You have heard it over coffee, from the pulpit, on TV and more: "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." Just what is and is not being said is critical as it appears that we are mixing the concepts of the benevolence of God and his covenant love. Thus it is possible that inadvertently we may be assuring people who are living in rebellion to God that they are loved by Him, when in actual fact they will incur His eternal wrath.
The general benevolence of God:
Under the category of "common grace"--which is actually quite "uncommon"-- we can see that God makes the "sun to shine on the just and the unjust" (Matthew 5:45). That is to say, God who rightfully could withhold the sunshine from this rebel human race, extends unmerited kindness in keeping the sun at precisely the right orbit so that whether people are just or unjust, they are neither frozen nor scorched. Likewise he provides the human race with just enough oxygen to take yet another breath, and keeps our mitochondrion working in just the right way to allow our cells to generate the energy they need for keeping us moving.
In a fashion this could be called the love of God, in that it demonstrates that He is withholding judgement, providing items needed for life, and extending the time that people have on this earth in order to come to Him on His terms. We recall that He gave the Amorites in the Old Testament 430 years of time to come to Him in repentance, but they continued in living a life of reckless debauchery and after that judgement came via the Israelites. All in all we could call this the "benevolent love of God" and yes it does extend to all people. In this category, it would be legitimate to say that God loves everyone. However there is another critically important category.
The covenant love of God:
Just as we observed that God is generally benevolent, we cannot extend this to his covenant love. That is to say, he has chosen "in love" before the foundation of the world, those on whom he would set His special covenant love (Ephesians 1:4; Canons of Dort Articles 2, 4 and 7)/ That is to say, out of the entire human race which receives his rain and sunshine, he has lovingly selected those who will be objects of a unique kind of love. This is not due to any kind of merit of theirs, nor any kind of wiser choice than the rest, but just because of His gracious election.
Perhaps an illustration will help. Compare this to the particular love that we might see of a man for his wife. He is kind to all the neighbourhood women, but only on one does he lavish his affection and his commitment. Reciprocally she will respond to this particular love as well.
Those thus whom God has reached out with this particular love in Christ, will also respond in reverent and warm hearted obedience. In this category we could not say that God loves everyone, but rather that of everyone He has chosen, He loves them.
This leaves those who are outside of this covenant love and who as someone once put it, "daily stick their fist or one of their fingers up to God" as those not on whom His favour rests, but those on whom His wrath rests. This is a situation brought on by the treacherous rebellion of Adam that the human race now has become God haters and they justly deserve His wrath. This is evident just after our most quoted John 3:16 verse. In 3:16 we read with amazement that God would even love this rebel cosmos enough to send His one and only Son, in order that whoever would believe in Him would have eternal life. Of course the next verse shows the point that we have been trying to make. Those who will not believe, will not repent, and will not put their full trust in Him, and will not allow Him to have as plan for their life, "are condemned already."
In a word. God does not love everyone with covenant love as in the love that Christ has for His bride the Church, or as YHWH the husband of Israel had for his "wife" Israel.. Being true to Himself means that some have the just and right wrath of a Holy God on them as they are, and yet in kindness today He lovingly offers salvation from it..
- Are you teaching or preaching "flee from the wrath which is to come" or are you preaching "you are fine basking in the love that God has for everyone?"
- Are you teaching or preaching a message that "God loves everyone just as they are and how they are" which arguably is true for the benevolent love of God, but concealing the Biblical message of the covenant love of God with its attendant wrath which says that God loves sinful humanity enough to send Jesus, but they need to flee to Him?
- Are you teaching or preaching that God "loves everyone in Christ" which technically is true, but might you have confused the issue as you might be assuming that everyone who receives His general benevolence is savingly "in Christ."