I want believers in Christ to enjoy being loved by God to the greatest degree possible. And I want God to be magnified to the greatest degree possible for loving us the way he does. This is why it matters to me what Jesus really accomplished for us when he died.
There is a common way of thinking about Christ’s death that diminishes our experience of his love. It involves thinking that the death of Christ expressed no more love for me than for anyone else in the human race. If that’s the way you think about God’s love for you in the death of Jesus, you will not enjoy being loved by God as greatly as you really are.
Feeling Specially Loved by God
I wonder if you have ever felt especially loved by God because of Ephesians 2:4–5? “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”
Six things stand out here in Ephesians 2:4–5.
1. The phrase great love.
“Because of the great love with which he loved us.” That phrase is used only here in the New Testament. Let it sink in. God loves his own with a “great love.” Surely Paul writes this so that we will enjoy being greatly loved.
2. The peculiar greatness of this love that moves God to “make us alive.”
“Because of the great love with which he loved us, . . . God made us alive.” His great love is the cause of our life. Our life did not cause the greatness of his love for us. It’s the other way around. The greatness of his love made us alive.
3. Before he made us alive, we were “dead.”
“Even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive.” There is such a thing as the living dead. Jesus said, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Luke 9:60). Before God made us alive, we were the living dead.
“You did not do anything to move God to make you alive. That’s what it means to be dead.”
We could breathe and think and feel and will. But we were spiritually dead. We were blind to the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:3–4), we were stone-hearted to his law and could not submit to him (Ephesians 4:18; Romans 8:7–8), and we were not able to discern spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:14). Only God could overcome this deadness so that we could see the glory of Christ and believe (2 Corinthians 4:6). That’s what he did when he “made us alive” (Ephesians 2:5).
4. God does not make everyone alive.
What happened to you, to bring you to faith, has not happened to everyone. And remember, you don’t deserve to be made alive. You were dead. You were “by nature [a child] of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3). You did not do anything to move God to make you alive. That’s what it means to be dead.
5. Therefore, God’s great love for you is really for you, particularly for you.
It is not a general love for everyone. Otherwise, everyone would be spiritually alive. He chose specifically to make you alive. You did not deserve this any more than anyone else. But for unfathomable reasons, he set his great love particularly on you.
6. He has wronged no one. For no one deserves to be saved.
No one deserves to be made alive. We have all sinned and deserve death (Romans 3:23; 6:23). He could have left all of us in the deadness of our rebellion, and done no wrong.
But if you have seen the wisdom of his cross, and trusted his promise, and treasured his glory, he has made you alive. Unlike many others, no more dead than you, you have been greatly loved.
The Special Love of the New Covenant
Now here is the connection with the death of Christ. When Jesus died, he secured for us the removal of our deadness, and purchased for us the gift of life and faith. In other words, God’s great love could make us alive, because in Christ that same great love had provided the punishment of all our sins and the provision of all our righteousness.
We know this because Jesus said at the Last Supper, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). The blood of Jesus is the price God paid to establish the new covenant. And the new covenant, at its heart, is God’s securing, by the blood of Jesus, living hearts for dead sinners.
“Christ did not purchase the possibility for you to raise yourself from the dead. He purchased your resurrection.”
“I will make a new covenant. . . . I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:31, 34). “I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19). “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes” (Ezekiel 36:27).
Jesus Purchased the Activation
This is what Jesus bought for us when he died. And this is what the great love of God did for us when he made us alive in Christ Jesus. Therefore, God’s specific purpose in the death of Jesus was not the same for everyone. The great love of God, shown for you in the death of Jesus, was the purchase of your faith when you were dead.
He did not merely purchase the possibility of your life that you then would activate. Dead people don’t activate. What he purchased was the activation. Christ did not purchase the possibility for you to raise yourself from the dead. He purchased your resurrection. Because of a great love for you in particular.
Feel the Greatness of His Love for You
So when Ephesians 2:4–5 says, “Because of the great love with which he loved us, God made us alive,” and Luke 22:20 says that the blood of Jesus establishes the new covenant, and Ezekiel 11:19 says that in the new covenant God gives us living hearts, we know that the blood-shedding of Jesus was an expression of the great love that made us alive.
Whatever else the death of Christ does or is, it is not less than this. And this is what I want every believer to enjoy. The great love of God for you is not the same as the love he has for the whole human race. The love God has for you moved him to make you alive when you could do nothing to make yourself alive. And that same love moved him to purchase your life by the death of his Son.
So when you say with the apostle Paul, “He loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20), feel the greatness of the words, “He loved me.” He loved me.