Part of the series ‘Letters to Young Christians’.

Dear Karmil,

Thanks for your email, your encouragement, and your engagement with Sunday’s sermon. For a preacher, there’s nothing more encouraging than having people actually engage with the content of what you’ve said.

In your email, you mentioned you had some hesitation about my claim that “God is not disappointed with us.” You wondered if that was in fact true. Fair question.

I’ve had another look at my notes to see if (as American politicians sometimes put it) I “misspoke”. My notes say:

Some Christians live their lives under the apprehension that God is always low-key disappointed with them. He saved us by grace, but ever since that moment, he’s found our performance anything but encouraging. Can I say as clearly as I can: that. Is. Not. True. Where did you get that idea from? Which Bible verse led you to that impression? Which part of the gospel has caused you to believe God, who saved when you were his enemy and Jesus was dead, is now frankly underwhelmed and annoyed at the piece of work you’ve turned out to be?

When he saved you he knew what he was signing up for. He saved us at our worst—when we were God’s enemies (Rom 5:6–8). What are the chances that, now we are God’s friends, he is regretting the decision? Let me say with all the gospel-authority I can muster: God is not disappointed with you.

In your email you rightly point out that if God is holy, and if we continue to struggle with sin, then in some sense he must be disappointed in us. I got the sense you were worried that we might lose sight of his holiness and the need to keep fighting the sinful nature.

Some thoughts and clarifications that might help.


We Should Broker No Peace Treaty with Sin

Yes, it is possible for people in Christ to displease God. We can greive the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30). We experience his discipline as Christians (Heb 12:7). We can provoke his wrath (1 Cor 10:1–22). It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:31). We’re on the same page here. We should broker no peace treaty with sin. We are to walk in the light, flee temptation, and put to death whatever belongs to the sinful nature.


Unmasking Low-Key, Ill-Defined Unease

I’m not arguing against putting sin to death. I am arguing, rather, against this vague, non-directed sense of God’s general displeasure and disappointment with most of us most of the time. I notice this in pastoral ministry a lot. Many Christians have a version of God in their heads as a nitpicky, constantly disappointed figure, always upset we’re not doing more. When you ask if there’s something in particular, the answer is no. They are not currently embezzling funds, sleeping with someone they’re not married to, or active in the occult. Almost always, what they are talking about is a low-key, ill-defined sense that they are “not praying enough” or “not reading their Bible enough” or “not involved enough at church”. On account of this God is, they are sure, disappointed with them.

Permission to speak frankly? What kind of God is that?! We’re ascribing to God the worst forms of passive-aggressive behaviour. A God that is upset with us, but refuses to tell us why, or specifically over what? He’s disappointed, but for a bunch of stuff we can’t really put our finger on. And, depsite our pleading, he’s not prepared to disclose to us what it is?

Paul says “the acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft” and so on (Gal 5:19–21, emphasis added). God is not a fault-finder (Jas 1:5). If you’re worried about it, pray and ask God to search you and find any hidden sin (Ps 139:24). Then, once you’ve prayed that prayer, trust that God will answer it, and then get on with things. If there is something, you can trust him to let you know.


God Judges Us According to our Creaturely Nature

Psalm 103:14 says that God “knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are but dust.” God didn’t make us finite creatures and then decide to grade us against the expecations of infinite divinity. There’s good news here. You’re allowed to get tired. It’s not a sin to run out of energy, or to not be good at everything, or to fail to be in two places at once. Save all your guilt and repentance for actual sin—don’t waste it on things that are just about you being a creature.


The Fatherly Love of God

In the gospel of Jesus Christ, we meet God as our Father. Our good Father. As father myself, my basic stance toward my kids is that they’re great! I love them. I’m proud of them. I’m cheering them on. I want them to do well. I am on their side.

Am I ever disappointed with them? Well, yes, sure. But I’m not vaguely disappointed with them all the time for no reason in particular. I’m occasionally disappointed with them when they actually do something wrong that I could reasonably have expected them to do right. I communicate the disappointment, and then try and help them to move forward. And I’m an imperfect and sinful father! How much more would God, our good and perfect Father, be like that toward us?

Let me be clear: If you are aware of a serious, sinful activity in which you are currently ensconced and for which you are at present unrepentant—repent. Don’t appeal to God’s kindness and fatherly goodness as an excuse to continue in sin.

However, if you are living in order to please God; if you are earnest in following him, disappointed when you fail him, and quick to repent, then you should proceed in life on the basis that God loves you to death, that he is genuinely delighted in you, that he cares for you, and literally couldn’t love you more than he does. I honestly think this is part of what it means to walk by faith and not by sight. It’s getting the message through our thick skulls and despite what our inner voice tells us: God actually loves us.


Your affectionate uncle and pastor,