1 John 4: 7 - 21
No attribute of God is so widely believed as the love of God. Take a microphone to the streets of Johannesburg and ask them to tell you what God is like. The word “love” will be mentioned more than any other word. People, who never go to church, never read their Bibles know that God is love. Unbelievers know that God is love. They may not fully believe it but they have heard it said so many times that when they think of God, they think of his love.
I would like to suggest that no attribute of God has been so badly misunderstood as God’s love. I’m not arguing that God’s love is the least-known attribute, only that what most people believe about God’s love is quite simply not true at all. Because they know part of the truth, they assume they know it all. A little knowledge is definitely a dangerous thing.
Let’s begin our journey - “God is love.” J. I. Packer – “When we study God’s love, we learn about His heart.”
1. Four Wrong Ideas about God’s Love
A. God loves every person in exactly the same way.
We all assume this is true, but it is not. A moment’s thought will show us how unreasonable it is. We use the word love in many different ways - in fact we love in different ways and to different degrees. Married love is not the same as love of your children, and loving your food is something entirely different. Yet the same word is used of all 3. We may say that God loves the world, but lavishes love on his children. God shows love as he chooses to show love. Since no one has a claim on God’s love, no one can complain if God chooses to express his love toward someone else differently than he has shown it to you.
B. God’s love somehow cancels his holiness.
Unbelievers often think this - when they reach the gates of heaven, God will smile and say, “You don’t deserve it, but come on in anyway.” Unfortunately, that view has nothing to commend itself. Whatever else we may say, this much is certain: God’s love is not benevolent softness because God cannot overlook sin. He will never contradict his own nature.
Behind this wrong idea is a perverted view of love that says, “If you love me, you’ll accept anything I do.” Wrong! Love makes judgment calls. Love cares about right and wrong. That’s why parents discipline their children. That’s why God disciplines his children. God’s love is holy love.
C. God’s love means that everyone will one day be saved.
Universalism - sounds attractive, it is completely at odds with the Bible. Not everyone who says “I love the Lord” or “I’m a believer” is going to heaven. Hell will be filled with religious people of all varieties. The idea is contradicted by Jesus himself in Matthew 25: 46 “They will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
D. God is Love means the same as Love is God.
The first part is certainly true. God is love - love is at the core of God’s being. It is that which causes him to reach out to save guilty sinners. But the second part—"love is God"—is untrue. Not all love is of God. Men love darkness rather than light—that is not of God. Some people love murder and rape—that is not of God. Some people love deception and violence—that is not of God. To say that “love is God” is at best misleading, at worst a brand of New Age pantheism.
2. God’s Love: How Sinners Are Saved
What is the love of God? Just because we can’t define it simply, doesn’t mean that God’s love doesn’t exist. After all, who can properly define the love between a man and a woman or between a parent and a child? I am tempted to say that I don’t know what God’s love is, but I know it when I see it. Perhaps that’s not far from the truth. Human love generally is a response to conditions and circumstances around us. We love because someone pleases us or because they seem attractive or because they pay attention to us or because they make us laugh or because we feel fulfilled around them.
By contrast God’s love is utterly uncaused. He loves because that’s the kind of God he is. Nothing in us causes him to love us. Not our beauty, not our wealth, not our wisdom, not our good deeds, not our promise to love him back. Our love is conditional and often temporary. God’s love is unconditional, uncaused and eternal. It is utterly unlike human love, even though our love may be a dim reflection of his. Romans 5: 6 – 8 - 2 vital truths -
A. The Truth about Who We Are
We were “powerless” and “ungodly.” Powerless means we couldn’t change our basic nature. Ungodly means we had no desire to change in the first place. We were sinners - desperately in need of a change that we couldn’t effect and didn’t want anyway. No more hopeless situation could ever be imagined.
Powerless … ungodly … sinners. Not a very pretty list, is it? Those 3 words describe what you were by nature from the moment you were born. They also describe the spiritual state of every person in the world apart from Jesus Christ. This is God’s judgment on the entire human race. No one is excluded. Search the four corners of the globe and you find no exceptions to the truth. Not only are all men sinners, but all men by nature are powerless, ungodly and the enemies of God.
It doesn’t matter whether you accept this or not. These things are true despite your personal opinion. You say, “I’m not ungodly” or “I’m not God’s enemy” or “I know lots of people who are worse sinners than I am.” God’s Word washes away your objections. This is the truth about you as you stand on your own before God apart from grace. This truth leaves us with no hope in ourselves. Your condition is hopeless apart from Jesus Christ.
Major conclusion from this: God’s love is not dependent on anything in you because there is nothing in you worth loving. There is nothing in you that forces God to love you. It’s not that you are such a naturally lovable person. Neither am I. Sin has infected your life so that it has distorted and destroyed even the parts of you that you believe to be beautiful. Sin has made us so ugly that God finds nothing in us that forces him to love us.
There is no reason for God to love us. Except this: That’s the kind of God he is. He loves you and he loves me because God is love and he can’t help loving us even when we are his enemies. His love is both greater than our sin and in spite of our sin. God shouldn’t love us … but he does. This is the wonder of the ages.
Someone might find this point very discouraging because we all like to think of ourselves as naturally lovable. If God loves you only when you are lovable, then when you stop being lovable, God would have to stop loving you! Where would you be then?
It’s better to admit the truth. God loves us in spite of our unloveliness. God’s love is sure and certain because it doesn’t depend on anything you say or do.
B. The Amazing Extent of God’s Love
God’s incredible solution to man’s impossible problem - so unusual that it goes far beyond human reason. We would never think this up on our own. Only God could conceive of this solution. 2 statements summarise this truth:
i. He Went Far Beyond What We Would Do v. 7
How many people are you willing to die for? A handful - your parents, your children, your husband or wife, perhaps one or two very close friends. The circle is very small. There are many people you love but you’re not sure you’re ready to take a bullet for them. Many more we admire but we probably wouldn’t die for. Others we barely know - never consider dying for. There are millions of others whose lives don’t even come into the equation.
God’s love is not like that. There are examples of friends dying for friends and loved ones dying for loved ones. As great as that is, God’s love is much greater. We can understand those people who sacrificed themselves for those they loved. God went far beyond that - we would never think of doing what he did.
ii. He Did What We Would Never Do v. 8
We like to emphasise “Christ died for us” but the emphasis is clearly on the first phrase -"While we were still sinners.” The wonder is not that Christ should die for us—though that would be wonderful enough. The wonder is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners, still ungodly, still powerless and still enemies of God! He didn’t die for his friends. He died for his enemies. He died for those who crucified him. He died for those who hated him. He died for those who rejected him. He died for those who cheered as the nails were driven in his hands.
He didn’t die for good people. He died for bad people. He didn’t die for saints. He died for sinners. He didn’t die for his friends. He died for his enemies. He didn’t die for those who loved him. He died for those who hated him. We would never do anything like that! We might die for our friends but never for our enemies. But that’s what Jesus did for us.
The death of Jesus is the final proof of God’s love. Sometimes in this crazy, mixed-up world, people say, “Where’s the love of God?” We see so much killing, so much heartache, so much tragedy, so much pain, so much anger. Where is the love of God? Look to the cross. Gaze upon the bleeding form of the Son of God. There you will see the love of God.
See from his head, his hands, his feet. Sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
“Lord, how much do you love me?” “This much” - then he stretched out his arms, bowed his head, and died. Does God love you? Yes - He proved it when Jesus died on the cross for you.
3. God’s Love: Our Guiding Principle
The New Testament is filled with verses that tell us what the love of God should mean in practical experience. Here are 10 of the most famous statements on the subject:
A. It is the visible mark of genuine Christian faith.
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples.” John 13: 35
B. It is the means by which forgiven sinners can live together in harmony.
“Love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4: 8
C. It is the standard by which Christian husbands will be judged.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.” Ephesians 5: 25
D. It is the great principle of Christian conduct.
“Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” Galatians 5: 13
E. It is God’s counterbalance against harsh words.
“Instead, speaking the truth in love …” Ephesians 4: 15
F. It is the supreme motive for sharing Christ with others.
“For Christ’s love compels us.” 2 Corinthians 5: 14
G. It is positive proof that we know God.
“Whoever lives in love lives in God.” 1 John 4: 16
H. It is the path to confident, victorious living.
“Perfect love drives out fear.” 1 John 4: 18
I. It is the sum total of what God demands from us.
“Love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13: 10
J. It is the supreme virtue and will last for all eternity.
“Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13: 13
Love is truly the language of heaven. It comes from the heart of God and is poured out into the heart of every believer.
Two Closing Comments
1. All of God’s blessing to us flows from His love for us.
Salvation – Forgiveness – Justification - New Birth – Adoption – Sanctification - Heaven itself!!! Can you be certain that you are going to heaven? Is that possible or is it just wishful thinking? You can be absolutely, positively, beyond any shadow of a doubt certain that you are going to heaven when you die. Why? Because of Jesus Christ. You may be weak—that’s okay—Jesus is strong.
2. All of our deepest problems are solved at the Cross.
For the helpless, he died. The ungodly, he justified. The sinner, he saved. His enemies, he reconciled. Our impossible problem has been completely solved through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Our sins have been forgiven, our debt completely paid, our record wiped clean, and righteousness has been imputed to our account. The gap that separated us from God has been completely bridged. We who were once far away have been brought near. We who were sinners have now become the friends of God.