My daughter Emily told me that when she was growing up, one of her favorite books was Mama, Do You Love Me?[i] In only 285 words, author Barbara M. Joose and illustrator Barbara Lavelle beautifully tell the story of a Native Alaskan mother’s unfailing love for her precious child. Over and over, the child asks the extent of the mother’s love. Again and again the mother affirms that she will always love her Dear One—and what’s more, no wrong that her child could do can ever make her stop loving her child.
Mama,what if I carried our eggs – our ptarmigan eggs! – and tried to be careful, and I tried to walk slowly, but I fell and the eggs broke?
Then I would be sorry. But still, I would love you.
Then I would be sorry. But still, I would love you.
What if I put salmon in your parka, ermine in your mittens, and lemmings in your mukluks?
Then I would be angry.
What if I threw water at our lamp?
Then, Dear One, I would be very angry. But still, I would love you.
When the child asks what if she ran away and stayed away, the mother answers that she would be worried and scared. Even if the child turned into a scary polar bear and frightened her mother and made her cry, the mother insists, “Then I would be very surprised and very scared. But still, inside the bear, you would be you, and I would love you.”
Though I didn’t realize it twenty years ago when I first read this book to my daughter, I was giving her good theology. In many ways, Joose and Lavelle teach the nature of God in this delightful children’s book. Many Christians want to know the same things about God: How much does God love us? How long will God love us? Is there any wrong that we could do that could ever take away God’s love? Certainly our sins are worse than putting lemmings in God’s mukluks—but in a deeply spiritual sense, many Christians are guilty of throwing water on God’s lamp. Many believers run away and stay away, making God cry. And a whole lot of Christians act like bears, forgetting the gentle Dear One that resides inside and exchanging good behavior for animalistic tendencies. Even then, God insists that He loves us.
Perhaps the greatest fear I’ve heard many Christians express is that they might do something so bad that it might cause them to love their salvation. I’m aware that thoughtful and faithful people fall on both sides of this debate, but we need to understand that the issue at stake here is not simply the future of our individual souls but the very nature of our loving God. In Matthew 7.9-11[ii], Jesus tells us that the loving Father provides everything that His children need. “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Indeed, how much more will the Father give spiritual liberation to those who ask for it! When we ask for eternal life, He doesn’t give us temporary salvation. Eternal life means forever—that’s how long God’s love and forgiveness last.
Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out (John 6.37).” When Jesus died on the cross, he saved us from the penalty of our sins. If our sins could after that begin to pile up again to a point where their offense outperformed Jesus’ forgiveness, then our sins would be stronger than God’s love—and that, my friend, is an impossibility.
So, because we have Jesus’ promise that He will never cast out anyone who trusts Him for salvation…
and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…(Hebrews 10.21-24).
We understand that Jesus doesn’t save us because of our love and good works, but so that we might love and do good works. This is grace—the unmerited favor of God. If we deserved our salvation, it wouldn’t be grace. By the same token, if we deserved to lose our salvation, then our salvation would be by grace, either. In other words, we can trust that our salvation isn’t because we’re good—it’s because God is good. So we can have full assurance in our faith. We can hope without wavering, because Jesus is always faithful.
Certainly some who are on the losing side (meaning that you can lose your salvation) will point out Hebrews 10.26-29, which says:
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?
Here, we have to understand that while God cannot behave in a manner that’s contrary to the divine nature, we certainly can! We’re saved from the penalty of sin—that took place once and for all on the cross. Jesus is saving us from the power of sin in our lives—but it’s a gradual process. That means that sin no longer controls us unless we let it. However, it won’t be until we get to Glory that the possibility of sin will be removed. Until that time, sin is a reality in the life of every saved Christian. So, if that’s true, then how can we understand verses 26-29? Because it would seem to say that our past sins are forgiven but from that point on, but that we need to be sinless thereafter in order to be saved. Can this be true?
No, the saving power of Jesus sustains every true believer to the end. Verses 26-29 don’t mean that we have to be sinless. Instead, they remind us not to let sin govern our lives. Just as a child who has thrown water on the lamp, run away, or changed into a bear is still loved by her mother, so a saved Christian is still loved and welcomed by a forgiving Father. Verses 26-29 describe not a true child of God, but someone who simply wears a façade of faith without a real relationship. Those who are truly in love with Jesus can have confidence, and full assurance in our faith. Verses 35-38 say:
Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,
“Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”
Notice here that even if the righteous one who lives by faith shrinks back, it doesn’t say that he has lost his salvation—God simply loses pleasure in him. All children make their parents cry from time to time, but that doesn’t mean that their parents disown them. If ordinary parents know how to give good things to their children, how much more will the heavenly Father care for those who trust Him? If evil parents continue to keep their children who continuously disappoint them, how much more will God preserve those who put their trust in Him?
Verse 39 says that “…we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” These are of an entirely different category from true believers. They didn’t lose their salvation—they were never saved to begin with. They may have once looked like Christians, but these are those to whom Christ says, “I never knew you (Matthew 7.23).” R.K. Kendall puts it this way: “The faith that fizzles before the finish had a fatal flaw from the first.” Those who look like Christians, who may have spent plenty of time in church hearing the Gospel, yet who never made Jesus their true home, do not have a resting place in His arms. Though the church may have been the comfortable setting of their lives, their sin is not covered, because they never truly received God’s grace.
Those who are truly the children of God will know the Lord’s blessing. Certainly we will continue to sin after we’ve been saved…and, at times, there may be some doubts in our mind about God’s enduring love. We may throw up our arms and ask, “Daddy, do you love me?” But just like the child in our book, the loving Parent will say, “I will love you, forever and for always, because you are my Dear One.”