"But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:4-6).
GOD IS "RICH IN MERCY," AS PAUL WROTE. To Christians in and around Ephesus, he spoke of the "great love" with which God had loved those who were "dead in trespasses" but now had been made "alive together with Christ." And to the Romans he wrote: "To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:7). In a very special sense, then, we may say that to be in Christ is to be among the "beloved" of God.
Two of the most basic challenges of the Christian life are to hear -- really hear -- the message of God's love and then to act consistently with that great truth. To know ourselves as God's "beloved" and to act like the people we are: these are the keys to consistency in our spiritual lives. If we verbalize the fact of God's love but don't really believe it, or if we fail to follow through and respond as we should to God's love, then our devotion to God will falter. The only thing that can keep us going is gratitude for grace.
It should be the most obvious thing in the world that God is to be thanked for the gifts His love has made possible. As James wrote, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning" (James 1:17). But we should constantly guard against the temptation to seek God simply for His gifts and blessings. No gift God could give us is any greater than His love, and it should be His love that is our primary interest. Indeed, all our Father's other gifts would mean little if His love were not in them. And the same thing is true in regard to our love for Him. If we love God, there will be things we are required to do in order to worship Him and serve Him. Obedience to God's will is not optional. But even more than the deeds that He requires, God is interested in the love that motivates those deeds (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). What He desires is for us to be His beloved -- and to love Him for His love's sake.
"A wise lover values not so much the gift of the lover as the love of the giver" (Thomas à Kempis).