Welcome to part 3 of our 6 part series with the title “UNDERSTANDING THE LOVE OF GOD.”
A QUICK RECAP OF WHAT WE LEARNED IN PART 1 AND 2
GOD’S UNIVERSAL LOVE IS UNLIMITED IN EXTENT …
“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” as we have been learning in this series. Romans 5:8 says that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Jesus came into the world not to be ministered unto but to minister and give His life a ransom for many.
During parts 1 we looked at how God loved the world. The love of God to the world is manifest in His common grace, as theologians call it, or His general goodness. Skies are blue and the grass is green and the flowers grow in the garden of even the unregenerate people.
And then God manifests His way to the whole world in terms of His compassion. Even to the point where Jesus wept as He looked at the plight of people. We saw the compassion of God also in the healing ministry of Jesus as He touched them in the time of their great need.
God’s love to the whole world is also seen in warnings. All through the Bible God warns about sin and its effect and its consequences and eternal judgment.
Furthermore, we see God’s unlimited love in the gospel as it is to be spread to the whole world and people are to be told that if they will come to Christ their sins can be forgiven and they can have the hope of eternal life in heaven forever.
GOD’S LOVE IS LIMITED IN DEGREE …
While He loves the whole world He does not love them to the degree that He loves His own. He had for them a love that is beyond the love that He has for the world. In fact, the love God has for the world is temporal. It exists only in this life. And eventually, for those who refuse Jesus Christ, that love turns to hate, which results in eternal judgment. Men refuse the gift that God offers, therefore God’s love turns to hate and judgment.
But to those who receive God’s love, to those who come to Christ and accept Him as Lord and Savior, believing in His death and resurrection and committing their lives to obedience to His will, God brings a love that is beyond the love that He has for an unregenerate mankind.
No one has expressed that better than the Apostle John who said, “Having loved His own who were in the world,” John 13:1, “He loved them eistelos,” and that phrase can mean He loves them completely, to the end, to the limit, to the max, to the last. It can mean eternal. The Lord loves His own in a way that is going to be demonstrated throughout all eternity.
When John sums it up he does it in these simple words, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us?” And it is that love that causes us to be called His children. He set that love upon us in eternity past before the world began just as He did the nation of Israel, the predetermined sovereign uninfluenced desire and will to love us while we were not yet born and knowing that when we were born we would be unlovable sinners. By God’s own choice we are His beloved, according to Romans 1:7 and Romans 11:28. We have been designated as the beloved of God by His own eternal choice.
START OF PART 3 –
GOD’S LOVE FOR HIS OWN (LOVE LIMITED IN DEGREE – CONTINUED)
First John 4:9, “By this the love of God was manifested in us that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” Verse 10, “In this is love.” There is love manifest in the gift of Christ, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His son to be the covering for our sins.
Down in verse 16 John says, “We have come to know and believe the love which God has for us, God is love and the one who abides in love abides in God and God abides in Him.” And then verse 19, “We love because He first loved us.” Let’s get the sequence. God determined to love us before the world began. God loved us when we were yet in sin. God loved us when we were not lovable. And it was that predetermination to love us in spite of what we were, that is the essence of God’s great redeeming love.
It is demonstrated, first of all, that He was willing to die for us and then spend the rest of eternity pouring out expressions of that love upon us.
It is a mystery. How can we ever expect to understand why He would choose to love us in such a way? Why doesn’t He express the maximal levels of His love for the holy angels who never fell and who faithfully throughout all of time have been loyal to love the God who made them? He damned the angels who fell with no hope of redemption, why would He redeem man? We don’t know the answer to that except that He predetermined to love us and by loving us to draw us to Himself. We don’t know why, maybe in eternity we’ll never know why. We’re no different than anybody else, as we saw in Ezekiel chapter 16, where God said to Israel, “You are worse than Samaria, you are worse than Sodom, Samaria and Sodom perish in judgment and Israel, I will forgive you, because I’ve chosen to love you.” And because of that He sent His Son into the world to die for us that we might become His children. God manifesting His love toward those who would come to faith in His son.
Luke chapter 15, includes the parable of the prodigal son. It really is the parable of the forgiving father. The father is God, the son is the irreligious worldly sinner. Every sinner has in a created sense God as a Father. And every sinner has privileges because he is created in the image of God. This young man pictures the sinner who squanders those privileges in a dissolute irreligious life. He took all of the good things that God had given him by virtue of being created in God’s image and he went out and wasted them in loose living, immorality and drunkenness and all that you could conjecture. He comes to a point in the midst of his debauchery and he realizes he has hit bottom. And so he decides to come back to God. But he knows where he is. He understands his iniquity. He understands his wickedness. He wants to go back and make things right with his father, with God, and he heads back.
In verse 20 God’s love is demonstrated toward a penitent sinner. His father felt compassion for him and ran and embraced him and kissed him over and over. The amazing thing about this love is that it’s given toward one who is utterly undeserving and yet the father sees him, feels compassion for him and runs to meet him. This father is treating the son as if there were no past and his sin is removed as far as the east is from the west and it is forgotten.
And the son is so shocked and said to his father he is no longer worthy to be called his sin. Coming to God is a humbling experience. And the first thing that humbles you when you come to God is the awareness of your sin. He knew what was available to him from the father. He went back, he confessed his sin against heaven and in the sight of his father. He is a true penitent. He is turning from his sin and his wasted life and he comes to God and is humbled, first of all, by his sin.
But then secondly and perhaps more profoundly, he is humbled by God’s grace. But such is the love of God toward a penitent sinner.
The father just says to the slaves, “Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet and bring the fattened calf, kill it and let us eat and be merry.” There’s not even a regard for the queries of the young man about whether he’s worthy or not, he just says start the party. “This son of mine was dead, has come to life again, was lost, has been found, and they began to be merry.”
In Romans 8:35 it is asked, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul asks the rhetorical question, “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? Just as it is written, For thy sake we are being put to death all day long, we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” That is taken from Psalm 44. Paul was always considered as being a sheep to be slaughtered by somebody who wanted him dead. That was his pattern of life.
Verse 37, “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” Verse 38, “And so I’m convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, or things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The second thing we therefore learn about God’s love toward His own is that it is unbreakable, inseparable, unconquerable and ever-lasting.
He loves the world with a temporal love. But His own who believe in Jesus Christ and have come to Him in repentant faith, He loves them with an everlasting love that cannot ever be broken.
Ephesians chapter 2 provides another passage that defines the character of this love. Verse 4, “His great love with which He loved us.” And then Paul goes on to define this love. “He loved us so much that even when we were dead in our transgressions, He made us alive together with Christ by grace you have been saved.”
He loved us in our transgression. Out of that love He sovereignly made us alive together with Christ. We died with Christ, we rose to walk in newness of life so that He literally dealt with our sins and gave us new life through grace.
KINDNESS – OUR HEAVENLY STAY …
Verse 6, “He then raised us up with Him.” We came out of the grave with Christ. “We are now seated with Him in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus.” This means that our real home is in heaven, that our real life is in spiritual dimension that is beyond this world. That’s where our life is.
And why did He do this? Verse 7 gives you the reason. “In order for the purpose that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace.” So how is He going to show the surpassing riches of His grace toward us? “In kindness.” That means God saved us when we were dead in our sins so that He might be able forever to show us His kindness.
We don’t deserve His kindness and that’s why He gets so much glory from showing it to us. Forever and ever we will thank Him for His kindness, because we know we never deserved it.
So what is heaven?” Heaven is where God will show us kindness out of the surpassing riches of His grace forever. It is a love that gives life and promises eternal glory. It is a love that pledges eternal kindness.
Now remember this, God has an infinite mind and an infinite number of ways in which He can demonstrate His kindness. And eternally we will just have exploding on us one experience of God’s unsurpassed kindness after another.
Ephesians chapter 5 looks at the purifying aspect. It says in verse 25, “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” Why? “In order that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and blameless.” He wants us to experience eternal holiness by separating the church from sin.
God loves us enough to make us exactly like Him. That’s why John says we will be like Him when we see Him as He is. The transformation is incredible – from being dead in trespasses and sins to being alive in holiness and perfection. And all of it due to nothing of our but only by God’s free grace.
John said, “What great love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called the children of God.” It is a love that lavishes, it is a love that is unbreakable, it is a love that will demonstrate itself in eternal kindness, it is a love that will demonstrate itself in eternal holiness.
Look at Hebrews chapter 12. God always wants the best for His children and He knows that the path to the best is always the path of obedience.
If you as a parent don not discipline your child you’re really programming that child for the worse. Love learns to discipline because discipline becomes then protection and the guarantee of blessing.
Chapter 12 verse 6, “For those whom the Lord loves He chastens,” He disciplines. “And He scourges every son whom He receives.” It is for discipline that you endure. God deals with you as with sons. “For what son is there whom his father doesn’t discipline? If you are without discipline of which all have become partakers, then you’re illegitimate children and not sons.” If you are not being disciplined by God, you do not belong to Him.
“We have furthermore,” verse 9, “earthly fathers to discipline us, we respected them. Shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits and live? Our earthly fathers disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them. But He disciplines us for our good that we may share His holiness.” Not in eternity, but in time. “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful but sorrowful, yet to those who have been trained by it, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
It is a love that corrects, rebukes, reproves and chastens and trains. This is the saving, justifying, sanctifying, glorifying love that God has for His own who believes in Him.
GOD DWELLING IN THE HEART OF THE FAITHFUL …
In Ephesians 3:17 to 19 Paul is praying here for the Ephesians and of course, for all believers. He is praying in verse 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. When Christ settles down and is at home in your heart, or has unrestricted access to every area of your life, when Christ is in control. Paul says you are being rooted and grounded in love.
When every area of your life is yielded to Him and He has that unrestricted access to every part of your life, you will be solidly fixed in the love of God. You will experience that love. That is what Paul meant in Romans 5:5 when he said, “The love of Christ is shed abroad in your hearts.” That’s what Jude meant in Jude 21 when he said, “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” What did he mean? Stay in the position of devotion, dedication and obedience in which you will rooted and grounded in love. It doesn’t mean keep yourself saved, it means keep yourself obedient and devoted to Christ so that you’re feeling the full benefits of God’s great love.
And when you do that, verse 18 says, you will be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and you will be able to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge. The point is the love that we are talking about here is unknowable by human reason. The human mind and the unregenerate can not know it.
But the love of God shed abroad in our hearts through Jesus Christ by faith in Him.
How broad is God’s love? It’s to all who believe. How long is His love? It’s from eternity past to eternity future. How high is His love? High enough to enthrone us in the heaven of heavens. How deep is His love? Deep enough to reach to the deepest pit of sin and rescue us.
This is God’s love that leads to verse 20 which says, “Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”
And my prayer for you, is in 2 Thessalonians 3:5, “May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.”