The Love of God – Part 1
Introduction: All of you have probably seen the bumper sticker with the smiling yellow face that says “Smile God Loves You.” What exactly does that mean? In the minds of the vast majority of people it simply implies that God wants us to be happy and that He (or she as some people imagine) is some cosmic Santa Claus who is always ready to affirm us and reassure us in our struggles to heal our inner child. The Bible emphatically affirms that God is love (I John 4:8), but as Vos pointed out, “It is a well-known fact that all heresy begins with a partial truth. So it is in the present case. No one will deny that in the Scriptural disclosure of truth the divine love is set forth as a most fundamental principle, nor that the embodiment of this principle in our human will and action forms a prime ingredient of that subjective religion which the Word of God requires of us. But it is quite possible to overemphasize this one side of truth and duty as to bring into neglect other exceedingly important principles and demands of Christianity. The result will be that, while no positive error is taught; yet the equilibrium both in consciousness and life is disturbed and a condition created in which the power of resistance to the inroads of spiritual disease is greatly reduced. There can be little doubt that in this manner the one-sidedness and exclusiveness with which the love of God has been preached to the present generation is largely responsible for that universal weakening of the sense of sin, and the consequent decline of interest in the doctrine of atonement and justification, which even in orthodox and evangelical circles we all see and deplore.”[i]
John 3:16 is surely the best known verse in the entire Bible. In the words of Warfield, “The marvel. . .which the text brings before us is just that marvel above all other marvels in this marvelous world of ours—the marvel of God’s love for sinners. And this is the measure by which we are invited to measure the greatness of the love of God. It is not that it is so great that it is able to extend over the whole of a big world: it is so great that it is able to prevail over the Holy God’s hatred and abhorrence of sin. For herein is love, that God could love the world—the world that lies in the evil one: that God who is all-holy and just and good, could so love this world that He gave His only begotten Son for it,–that He might not judge it, but that it might be saved.”[ii] What is the substance of this remarkable text? My former professor of theology, S. Lewis Johnson, has said, “From an analysis of the text it is clear that there are three important clauses in it. One expresses an act, another the result of the act, and the final one the purpose of the act, both negatively and positively. If we keep these things in mind, the structure of the text will remain clear before us, and we shall be much better able to follow its thought.”[iii]
I. The Greatest Fact: God’s Love: John Flavel, one of the great Puritan writers fruits, made this observation: “The original spring or fountain of our best mercies, the love of God. The love of God is, benevolent, beneficent, or complacential. His benevolent love, is nothing else but his desire and purpose of saving, and doing us good; so his purpose and grace to Jacob is called love, Rom. ix 13. ‘Jacob have I loved’; but this being before Jacob was, could consist in nothing else but the gracious purpose of God towards him. His beneficent love, is his actual doing good to the persons beloved, or his bestowing the effects of his love upon us, according to that purpose. His complacential love, is nothing else but that delight and satisfaction he finds in beholding the fruits and workings of that grace in us, which he first intended for us, and then actually collated or bestowed on us.”[iv]
A. The Object of God’s Love: The World: The word “world” (KOSMOS) does not refer to every individual in the world, past, present, and future, without exception and without distinction (cf. Romans 9:13). The love God has for the world is a redemptive love. The objects of God’s love are actually redeemed, i.e., they are the elect. John Owen writes: “By the ‘world,’ we understand the elect of God only, though Warfield, not considered in this place as such, but under such a notion as, being true of them, serves for the farther exaltation of God’s love towards them, which is the end here designed; and this is, as they are poor, miserable, lost creatures in the world, of the world, scattered abroad in all places of the world, not tied to Jews or Greeks, but dispersed in any nation, kindred, and language under heaven.”[v] Warfield makes this astute observation: “It is not here a term of extension so much as a term of intensity. Its primary connotation is ethical, and the point of its employment is not to suggest that the world is so big that it takes a great deal of love to embrace it all, but that the world is so bad that it takes a great kind of love to love it at all, and much more to love it as God has loved it when He gave His son for it. The whole debate as to whether the love here celebrated distributes itself to each and every man that enters into the composition of the world, or terminates on the elect alone chosen out of the world, lies thus outside the immediate scope of the passage and does not supply any key to its interpretation. The passage was not intended to teach, and certainly does not teach, that God loves all men alike and visits each and every one alike with the same manifestations of His love: and as little was it intended to teach or does it teach that His love is confined to a few especially chosen individuals selected out of the world. What it is intended to do is to arouse in our hearts a wondering sense of the marvel and the mystery of the love of God for the sinful world—conceived, here, not quantitatively but qualitatively as, in its very distinguishing characteristic, sinful.”[vi]
B. The Measure of God’s Love: The Gift of the Son: The greatness of God’s love is emphasized in the adverb “so.” In the Greek text it is in the emphatic position. It could be translated “in this way God loved . . .” The little word “that” (HÕSTE) is also significant. It is used with the verb “gave” (EDÕKEN, aorist active indicative) to stress result. “The construction makes the result co-ordinate with the cause expressed in the main verb and relatively more important . . . The apostle then intended the meaning to be: ‘whence comes this act of incarnation? It originates in the love of God.’ More emphasis is on the incarnation itself than on the love, which caused it. The question therefore is not, ‘how does the love of God reveal itself?’ but, ‘what caused the incarnation?’”[vii] It is the Son that God gives. And how is He given? Paul tells us in Romans 3:25. God gave His Son to be propitiation–an atoning sacrifice.
C. The Purpose of God’s Love: Eternal Life: In Romans 8:32, Paul says, “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.” Believers have, as a gift of God, everlasting life in Christ. The word “have” in the expression “have eternal life” is in the present tense and stresses eternal life as a present possession. This is the positive side. The negative is stated with equal force. The tense of the word “perish” (APOLĒTAI) looks at the experience as something to be avoided. “Whoever believes in him experiences new birth (3:5,5), has eternal life (3:15,16), is saved (3:17); the alternative is to perish (cf. also 10:28), to lose one’s life (12:25), to be doomed to destruction (17:12, cognate with ‘to perish’). There is no third option.”[viii]
Conclusion: Two things should be pondered as we conclude our study of this text. In the first place, enormous emphasis is placed on the expression “whoever believes.” Saving faith (which is the only kind of faith that is commended in Scripture) is the kind of faith that relies on and trusts in Christ to save. Secondly, the love of God is not some sentimental notion. It is a love that is demonstrable. It is seen in the cross. Well did John Owen once say, “Christ’s offering Himself was the greatest expression of His inexpressible love. To fancy that there is any cleansing from sin but by the blood of Christ, is to overthrow the Gospel. We are never nearer Christ than when we find ourselves lost in a holy amazement at His unspeakable love.”[ix] We must be careful in how we affirm “God Loves You” when we seek to do evangelism. The love of God is not to be understood as simply a divine concern for our temporal well-being and creaturely comfort. It is only in light of Christ’s atoning work on the cross that the love of God can be understood. “It is in the light of this fundamental biblical doctrine of the atonement that every other allusion to the death of Christ in the New Testament has its validity. In relation to this ultimate theological truth all other ideas regarding the significance of the cross are nullified. Thus, if the cross is only an exhibition of God’s love, then it is a mere meaningless display that evokes no worthy response; if it is no more than an example of noble self-sacrifice, then it can give no comfort to the burdened soul; if it is nothing other than a grim revelation of God’s holy hatred of sin, then it must but deepen our despair. The death of Christ does indeed teach these things, but only if its central meaning as an atoning work in our stead is preserved. In the context of the truth that the cross is the power of God for salvation to everyone that believes, all other ideas of the cross derive their significance.”[x] Thus when we speak to people about the love of God, we should never separate the love of God from the cross. Nor should we leave people with the decidedly unbiblical notion that God’s love is generic and simply an abstract concept that has to do with how we feel emotionally. The fact that we are sinners demands that we understand the love of God in light of His justice. “The cross, then, is the place where God’s justice and love meet. God retains the integrity of His justice; God pours out the fullness of His love. In the cross, God shows Himself to be just and the One Who justifies sinners whose faith rests in His Son. The death of God’s own Son is the only adequate gauge of what God thinks of my sin; the death of God’s own Son is the only basis on which I may be forgiven that sin. The cross is the triumph of justice and love.”[xi]
[i] G. Vos, Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: Shorter Writings ed. R. B. Gaffin, Jr. (P & R, 1980), p. 426. Gerald Bray, along similar lines writes, “In the Scriptures the love of God comes to us above all as the promise and assurance of salvation. Because of its personal character, it is a mistake to equate God’s love with material blessings, just as it is a mistake to tie his holiness to consecrated objects or places. Indeed, we are warned in both Testaments that God actually punishes and disciplines those whom he loves, in order to bring them to maturity (Pr. 3:12; Heb. 12:6). The Doctrine of God (IVP, 1993), p. 221.
[ii] B. B. Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies (P & R, 1952), p. 515.
[iii] S. L. Johnson, The Gospel of John: Believers Bible Bulletin (Dallas, 1982), Lesson 14, p. 2.
[iv] The Works of John Flavel I (rpt. The Banner of Truth Trust, 1968), p. 63.
[v] The Works of John Owen X (rpt. The Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), p. 321. I highly recommend this volume of Owen’s works. To those of you who remain unconvinced of particular redemption, take time to go through this theological masterpiece.
[vi] Warfield, op. cit. p. 516.
[vii] R. Hanna, A Grammatical Aid to the Greek New Testament (Baker, 1983), p. 153.
[viii] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Eerdmans, 1991), p. 206.
[ix]The Works of John Owen I (rpt. Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), p. 301.
[x]H. D. McDonald, The Atonement of the Death of Christ (Baker, 1984), p.24.
[xi]cf. D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering & Evil (P & R, 1990), p. 183.
As a Christian physician, I have not only marveled at the spiritual ramifications of Christs death, but also the physical and physiological aspects. To present this, I have compiled a succinct overview of Jesus death from a physical and medical perspective that I hope both lay and medical people can appreciate and understand. Mark A. Marinella, M.D., F.A.C.P.
“The death of Jesus for our sins is the heart of the Christian faith. What does a physician have to say about that death? That’s the subject of this important new book, examining the medical evidence from the Biblical texts. Particularly intriguing are the details of the death of Jesus as found in the Old Testament, written hundreds of years before the actual event.” Jerry Newcombe, D. Min. (TV Producer, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Co-author of numerous books with D. James Kennedy, Ph.D., including Christs Passion: The Power and the Promise)
“It takes a physician to pronounce a man dead. It takes a student to research how and why a man dies. Mark is both! As a physician of medicine and a student of the Bible, Mark has not only discovered that a man died, he has also learned why He died. The man Jesus!
The reason we need a Savior!” David K. Smith, d.d. (Christian & Missionary Alliance Board and Senior Pastor, Fairhaven Church, Dayton, Ohio)
“In this complete treatment of the crucifixion and the suffering associated with this kind of punishment, Dr. Marinella reminds us of mans inhumanity to man and Gods great love for us to accept this form of death to provide such a great salvation.” Jonathan M. Saxe, M.D., (F.A.C.S., Professor of Surgery, Director of Trauma Research, Wright State University, Candidate Master of Arts in Religious Studies, Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia)
Dr. Marinellas bedside manner displays his depth of scientific understanding, but also his compassion. His study of the Cross will deepen your faith. Dennis M. Sullivan, M.D., M.A. (Ethics) Professor of Biology, Director, Center for Bioethics, Cedarville University, Cedarville, Ohio