There is a song which states that there is nothing which can make God love you more and nothing which would make him love you less. This is the generally accepted wisdom in Christian circles. God is love and he loves everyone equally etc. However, for some time I have questioned this idea. Last night in church, while singing a hymn, an idea came to me which might explain biblically and theologically what I feel intuitively. This may make an appropriate addition to John Yates’ [then] recent post about whether God hates some people.
What am contending here is that the love of God is not a static object or even a static property of God which is fixed and therefore cannot grow or diminish. In order to understand the love of God we need to begin with the trinitarian communion prior to creation. God is love (1 John 4:16). God exists in a communion of self-giving love. The Father loves the Son (John 3:35; 5:20; etc) and he has always loved the Son (John 17:24). The Father eternally gives the Son glory (John 17:24). The Son loves the Father and gives himself to the Father in obedience (John 14:31). This reciprocal self-giving in love is what characterises the communion of the Godhead. This love between Father and Son is given through the Spirit continually. Without the communion of love between the Father and the Son in the Spirit, God would not be God. We can, therefore, say that the life of God is found in this reciprocal self-giving love between Father and Son in the Spirit.
It is God’s desire that we share his life with him. “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Eternal life is not a matter of living forever as such, but rather eternal life is about sharing in the relationship between the Father and the Son (John 17:3). This is made possible because of the work of the Son, and this life begins as soon as a person believes in Christ (John 5:24). We are taken into the life of God by the Holy Spirit who enables us to call out ‘Abba Father’ (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). Yet the life of God is a life of self-giving love between the Father and the Son in the Spirit.
Therefore, if we are to share in the life of God we must also share in that reciprocal self-giving love. That is why the apostle John wrote in his first epistle: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). The sharing of the love of God within the perichoretic (dancing around) fellowship of love in which Father, Son and Spirit exist will mean that love towards others will be an outworking of that fellowship. Therefore a person who demonstrates no love for others must not be participating in the love relationship between Father and Son. In other words, such a person does not know God.
The dynamic nature of the love of God
With this background to the love of God, let us go on to look at a few passages which will help us develop the understanding of the dynamic quality of the love of God. I will start with the quintessential verse which is quoted regarding the love of God, John 3:16.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”
God loves the world so much that he sent his Son into the world in order to save it and to give people life. The goal of existence is to share life with God. This must be to share in his love because God is love and therefore exists as a communion of love. Out of the Father’s love for the Son in the Spirit flowed God’s creation of the world and his love for humanity. His love for humanity is an overflow of his love for his Son, and he offered his Son for the world so that we would turn to him and be completely engulfed by his love.
Yet John does not stop in his statement about the love of God, but goes on to say that even though the light which brings the love of God into the world is present, human beings reject that light because they prefer to hide in the darkness lest their evil deeds be exposed (as if somehow those evil deeds were not already open before him who sees all things – Heb 4:13). God loves the wicked and the sinner, but he is unable to share his life with them, that is, he cannot share his fellowship of love with them. God’s love consists in his communion of love between Father and Son in the Spirit. If God were able to share his life with sinners then they would enjoy more of God’s love than they do now.
Here is another passage often cited to show that God loves everyone equally.
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! … 15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. …
God demonstrates his love for us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Here is clear proof that God loves even sinners. As sinners we were enemies of God and children of wrath, yet God still acted towards us in love. But Romans chapter 5 is punctuated by the phrase ‘how much more’. God loved us as sinners, how much more can he love us now that we are people who have been justified and reconciled and cleansed by the blood of Christ. The love of God is not the same for those who have been saved by the blood of Christ as it is for sinners who have continued to reject him despite the demonstration of the love of God in the cross. Our relationship with God, which surely consists in experiencing his love for us, is much more than when we were far from God. It is incorrect to assume that because God loves sinners, he does not love saints more.
1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him. 16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?
The way in which we know that we are experiencing the life of God is because we live in love. Those who do not love are not experiencing the life of God, which is itself a life of pure self-giving love. We know that sinners do not have this self-giving love. He who does not love does not know God because God is love. Therefore, saints must experience more of the love of God than sinners do. The love of God is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. This is how we can love. Surely if God the Father loves the Son in the Spirit and the Son reciprocates that love in the Spirit, then having the love of God in our hearts through the Spirit is the equivalent of sharing the love of God between Father and Son. This is a fact for the children of God, but it not a fact for those who have not come to know the Father in Jesus Christ. Christians experience a greater depth of the love of God than do sinners.
Love of God increases towards us when we are obedient
Jesus said in John 14:21 “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” 22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” 23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
John 15:10 “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”
If we obey his commands he and the Father come to make their home with us. We experience more of the presence and love of God when we are obedient to the commands of Jesus. Jesus said that the love of God is in him because he obeys the Father. If we obey Jesus we will also experience his love for us. This is something of far greater depth than can ever be experienced by sinners who do not obey God. Remaining or living or abiding in the love of Jesus is dependent on obeying his commands. This implies that obedience is required to experience the fullness of the love of Jesus. Jesus is fully obedient to the Father in all things and therefore he experiences the fullness of the Father’s love at all times. We cannot experience the fullness of the love of God by being rebellious and disobedient. That we will still be loved by God is not in doubt. But the fullness of that love cannot be experienced by those who shy away and want to stay in sin.
Another passage which is commonly quoted in regard to the love of God is Rom 8:31-39.
Rom 8:31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all– how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died– more than that, who was raised to life– is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is a well-known and oft quoted passage which tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of God. There are several things to be said here which are pertinent to this discussion. That which cannot separate us from the love of God is persecution and evil powers. These do not have the power to remove from us the life and love of God which has been won for us by the blood of Christ (v 34). Unlike previous passages which I have discussed, in which sin does keep us from experiencing the fullness love of God, persecution and evil powers cannot. Secondly, the love of God is found in Christ Jesus (v 39). The love of God towards humanity is an overflow of the love of the Father for his beloved Son. This is so for sinners who are under wrath as much as it is so for believers. However, this passage is not directed towards sinners under wrath, but to believers who have been predestined, called, justified, and are being conformed to the likeness of the Son (v 28-29).
The reason that nothing can separate believers from the love of God in Christ is that these are bought by the blood of Christ. God will surely give us all things because he has loved us so much as to save us through the sacrifice of his beloved Son. We cannot disconnect the love of God for believers from this reality. Who can bring a charge against God’s elect? Well, absolutely no one because they have been redeemed by Christ. The person of Jesus Christ is always interceding for them in heaven, that is to say he is standing in the gap between God and our sin. His intercession means that God is able to pour out his love on his children fully. There is no way that we can be separated from that love, because that love is in Christ and we are also to be found in Christ.
There are two things which we cannot be separated from: the love of Christ, and the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is not repetition, but rather an expression of the dynamic nature of the love which flows back and forth between the Father and the Son. We can experience this dynamic because we have been taken into the life of God by the Spirit as a result of the work of Christ. When we are experiencing the life of God we can experience the flow of love back and forth in the Spirit. The love of Christ goes forth to the Father in the Spirit engulfing the children of God as it goes. Then the Father returns that love in the Spirit. The love of God is only understood in Christ because it is an expression of the love of the Father for the Son.
Paul was able to understand these things because he had laid down his own life in obedience to the call of God in Christ. He says “As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (v 36-37). As he gave up his right to physical life he experienced more and more the assurance that the love of God cannot be taken away. This dynamic of love between Father and Son is something which Christians can experience more and more as they willingly give up their own rights and embrace the call of God to obedience and love for other human beings regardless of the cost.
While it is true that God loves all human beings, because each one is made in his image and created in Christ, it is not true that unredeemed sinners can experience the fullness of the love of God. The experience of the full love of God can only be experienced by sharing in the life of God, that is, in the perichoretic fellowship of God. In the fellowship of the Spirit the Father and the Son share their love for one another. It is in this love relationship that the fullness of the love of God can be experienced. The way in which we are able to share in this relationship is being taken in by the Spirit because of the work of Christ. But even Christian people do not always experience the fullness of the love of God.
Our fellowship with the Father and the Son is interrupted by sin. 1 John 1:6 “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.” A lack of obedience to the will of God will cause believers to miss out on the fullness of God’s love. Rather than continuing with the rhetoric which insists that God cannot love us more or less than he does now, we must understand that we can experience the love of God in greater depth. Perhaps the reason that Christians often doubt the love of God is related to our failure to abhor sin in our lives.
Jesus said: “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life– only to take it up again”(John 10:17). If it is so for Jesus then it is so for those who are united to Christ by faith. The Father loves the Son fully because the Son is totally obedient without reserve. If believers want to experience the love of God fully, then we must repent of our sin and our lax behaviour and give our lives to him in complete surrender. When obedience to God is our greatest desire then we will experience the fullness of the love of God, just as Jesus experiences the fullness of that love.
 ‘So You Would Come’ (Hillsong)
Before the world began
You were on His mind
And every tear you cry
Is precious in His eyes
Because of His great love
He gave His only Son
Everything was done
So you would come
Nothing you can do
Could make Him love you more
And nothing that you’ve done
Could make Him close the door
Because of His great love
He gave His only Son
Everything was done
So you would come
Come to the Father
Though your gift is small
Broken hearts, broken lives
He will take them all
The power of the Word
The power of His blood
Everything was done
So you would come
 17th June 2012