God Really Does Love Us, Warts and All

God Really Does Love Us, Warts and All

A couple of years ago I was leading a Ministry Formation class on leadership when someone asked me: “What is the most difficult thing about helping people to become Jesus-like leaders?”

My brain told me I needed a moment to think about that. But my mouth blurted out an answer.

“Getting people to realize and appreciate that God really does love them unconditionally.”

And there it was. Out in front of God and everybody – or at least in front of the 25 or so people in the room.

I didn’t so much answer the question as I heard my answer. But as soon as I heard it, I knew I was right.

Getting people to realize and appreciate that God really does love them unconditionally is far and away the most difficult – and most important – part about helping them become Jesus-like leaders.

Why? What is the problem? What is the stumbling block?

I wish I knew. Maybe it’s that we’re so focused on earning or becoming deserving of God’s love that we can’t help but struggle with the reality that God loves us completely and unconditionally – even though there’s no way we could ever fully deserve that love on His  part.

Just as I know many people who are obsessed with the futile task of trying to earn God’s love, I also know people who have taken the equally futile course of just giving up.

They tell me how unworthy they are. I tell them it doesn’t matter: God still loves them.

They just shake their heads and mumble a denial. There’s no way God could love them. They’re absolutely convinced of that.

I tell them that we’re dealing with something of a paradox: It’s true that there’s no way they could ever be deserving of God’s love, sins and virtues aside. But there’s also no way they can ever diminish or destroy that love. It’s just there. Always was. Always will be.

I wish I could be more persuasive.

If they are parents, I try to draw an analogy with their love for their own children. As a parent myself, I don’t think there’s a love that comes closer to being truly unconditional in this world than the love of a parent for a child.

But not everyone is a parent. And even those who are often don’t get it.

I don’t get through to many of them very often. I pray that God has a way. I apologize that apparently I am not His best choice for this task.

Here’s the crux of the matter: It’s one thing to be so grateful for God’s love for you that you are on fire to avenge it. It’s quite another to try to be deserving of that love.

No matter how good we become, no matter how pure our heart grows, we will never deserve God’s love. But we can always be grateful for it and try to reciprocate it -- knowing we will fall short but wanting to try our best, our very best.

No matter how good we become, we'll never deserve God’s love.

And then trying to make our best today even better tomorrow. But it’s all about being “grateful.” It has nothing to do with being “deserving.”

It’s important that we take time to reflect on how much God loves us – owing nothing to our own merits.

If you want to get your head around how much He loves you, read and reflect regularly on the Gospels.

Reflect especially on how much Jesus suffered and how He gave up His human life for you. Yes, for you. That’s how much Jesus loves you – more than life itself.

You didn’t have to do anything to deserve it. Heck, you weren’t even born yet. Still, He knew you (Jeremiah 1:5). And He loved you. Unto death … a very painful and humiliating death, at that.

Think about that. Close your eyes and try to visualize the moments of His passion and death described in the Gospels.

Use the Gospels to join Jesus at His hour of agony in the garden. It’s clear His suffering and death were not something He wanted to endure (Matthew 26:39). But He did it for His love of His Father – and for you.

God the Father loves you so much that He gave up His only Son  for you. God the Son loves you so much that He gave up His own life for you. God the Spirit loves you that much too.

Reflect on that over and over again … for as long as the Spirit gives you breath to breathe.

You are a loved child of God.

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Owen Phelps

Dr. Owen Phelps is Director of the Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute and author of the book, The Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus: Introducing S3 Leadership — Servant, Steward, and Shepherd. He has presented Lead Like Jesus Encounters in Canada, Uganda and India, as well as all across the U.S.


He formerly served on the faculty of the College of Business & Management at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, and was a consultant on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Communications Committee for about a decade. He has served as a consultant to church organizations from Vermont to Texas. 


Dr. Phelps was an award-winning writer, columnist, editor and publisher with a multi-state publishing company before he began work in ministry. He has written several articles and contributed chapters to two books devoted to issues of faith-based organizational performance.


He and his wife Jane, a CPA, have been married for 49 years. They live in Durand, Illinois, and Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin, and they have five grown children and 17 growing grandchildren.

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