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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

But does God actually like me?

Invincibilized, not a word I am familiar with. However, whatever it is, it is worth having - according to midwestern pastor, Dane Ortlund.

I have just finished his book “Gentle and Lowly” which comes with the subtitle “The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers” (He Uses The Higher Case A Lot). It’s taken me about three months – which is strange because I could easily have read the 212 pages in one go, helped by short chapters.

I took my time because his teaching took some time to sink in, altogether radical in teaching me what I already know – that God loves me as I am. It’s who he is and it’s what he does best.

God may love us but is he really kind? Or does he insist on putting us through the wringer to make us holy? Like my athletics coach who insists that I run an extra 400m interval when I am already spent? Tough, unrelenting.

I guess that for most Christians we find it difficult to accept that God not only loves us but actually enjoys us, that he loves us not because he has to but because he wants to. That’s certainly the case for those Christians who have had a difficult childhood.

And this is the background for Ortlund’s seminal book. One of the speakers at New Wine recommended it as the best Christian book he had ever read – and so I bought it, not realising that it comes from the Reformed tradition, a tradition which I normally find flat and somewhat puritanical.

But there again the Puritans founded the Thirteen Colonies while giving us the Pilgrim’s Progress and the Royal Society.

So having paid some £11.46, I thought having spent so much money, I had better read the book – and was soon captivated. It’s worth getting, well written and with a good grasp of the Biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek.

So who is Jesus? We know a lot about what he did and what he said, but who is he in himself? What’s he really like?

Ortlund centres his book on Jesus’s own self-description: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” (Matthew 11:28f).

He explains: “In the one place in the Bible where the Son of God pulls back the veil and lets us peer way down into the core of who he is, we are not told that he is ‘austere and demanding in heart.’ We are not told that he is ‘exalted and dignified in heart.’ We are not even told that he is ‘joyful and generous in heart.’

He concludes: “Letting Jesus set the terms, his surprising claim is that he is ‘gentle and lowly in heart.’” (p18)

This insight gives the structure to the whole book. He doesn’t actually say this but he helps us accept the awesome truth that not only does Jesus love me, he actually likes me.

“It is impossible for the affectionate heart of Christ to be over celebrated, made too much of, exaggerated. It cannot be plumbed. But it is easily neglected, forgotten. We draw too little strength from it. We are not leaving behind the harsher side to Jesus as we speak of his very heart. Our sole aim is to follow the Bible’s own testimony as we tunnel in to who Jesus most surprisingly is.” (p29)

We only really begin to grow as Christians when we realise how much we are loved, when - in the words of the apostle Paul - we are “grabbed by the love of Christ.” (Philippians 3:12)

It sounds easy; in reality we may find it very difficult. For as Ortlund explains: “Fallen, anxious sinners are limitless in their capacity to perceive reasons for Jesus to cast them out. We are factories of fresh resistances to Christ’s love.

He continues: “Even when we run out of tangible reasons to be cast out, such as specific sins or failures, we tend to retain a vague sense that, given enough time, Jesus will finally grow tired of us and hold us at arm’s length.” (p63)

And more: Jesus takes us into the very heart of God himself. For God loves us for the reason that he is God, that is who he is. Love, so-to-speak, is what God does naturally. He is not repulsed by our sin. The very opposite. “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)

Even as we would turn our backs on him. “Contrary to what we expect to be the case, the deeper into weakness and suffering and testing we go the deeper Christ’s solidarity with us. As we go down into pain and anguish, we are descending ever deeper into Christ’s very heart, not away from it’ (p17)

Where Ortlund is insightful in seeing that where there is a balance, a tension even, between the mercy of God and his justice, scripture emphases his compassion.

“Left to our own natural intuitions about God, we will conclude that mercy is his strange work and judgment his natural work. Rewiring our vision of God as we study the Scripture, we see that judgment is his strange work and mercy his natural work.” (p144)

As disciples of Jesus we decide to live our lives on the basis of God’s overwhelming love for us, his faithfulness come-what-may. In the words of the Puritan-inspired Westminster catechism:” Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

And the result? As Ortlund concludes his book: “If you are in Christ, you have been eternally invincibilized!” (p211). Sometimes you just have to make up your own words.

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