As we wrap up our series on the attributes of God we conclude by looking at the attribute of God that most people would have put at the beginning of their list. If you randomly stopped people in a mall and you asked them to describe God, a majority of people (I think) would use the word “love” somewhere in their description.
But because the love of God is His most popular attribute, it is also the most widely misused. In some respects you cannot really understand this magnificent characteristic of God until you have understood the other attributes. So this morning we will look at God’s love. We are going to look at three misconceptions about God’s love and then three basic truths about God’s love.
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT GOD’S LOVE
The first misconception about God’s love is the mistaken conclusion that saying “God is Love” is the same as saying “Love is God“. God is loving, but love is not God. John is giving us a description of God . . . not a definition. I may say that I love my wife . . . but that is not the same thing as saying “love is my wife”.
People use this perversion of God’s character as an excuse for all kinds of sin. Adultery and other forms of immoral behavior are usually excused by the phrase, “but, I love them.” That statement implies that love makes everything O.K. The argument seems to be that if God is love then every feeling of love I have is from God and (by implication) approved of God. People use “love” to justify gluttony, materialism, hatred, and intemperance. God and love are not synonymous.
The second misconception is the notion that God loves everyone the same. I love my family, I love my country, I love my job and I love to read . . . but I don’t love them all the same. God loves believers and unbelievers differently. God loves the world . . . but He loves His children in a much greater way. God shows His love to the world by,
- giving time to repent
- offering them salvation
- giving evidence of His goodness in creation
- causing the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just and unjust the same
However, He has chosen to show special love to those who are His children.
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. [Ephesians 1:4-6]
God chose Israel over all the nations of the world. He chose Jacob over Esau. We know it was not because of anything they did either good or bad (Romans 9). We don’t know why He chose to love them (and we don’t know why He has chosen to love us) . . . but He did. God simply says, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy.” He is not obligated to love everyone the same. Mercy and love are gifts that are extended at the discretion of the giver.
Third, God’s love means everyone will go to Heaven. God’s love does not negate His holiness. There are those who believe that God is too loving to allow anyone to go to Hell. But as we have seen in our studies, God is not just loving, He is also Holy and Just. God will judge sin. He must judge sin. He will either judge our sin through the substitute He has provided, Jesus, or for those who do not turn to Christ , He will judge the individual. God is under no obligation to extend love, mercy and grace to those who spurn His love.
THE TRUTH ABOUT GOD’S LOVE
Enough of the negatives. What can we say about God’s Love? First, we must understand that we can never describe a love that is so far beyond our words or understanding. Words cannot convey and our minds cannot conceive of the love that God has for us. So, as we give general descriptions of God’s love we do so in the broadest categories and with the utmost humility and reverence.
God’s Love is Undeserved
There is deep inside of every human being the idea that we have somehow deserved God’s love. There is a feeling that we are very lovable. Even Christians talk sometimes like we have earned His favor by,
- our wise decision
- our diligent discipline
- our careful living
- our sterling service
- our fortunate citizenship
- our sufficient faith
But the Bible says that the love that God gives us is completely undeserved.
You did not choose me, but I chose you (John 15:16)
Our salvation is not because of a decision WE make . . . it is because of a decision that God has already made: to offer salvation to us. Paul tells us that even our faith “is a gift from God” (Eph. 2:8). Listen to how John describes it,
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 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 4:9-10)
We are not loved because we loved God. The testimony of Scripture is simple: we did not love God, we hated Him. Yet He loved us anyway. Paul wrote,
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, [Titus 3:3-5]
God does not love us because we are lovable. He does not love us because we are good. He loves us because He has chosen to do so. It is undeserved. One of the finest passages about God’s love is Romans 5:6-8
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Do you notice what this passage says about us? It says we were powerless, ungodly and sinners. How many jobs do you think you would get if you listed those as your qualifications? I wonder how many doors would open in colleges if my letters of recommendation called the student a powerless, ungodly, sinner! Yet that is what we were when Christ died for us.
As believers we must constantly remind ourselves that we are saved by grace alone. Those who fail to remember these things quickly fall into a smug self-righteousness. They begin to feel that everyone would do o.k. if they could just be like them.
God’s Love Is Sacrificial
In almost all passages that talk about God’s love you will also read about Christ’s sacrifice. The death of Christ was the boldest and most tangible expression of God’s love. John tells us that God loved “loved us and . . . “
v. 10 . . . sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
In the Romans 5 passage we read that Christ gave His life for us. In this passage Paul acknowledges that there are acts of heroism that take place in the world. But what God did was an astounding sacrifice.
Suppose you were a soldier. You were out in the jungle when your group of men was suddenly attacked. The enemy threw a grenade into the middle of your group. And then suppose your sergeant fell on the grenade and took the force of the blow so the rest of the group could live. Would that be considered an act of love? You bet it would. That soldier would be remembered as a hero. These acts are rare but they do take place. A parent would give their life for their child, a friend might be willing to give his life for a friend. Sometimes it happens.
Now suppose you have the same group of men. But now you are being held prisoners in a camp. A rescue team comes in and releases the prisoners. Now suppose a group of your captures came charging toward you. One of the rescue team takes a grenade and throws it in the middle of the approaching enemy. Now . . . .suppose the same sergeant . . . a just freed prisoner, throws his body on the grenade to save his captors. What would we think?
Most likely we would not know what to think. We would think he had gone crazy. Or, we would wonder if he had gone over to the side of the enemy because it is difficult for us to conceive of such a love as this. Why would a man give his life for his openly hostile enemy? And yet, Paul says, that is the kind of love God had for us in sending Christ to die for our sin.
We must never forget:
- God chose to love (He didn’t need us).
- God chose to love You when you were His enemy
- God chose to love You when you were his enemy at great personal cost
The idea that God sat in Heaven unmoved by the events on the cross is unthinkable. He bore the pain of Christ’s sacrifice in a desire to show us His love. As we need to be reminded over and over, “God’s grace if free, but it is not cheap”.
God’s Love is Eternal
We have a hard time grasping the depth of God’s love because all we have seen is human love. We are well aware that we live in a day of no-fault divorce. People get married and they get divorced. Love is strong and then it seems to disappear. Human love is fickle. We’ve all heard of “fair-weather fans”. They are the fans who root for a team only when they are doing well. We’ve watched children as they seem to alternately love and then hate their friends depending on how useful the friends are at the time. But God’s love is not like this.
In Ephesians 1:4 we are told that God “chose us before the creation of the world”. In Matthew 25 Jesus tells those who are His followers to receive the Kingdom which God prepared before creation. God’s love began before we were born and will extend all the way through eternity. Paul speaks without hesitation,
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:35,37-39]
When God loves, it is not fickle. God’s love does not diminish or waver towards those who are His children. Most of us with children understand this. Our children may do things we disagree with but we still love our kids. And in an even great way God love us in this unwavering way. God’s love is constant, eternal and dependable. When we are children of God through faith in Christ we never have to worry about God’s heart changing toward us.
If God loves us in this way, we should love Him in return. Like every other attribute of God that we have studied, God’s love should drive us to our knees in worship. If we understand what God was doing in Christ, we will move any rock and climb any mountain to find this love.
It is not possible to continue to know God’s love and still sit with smugness and a feeling a self-righteousness. If you understand how great the love of the Father is to us . . . you will run to Him with your arms open. He has provided a way for forgiveness and life. The person who understands, will receive the gift.
J.I. Packer adds:
Is it true that God is love to me as a Christian? And does the love of God mean all that has been said? If so, certain questions arise.
Why do I ever grumble and show discontent and resentment at the circumstances in which God has placed me?
Why am I ever distrustful, fearful, or depressed?
Why do I ever allow myself to grow cool, formal, and half-hearted in the service of the God who loves me so?
Why do I ever allow my loyalties to be divided, so that God has not all my heart? [Knowing God p. 115]
The person who begins to understand God’s love has a new outlook toward everything.
Secondly, If God loves us in this way, we should love each other. This is John’s conclusion in his letter,
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. [1 John 4:7,8; 11,12]
His argument is straightforward
- loving others reflects the nature of God that is in us
- loving others is evidence that we are God’s children
- we should love because we know what it is like to be loved
- we should love each other because when we do so we make it possible for God to live in us more fully.
- we should love because by loving others His love is made complete in us.
People who are loved like we have been in Christ, are people who are different. They change in their dealings with others. Those who do not love each other do not know the love of God.
So this bring us to the conclusion of our study of the attributes of God. We have only scratched the surface. We could spend the rest of our lives studying God’s character and still not exhaust the richness of His Being. In fact we could spend the rest of our days pondering His love and never exhaust it. The most majestic words can only capture a small part of what it means to be loved by God.
With this in mind I close with the words of Frederick Lehman who wrote the Hymn, “The Love of God”.
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell,
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell
The guilty pair, bowed down with care
God gave His son to win:
His erring child He reconciled
And pardoned from his sin
Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Tho stretched from sky to sky.
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall for evermore endure
The saints and angels song.
Amen and Amen.