God is love (1 John 4:8). This simple, yet profound sentence is a crucial basis for Christianity. The apostle John makes a crucial distinction. He doesn’t say, “God loves” or “God has love,” but rather, “God is love.” Love is inherent to God. It is part of who he is. Spend any amount of time meditating on the love of God and the sin of man and you should glow in gratitude for God’s love. It is clear that no one deserves God’s love, yet the God who is love has chosen to set his love upon his creation and specifically his people.
The God-is-love maxim has sinisterly become a defense for things that God in fact hates. God is love. So, how could he judge sin? God is love. So how could he oppose my autonomy? God is love. So how dare these “backwoods, fundamentalist” Christians tell me how I should live my life. God is love.
Our church culture has slowly taken a crucial doctrinal truth about the nature and character of God and turned it for its own favor. The church would do well to take God at his Word everywhere they find his Word, not just in places that suit their personal preferences. But the truth about God’s love is that it is not as simple as we want to make it. The love of God is beautifully complex. It is seen from before creation and seen in the fully consummated new creation, and everywhere in between. It is seen in his common graces showered on all of mankind, as well as his special graces shown only toward his people he has redeemed through Christ. God loves us before he creates us. God loves us as he creates us. God loves us when he recreates us. His love is tender and firm. It faces no barrier it cannot destroy. It faces no hurt it cannot heal. It faces no sinner it cannot change. From eternity past to eternity future, when God sets his love on you, it will never leave.
Theologian Francis Turretin clearly explains the complexities of God’s love as it is attested in Scripture in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology. He discusses three aspects of God’s love–benevolence, beneficence, and complacency. Here, Turretin examines how God loves us first and then loves us because of his work in our lives, which includes our response. Meditate on the complex glory and goodness of God’s love as you marvel at why he would ever set it on sinners like you and me from eternity past to eternity future.
A threefold love of God is commonly held; or rather there are three degrees of one and the same love. First, there is the love of benevolence by which God willed good to the creature from eternity; second, the love of beneficence by which he does good to the creature in time according to his good will; third, the love of complacency by which he delights himself in the creature on account of the rays of his image seen in them. The two former precede every act of the creature; the latter follows (not as an effect its cause, but as a consequent its antecedent). By the love of benevolence, the love of complacency, he loves us when we are (renewed after his image). By the first, he elects us; by the second, he redeems and sanctifies us; but by the third, he gratuitously rewards us as holy and just. John 3:16 refers to the first; Ephesians 5:25 and Revelation 1:5 to the second; Isaiah 62:3 and Hebrews 11:6 to the third.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.