“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1

This is one of my favorite verses from 1 John. At the same time, it’s been one of the most difficult for me to step into and accept. I’m uncomfortable with being lavished in love, God’s or anyone else’s. Don’t get me wrong; I want it. It just doesn’t feel natural.

I grew up in a blended family that never really blended. I am the youngest of seven children, the only one born to my parents who remained married until my father passed away in 2006.

During the 40 years my parents were married I witnessed anger, bitterness, resentment, denial, jealousy, offense, justification, blaming, excusing, and unforgiveness. Three of my siblings never saw their mother once my father and her divorced. The other three were eventually shipped back and forth between their dad in California and our mom in Minnesota. It was hard. I didn’t understand it, and yet it was all I knew.  These six people where my siblings and even though we spent many years in the same home, our experiences as children were completely different. Even though my parents were together and my home intact, I grew up with the idea that I could protect myself by walking away from people.

And then I met Jesus.

I wish I could say everything changed instantly, but what I’ve found is that my tendencies to live the way I grew up remained deeply rooted within me. Because I expected the above attitudes and actions, I wanted to keep myself isolated and hidden.

What did change was that I found myself immersed in a new blended family.

We all come from different backgrounds and experiences, yet we all have two things in common: sin and Jesus. We were all broken and in need of saving. And because of the love of God demonstrated through Jesus, we’ve been adopted into the family of God. We are His children. All on the same footing with God. All with the same access to and gift of His extravagant love.

I’ve also come to understand that if I want to live fully as a child of God, I need to receive and accept the full on drenching of God’s love which is poured out into my heart through the Spirit of God in me. I will struggle to share God’s love if I never really experience it for myself.

So I’m learning a different way to live: as God’s child. What does that look like in my life?

I live as one who has received and believes through faith.

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” Galatians 3:26

Receiving and believing Jesus (what God says is true, what Jesus says is true, and what the Spirit says is true) gives me the right to become a child of God. Jesus makes the adoption process legal and binding. Through faith, the Spirit guarantees my position in God’s kingdom as His child. I don’t have to doubt my identity. He is my Father and His love for me is great.

I live led by the Spirit.

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” Romans 8:14

I am learning to choose to live according to the tendencies of the Spirit within me rather than my own natural tendencies. I had an example set for me by my family. I also have an example set for me by Jesus. In choosing to follow Jesus, I need to give up the old attitudes, behaviors and tendencies and live according to my new life in Christ motivated by His love for me.

I live without grumbling or arguing.

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’” Philippians 2:14-15a

I admit, this one is tough! Overtime, however, I’ve realized that the more I trust Jesus, the less I have to complain about. Why should I complain about or argue something that God will use for my good? I waste precious time and energy being angry rather than joyfully anticipating what God will work out. I find I miss the gifts and blessings of God when I complain and argue about what I don’t see God doing, rather than being grateful for what He is. God’s love is greater than any difficulty or challenge I may face. I am a work in progress and I hope those closest to me will say I am at least moving in the right direction.

I live with a desire to make peace.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:9

My hope is that all will know the love of God. That means I need to bring people close rather than push them away. I can’t keep myself hidden and isolated if I want to be used by God. I apologize and forgive. I’ve been reconciled to God through Jesus and He commands me, and us,  to go and make disciples. This isn’t just about converting people, it’s about reconciling people to their Heavenly Father and to each other. I live open to renewed, restored and reconciled relationships with all, even those who have hurt me the worst with a real hope that love will be at the center of the relationship.

I live with a desire to love, bless and pray for my enemies.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray fo those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:43-45a

I was once an enemy of God. Jesus didn’t kill (hate, despise or trap) His enemies. He died for His enemies at the hands of His enemies. This means He died for me and my sin put Him on that cross as much as those who hammered the nails through His hands and feet. As I watch the news today and see the senseless and violent acts committed against innocent people, I know Jesus can relate. It’s what He experienced. And yet He loves the people committing these acts. Following this example, especially when lives are lost, can challenge me to my very core and that’s good because sometimes that’s what it takes for the love of God to penetrate the deepest places. The walls need to fall and the good news is God’s love makes us whole without them.

Looking back on my childhood, I now understand that my parent’s love was imperfect. As a parent, I realize mine is as well. God’s love on the other hand is perfect. It’s excessive and extravagant. God has all of the love we need and He gives all the love we need to love Him and love each other well. I don’t want to be angry, bitter, resentful, jealous or easily offended. I don’t want to live in denial justifying, making excuses or blaming others for my decisions and actions. I want to willingly forgive and offer grace to others just as God has done for me. I want to love well and God’s love is helping me do just that.

Want to dig deeper into the book of 1 John?

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Living in the Light of God’s Love: Walk this Way is available at the Welcome Desk or at MariKeisling.com.