God is love. Simple, right?
Unfortunately, it's not that simple. God's love is one of His most commonly misconstrued and misapplied attributes. We may see it as a tolerant love that allows us to do whatever we may please. We may see His love as something we merit or earn. Some may think that His love shifts and changes based upon our performance. But God’s love is much more robust and consistent than any love we have experienced on this earth.
The Basis for Love
In 1 John 4:7-21, John gives us a basis for love by showing us Who love is: God (1 John 4:8). His love is seen in Him sending His only Son into the world so that we might live through Him (1 John 4:8; John 3:16). He loved us first and showed it by sending Christ as our propitiation (1 John 4:10). God is by nature love. He cannot do anything apart from love. His love cannot be divorced from God’s other attributes. His holiness, justice and wrath are all seen within the context of love and vice-versa. Love is not tolerance in the same way that grace is not license. We cannot use God’s love has a trump card that eliminates the other “less desirable” attributes. Love is a core attribute out of which other attributes grow.
A.W. Tozer tells us in his book Attributes of God that “talking about the love of God is like going around the globe visiting every country in the world, then spending five minutes telling your friends about it. You can’t do it!” God’s love is boundless, volitional, pursuing, passionate, infinite, eternal, and sacrificial.
God’s love is rooted in an eternal relationship within the Trinity. God loves perfectly and this is seen in the way that God the Father loves Jesus, His Son, and Jesus loves the Holy Spirit who in turn loves both the Father and the Son perfectly. The love God shows towards us is not a love that originated with us but rather it has been eternally existing in the Trinity (John 3:35). God’s love towards the Son is the same love with which He loves us believers (John 17:26).
A Love That Bleeds
God’s love is sacrificial and self-giving. We see the outflow of God’s love in God the Father sending His Son as a sacrifice for our sin (Rom 5:8). Jesus shows His love for us as the good shepherd who lays his life for His sheep (John 10:11). His love is full of sacrificial action. He gives of Himself for the benefit of others. He gave us the Holy Spirit as a seal of our inheritance in Him (Ephesians 1:13–14) and also gave us His Spirit so we would not be left alone to fend for ourselves (John 14:18). In addition to giving us salvation, Jesus gave us the gifts of the Holy Spirit to build up the church and the individual (1 Peter 4:10, 1 Corinthians 12-14, Romans 12:3-8, Ephesians 4:11-12). God’s love is not a mere affection or feeling of warmth towards us but rather it culminates in action. He loves us practically and tangibly in our day to day lives.
An Unchanging Love
God’s love is eternal and immutable. He loved us because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). There was nothing in us that caused Him to love us (Deut. 7:7-8) but rather His love always has been and always will be (Jeremiah 31:3). Just as God is immutable and unchanging, His attributes are as well. James reminds us in chapter 1 verse 17 that there is no change in God or his love for us. God’s love for us had no beginning and it will have no end. He loved us as children before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4-5) and this was before we had done anything.
Love God, Love Others
We must look to the author and embodiment of love itself to fully understand it and its many facets and practicalities. Looking outside of Christ for our definition of love will leave us unsatisfied and misinformed. The ultimate portrait of love is seen in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sin and the self-giving love of the Trinity. This has enormous applications in our day-to-day lives, and our relationship with God. We can be free to interact with God without fear because His love is not based upon merit. We can freely repent to God knowing that His forgiveness extended before our sin occurred. God’s love is not a flagrant tolerance for sin but rather a beautiful love that wipes away sin and makes us clean. His holy love bleeds into our every day lives in how we love those in our workplaces, homes, and families.