God Loves You As You Are, But…

The following post is from Kevin Harris, Director of Community Relations at The Marin Foundation.

When I went to the doctor as a child for a physical check-up, I remember the doctor tapping my knee with a little tool and my leg would automatically kick out. As a child it was little more than an amusing interaction, but I later learned that this reflex told the doctor information about my internal state of being (physically speaking) since it functioned as one way of checking my nervous system.

In the same way, our non-physical reactions and knee-jerk responses are connected to our spiritual and mental state of being. They tell us about the theological ideas and worldviews that have become deeply ingrained in our psyche and being. One common reaction that I have been noticing in Christian circles, particularly of the evangelical stripe, is an aversion to or an uneasiness with the idea that others are loved by God as they are when it is expressed in some capacity. When this sentiment is expressed in the context of talking about homosexuality or gender identity that is not normative, the chances of encountering a resistant reaction increases exponentially.

We have all heard this uneasiness expressed in a number of ways from something like, “Well yes that’s true, but you need to……” to tired clichés like “God loves you as you are, but He loves you too much to leave you that way.”

While I would agree that there is some truth in the latter statement, I primarily find it to be indicative of a larger issue that has infiltrated our collective consciousness: We are not comfortable with simply stating and having people understand that God loves them without any qualifiers and we lack trust in the redemptive impact that a deeper understanding of God’s unconditional love can bring about. The inability or refusal to communicate and allow others to understand that God loves them as they are without any qualifiers or following statements inadvertently implies that God’s love is not enough. Rather than functioning as an invitation to more deeply contemplate the incomprehensible love of God (where the sole focus should be), it shifts the focus back onto the ever-present need for growth.

I don’t think that those concerns are unmerited. What may be at the base of some of our fears on this topic is what Dietrick Bonhoeffer has defined as ‘cheap grace’. He believed that the secularization of Christianity can lead us to become culturally Christian and forego discipleship in the name of grace. Essentially, it is a cheap covering for sins where no contrition is required and grace replaces the sacrificial obedience that Jesus demonstrated and called us into on the cross. This idea coupled with the amplified individualism so prevalent in the West that influences our faith communities by emphasizing our feelings and subjective experiences of well-being over serious discipline and discipleship does not help to appease our concerns. As Mark Sayers stated in his new book The Road Trip that Changed the World, “We judge our careers, marriages, and faith by whether it makes us feel good. Thus we prefer a form of faith that does not ask us to encounter our pain, to deny ourselves, to grow in areas which may be uncomfortable.”

But in our discontentment with allowing others to give priority to and ruminate upon God’s love for them, we lead them away from (in my opinion) a point that is integral: “Our obedience comes out of God’s love for us. (John Perkins)” Perkins goes on to say, “Then it is our gift to understand and move into our freedom in His Lordship. It is the understanding of God’s love for us that sets us free.”

If only we would encourage others to stop fixating on some future version of who they think God wants them to be and instead urge them to be still and know that God is God (Psalm 46:10) and to intimately know that we love, because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). To allow others to just be without the emphasis on the need for growth where they understand that there is nothing that they can do to make God love them any more or any less and they do not need to change anything to be a recipient of that love. To grasp that the Creator of the universe who placed the stars in the sky and knows their innermost being desperately longs for intimacy with them. The God who has granted us access into the ‘Most Holy Place’ (that was at a point in time just accessible once a year only by the high priest Hebrews 9:7) by Jesus’ sacrifice that tore the curtain (Matthew 27:51) allowing us the tremendous privilege of being able to go boldly into God’s presence. It is when we are reminded of these things rather than being instructed that this reality will start to root itself in our mind and heart.

Like Brennan Manning stated, “Only when God’s love for us goes from information in our head to a deep understanding in our heart, does lasting transformation come about.” Christianity is not about trying harder to be good people, but recognizing and becoming empowered by the gift, beauty, and love in the person of Jesus that leads us in gratitude to seek to emulate His self-giving posture in the process of renewing and restoring creation and submitting to God in all things. Henri Nouwen continues in the same vein when he said “Our deepest truth must be that we are God’s beloved. What reserve do we have to love, to give out of ourselves, if we first do not know that we are deeply and intimately loved. We can desire to become the beloved when we already know that we are the beloved.”

To my understanding, this love is not set in motion by any quality or function of its object. God simply loves because it’s God’s nature as scripture says, “God is love (1 John 4:8).” This love is in no way whatsoever contingent upon if others in the broader church or society think you are good, worthy, or acceptable of love as you are. As our understanding of God’s love for us as we are increases, so will our gratitude and our desire to live gladly into the life of the beloved that God has called us into.

God dearly loves you as you are. Period.

Much love.

www.themarinfoundation.org

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About Andrew Marin

Andrew Marin is President and Founder of The Marin Foundation (www.themarinfoundation.org). He is author of the award winning book Love Is an Orientation (2009), its interactive DVD curriculum (2011), and recently an academic ebook titled Our Last Option: How a New Approach to Civility can Save the Public Square (2013). Andrew is a regular contributor to a variety of media outlets and frequently lectures at universities around the world. Since 2010 Andrew has been asked by the United Nations to advise their various agencies on issues of bridging opposing worldviews, civic engagement, and theological aspects of reconciliation. For twelve years he lived in the LGBT Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, and is currently based St. Andrews, Scotland, where he is teaching and researching at the University of St. Andrews earning his PhD in Constructive Theology with a focus on the Theology of Culture. Andrew's research centers on the cultural, political, and religious dynamics of reconciliation. Andrew is married to Brenda, and you can find him elsewhere on Twitter (@Andrew_Marin), Facebook (AndrewMarin01), and Instagram (@andrewmarin1).

  • Frank

    I agree! Now the question is do we love God back? If so we show it by obeying Gods commands according to Jesus. So yes we are loved first but we must choose to love God back or not. Saying just like we are is choosing not to love God back.

    • Kevin Harris

      Frank – I was not trying to communicate that we should not ever focus the need for improvement or minimize the importance of returning the love we have been shown. Rather, I wanted to communicate that the primary focus and deepest truth must be God’s love for us which is the reason and (only sustainable) catalyst for growth and transformation. Discipleship is imperative for the life of every follower of Christ, but the motivation and desire for such does not originate from our understanding of our faults and needs for growth. Scripture tells us that we love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19) and I’m not sure there is going to be much of a well to love and live faithfully out of without that being the foundation and reason for choosing to love God back. I think the quote from the piece that I listed below gets at the point:

      “Christianity is not about trying harder to be good people, but recognizing and becoming empowered by the gift, beauty, and love in the person of Jesus that leads us in gratitude to seek to emulate His self-giving posture in the process of renewing and restoring creation and submitting to God in all things.”

      • Frank

        Once again I agree but felt it was important to talk about what happens next. Too many people use this truth to justify that since God loved us first He accepts our current condition and we don’t have to make any changes.

        • Jeanne

          And this is exactly what the point is…that we somehow feel this urgent need to add “yes…but…” to what God has done for us in its wondrous simplicity. Of course, there is an “after”!! We’re all living in hope of Heaven someday…and God knows this life is not fully redeemed yet! But the beginning is still the same. Christ died for the whole world WHILE we were still sinners out of His love for us! That’s it. He didn’t die only for those who would obey Him or only for those who would change or only for those who would love Him back. In fact, He challenged the latter as being a false love to begin with!

          Stop saying “but…” That’s God’s job to work out in each of us in His own unique way for each of us.

          • Frank

            Yes it’s Gods job and God uses people and churchs to accomplish his purposes. So yes we must always exclaim the “but” if we care about the whole truth and love people enough.

            • Kevin

              But God does not use people and churches to change other people. The Holy Spirit changes people, not us. When we start thinking it’s our job for God, or start taking credit for the changes of others, then it’s time to reexamine our motives and our hearts. Because that’s not love, that’s our need for control.

              • Patrikios

                I completely disagree with that. Yes the the Holy Spirit is the one that changes people. But if we don’t do anything, the Holy Spirit will more likely not move at all. It is our faith that helps bring God’s power to change people and heal people. You’re making it sound like you just sit and wait for the person to change. God still uses Christians to help change people, otherwise, what’s the point of having Christians around if God’s going to do all the work? Faith without deeds is dead right? And of course we don’t take the credit for changing the person, it is God that is glorified. There are still right minded, Spirit lead Christians out there that God uses to help bring change to a group or individuals. You need to understand also that Love is not limited to being nice or “tactful”. True love also involves telling the truth as it is even though it hurts to hear it. You tell them the truth BECAUSE you love them and this can be presented in a much gentler way too. If you don’t tell them, you are going to be held accountable for the consequences.

  • Jonathan M. Henson

    “The gospel always precedes law” –Karl Barth

    In my experience, I find that most Christians, of every variety miss this point. The context of the Law has always been: “You are my children, whom I have redeemed, now live that way.” This was true in the Old Testament, we find this stated throughout Deuteronomy as the context of the 10 commandments as well as all other moral law. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” The love of God was the context of law. This is also the central, which is where overly subjective protestants miss Paul altogether, theme of Paul’s letters. It is not “let me tell you how to become a Christian by telling you the law in order to convict you”, it is “You are in Christ, this is who you are, now here is what this identity demands of you and provides for you.” If you are saying with the Gay/Transgender issue that we should be comfortable saying, “God loves you as his creation, and intimately wants to have you in his covenant community”, then I see absolutely no problem. In fact, thank you for this excellent insight. If you are saying, that we should neuter the law of God of its moral imperatives then I hardly see support for that in both the Scriptures themselves and in the catholic (little “c” here) traditions of understanding the Scriptures. Could you please clarify?

    • Kevin Harris

      John – I’m not trying to neuter the moral imperatives that being a follower of Christ calls us to. I’m primarily trying to touch on a) the foundation out of which our obedience comes from and b) Christians uneasiness in allowing others to sit in that reality without immediately following up with “Yes, but you need to……now what are you going to do…..God doesn’t want to leave you that way, etc.”.

      We tell people that God loves them as they are, but cannot help but immediately follow that up with our expectations for them and how God wants to change them. This seems to be our primary concern rather than doing everything we can to help give people a better picture over time of how wide and long and high is the love of Christ (Eph 3:18). Sure, it’s good to follow God’s commands for us even before we start to come to a better understanding of God’s love for us (and obedience is about doing just that at times even when we feel don’t sense God’s love, feel distant from God, don’t feel like doing what we should, etc.) but it’s not sustainable and we’re functioning out of legalism if it’s not first rooted in God’s love and what God accomplished through Christ. I’m contending that our lack of trust in the transforming power of God’s love (and helping people to know that on a deep level) causes us to put more focus on the outcomes, thus bypassing the genesis of those actions out of which they flow in gratitude.

      Since it’s something that we cannot fully understand ever, it seems like we should give more time and invest in people knowing that truth on a deeper level rather than putting the focus on the imperative for growth, i.e. outcome (even though growth in our relationship with God is not merely a nice suggestion, but what we are called to bear witness to). Scripture does call us to some moral imperatives, but if God’s love for us as we are really starts to sink in, I wonder if we can help but see the fruit of it in our lives in the context of community.

  • hollie

    Great post, thank you. It is far too easy to, with subjective selectivity, skip over the “love” part to get to the “now change” part. And it is a reminder to those of us who are activists that our work must be rooted in the love of Christ.

  • Sandy Daniels

    Frank, can you not see that you’re demonstrtating the point of this post to a T? The point is that God loves us. Period. And that most Christians seem to have this compulsive need to say “yeah, but you have to do stuff too!” Not our place. And Lord knows we all hear that enough anyway. If there is to be a “next step” in someone’s life, the holy spirit will handle it. God loves us. And it’s ok to leave it at that.

    • Frank

      God love us unconditionally and that’s an important truth that we all need to understand. But we also have to understand that we cannot possibly stay right where we are when we understand this truth. In fact the only way we can prove that we understand this truth is by desiring and taking action to change.

      So “the point” is far more complex than you make it to be.

      Show me someone who does not desire to follow Gods commands and I’ll show you someone who never accepted nor understands Gods unconditional love for them.

      • Kevin Harris

        “Show me someone who does not desire to follow God’s commands and I’ll show you someone who never accepted nor understands God’s unconditional love for them.”

        Exactly. Our obedience comes out of an understanding of God’s love for us. We are not motivated to follow laws/commandments by any quality in and of themselves alone. We do not earn God’s love by following God’s commands (or lose it by failing to do so to a greater or lesser degree), but a desire to live faithfully is indicative of an understanding of God’s love for us on some level (not a result of an actual or perceived need to change).

        • Frank

          Gods laws and commandments carry power on their own without people having to be motivated by them or not. They stand independently from our approval or choice. They exist to show us we need God.

          Until someone wants to change, wants an alternative to cultural expectations and/or perceives (consciously or subconsciously) a need for God, they can not possibly understand God’s love.

          • Judi

            I am so grateful to have found a Chicago group that openly discusses the important issues surrounding the mine field homosexuality and Christianity can be.
            As a newer Christian (raised Catholic) and a parent of a previously heterosexual 26 yr old daughter (who is now in a 2 yrs lesbian relationship), so I come to your discussion from a parent’s point of view. In this circumstance, I view God’s love from a Father/parent perspective, abet one that is infinitely more than I am capable. However, because we are made in His image, I believe (most) parent’s feel through Him an incredible powerful love for their children that never changes, no matter what they say/do. To mean, this is what it means to love unconditionally. To confront (even an adult) child who is doing something against the moral code/wishes of that parent and God the Father, I strong know I am not being conditional with our love for her. To us, it means we are parenting with a very “Tough Love” for all of us, maybe just as God our Father has done many times to try to correct the human race, His children. By confronting I feel I have been trying to witnessing for Him with our love, but also trying to set up clear boundary’s for us to be able to live in harmony with each other. We are all given choices to obey our parents rules or choose to not live with/in our parent’s home. Would you think a parent who does this is loving a child conditionally then? I do not. I do not think God will be doing to those who choice to not live in harmony with His laws either. Love for them would never be in question as it is not ever in question when we confront our children over behaviors that are counter to the moral codes we raised them under. That is what I feel it is to love! Like a child who is screaming for candy in a grocery, everyone around including the child, wants us to make them happy by giving into what they want from us, but who is the good parent? Is it the one who gives in and does not stand up to the child’s tirade, or is it the one who does because they feel a strongly internal belief for what is best for their child? In my case, I have come to trust God and the love I know exists between my daughter and myself. We care more about her mental/physical health and her future, than we do if she likes/hates us now for calling this to her attention. I have talked for 3 yrs and I do know God wants me to stop talking about Him to her now, so I am trying and this is why I have sought out the Marin Foundation, to help me/us walk/live/love in this storm of a trial. God has given us many examples in His Word that life has many choices for us, but all have consequences, good and bad He wishes to protect us from, and He does that with rules. I do not feel parents of gays who confront with love are loving unconditionally; could it be we are doing the job God gave us, to be a guide? Most of us do not think we will be facing Him anytime soon, so we all often play a type of “Russian Roulette” with our eternal living relationship with God. This is one of my prayers for myself and all those I love, but especially our daughter because unlike most of us sinners, she seems to be setting out to live with pride in a way that shows she thinks somehow God and His words are not the same as before, now and always, so she does not have to obey Him to live in harmony with Him.

            • http://jontrouten.blogspot.com/ Jon Trouten

              Judi: In a nutshell, what is your beef with your daughter?

            • Frank

              Well said! Prepare to be criticized.

  • Sandy Daniels

    Btw, I lived this post! Thank you for sharing, Kevin. :)

  • Marco

    Great topic guys. You both make wonderful points. I believe personally that a relationship with God is about Him first loving us and so then we too are capable of Love. Frank, people avoid change with the mentality, “God Loves me with my flaws, however we have to trust that God will reach that person in His way to change them how He sees fit. Is it not important for us as His children to first, know, Gods Love and acceptance as it is gretater than our flaws. He will deal with us in ourselves. And if it be His will may we speak truth to ourselves and other believers lest we fail to respond to God when He seeks change in us. Thanks guys.

    • Frank

      I agree Marco. But what we cannot say is that ” God created us exactly the way we are so there is nothing we have to change.”

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTwugmG4hoA Ryan

    Very important issue to discuss thank you for bringing it up…I think Tim Keller frames the issue perfectly in his interview with a pro-gay book writer who wrote a book on gay rights in response to the oppression and discrimination of the Christian church to homosexuality… In the interview he asks some hard hitting questions and Tim Keller responds with insightful biblical answers to how Christians should respond to homosexuality… Answers that the Christian church should know and obey… Check it out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTwugmG4hoA

  • Darlene

    God loves me just the way I am. Period. So what difference does it make? Jesus laid down His life for His sheep. He said love your neighbor as yourself. Remove the plank in your own eye before you tell your brother about the speck in His. These are imperatives. These are doing things. We are saved by Christ’s perfect work and yet he tells us how to live and love. It seems that we all have our own ideas and opinions on how to live and love. Who is right and who is wrong? Is Andrew Marin right and exodus international wrong in regards to LGBT issues. We are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. I don’t see a whole lot of fear and trembling. I do see a lot of condescending words dressed up sophistically as “we at the Marin institute will show you how it’s done ” there are a lot who have alot to say and a lot of it is just noise to me.

    • Kevin Harris

      If you did not get anything out of this piece, I’m sorry to have wasted your time with it. If you did find something small in there that was of any worth, I hope it is a blessing to you today.

      I definitely do not have it all figured out, but thoughts about wanting people to know more fully the unconditional love God has for them (which I have come to believe encourages us to seek to live out those imperatives you speak of out of gratitude) has been at the forefront of my mind for the last few months so I thought I’d share.

  • Judi

    In a nutshell it is that she is in a emotionally co-dependent relationship that has torn our family apart and with each month she turns her back more and more on her faith, her family and the woman she was made to be, for this relationship. She freely acknowledges she was not born gay and that she is committing a sin by being in a lesbian relationship, but because she says she is not going to die anytime soon, she has time to make peace with God about it. This is my beef with her.

    • http://jontrouten.blogspot.com/ Jon Trouten

      That is a tough place to be. I agree with your earlier post where it’s probably best to back off a bit. She knows where you stand on this issue. You have been telling her for three years. Nothing has changed except that she’s pulled away from you.

      Her relationship with her girlfriend and her faith aren’t intertwined. She isn’t a Christian because she has penile/vaginal sex. She’s a Christian (or not, I have no clue what her personal faith is at this time) because she accepts Christ as her Savior. She might have pulled away from her church or even her faith because of how she is being treated because of her girlfriend by those of her faith or she might have pulled away because she believes one cannot be in a relationship with a woman and active within the church. She needs to know that she has a place within the Church. Maybe that’s where the Marin Foundation can help out.

      Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if she’s a lesbian by choice or by design. She is in a lesbian relationship. You might not like the concept or you might not like the woman herself, but that’s who your daughter has chosen. This might be the person your daughter ends up with for the rest of her life. If that’s the case, what kind of relationship do you want to share with them?

  • http://tonymyles.blogspot.com Tony Myles

    Love is a fuzzy word. People use it to talk about the way they will regard another, such as a groom who tells his bride, “I love you and will love you the rest of our lives.” Later that same groom when eating the meal at his reception says, “I LOVE this Prime Rib!”

    What’s important to remember is the “love” of God is Love and not mere love (note the capitalization). It’s the true Love – the kind that should inform the rest, yet often we attempt to understand things the other way – we want God to love people like we understand love: i.e. “Can’t we all get along?”

    Maybe this is why we see the additional commentary after the love statement you mentioned. It’s as if we’re saying, “Real pizza is amazing. You should experience it. And just so you know, real pizza is ______ and not _______.” As someone who grew up in Chicago, I know a bit about that dialogue. :)

    Experiencing God’s love is the swarm of grace you mentioned, but since that love is tied to God it is not disconnected from His holiness and justice either. God hates sin, and so by loving us we are in proximity to those attributes as well. In this sense, I’d agree with you – God loves you – period.

    But only because of that reality. Not because His love is like human love that is more concerned with passive tolerance than growing interaction.

    The interesting thing is what dwelling in that love does. It does, in fact, lead to transformation when enjoyed much like any relationship can allow one person’s affection for another to transform that person. I am by all means a better man because I experience the love of my wife and kids daily versus if I was without their love in my life. They accept me for who I am, but I also know that the best response to them is to be the man they need me to be.

    It feels like your article is missing this acknowledgement. Yes, we shouldn’t have to qualify God’s love with a “but” word; what about an “and” word if the logistics matter that much? For example, “God loves you as you are, and as you get to know Him you’ll experience how that love is transformational and will help you uncover who you were originally created to be.” If that’s too wordy, how about “God loves you. Let that change your life in His direction.”

  • Mary Alice

    Dear Kevin,
    Yes.
    Love always
    -Mary Alice
    P.S.
    Miss your face.

  • Thriftypine

    Great post, Kevin! I think if we could really humble ourselves, we’d be inclined to encourage people who are struggling, not preach to them or berate them…if God really is love, he would probably prefer us building each other up to us tearing each other down in His name.


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