This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

“IF YOU WANT TO BE MY FRIEND . . .” It’s a “game” many enjoy playing if they get to make up the rules. Those who are coerced into playing don’t find it quite as fun. Fearful of losing a “friend,” children and adults can be manipulated into doing things they don’t want to do. Eager to belong, we may go along with what we’re told we need to do if we want to be accepted into a popular group. We tell ourselves that stealing apples from a neighbor’s tree or flowers from the community park really isn’t a big deal. They won’t be missed.

But all too often the demands become bigger. We know it’s wrong to vouch for our coworker who’s golfing but called in sick. We cringe when our spouse whispers, “Tell him I’m not home,” to avoid speaking to the person who’s calling. The stakes keep getting bigger and more dangerous. Teenagers try illegal drugs to prove their friendship. People stay in abusive relationships. The fact is, the more we try to prove our love, the more will be demanded of us.

Jesus not only willingly proved His love, He demonstrated it before we had any interest in receiving His love, much less loving Him back. And He did it—He died for us—not because He had to, not because we deserved His gift, but because He wanted to.

Thank God for the choice He made to prove His love.

Marlene Bagnull celebrated fifty-one years of marriage. She and Paul have three grown children and three grandchildren. She directs two Christian writers’ conferences.