To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints . . . (Romans 1:7, ESV)
I love this salutation in the opening of the book of Romans.
“To all those in Rome who are loved by God . . .”
Do you see it? Paul addresses the believers in Rome as those who are loved by God. This is true of all believers in Jesus, and yet I’ve noticed that for some of us the idea that God loves us is difficult to accept. Yes, we know he has saved us. But it’s easy for me, at least, to think that he’s holding back his love from me until I get a little more adept at doing this Christian thing.
I was talking recently with a precious young believer who told me about her hard background. She said something very interesting to me regarding her relationship with her earthly father. They were a pair who didn’t naturally get along, but she said that eventually she “chose to love” her father, and he “chose to love her”.
I bring that up because, I admit, often times in my heart of hearts I believe that God is mistaken to love me. I think this because I’m not that lovable, frankly, especially when I compare myself to other believers or to God himself. In other words, it feels like I haven’t earned it yet. I’m a fool for thinking that: God has chosen to love me; his love is not something I can earn. I hope that if you, like me, think God would have to be off his rocker to love you, you’ll let these words, this simple truth, sink deep into your soul: God loves you.
Believer, you are beloved by him. He cares for you in ways you can’t fathom, and he loves you passionately, fervently, with a love that is purer and more intense than any you have ever known on earth. Most of us have a deep, deep need to be loved and fully known. This causes much distress in our lives because of the Catch-22 it embodies: we fear that if we were ever fully known, no one could possibly love us. But God knows us far better than we know ourselves. He knows the truth about us, even the truth we hide from ourselves. He knows ever atom in our bodies and every thought in our heads and every action we’ve ever done, and he loves us.
The second half of Paul’s sentence brings this home: “. . . called to be saints”.
When I was a new believer, many moons ago, the word “saint” in the Bible tripped me up. I thought you only became a saint when men in elaborate robes met in a stone castle and elected you. But someone explained to me, early on, that Biblically all believers in Jesus are saints. The word “saint” simply means “holy one” or “called out one”. A saint is someone whom God is “sanctifying”. Now “sanctify” is another large word that might cause confusion. To be sanctified means to become like Jesus, to be made to conform to his likeness. Take a look at this verse:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. – Romans 8:29
This hit me like a freight train a few years ago. I thought God saved me to make me a better person. I know now that God has no interest at all in doing small renovation projects on me, or performing minor cosmetic surgery, applying nips and tucks to my often unpresentable life. His goal is not to make me better. His goal is to make me new.
God is remaking me into the image of his Son. This is my destiny. It’s not an optional change, reserved only for the most devoted and dedicated of his followers. It’s the destiny of every person who has placed their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. He has us, and he means to bring us into perfect conformity with his perfect Son.
He’s not kidding around on this either. Our God is stubborn, zealous, and almighty, and he means what he says. This is the God who led his people with a pillar of fire to the promised land, bringing them out of the land of slavery with plagues and wonders and a strong and mighty hand. This is the God who sent his Beloved through the whips and thorns and nails of the cross to bridge the canyon-like chasm of our horrible sin and make us his sons and daughters. He is not fooling around. If you are a believer in Jesus, you will one day be like him.
Case closed. It’s your destiny.