God Is Love

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There is a continual theme that pulsates through our culture. The theme is "God is love". The thing that always intrigues me about this idea that God is love is that love gets defined in a way that reflects whatever a person wants. So if I want my god to be loving so that he would never demand anything of me, then that is love. If I want my god to be the kind of god who would never separate someone from him for all eternity, then that is love. If I want the kind of god who just is a feel good, kind, and grandfatherly kind of god, then that is love.

I was reflecting on this while reading the epistle of 1 John a bit ago. This, of course, is the epistle that declares "God is love". I've read the epistle and those words many times before, but for some reason for the first time I stopped and realized that John doesn't just tell us that God is love, but also defines that love. Here's the text:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 1 John 4

Rather than leaving the definition of what it means to love God up to us, John spells out that God's love reveals itself in sending his Son into the world as a propitiation (see definition below) for our sins. God's love is connected to the sending of his Son into the world. It is a love that compels us to love others, especially those who are fellow believers as John points out. 

Love as it turns out is not defined however we desire. Love is always connected to Christ. If someone tries to give definition to "God is Love" without this connection they are not being true to the text. Not only so, but God's love far from freeing us to do whatever we wish actually obligates us to follow God's love by loving others. To divorce "God is love" from this obligation to love also brings a failure to the true definition of God is love.

Maybe the next time someone says, "God is love" it might be an interesting conversation to graciously inquire of them where they get their definition from. Such an inquiry might open up a wonderful conversation.

Propitiation
This means the turning away of wrath by an offering. It is similar to expiation but expiation does not carry the nuances involving wrath. For the Christian the propitiation was the shed blood of Jesus on the cross. It turned away the wrath of God so that He could pass "over the sins previously committed" (Rom. 3:25). It was the Father who sent the Son to be the propitiation (1 John 4:10) for all (1 John 2:2).

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To know that Christ died and suffered as a result of God's love, is to understand the depth and breadth of His love.  But we often have a very shallow understanding of love.   The epistles of John say much more about this.

Who loves more:  the mother who says her son in prison for theft and vandalism is a "good boy", or the father who brings his son to the police because he has stolen a car, and trafficked in drugs?  God's standards indicate that His love is not a nicey, nicey smiley feeling, but a steadfast faithfulness to his promises and demands.  His love for the repentant sinner comes with the expectation of repentance and change.    Our love for each other is tied to God's love for us.  This is not an unconditional love, but it is a forgiving love.   "  7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin...  9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."    "2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world."

"II John 1: 5 And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. 6 And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands."

God's love was shown in the Ten commandments (and some other commands) he gave, as well as in the promise of the Messiah.  The commandments were the way people were to demonstrate love to each other.  Our failures were covered by Messiah's payment.  Our desire to follow these commands demonstrates our love for God and each other.  Our lack of desire to follow these commands indicates our lack of desire to love one another.  Let us walk in the light, and confess our sins, and be purified from unrighteousness, and have fellowship with one another.

 

"Love" and "God" are very mysterious. 

"Love as it turns out is not defined however we desire."

Is God's love defined as however God desires? 

"Love is always connected to Christ. If someone tries to give definition to "God is Love" without this connection they are not being true to the text. Not only so, but God's love far from freeing us to do whatever we wish actually obligates us to follow God's love by loving others. To divorce "God is love" from this obligation to love also brings a failure to the true definition of God is love."

The Devil is in the pronouns. Do the pronouns refer to "we, the regenerate" in exactly the same way as to "we, the condemned?" CRC members more learned than I have made the case case that the doctrine of predestination only refers the "We," the regenerate thus converted. If so then is not God semi-Pelagian and/or Arminian?

 "For the Christian the propitiation was the shed blood of Jesus on the cross. It turned away the wrath of God so that He could pass "over the sins previously committed" (Rom. 3:25). It was the Father who sent the Son to be the propitiation (1 John 4:10) for all (1 John 2:2)."

Then propitiation is option on God's part but was intended to be mandatory in Jesus' "pre- cross" thinking?  

​If God does not desire (love to see) the unregenerate to spend eternity in Hell. Then what should we conclude about the nature of God, love, authority, power, and hell? How about Purgatory? Does it not make good sense if used to modify the theology of (CRC) Rev. Punt?

If a person, knowing (understanding in his mind and his guts) the eternal consequences, chooses Hell over Heaven, who "wins?"   

Thanks for your article, Larry, on the love of God.  You are right when you say this is an overused statement.  It’s overused not only by suggesting that many people and even many Christians don’t know how to define this love, but they also don’t recognize that God’s love in Christ is particular (a limited atonement).  So what about those outside of the pale of the Christian faith, which is the vast majority of people.  Does God even love them?  It does seem as though Bill Wald has hit onto something when he suggests the “first person” pronouns of “we” or “I” indicates only those who are in Christ, or the “elect” or “chosen.”  

It’s difficult to think of God loving those who have been chosen for destruction (Romans 9).  In fact for those who are not the object of God’s love, he insures their destruction.  We often speak of God determining, not only the ends, but also the means.  If God has determined the means by which the chosen would come to salvation (election), he has also determined the means by which the lost would come to their destruction.  He has credited the lost (as well, as the saved) with the sin of Adam.  There is no way, anyone can claim to be righteous, even the newborn, for all have been credited by God with Adam’s sin.  On top of that God imputes to all people a sinful nature, by which they can’t help but to sin. Paul talks about his own failure against sin in Romans 7.  He says he is a slave to sin and an utter failure.  And that’s the implication for all people apart from Christ. This sinful nature is given to all by God.  On top of God crediting all with Adam’s sin and giving all a sinful nature, he gives a standard of perfection that is impossible to meet.  As we have been taught from the Bible, “It is impossible to please God.”  So God has determined the means (and insured) for the destruction of the human race.  The sinful lost cannot even respond to the gospel without the Spirit's enabling.  It’s seems difficult to understand why the sinful lost will be held responsible for their own sin, when God has determined the means by which they can’t help but to sin.  Of course Paul criticizes anyone who would talk back to God or criticize his ways.  God has a right to do whatever he wants with his clay.

So when God has determined the damnation of the majority of the human race, it is difficult to talk about the love of God flippantly.  And even for those in Christ, who are to display God’s love to others, it would seem difficult to claim that love for oneself when Christians are no better than others at displaying love for God and neighbor.  Just as the Old Testament Jews failed to keep God’s commandments, so also do Christians.  So where does the assurance of God’s love come from, where is the proof of the Spirit’s working?  This whole love of God seems very confusing to me (unless I should throw huge sections of the Bible away).  Oops, we can't do that.

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