The Love of God in Christ
By Dave Hunt
When truly expressed from the heart, “I love you” is undoubtedly the most wonderful declaration one can hear or speak. Many husbands and wives, parents and children, as well as brothers and sisters in Christ, however, fail to express their love often enough to one another-and not just in words but in deeds. That we can love others and receive their love is only possible because we were created in the moral and spiritual image of God, who “is love” (1 Jn 4:8).
Sadly, that image with its innocent and pure capabilities has been deformed by sin. Man still loves, but imperfectly; so that lust is often mistaken for love. Self-love, long concealed beneath sweet words, can leap suddenly from its hiding place when least expected to destroy what had seemed so beautiful until that unguarded moment. Love for others cannot coexist with love for self. Great effort may be made to support both, but the burden eventually becomes too great.
To all mankind God has repeatedly said, “I love you!” Even to rebels who hate Him and reject the salvation He offers to all in Christ? Yes! True love is not just toward the lovely or lovable or those who love in return. Love does not find its source or reason in the loved one but in the heart of the lover. God says to Israel, His chosen: “The LORD did not set his love upon you …because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest…but because the LORD loved you…” (Deut 7:7-8). He turns Balaam’s curse into a blessing “because the LORD thy God loved thee” (Deut 23:5).
But Israel would prove herself to be singularly ungrateful and disobedient. Surely, that “charity [agape love] suffereth long, and is kind” (1 Cor 13:4) was fully demonstrated in God’s dealings with Israel. For centuries God bore her idolatrous rebellion, sending His prophets to plead with her to repent, before finally destroying Jerusalem and casting her out of the promised land. Hear His lament: “I sent unto you my servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, saying, Oh, do not this abominable thing that I hate. But they hearkened not…to turn from their wickedness….Wherefore my fury and mine anger was poured forth…” (Jer 44:4-6). Even in His anger for her sin, however, God pledged to bring Israel back into the promised land in the last days. The fulfillment of that promise has been witnessed by the whole world.
It cannot be denied that God’s love for Israel was not just for the few faithful among her, but included those who would despise His love and perish (though He wanted to forgive and bless them had they been willing). That fact is often made clear: “Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies…[and] fed them also with the finest of wheat…” (Ps 81:11-16).
God is infinite in all of His qualities. Therefore, His love must be infinite in its “breadth, and length, and depth, and height,” which He desires us to “comprehend with all saints” and “to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that [we] might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph 3:18-19). That the infinite Creator loves each individual He has created with a personal passion is beyond our comprehension-yet it is true, for “God is love.”
Love is the very essence of God’s being. Liberals have long tried to portray the God of the Old Testament as angry and vengeful and to credit Jesus with introducing the idea of the loving Father God of the New Testament. In fact, God is “from everlasting to everlasting (Ps 90:2)…I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Mal 3:6).
At Mt. Sinai where the law, just given, was broken by Israel’s grievous sin, Moses pleaded with God, “I beseech thee, shew me thy glory” (Ex 33:18). God replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before thee…and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy [i.e., mercy and grace cannot be demanded or earned, but come at God’s initiative]” (v. 19).
“And the LORD passed by before him [Moses], and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty [i.e., the penalty must be paid]…” (Ex 34:6-7).
God’s kindness, which He extends to all, springing as it does from His infinite love, is called “lovingkindness.” David writes, “How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings” (Ps 36:7). Through Jeremiah, the prophet of judgment, God declares, “I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth…” (Jer 9:24).
The love we are to express to one another and to the lost, our “neighbors” with whom God gives us fruitful contacts, is described in 1 Corinthians 13, the “love chapter.” Clearly, Paul is portraying God’s supernatural agape love which He expressed in giving Christ for our redemption. The love Paul describes is beyond human capacity-but it rings true to our hearts and consciences.
God’s perfect selfless love is formed within the human heart only by the new birth. Jesus told His disciples, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another, as I have loved you….By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (Jn 13:34-35). Why did Christ call this a new commandment? The standard was no longer to be the Ten Commandments, but the life of Christ (“as I have loved you”).
The Ten Commandments called upon man to obey in his own strength, thereby revealing the impossibility to do so and thus the necessity of salvation in Christ. Now Christ himself lives in believers to express His life through them. Such is the amazing transformation of the new birth which Christ introduced to Nicodemus and which is for all who believe in Him. Yes, the secret is simply to believe, for “the just shall live by faith” (Hab 2:4; Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38).
That Christ was living in believers (“that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith” – Eph 3:17) would be the great proof that He had truly risen from the dead. Could John have had anything else in mind when he wrote, “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us” (1 Jn 4:12)? When Saul of Tarsus heard Stephen ask God to forgive those who were stoning him-“Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60)-it was an echo of Christ’s “Father, forgive them” (Lk 23:24) from the cross! Stephen’s cry of loving intercession must have thundered continually in Saul’s conscience.
Struck blind by that “light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun,” Saul heard a voice of infinite authority demanding, “Why persecutest thou me?” When he asked, trembling, “Who art thou, Lord?” the terrifying and convicting response came: “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” (Acts 9:3-6; 26:13-15). Yes, Jesus Christ was alive, not only in heaven at the Father’s right hand, as Stephen under that hail of stones had declared in Saul’s hearing (7:56), but He was most certainly living in those who proclaimed Him risen from the dead. That very declaration by former cowards who had fled to protect their own skin was itself the only explanation for Peter’s fearless indictment of his huge audience on the day of Pentecost: “Jesus of Nazareth…approved of God among you by miracles…ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified…” (Acts 2:22-23).
Now, as a believer indwelt by the risen Christ, “…a new creature [with] old things…passed away…all things…new” (2 Cor 5:17), Paul had been born again of the Spirit of God and His Word. Thereafter he testified, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
From that moment, the passion that burned in the heart of the Apostle Paul was the very love of God in Christ for the lost: “For the love of Christ constraineth us;…we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us:…be ye reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:14, 20). That love took him tirelessly throughout the Roman Empire, proclaiming the gospel to all who would hear. This he did at the cost of great suffering (and eventually his life); “…in every city…bonds and afflictions [await] me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:23-24).
With Christ living in him, and compelled by the very supernatural love which had caused Christ to die for all of our sins on the cross, Paul was willing to die if need be in bringing the gospel to others-further proof that Christ had risen and was living in him.
What has happened to the kind of passion Paul had for the lost? Where is it today?
It is so easy for us to be satisfied with attending our church fellowships, singing lustily, praying now and then for those in need and doing periodic good deeds. Yet the rush of today’s computerized, fast-paced world leaves little room in our hearts for Christ’s commission to “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel…” (Mk 16:15). Do we view with Christ’s love and through His eyes those we meet daily?
Most important of all, however, as the Quotable reminds us, is our love for and adoration of our Lord. The gospel is the message that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16). How can we present the gospel of God’s love unless His love dwells in us?
“As I have loved you” is still the measure of Christian love today, the love He expressed when He said, “Father, forgive them.” Nor could we imagine that Christ was thereby declaring a love which He had only for those He knew would believe on Him. Surely few if any of those who mocked, scourged and nailed Him to the cross, or among those making up the jeering and cursing throng of onlookers and passersby, ever came to faith in Him. Nor is there reason to believe that any of those who hurled the stones at Stephen, or among the Pharisees who goaded them on, ever came to faith in Christ. Yet Stephen, like his Lord, lovingly asked the Father to forgive them all. Such is God’s love for the lost, a love that is not of this world and which Christ will express through us if we will trust Him to do so.
When John writes, “Every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God…for God is love” (1 Jn 4:7-8), he can only be referring to the indwelling supernatural love of Christ. It is like no other. It does not fall in and out of love according to the emotional whim of the moment. It is “everlasting” and experiences no change. Shakespeare said it well, “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.”
Not only does God’s love not change, but it is all inclusive. There is no basis in Scripture or in the conscience all men possess to imagine that God does not love all mankind but that He only loves a select few. God’s Word gives abundant and repeated testimony that God loves the entire world exactly as John 3:16-17 says: “For God so loved the world, that he…sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
Love is not partial; it plays no favorites, but gives itself wholeheartedly to all and grieves over those who reject it. We are even to love our enemies, and our neighbors as ourselves. Surely God’s love would not meet a lower standard than that which He has set for man. Indeed, Christ prays to the Father, “that the love wherewith thou has loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn 17:26). In other words, we are to love others with the very love which God the Father has for the Son and puts within us by faith. Thus we can be certain that God’s love is at least as selfless, impartial and broad as our love is to be.
Let us therefore bring the message of God’s infinite love and lovingkindness to the world about us and demonstrate that love to all. Whatever difficulties we may face, we can be confident that God loves us still. We are in the hand of Him who promises that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). May we, like Paul, give ourselves wholly to His purpose: “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before…press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). TBC