Many people in our culture have a grave misunderstanding concerning the love of God. They attribute to God this squishy, all-encompassing love that never demands repentance, never addresses sin, and would surely never be expressed in righteous anger. What does the Bible say about God’s love?
One of the most famous passages that describes God’s love comes from 1 John 4:1-7 which states: “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.”
From this passage, John gives us some essential aspects of God’s infinite love that we would do well as Christians to embrace. First of all, God is love. He is the ultimate expression of love. He initiates love, He defines love, and He loves us first. Our capacity to love does not come intrinsically from within ourselves, but comes outside of ourselves through God. One of God’s chief attributes is love.
The danger many Christians make is to elevate the love of God as His one and ONLY attribute and fail to see that God is also holy, just, and righteous and cannot tolerate sin. Is God love? Absolutely! Is God holy and righteous? Absolutely. We cannot divorce these two attributes and pit them against each other. If we focus too much on God’s love, we can tend to drift into flimsy liberalism where anything goes, and God just winks at sin and loves everybody unconditionally. If we focus too much on God’s justice, we can tend to drift into rigid legalism where we never hold out the hope of grace for the sinner.
Another essential teaching from this passage about God’s love is that it is fully expressed in Jesus Christ as the ONLY way of salvation. God sent His only Son Jesus so that we might live through him. Jesus Himself was very emphatic in John 14:6 that He is THE way, truth, and life; not one of many ways or simply a good way, but the absolute and only way to heaven. It is not loving to give a person a false assurance that God loves them outside of Jesus. When we downplay the exclusivity of Christ, we deny His Lordship and do not show love to those who will die in their sins without Him. The most loving thing we can do is to tell a sinner that Jesus is their ONLY way of hope.
In verse 10 of our text it says that Jesus was the “propitiation” for our sins. The word propitiation means that Jesus (while on the cross) absorbed the full wrath of God against sin as our Substitute so that we would not have to endure that righteous anger. Since God is holy and just, He must punish sin. The beauty of the gospel is that God punished sin in the body of Christ.
God’s love is too immense and expansive to reduce down to this popular idea that He loves you “just the way you are.” God loves us too much to let us stay “just the way we are!” He sent Jesus to die for our sins so that by faith in Him we could be transferred from spiritual death to spiritual life to spend eternity with Him in heaven.