He Loved You First

Most people feel like they have to first earn God’s approval and love, but the Bible says He loved you first!


Morning/Afternoon!  How’s everybody doing? 
What an awesome day it is.  The weather is perfect, and we are going to have a lot of fun today. 
I imagine that for many of you, coming to church today brings mixed emotions. 
For some of you…it’s been a while since you’ve been at church… or maybe you’ve never been in a church. 
First of all, that’s cool here. 
A lot of people come here on a regular basis, that are just checking God out.  
But maybe as you were thinking about coming this week, you may have had a bunch of thoughts running through your head about what this would be like.”  
You might be excited about free cheese curds or roasted corn…
And maybe you were excited even for this part…to get back to church again…or maybe to try it out for the first time.  
But for others of you…they idea of church…or even God…brings up confusion, or even resentment, or bitterness.  
And I want you to know that I’ve been thinking about you all over the last few weeks…
…and more than ever, I’ve been thinking about the question of why so many Americans don’t go to church anymore…
And even more importantly…why so many Americans aren’t so sure what they think about God anymore.  
And then I started thinking …“Well, that was my life…the first half of my life actually.” 
I spent the first 18 years of my life…ignoring God, thinking being a Christian was totally lame (and for losers), and the last thing I wanted to do was starting living for God. 
Now obviously my mindset changed (“And I still feel that way today..”) 
Looking back now, I know that the reason I was so opposed to God was because, in truth, I had a misunderstanding of who God really is. 
To me…God was just some guy in the sky who demanded I follow a bunch of rules…
And honestly, I felt I had better things to do w/ my time than win His approval 
And maybe you’d agree w/ that sentiment 
But at one point, I had to be honest with myself and ask the question:   
“How much do I really know about God?” 
“Have I ever read the Bible?” 
“No, not really.  I sat in church some, but never listened.” 
“Have I ever studied or looked into who God truly is?” 
Nope, I just had some thoughts on who I thought He was.  
But how would you feel, if I never really looked into who you were, but had a thousand thoughts on what you were like… 
You’d say, “Um, please do your research…I’m actually way cooler than that”  
And when I started reading the Bible for myself, here is what I found was at the core of my misunderstanding:  “I always thought Christianity was like a religion.” 
You can define religion in all sorts of ways, but I’ll define it this way for our purposes today:  
Religion: You need to work your way up to earn God’s love.
Christianity: God loved you first, so He came down and offered you love. 
He came down for you…in the form of His Son Jesus.  
And I want to spend some time contrasting those two thoughts today…and talking about who God REALLY is.  

Christianity is different than every other religion in the world 
Most religions are based on your good and bad deeds.  
They say…that in order to enter heaven, or the afterlife, or get a better reincarnation, you need to have your good deeds outweigh your bad. 
The average person on the street thinks about God this way. 
Pop culture thinks about God this way… 
Take a look at this clip from the show “The Good Place” on NBC to see what I mean…
Plenty of people, and even churches, have distorted even Christianity in this way 
Maybe that’s how you think of Christianity. 
If you do good deeds, and go to church enough, and make sure you don’t murder anyone, you can work you way up to heaven with your good deeds. 
Let me say this bluntly…THAT IS NOT CHRISTIANITY!
That’s religion…and that turns people off to God.  
That turns me off to God.  
I think that’s depressing.  
Because I know myself…
I know how sinful I am…I would not be in the green…I’d be negative in the red…if that’s how life works.  
Religion: You need to work your way up to earn God’s love.
Christianity: God loved you first, so He came down and offered you love. 
If that “religion line” is true…and I need to work my way up to God…with my good deeds… 
That just makes me want to run away from God…maybe hide from him. 
Or, if not that, maybe I’ll just pretend that I’m better than I am…and just present a fake, polished up version of myself.  
“Hey everyone.  What a beautiful day.  Isn’t God good?!” …fake religious mumbo jumbo
You know people like that? 
And plenty of “religious people” do that. 
That’s not who we are here.  
And see, this type of religious thinking, “that you have to earn your way to God,” couldn’t be further from the truth of what Jesus taught when he was on earth. 
In fact, he spent most of his time arguing against that exact sort of thinking!  
If you don’t believe me…Think of it this way: 
What’s the most basic symbol of Christianity? (shout it out) 
The cross. 
Okay…what’s the cross all about?  
Jesus died on it. 
Did you ever think of this: 
If God determines who goes to heaven based on how good you are…then what in the world was the cross for? 
Then why in the world did He let his own Son be killed on the cross?!? 
Let’s look to the Bible: 
This is a letter that one of Jesus’ disciples, named John, wrote to some of the early Christians.   
Here’s part of what he wrote:  
(1 John 4:9-10) – NEW LIVING TRANSLATION!!!!  - Leave up for a minute
9 God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
Do you realize how different this is from religion? 
Here’s what it’s teaching.  
That you and I aren’t good enough on our own. 
That we can never earn or work our way up to heaven. 
But God…sent his son down…to die in our place…
That’s where it says, “he died as a sacrifice” 
It means, “He died and took our punishment for us” 
Just like taking a bullet for you…he went to the cross for you
And it says, “if you believe in Him, you follow Him, He’ll give you eternal life” 
You’ll go to heaven.
I’ll talk more about that in a bit… 
The Bible teaches that, “It’s not about you working your way up, it’s that God already came down…in the form of His Son, Jesus”  
And He’s offering you forgiveness and love.  

And that’s so different from religion… 
Think of it this way:  Sometimes people call God, “Our Father in heaven,” so let’s talk about earthly fathers…
Let’s say you have a dad who never seems satisfied with you. 
Anyone have a dad like this? 
You work hard in school and get good grades…and he says, “Meh.” 
You get married, have kids…and get your first full-time job…
And he asks you when you’re going to get a real job. 
You get a house…and he asks you when you’re going to move out of your starter house. 
I mean, what do you have to do to just hear him say, “Good job…or I love you.” 
When people have father’s like that, almost inevitably, they drift away from their dad over time. 
Because at the end of the day, you feel like they don’t LOVE you…
And that they won’t LOVE you…unless you earn your way up to some ridiculous standard of perfection 
And that is exactly why a ton of people have walked away from church and God… 
Like they need to work their way up to his approval…and they’re never going to be good enough!
I mean, what’s worse than trying to prove yourself to someone and never knowing if they really love you or not? 
Am I right? 
And listen to me carefully…that is NOT who God is. 
This is what the Bible teaches: 
We love each other because he loved us first.
(everybody say that)  
That is not “Religion”  
Religion: You need to work your way up to earn God’s love.
Christianity: God loved you first, so He came down and offered you love. 
Think of it this way…when my kids were babies…
I could hold one of them on my knee and look into their sweet, loving eyes. 
I loved them so much, but because they were an infant, let’s just be totally honest…they could only love me so much. 
I can say, “I love you so much…and they would spit up all over me”  
If I were lying awake at night in pain, physically or emotionally, they would still be sleeping soundly in their cribs
Even if I were to die, scientists say they’d probably forget about me in a week. 
Hard to say, but true.  
And yet, even though they can offer me so little love back in return, I already loved them more than they could ever know. 
And why? 
Because of what they’ve proven to me? 
Because of how they’ve earned my love?!?
No, I love them because they’re my child! 
And THAT…is how God feels about you. 
That is what the Bible is talking about when it says…He LOVED YOU FIRST. 
This is about Him coming down, not you working your way up.  
Author Ken Gire tells a story of a little girl who lived at the edge of a forest and one day, wandered into the woods. 
She thought she would explore all the dark secrets of the forest.  
The farther she wandered, the denser it became, till she lost her bearings and could not find her way back. 
As darkness descended, fear gripped her, and all her screams and sobs only wearied her till she fell asleep in the woods. 
That night, friends, family, and volunteers combed the area…until they gave up in the thick of night. 
Early the next morning, as her father began his search afresh, he suddenly caught a glimpse of his little girl lying on a rock and, calling her by name, he ran as fast as he could. 
She was startled awake and threw her arms out to him. Wrapped in his tight embrace, she repeated over and over, “Daddy, I found you!” “Daddy, I found you!” 
That’s my story.  This is our story. 
We’ve wandered…it’s been hard…even painful. 
And maybe we feel like we’ve started looking for God. 
But I assure you…He loved you first…
He has never given up on you. 
He’s been looking for you this whole time.  
And his love for you is proven by the symbol of Christianity: the cross. 
Look at this passage written by the early Church leader, the Apostle Paul, in the Bible: 
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
Think about what that verse means. 
It means, that before you were born, God already had seen all of your life. 
All of the mistakes you’ve made…even the ones you will make. 
And He loved you so much…after seeing you at the worst of your worst…that He said…I’m going to allow my own son, Jesus…to be murdered on a cross…and die in your place. 
That’s how much He loves you. 
Before you were born, He loved you first.  
No MATTER what you’ve DONE…He loved you first!
This is not you working up, this is Him coming down. 
But notice the verse says, “He showed his love by sending Christ to die for us.” 
So why did Jesus have to die then? 
Let me explain with a story. 
Long ago, there was a man named Shamile who lived in a communist country.  
He was a leader of a group of people who were trying to overthrow an evil dictator.  
As his group traveled around, they kept their families with them. 
Because times were tough, their own people kept breaking into their supply tent to steal food.  
One night, after it happened again, Shamile was outraged because food was scarce and had to be rationed.  
He told all of the families that from then on, anyone caught stealing food would be publicly whipped. 
Not long after that, Shamile’s lieutenant informed him that more food had been stolen 
Shamile had all the people assembled for a public whipping. 
But as the people were just about fully assembled, someone whispered to him, “But sir, it was your own elderly mother who was caught stealing.”  
Now what do you do? 
As the people sat there with their eyes transfixed on Shamile, he pronounced the crime, and that the punishment for that crime was a public whipping. 
They then tied his elderly and shaking mother up to a post. 
And then Shamile walked over to his own mother, took of his own shirt, covered her with his body…
And he said to his lieutenant, begin the beating. 
And in this way, justice was still satisfied…and no one questioned what kind of leader Shamile was.   
And his love for his mother…was still proven
The penalty was still paid, but it was paid by Shamile himself.  
And that is exactly what God was doing when He sent Jesus to the cross. 
God is just…He can’t bend the rules…and say, “Just sneak into heaven” 
Justice must be carried out for our sins…for they’re serious. 
But He LOVES you so much…He didn’t want the punishment to come on you! 
So He sent His own Son Jesus…to die on the cross, and take your punishment for you. 
That’s how much He loves you!

But the Bible tells us that…that kind of love and forgiveness is not just automatically given to everyone. 
Remember what we said, He came down and OFFERED it to you. 
God has given you free will…and He’s not going to force anything on you. 
He’s offered you the free gifts of forgiveness and a relationship with Him
But it will require you laying down your crown and following Him. 
At Renovation Church, we’ve been in this teaching series called “Abdicate.” 
To abdicate is “to relinquish or renounce the throne” 
It’s where a King or Queen says, “You know, someone better than me can be king, I’m going to step off the throne”  
That’s what God is asking of you today. 
Will you trust Him…that He knows how to direct your life better than you do? 
Will you surrender to following Him? 
Listen to me…If He truly loves you that much…starting a relationship with God…beginning to follow Him…is the best decision you can even make. 
You’re making a decision to follow a loving Father who knows what’s best for you.  
You’re letting Him be the King of your life.  
But this is indeed a decision that every single person must make. 
Because as I often like to tell people, the death rate in America is still holding steady at 100% 
All of us are going to die…and one day spend eternity, billions of years, in heaven or in hell. 
And listen, God loves you soo much that He sent Jesus for you…to take the punishment for you. 
We need Jesus to do…what Shamile did in the story…to come and cover us..
And He loves you so much…He’s willing to do that. 
But you have to ask Him to…by believing and surrendering our life to Him… 
Because if you choose not to follow Him…to surrender your life to Him…then that punishment is still on us. 
And when we die, we won’t go to heaven, but to hell…where justice will be served.  
Please…I beg of you…please…don’t do that.  
HEre is perhaps the most important truth of the Bible: 
(John 3:16-17) – NIV 
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
So how are you saved?  How do you go to heaven?   How do you start this relationship with Him? 
You believe He died for you…that He loved you first. 
And when you let that love in, you’ll be forgiven of everything you’ve ever done…  
And even better, He’ll come into your life. 
And He’ll change you…and it’s amazing.  
You can start this life-changing relationship with a God who loves you. 
I know, so many of you…you want that…are looking for that...
And for those of you that want to make that decision today, I want to give you an opportunity to start that relationship with Him right now. 
I want this to be a special moment between you and God, so let’s just have everyone bow their heads and close their eyes
If that’s you…and you do want to tell God for the first time today that you believe God sent his son for you…
That He loved you first.  
That He can forgive you. 
That you can go to heaven forever…by believing he died in your place.  
And that you can let Him into your life…right now…to follow Him. 
If you want to make that decision to be forgiven and to follow Him this morning… in a minute…I’m actually going to ask you to respond by quietly standing up right where you are. 
It’s a symbolic way to say to God, “God, I believe you came down for me, and starting today…I will follow you!
This is how you can be forgiven, go to heaven, and have a relationship with God…it’s by making this decision. 
NO ONE will be looking at you…no one (don’t even think about that!).  This is about you and God. 
So wherever you are, if I’m talking to you and you’ve never done this before.. and you’d like to become a follower of Jesus Christ, to enter into a relationship with Him for the first time, and accept his gift of forgiveness, I want you to stand up wherever you are.  (you can stay standing for a minute as others join you)
If God is nudging your heart in this…that means He’s talking to you.  That means…it’s TIME. 
If God himself is prompting you to do something right now, don’t disobey that. 
Stand up.  God is talking to you! 
If you’re standing up, would you pray this prayer with me?
This is not a magic prayer…but just a prayer to tell God where you’re at… the Bible says, we 1) believe in our hearts and 2) confess with our mouths.  
So I want you to say it out loud with me. Repeat after me
IN fact, there are a lot of other believers already in the room, and this is what we believe.  
So, let’s all say it together with these new believers.  
Repeat after me
Dear God
I confess to you, that I have sinned against you.  
But God I believe, that you sent your Son Jesus, to take my place
And God I thank you, for forgiving my sins.  
And now I commit, to following you, with my life.   

As everyone else still has their eyes closed, I want to talk to those of you who are standing for just a moment   
I need you to do one more thing for me. 
It will only take a few small minutes, but I believe these are a few of the most important minutes of your life.  
You’ve just made the most important decision of your life, and I believe in any scenario, that requires some more information…
So here’s what we’re going to do…In just a second, one of our leaders is going to pray, but right before he does that, I need you to quietly sneak out of your row, and head towards the hallway where it will be quiet.   
I’m going to go out there with you…and I want to give you some extremely important resources & next steps to get you started on the most important journey of your life. 
Also, if you feel like today was the day that you too did, in your heart, surrender your life to Jesus, but you just didn’t want to stand up…
Come out in the hallway with us too, just sneak out while people have their eyes closed
I promise you all will be able to sneak right back into the service & back into your seats in just a few moments. 
All right, one of our leaders is going to pray 
But for now, would you please had out there with me.  
Go ahead.  We can all go together. 

Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN

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