life once, and you have to grab all the pleasure you can get. If you are looking for a good time, I am just the one to help you. I’ll take you to the best places and introduce you to some of my friends.”
In the far country, the devil introduced Matt to some new friends, “Hey, guys, I want you to meet Matt. Matt has lots of money and he wants to have a good time.”
“Matt! So glad to meet you! You’re just the fellow we’re looking for. We are planning a big party tonight, and we want you to come and be the guest of honor. (We want you to pay for it, too!)”
...there he wasted his substance with riotious living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
Soon Matt’s money was gone. Now he was looking for some of his friends to help him.
“Jim, I am low on money. Could you lend me a hundred dollars?”
“Sorry, Matt, but I am sort of broke myself. I sure wish I could help you, but you know how it is.”
He went to another friend, “Mike, you know I paid for all those parties we had. Now I’m broke. Could you lend me some money?”
“I’m sorry to hear that you’re broke, Matt, but I can’t help you. I have to look out for myself.”
And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into the fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
“Sir, I need a job.”
“Sorry, kid, but I can’t hire you. We are in a famine and things are tough.”
“Mister, I have to have a job! I don’t care about any pay if you will just give me something to eat. I haven’t eaten in two days—I’ll do anything.”
“Well, since you put it like that, I’ll give you something to do. I have some hogs that need to be tended. If you do a good job, I will try to give you something to eat.”
While looking after the hogs, Matt began to think, “Man, what a fool I’ve been! I left my good home where I had everything I could want. Now, I have spent all my money and I am so hungry I could eat that stuff I am feeding the hogs."
And when he came to himself, he said, “How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!”
I will arise and go to my Father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you,
“And am no more worthy to be called your son: make me as one of your hired servants.”
“I sure wish I was back home. My father’s servants are a hundred times better off than I am. They have good houses and plenty to eat, and here I am starving to death.”
“I wonder if my father would ever forgive me after the way I have lived. I am not worthy to be his son any more. I would be glad just to be one of his hired servants. I will go back and tell him what a fool I have been. I will ask him to forgive me and let me be one of his servants.”
And he arose and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
As Matt came into sight of his old home place, his father saw him and said, “I wonder if that is Matt. It does look like him. Yes, it is him! I recognize that walk.”
The father ran to meet Matt. He threw his arms around his son and covered Matt with kisses.
In that moment, the prodigal son knew two things. First, he knew that he was fully and freely forgiven.
Second, he knew he was loved and accepted. He knew how his father felt toward him. He knew his father’s heart. By his actions, his father was saying, “I love you! I love you! I love you! I am so glad you came back!"
This is a beautiful picture of how God receives you when you come to Him in repentance and faith. He “covers you with His kisses.” You are fully and freely forgiven of all your sins. Every believer can say, “God has forgiven me of all my sins because of Christ.”
Not only are you forgiven, but you know how God feels toward you—He loves you with all His heart!
God is folding you to His heart, even as the father put his arms around the poor prodigal son and folded him to his heart. God is saying to you, “I love you! I love you! I love you!”
Do not wait!
Jesus gave us this beautiful story to show us how much God loves us and how He will receive us when we come to Him. Now the question is: Where are you? Are you in “the far country”—away from the Father’s house? Why not come home to Him?
Maybe you have been involved in some terrible sins, and Satan is telling you that you have to get your life straightened out before you can come to God. This is a lie! God tells you to come to Him now—just as you are!
Perhaps you think you are saved but you are not sure. Do not go on doubting. Settle the matter at once!
Maybe you trusted Christ as your Savior some time ago, but you have not been living for Him. You want to come back to God, but you wonder how He will receive you.
Do not wait any longer! Come to Him now, just as you are. You will find that God is much kinder and much more loving than you could ever imagine. He will welcome you with joy. This is the kind of love and forgiveness God has in His heart for you.
You do not have to pray a fancy prayer. God likes plain talk that comes from the heart. Just say to Him, “Father, I have sinned against You. I have been a selfish, rebellious person. I am coming home to You. I am trusting the Lord Jesus as my Savior and Lord.”