In November, I wrote a post about a prayer in which I experienced God’s love. That experience was about more than just a feeling.

All Christians, I’d guess, would readily confess that God loves them. As the song goes, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” When pushed to explain their theology on this point, many would qualify their claim: “God loves me in Christ,” by which they mean that “God loves me through the blood of Christ,” or “Because I am hid in Christ, He loves me,” or “When God looks at me, He sees Christ, and not my dirty rags,” or “God loves me because the blood of Christ covers me.”

I don’t know about the theology back of all these statements, but they stem from belief in a God who is too small to love us sinful human beings just as we are. “God loves me because I am hid in Christ” uses clever religious terminology to say, “I don’t think God could really love me as I am. Thank God that His blood covers me, otherwise He could not love me and His wrath would be upon me.”

The fact of the matter is that God loves me, apart from any involvement by Christ. He loves me, just as I am. For while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Why in the world would Christ, the second member of the Godhead, God in the flesh, suffer and die for me unless He loved me? Unless… He… loved… me.

One day, a young man came to Jesus and asked him how he could get eternal life. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus looked at him and loved him. There was no blood. There was no hiding in Christ. Jesus loved him. Likewise, Jesus looks at me, just as I am, and he loves me. I do not have to change, ever, for God to love me. If I never change, if I never throw off my bad habits, if I never become one iota more loving, if I never gain in patience, if I never tell anyone about Christ, if I never pray, if I never give God the time of day, He will never love me any less. If I were to have success in all these ways, God will never love me any more. He loves me, just as I am. If there is any good news in this world, that’s it.

Religious activities in which many of us engage are very effective tools for preventing us from coming to a true appreciation of God’s love for us. We believe, and pray, and sing, and listen to sermons proclaiming that God is good, that He is good all the time, that He brings blessings into and around our lives, that this is the day that the Lord has made, that God delights in us. We thank God that He loves us. The truth is that we have reservations about just how much God loves us. At the very same moment we profess that God loves us, do we think for one second that God likes us? “God likes me” is a notion that gets much closer to the real meaning of the phrase “God loves me, for me.” Maybe He loves us, but we’re not so sure that He loves us enough to like us. Now there’s a concept that we must come to terms with.

There is a world of difference between “God loves me in Christ” and “God loves me, just as I am… right here, right now.” Try the latter on for size for a few days, especially during times when you have given God not a thought, or done something wrong, or failed in some way, and you’ll see what I mean.