What is the love of God? Is it a feeling? Is it an action? Is it directed toward all people equally, or is set upon a particular people? Is it based upon conditions, or is it unconditional? Is it free, or is it costly? All these questions must be considered when one speaks about the love of God.
The apostle John makes the declaration in his first letter that “God is love” (1Jn. 4:8). This declaration is an important one, for many have formed opinions about God based upon it. What this declaration is not, contrary to popular opinion, is a definition of God. For a definition by its very nature places precise parameters around that which is finite, and since God is infinite, he cannot be defined. Thus the statement, “God is love,” is a commentary upon the nature of love rather than upon the nature of God. Therefore love, as does everything else, finds its true identity in God alone.
For this reason, one’s notion of God cannot be exhausted the apostle’s declaration alone, but it must extend to the whole of Revelation. Therefore, God’s love must center upon the Gospel–for that is the great end to which Revelation tends–and upon the qualities that comprise the Gospel, e.g. God’s wrath, justice, grace, mercy, etc. All these declared attributes of God must be considered when one attempts to understand the love of God.
What then is God’s love? Our understanding of the nature of God’s love can be rightly formed by seeing how God acts in his Word, and here we shall look upon a few facets of it:
The Love of God is Costly
The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 5:8). In this statement we see three important truths. First, God is a God who loves his people. Secondly, we see that God’s people were at one point sinners and therefore were in rebellion against God. Thirdly, we see that God died for the sake of those whom he loved. All these paint the picture in which the love of God operates. In this picture there is a law given that God’s people were intended to obey perfectly. However, his people were born children of rebellion and therefore actively transgressed the law the moment they understood it. In spite of this, God continued to love his people, and yet he could not excuse them for their rebellion because he is a just and righteous God. Therefore, God sent his own Son into to the world to fulfill the law on behalf of his people and then to die in their place for the sins that they have committed.
Because of who God is, his love is very costly, for it had to come at the price of his very Son. For God had to send his Son to live and to die for the sake of those he loves, for, if he did not, they would perish for their sins, or he would pardon them unjustly thereby destroying his own character. The death of Christ was the only solution, and he paid the great price because he loved us, even while were sinners.
The Love of God is Particular
Several times throughout the New Testament, the writers through the Holy Spirit call the people of God “beloved.” The name is a simple one, yet it is profound in its implications. On the surface, to be beloved means simply “to be loved.” In the context of the church, the beloved are those who are loved by God. Since the church is comprised of those who are loved by God, it is by inference that those who are not in the church are not loved by God, at least in the same manner.
While the difference between God’s love for his people and the reprobate might be categorized and distinguished as God’s love and his general goodness, the effects of God’s particular love are without question. The apostle Paul writes to the Ephesian church:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved (vv. 1:1-6).
Though much can be said about this passage and the verses that follow it, the great point is that the love of God is eternal and efficacious. It is eternal in that it existed upon the elect before the foundation of the world, and it is efficacious in that it takes those who were once enemies of God and makes them sons of God, and it takes those who once unholy and guilty and makes them holy and blameless. These are the great things that the love of accomplishes for those whom he loves.
The Love of God is Steadfast and Complete
In the great chain of salvation of which the apostle speaks in Romans 8, the first link in that chain is, “Those whom he foreknew…” (v. 8:29). This foreknowledge about which the apostle speaks is an intimate knowledge of particular persons before the foundation of world. The same language of knowledge is used elsewhere in Scripture to describe the intimacy between a husband and wife and between God and the nation Israel. Concerning Israel, the prophet Amos speaks for God saying, “Israel…you only have I known of all the families of the earth” (v. 3:2). And the prophet speaks this, not because God did not know about the other families of the earth, but because God had chosen Israel as a nation for his own possession and poured himself into her.
These whom he foreknew–whom he loved before the foundation of the world, “He,” the apostle writes, “predestined to conformed to image of his Son in order than he might be the firstborn of many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (vv. 8:29-30). In other words, God finishes his work in those whom he loves. The certainty of this can be seen in the past-tense reference of the future event of glorification. Because it is God who loves us, and because God is almighty, God can declare our glorification as certain and sealed. For, as the apostle writes in another letter, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
Though there is much more that can be said of the love of God, I hope that this small bit will be enough to give you joy at its remembrance. May we all be those who love the love of God that has been shown to us so that we might love greatly in return. Amen.