We are now entering into the second half of our series (part 4 of 6) and as we progress, the more we realize how blessed we are to be loved by our Lord Jesus Christ.
“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
God’s love is actually not a fairly simple, straight-forward and direct subject. We have found that it has some profound mystery and it has some depth to it that taxes our greatest intellectual and even our greatest spiritual capacities.
To say to people that God loves the world is simple, but to accept that statement as fact is not so simple. There are some probing, disturbing and often unanswered questions that plague the minds of anybody who thinks deeply about the idea that God loves the world.
For example, if God is love and loves the world, why is the world such a place of tragedy where so many people suffer so severely? If God is love and loves the world, why does He allow disease and death and why does He allow eternal hell? If God loves the world, why does He let people perish and why is He their punisher? If God loves the world then why didn’t He devise a plan to save the world? If God is a loving Father, a loving Father of all humanity who cares so deeply, why doesn’t He act like a human father would act who would never allow His children to make a choice that could destroy them if he could overrule it or prevent it?
Now these kinds of questions are deep questions and when people struggle for an answer it very often leads them to some seriously wrong conclusions. These very questions have driven people to universalism, that is the idea that in the end everybody will be saved and that will solve the problem.
These questions have led some other people to think that the believers will go to heaven and the unbelievers will just go out of existence and there will be no conscious punishment at all.
These kinds of questions have also driven people to hyper Calvinism, basically saying God loves His elect and hates everybody else, feels no compassion for any other than those who are His by virtue of a divine decree and is content to send people to hell as He is content to send some to heaven. And others have solved this problem by being driven into Arminianism. Arminianism is the theological perspective that basically says man is sovereign and God can’t really determine what he’s going to do, until they made a choice. He just leaves it up to man and God certainly wishes everybody would get saved, but everybody won’t. So God’s disappointed as anybody else would be who would like to see that happen.
But none of these views are biblical responses to this very, very important issue of God loving the world. We have to turn to the Bible to learn the truth and we can understand the problem clearly, we can understand what is at stake here, we can’t fully comprehend all of its implications but at least we can understand the problem if we can’t fully grasp the solution.
For a better understanding, we divided God’s love into three key propositions.
A SUMMARY OF WHAT WE LEARNED SO FAR …
1. God’s love to the world is unlimited in extent. It extends to all men and manifests itself in common grace, compassion, warnings and the gospel invitation. The sun shines on both the believer and the unbeliever. Both can enjoy His creation and happiness.
2. God’s love is limited in degree. He does not love the world the way He loves His own. The love that God has to the world is bounded by time and space and it is temporary. It turns to hate for those who reject Him and ultimately He will cast those people into eternal judgment. In John 13:1 it says, “Having loved those who were in the world who are His own, He loved them unto perfection.”
God’s love for His own, which is unique for the elect, for those who repent and believe, is merciful, gracious, forgiving, restoring, exalting, and lavish. It is an everlasting love that holds nothing back, that pours out every good gift forever. It is an inseparable, unbreakable love that is impervious to all attacks. It is a kind, sanctifying, cleansing, purifying, nourishing, cherishing love that makes its object holy. It is a love that disciplines, trains, chastens and leads toward godliness. It is a love that surpasses all human knowledge and reason and experience and can be known only to those who experience it because they are the beloved of God. It is that limitless love that God has for those who pursue righteousness and the obedience of faith.
NOW LET’S MOVE ON TO THE THIRD PROPORTION
We need an answer for the difficult question: Why does God have a different love for some than for others, all bound up in His own purpose, His own will, His own desire, His own decree?
And that leads us to the third proposition – God’s love to the world is qualified by the demands of His glory. That is to say that however God loves, He will love in a manner that is absolutely consistent with who He is with His glory.
Because God loves the world does not mean that He is obligated to be an unqualified lover of everybody equally. He is not a prisoner of His own love nor is He a prisoner of man’s desire for that love or of man’s reasoning about that love. God does not have to love everyone the same no matter what, no matter who just because people expect it or men think it’s fair or equitable. He loves the world in one sense, He loves His own in a far-greater way.
God’s loves is not separated from His other attributes. It does not mean that His love stands in isolation of His holiness, wrath, righteousness, judgment, and every other attribute. Each of them acts not independently but in perfect harmony with all the others. If God then is to glorify Himself, He must put all of His attributes on display. Whatever His mercy and grace and kindness and goodness and tender-heartedness achieved cannot obliterate what will be made manifest by His hatred, His anger, His wrath, His vengeance and His justice. All of God’s attributes have a place in the demonstration that He carries out through the purposes of creation.
God loves in a manner that is consistent with His full glory. God’s saving purpose is tied to God’s glory, not man’s. It is tied to God’s desires, not man’s and God’s will, not man’s.
If we understand this one great surpassing truth about God, it’s going to answer all difficult questions about God’s love and the thing we experience in our daily lives and see happening around us in this world. Whatever puts His glory on display and His glory is the sum of all of His attributes. God’s glory is the issue.
In Psalm 31 the psalmist is talking about God’s power and salvation and deliverance. Verse 1, “In Thee, O Lord, I’ve taken refuge. Let me never be ashamed. In Thy righteousness deliver me. Incline Thy ear to me. Rescue me quickly. Be Thou to me a rock of strength, the stronghold to save me for Thou art my rock and my fortress.”
And then he says in verse 3, “For Thy namesake Thou wilt lead me and guide me.” Whatever You do in my life, God, is not so much for me as it is for You. It is for the sake of manifesting Your glory in order that people might see that You are a God in whom we can take refuge. You are a God who hears and You are strong. You are a Savior. God, to put Yourself on display.
That is the prayer of a knowing saint. That is the reason for everything that God might display His glory before the angels and all creation. So whatever God does is not going to be because the majority of evangelicals have voted Him to do it. And whenever you see “for Thy name’s sake” the concept of God’s name is just an embodiment of all that He is. When confronting Moses He said, “My name is I am that I am.” In other words, My name is who I am.
So God is going to display who He is in what He does. He is a God of salvation and He is a God of judgment. He is a God of grace and He is a God of vengeance. He is a God of mercy and He is a God of justice. And He will display all of that because that puts His name in a place to be respected, revered, honored and worshiped.
In Psalm 79:9 the psalmist is crying out to God because he fears the destruction of Jerusalem. He says, “Help us, O God of our salvation,” and then this, “for the glory of Thy name and deliver us and forgive our sins for Thy name’s sake.”
We cannot go to God and say, ” Lord, now are trying to figure out how You ought to treat this world and we think it wouldn’t be fair for You to let some people go to hell because that’s not not loving. We suggest to You a view called universalism, or annihilationism, or maybe Arminianism and just let man be completely responsible for whether he’s saved or lost and that way he can bear the whole brunt of the deal and it doesn’t reflect on You at all.”
But what we want and what we desire is not the issue. We are the pot and He is the potter, we are the created and He is the creator. We are the maid and He is the maker. He is in charge of everything and everything that He does will be a consistent reflection of who He is.
In Daniel chapter 9 Daniel is praying one of the model prayers of Scripture. He is anticipating that God is going to deliver His captive people out of Babylon back to their land because God promised that He would after 70 years. In verse 4 he calls Him the great and awesome God who keeps His covenant in loving kindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments. And then he launches in to this confession, “We have sinned,” verse 5, “committed iniquity, acted wickedly, rebelled, turned aside from Your commandments, ordinances.” And he keeps talking like that all the way down, verse 11, “All Israel has transgressed Thy law, turned aside, not obeying Thy voice.” So the curse has been poured out on them, along with the oath which was written in the law of Moses.
They have been living in idolatry prior to that time so the punishment of God was a just punishment. It magnifies the holiness of God when He has a holy reaction against idolatry. Daniel agreed that what God did to these people they deserved and it exalted God that He judged this iniquitous and wicked people with a severe judgment because it tells them how holy He is.
But God has promised that He was going to restore His people to the land and the prophet said, “God, glorify Yourself now with Your mercy.” And so he prays for the Lord to bring the people back.
Go down to verse 17, “So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Thy servant and to his supplications,” and here it is, “for Thy sake, O Lord, let Thy face shine on Thy desolate sanctuary.” That is on Jerusalem and on the mount where the temple was. “O my God, incline Thy ear and hear, open Thine eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Thy name for we are not presenting our supplication before Thee on account of any merits of our own but on account of Thy great compassion. O Lord, hear. O Lord, forgive. O Lord, listen and take action for Thine own sake, O my God.”
In Isaiah 49:3 God said, “You are My servant Israel, in whom I will show My glory.” He showed His glory in judgment and He showed it in mercy and in grace. You cannot isolate God to just one attribute. And Daniel is saying, “God, do this for Your own sake, do it to glorify Yourself.”
Look at Isaiah 48:9, “For the sake of My name I delay My wrath.” So God also shows His glory in His patience … in delaying wrath. And He says, “For My praise I restrain it for you in order not to cut you off.”
Verse 11, “For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act.” That is the key. Whatever God does He does for His own glory. “… I cannot let My name be profaned and My glory I will not give to anyone else.” We could sum it up by saying God has an unswerving commitment to act for His own glory.
Now look at Jeremiah 14 verse 7, “Although our iniquities testify against us, O Lord, act for Thy namesake.” The prophets really understood that God was compelled to do whatever revealed His glory.
Later in the chapter, verse 20, “We know our wickedness, O Lord, the iniquity of our fathers for we have sinned against Thee, do not despise us.” Why? “For Thine own namesake. Do not disgrace the throne of Thy glory. Remember and do not annul Thy covenant with us.”
So if God chooses to save some and not others, that is to the glory of God because God does what is consistent with His glory.
In Romans 1 verse 5 Paul says that the grace of God that called him to be an Apostle was for His namesake. Again, salvation is for God’s glory. Third John 7, “They went out for the sake of the name. They preached the gospel for the sake of the name for the glory of God.” Vengeance is for God’s glory. Patience is for God’s glory. Faithfulness is for God’s glory. Every aspect of God’s nature puts His glory on display. And you cannot isolate one attribute of God and let it erase all the rest.
So for the purposes of His eternal glory, God does what He does whether it is to save sinners or damn them. While God loves the world and is not willing that any should perish, while God finds no pleasure in the death of the wicked and feels compassion for all who die in their sins, He will ultimate do what His glory demands He would.
A human judge may have a sincere compassion for a guilty criminal and yet be forced to have him executed to uphold the standard of justice. You see, justice does not necessarily eliminate compassion.
Now this should be obvious to any thinking person who looks at Scripture. It is obvious that God seeks His own glory and everything He does is for His glory. His glory is the manifestation of the fullness of who He is, therefore He is going to get glory in wrath as well as in grace.
But unfortunately there are some people like the Arminians who do not want to accept that. And so this is the scenario that they will come up with. God loves everybody so much God wants everybody saved. And God is calling everybody to be saved but man need to make that choice because he loves his sin. So man’s will is greater that God’s glory.
And they say also the difficulty is that Satan is making a lifelong effort to keep the person from believing. So the combination of their own fallen flesh and sin and the efforts of Satan are just more clever and more powerful than God.
Now such a perspective saves the sincerity and the love of God at the expense of the power and the sovereignty of God. So He is really not in charge. That diminishes God’s glory.
On the other hand, some would say, “No, God has the power and the sovereignty. He just hates sinners so He does not care about them.” That Is a hyper-Calvinist perspective. But what they actually do is to save the sovereignty and the power of God at the expense of the love and the compassion of God. You cannot do that either because the Bible is replete with evidence that God loves and compassion. How else do you explain the tears of Jesus, Luke 19:41, when He wept over Jerusalem? The tears of God that were cried through the eyes of Jeremiah? The tears of Paul? God aches because He cares about sinners. But that does not mean that He saves everyone because pity and love and compassion are overridden by weightier matters in God’s eternal purpose. The all-wise mind of God can look at the multiplicity of issues in His vast Kingdom and He has good reasons and motives to do every single thing He does, actions for which we have not the least conception.
But we do know this. His ultimate goal is not to please the evangelical majority. His ultimate goal is not the greatest aggregate of well being among His creatures, like the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movement would like it to be. His ultimate goal is His glory. Whatever He does in electing, whatever He does in rejecting is the most for His glory beyond anything else and apart from every other consideration. God’s purpose is not to make the most sinners in the universe happy. His purpose is to glorify Himself. And God may see in His omniscience divinely rational ground for every single thing Things we cannot see. And obviously He is glorified when vessels are fitted for wrath just as when vessels are prepared for glory.
A COMPARING EXAMPLE …
A king has two murderers before him on trial, both guilty. Murderer A has committed a crime equal to murderer B, they are culpability is exactly the same. However, murderer A is a physician, a medical practitioner. The best in the land. Murderer B has absolutely no knowledge of the craft. The king finds both A and B equally guilty yet he reprieves A. Why? Because in his kingdom there is a plague and that plague is destroying lives and he knows that the skill of this physician can save lives. So A is reprieved simply because of his skill to help the suffering. B is hanged for murder. A was spared because there was a purpose which the king knew he could fulfill. Yet, many of the land’s citizens would think that the king was unfair, because they do not have all of the facts his decision was based on.
So it is with God. We all should be damned but God has designed for some of us to fulfill a redemptive purpose. And purely on that basis alone we are redeemed, though as guilty as those who perish. So that it’s all of grace and for divine and holy purposes which are unknown to us, apart from the unfolding of those in the experience of our lives and some day perhaps in retrospect from glory.
Let us just worship God for His glory. And then when we think about our own salvation, what does that elicit? Gratitude, overwhelming gratitude … “Why, O God, why out of all … why was I in the A group? Why?” Not because I am who I am!
God’s glory demands the true and complete satisfaction of all His wondrous attributes. And when we look at our own lives and we see that we have been saved and we have been forgiven and we have been given eternal life and been imputed the righteousness of Christ and we’re on our way to eternal glory, purely at the discretion of God who prompted our hearts, it is overwhelming cause for praise and worship and adoration. It should fill us with thanksgiving that should come out with every every breath.
You say, “What about the people on the other side?” Well the Bible addresses them and all that can be said is this, to those who don’t know Christ the issue is always their unbelief. You cannot look around to see if your name is on a list of the chosen. What you need to do is repent and believe because that’s what the Bible tells you to do. In fact, the Bible says God has commanded all men everywhere to repent. And Jesus said, “Him that comes to Me I will not turn away.” And the book of Revelation ends with this invitation, “Whosoever will, let him come.” It’s not an issue of trying to find out if you belong to the ones that God has chosen to display His grace, it’s an issue of whether you’re willing to turn from your sin. In fact, the prophet said, “Why will you die? Repent, turn, turn, why will you die?” As if to say it doesn’t have to happen.
These inscrutable truths about the glory of God are beyond us. But one thing is not beyond us. If you confess your sins and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved and on your way to heaven and numbered among the elect. And you forever and ever and ever will be an agent through whom God will display the glory of His grace and His love and His mercy and His forgiveness and His kindness. And not one through whom He will display forever His justice and His judgment.
In part 5 of the series, we are going to look at the one passage that pulls all of this together in one text, Romans 9.