Becoming Like Children: Trusting and Loving God
Jesus taught that to enter God’s kingdom, we must become like children. Once, when the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest:
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:2-4)
As always, Jesus told his parables to teach specific truths. What are the attributes of children that Jesus was referring to? Clearly, he was not teaching that we should be like little children in every way, but only in certain ways.
Children and their Parents
Small children have the lowliest place in the family and in society—they are totally dependent on their parents. Their relationship with them must be one of trust. Another word for trust is faith. The trust and love relationship between a young child and their mother is obvious. The child both loves and trusts their mother. They can’t have love without trust, or trust without love. And of course, the child depends on the mother’s consistent love—without it they will not thrive. In the same way, we need God’s sustaining love—without it we will die. And true faith in God is a childlike faith—we trust him and love him like a child toward their mother.
But young children who have very harsh parents will resent them, even though they must depend on them. A child that fears his or her parents will not trust them, and does not love them from the heart.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:16-18)
Our faith in Christ reflects our trust and love for our heavenly Father. And if we trust God, we will come to him in faith and love, just as a young child, without fear. But if we see God as cruel, harsh, or mean, we will not trust him but fear him and avoid him.
Are faith and the command to love God in conflict?
On one occasion Jesus said, “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25). But on another occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus:
“Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28)
So, if eternal life is found by believing in Jesus, why didn’t Jesus just tell this man: “Believe in me”? Why did he refer him to the Law of Moses? Instead of citing some religious work or ceremony, the man quoted the two greatest commands, implying that eternal life comes through trusting and loving God, and loving others. Most surprisingly, Jesus confirmed it to be true.
We are tempted to think that salvation by obeying the Old Testament command to love God is in conflict with the New Testament teaching of salvation by faith. Many people today think of the command to love God is opposed to grace, since it was originally recorded in the Law of Moses. Some have also said that Jesus pointed to the Law of Moses in this discussion because the people he was teaching were still under the “Old Covenant” since he hadn’t died for our sins yet. But I don’t think so.
We need to dig deeper into Scripture to find out the truth of this. As we have seen, there is a strong connection between faith and love.
What is faith?
Let’s look more closely at the word faith. Faith also means trust. In the Bible, faith is not just a knowledge of facts, but a confidence that God is real and a reliance on that fact. In his teaching on prayer, Jesus told his disciples:
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)
We can’t see God, so a relationship with him requires faith. We believe he exists and will reward us by meeting with us and answering our prayers when we seek him.
Loving God is based on faith
Children’s trust in their parents depends on their being able to physically see and interact with them. When parents are consistently absent from the home, children begin to lose their trust in them. But because we can’t see God, it’s impossible to love him without faith. So, having faith in God means trusting and loving the God that you can’t see. A faith relationship with God is also a love relationship.
But God assures us of his constant presence when we walk with him. The apostle Peter wrote this of the believer’s relationship with Christ:
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)
Many of us think of trust and love as separate things that we need to grow in after becoming a believer. But to even enter a relationship with God—just to get in the door— we need to have the faith and love of little children. They are seamlessly woven together as intrinsic parts of our relationship with God. From the beginning of and throughout the Christian life, we can’t have one without the other. As we grow in one, we increase the other. So, a true believer by definition also loves God.
Faith and pleasing God
Children who love their parents also want to please them. Likewise, if we love God (which requires faith), we will naturally want to please him. That’s why it’s also impossible to please God without faith:
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:5-6)
So faith, love, and trust are all closely linked. This means that there is no conflict between the Old Testament command to love God and salvation by grace through faith in Christ.
Knowing God and Loving God
Another fact about children is that they know their parents. It’s amazing that a young child can recognize their mother quickly among a large number of people. Their health, happiness, food supply, and security are tied to their mother. So, it’s essential for them to be able to find her, and they learn how very quickly. And if they do something wrong, they also know who to avoid! Jesus, in his prayer to the Father just before his death, prayed:
Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3)
Jesus said eternal life is knowing God. He is the source of our life, joy, purpose, meaning, and eternal existence. We need him to sustain us, lift us, and set our feet on a secure path. C.S. Lewis wrote:
If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry. Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever? Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)
The Parable of the Talents
In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus tells of a master who entrusted various amounts of money (or “talents”) to his servants to invest while he went on a journey. Those who invested wisely received various rates of return and were rewarded by the master when he came back. For their faithfulness they were commended, put in charge of many things, and shared in the master’s happiness.
One servant didn’t obey the master but buried the money in the ground. The master was angry and called him wicked and lazy. He took the talent from him and gave it to one of the other servants. He fired him on the spot, and threw him outside. Why such a strong punishment? This servant believed that the master was a hard man and someone to be afraid of, “harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.” And of course, the master was offended because the servant thought of him this way.
In this parable, we shouldn’t interpret the wicked servant as a metaphor for disobedient Christians. Jesus’ story simply portrays servants of a household wherein the faithful were rewarded and the lazy or untrusting were punished. This is a metaphor for the final judgment, when the righteous will be rewarded and the wicked condemned. Most importantly for this study, the wicked and lazy servant represents the unrighteous who do not trust and love God and who grossly misjudge his character. They believe God to be harsh, vindictive, and someone to avoid, not someone to please and serve.
How do we view God?
From this parable and other passages in Scripture we see that God does not like when people view him as miserly, harsh, and vindictive. He is very upset when people portray him in a negative or untruthful way.
If we view God as harsh and difficult to please, then we recoil at him and avoid him. Perhaps we see him as a harsh and capricious tyrant, whose actions are arbitrary. Or maybe we think of him as distant, and not concerned with our lives. If we don’t trust and love God, it shows that we don’t really know him. He wants people to see him as he is: good, loving, merciful, gracious, and kind.
Loving God for his grace and mercy
Children also see their parents as the source of all good and important things in their lives. When hurt or in need, they will go to their mom and dad. But if they see them as harsh, they will deal with them as little as possible, and may submit to them only to avoid punishment. In the same way, when we know that God is good, we can’t help but love him. God is our source of grace, mercy, and life, and those who know him, have these in abundance.
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
Sadly, some people love God only for what can be obtained in this life. They see him as a great opportunity to get what they perceive as a good deal. Ignoring his eternal blessings, they’re focused only on earthly benefits. But we need to see God as much more than how we would see an earthly father, but as our loving Heavenly Father. When we do, we will come to him with trust and love. We’ll approach his throne of grace often, and with boldness. And we’ll learn to accept with gratitude the good gifts he gives us, not just the ones we think we want.
To summarize our discussion:
- Knowing, trusting, and loving God are inseparably linked.
- If we love God, we also trust him, which is faith.
- Once we know who God really is, we will come to him in trust for his grace, mercy, and blessing.
Our great reward: God himself
God is the greatest treasure we can find, both now and into eternity. When we find him and respond to his love, we find life itself. He’s the “treasure hidden in the field” and the “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:44-45). And great blessings await those who love God: sharing in his joy, enjoying his awesome presence, and doing so in a place and position of incredible privilege. My prayer is that you will determine in your heart that you will not miss out on these great blessings, but respond to God’s love in faith.
“… no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
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