While so much of our Christian experience tends to be motivated by fear and obligation, Wayne Jacobsen provides a refreshing alternative by painting a rich portrait of God’s love for his children in his book, “He Loves Me!”. He uses simple language that makes this book easy to read; however, you will likely find yourself frequently pausing throughout the book to reflect on the truths that he presents. The personal stories help to ground the ideas presented about God’s love in reality – making it both relevant and practical. How we think about our relationship with God has a direct effect on the way that we live – both in connection to God and others. Jacobsen repeatedly emphasizes our need to pull away from a mindset of fear toward God in order to realize the immense, all-encompassing, and over-the-top love of God.
The book is broken down into four parts:
- The Relationship God Has Always Wanted With You
- What Fear Could Never Achieve
- The Undeniable Proof
- A Life Lived in Love
In Part 1 – The Relationship God Has Always Wanted With You – Jacobsen introduces what he calls “Daisy-Petal Christianity” (Chapter 1). We practice this kind of “Christianity” when we view God’s love for us as ever-changing, primarily influenced by our good behavior, and normally interpreted by whether or not we are presently enjoying seemingly favorable circumstances. He also challenges a traditional motivation that is often used to influence non-Christians to enter into a relationship with Jesus – eternal punishment and separation from God:
“While the threat of hell can stir instant commitments, it does not breed long-term disciples” (18)
He goes on to clarify that God will indeed bring about final consequences, ultimately culminating in the reality of hell, for those who persist in their rebellion against him and refusal to turn away from their sin, but he points out the fact that Jesus much more frequently invited people into God’s kingdom by highlighting the Father’s love for them. In this vein of thinking, Jacobsen also addresses the story of the prodigal son and re-imagines it as the story of the loving father.
In Part 2 – What Fear Could Never Achieve – Jacobsen uses a term he calls the “favor line” – trying to live up to God’s expectations in order to earn his favor. We live in contradiction when we implore the non-Christian to accept God’s offer of grace, unearned favor, while in the next breath we urge the Christian to prove his love for God – i.e. earning God’s favor:
“It is not the fear of losing God’s favor that takes us to the depth of fellowship with him and transforms our lives with his holiness. It is our certainty of knowing his unrelenting love for us, even in the midst of our weakness and failure, that leads us to the fullness of his life” (58)
Jacobsen repeatedly contrasts these two approaches to God – one based on fear and obligation, the other based on love and willingness. Then, like the author of Hebrews, he highlights the superiority of the way of love – the way of true friendship with God through Jesus. He notes that a fear of God can be useful but compares it to the first rung on a ladder to wisdom:
“I am not saying that the fear of God is wrong, only that it is incomplete. It is the first rung on the ladder to knowing God in his fullness. He said himself it was the beginning of wisdom, but it is only the beginning. Love is the end product of wisdom” (79)
In Part 3 – The Undeniable Proof – Jacobsen focus on the death of Jesus on the cross as both the irrefutable evidence and ultimate example of God’s love for us. He addresses the freedom that God has given to us, even to choose rebellion and selfishness, in order that we might have the chance to choose him of our own free will. Furthermore, a commonly held view of the necessity of the cross to secure our salvation – appeasement of God’s wrath and justice for sin – is challenged in this section:
“Since Adam’s fall we have come to picture God not as a loving Father inviting us to trust him, but as an exacting sovereign who must be appeased…. For his plan was not to satisfy some need in himself at his Son’s expense, but eager to satisfy a need in us at his own expense” (96)
Jesus’ willingness to trust his Father when he was undergoing both the excruciating physical pain of crucifixion as well as the emotional, psychological, and spiritual pain from feeling lost and separated from God, serves as an example for us to trust God in our own times of darkness. It also forever settles the question of whether or not God loves us:
“God’s work at the cross stands as the undeniable proof that we are loved. That God would go to such lengths to rescue is from our own waywardness so that we might be his friends forever secured God’s motive concerning each of us” (128)
In Part 4 – A Life Lived in Love – Jacobsen concludes his work by addressing some final objections and describing an alternate way of living out our relationship with God. He specifically points out that all of our efforts to earn God’s acceptance are worthless because he offers us acceptance based on grace:
“Religion offers us the illusion of earning acceptance, but it is only a cheap substitute for the reality of life in him” (138)
It is usual for opponents of those who espouse such a high view of grace to respond in a similar manner which Paul wrote about in Romans 6:1. Jacobsen responds clearly and powerfully by challenging his readers to consider that God’s law was never intended to bring about a right standing before him through our keeping of it because we never could live up to this standard. It is unable to engender a relationship with God – one can’t build a friendship based on rules but only on mutual love. God wants more than our obedience – he wants intimacy in friendship:
“Grace doesn’t diminish God’s desire for our holiness but clarifies the process. Righteousness doesn’t produce relationship. Relationship produces righteousness” (147)
In conclusion, Jacobsen primarily addresses an approach to God throughout this book that many, if not all, of us have used to relate to him, to one degree or another. Whether you call it legalism, formalism, or even just plain religion, you will likely come away from this book with a greater appreciation of God’s grace-filled love for you and the freedom that you have been given to both rest from struggling for acceptance and step forward in faith because he first loved us.
“Jesus did not come to start a new religion, he came to break the power of them all by inviting us to follow him and live in the reality of his love for us” (187)
You can get this book for yourself here.