by Scott Kaczorowski
What follows is a strong statement. But hopefully not a controversial one. The single most important thing that any Christian needs to understand is how deeply God loves them in Christ. Paul prays that the Ephesians will have an understanding of God’s deep love:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)
There is a connection here between deeply knowing and understanding the love of God and being “filled with all the fullness of God” (v. 19).1 There are times when God gives an overwhelming sense of his love to His children. Perhaps a few examples from history will spur us on to seek the same.2
The 18th century New England pastor Jonathan Edwards wrote of a woman in his congregation during the beginning of what would become known as the Great Awakening:
There is a pious woman in this town that is a very modest bashful person, that was moved by what she heard of the experiences of others earnestly to seek to God to give her more clear manifestations of himself… and God answered her request, and gradually gave her more and more of a sense of his glory and love, which she had with intermissions for several days, till one morning …she had it to a more than ordinary degree, and it prevailed more and more till towards the middle of the day, till her nature began to sink under it, as she was alone in the house; but there came somebody into the house, and found her in an unusual, extraordinary frame. She expressed what she saw and felt to him; it came to that at last that they raised the neighbors, [for] they were afraid she would die; I went up to see her and found her perfectly sober and in the exercise of her reason, but having her nature seemingly overborne and sinking, and when she could speak expressing in a manner that can’t be described the sense she had of the glory of God… it seemed to me [that] if God had manifested a little more of himself to her she would immediately have sunk and her frame dissolved under it.3
Iain Murray describes a similar experience of George Whitefield, one of Edwards’ contemporaries, who wrote of himself: “I myself was so overpowered with a sense of God’s love, that it almost took away my life.”4 Murray also recounts the words of the 19th century evangelist Dwight Moody:
I was crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit. Well, one day, in the city of New York–Oh, what a day–I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred and experience to name. …I can only say that God revealed himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand. I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different: I did not present any new truths; and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world…”5
There are some similar threads that run through these accounts: (1) These saints experienced a deep sense of the love of God. (2) The sense was so strong it physically overpowered them. (3) They read like what the answer to Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-19 might look like. (4) In the case of the woman and Moody at least, they were asking God to grant more of an experience of Himself.
So if our hearts are cold and empty and lacking an experiential understanding of the love of God, we can ask. If the single most important thing that any Christian needs to understand is how deeply God loves them in Christ, then if we truly get the love of God right, everything else in our Christian walk will fall into place. If we lack understanding of the love of God, everything else in our Christian life will be out of wack (to varying degrees). This is the line in the sand. The love of God.
1cf. Iain H. Murry, Pentecost–Today? The Biblical Basis for Understanding Revival (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1998), 90-91, which I rediscovered after writing this line.
2cf. Murry, p. 91—but if I was following him, I was not conscious of it when I wrote this.
3Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 4: The Great Awakening, ed. C. C. Goen (New Have: Yale University Press, 1972), 105-106.
4Luke Tyerman, Life of George Whitefield (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1876), Vol. 1, 386. As quoted in Murry, 94.
5W. R. Moody, Life of Dwight L. Moody (London: Morgan and Scott, n.d.), 135. As quoted in Murry, 98.