It has been an extremely busy few weeks for me and I’ve been unable to post blogs as regularly as I would like. In addition to helping raise our 1-year old while also remodeling a house my wife and I recently bought, the Lord has placed me in an interim Youth Director position at my local church. Between preparing for that and a Bible study that I’ve been fortunate to lead, much of my Bible preparation time goes toward that, rather than here. I hope that once we get moved this month I can return to a more regular posting schedule. I apologize to those of you who are regular readers, but I pray that you bear with me during this transition. Having said that, I do have a backlog of posts prepared that I hope to begin publishing in the next few days, beginning with this one.
“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8
It’s likely that those of you reading this are familiar with the passage above. If not with the Scripture passage from the Apostle John, then certainly with the statement “God is love”. Perhaps second only to John 3:16, this statement has been frequently quoted, oft out of its original context in the passage and has been declared the final word the Bible has to offer about who God is. Is the love of God all the Bible says about the character of God? Is that all that the unbelieving world needs to hear? As Christians, is God’s love our primary focus? Similar questions like these are what J.I Packer tackles in a chapter from his book Knowing God, entitled “The Love of God”, which we discussed in detail in Lady Gaga, Rob Bell and Misunderstanding the Love of God. As we saw, Packer concludes that “God is love” is not the final word that the Bible offers concerning who God is, but that for believers it should be our primary focus. As believers we should rejoice in the love of God, resulting in worship, praise, and adoration to the glory of God, for God is love.
Here is where I think today’s modern evangelical world has become so confused. Due primarily to a lack of biblical knowledge and an immature understanding of who God is, they simply take God is love in isolation and spread it like a blanket over everything and everyone regardless of sin, situation, or circumstance. Instead of being properly placed as an attribute, among infinite others, intrinsic to God’s nature, God’s love is placed directly at the center and all other attributes must then be subordinate to love. God’s justice, must follow God’s love. His wrath, again subordinate to His love. Is God first holy, no they would say God first is love. What this view actually does is distort the character and nature of who the Bible tells us God is. It creates a god who is unable to uphold His own righteousness and holiness because He must love. It says that a god who is love cannot, nor would not, send any person to hell as punishment for offending His holiness. The reality of this is that it actually strips away God is love and skews it to say “Love is god”. As should be familiar to all of us, the LORD clearly states, “Thou shall have no other gods before Me”, to do so would be idolatry. Yet this is precisely what so commonly happens when people take an attribute of God in isolation and fashion a god out of it, all the while rejecting the rest of what the Bible has to say about who God is. In essence, an image of God is created in the mind that is inconsistent with the God of the Bible and this is idolatry. This is not to say that we cannot individually study an attribute of God, nor does it say that we cannot meditate on or thank God for His love, mercy, grace, etc. But it is certainly saying that biblical knowledge of God is of the utmost importance. There is a reason why Jesus states in John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
As we’ve seen the past couple of weeks with the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins, an improper view of the character of God leads to confusion and quite simply heretical beliefs. God’s love does win, first for Himself and secondly for those who are His children. But it is not the end of the matter, because God also must be just and as such His wrath must reign down on all those who have rejected Jesus as Savior. Romans 3:25-26 It is a difficult truth, but nevertheless, God’s love for His children is complimented by His wrath towards unbelievers as He is glorified both in His giving of salvation to believers and in the eternal punishment of unbelievers. Romans 9:22-24
God is equal in all of His attributes. If one were to be out of balance, then God would be less than perfect. Because our minds are so finite, we have a limited understanding of the nature of God’s love. We know of only a love that, let’s face it, is mushy and sentimental. Human emotions generally run hot or cold, are imbalanced, and are usually dictated by situations. This makes it difficult, nigh impossible, to love and hate at the same time or to grant mercy yet give justice simultaneously or to put our wrath on display and be justified and glorified for doing so. Yet God can. When Jesus died on the cross for the sins of all those who believe, God poured out His wrath on His Son, yet He didn’t stop loving Him. He was perfectly capable of displaying both His wrath, in His punishment of sin, and His love by offering His only Son as a sacrifice for sinners. Again, His love was complimented by His wrath, yet in His wrath His love was displayed. This is why the Apostle John can say with confidence, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:10 Simultaneously, the fulfillment of God’s love and the satisfaction of God’s wrath.
God is love on the surface is a simple, yet profound statement, the depth of which we will never know (Ephesians 3:19). But unless we take the due diligence necessary to understand what the Apostle John is talking about in 1 John 4 and who he is talking to, then there is an imminent danger of isolating the love of God from His true nature. If you are a believer in Christ, then rest firmly in the infinite depth and riches of God’s love. But, dear friend, if you are yet without Christ, then you must know the “wrath of God remains” on you (John 3:36). Repent of your sin and Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ!
Below are several follow up blog posts by Pastor/Teacher Dr. John MacArthur on the saga of Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins. I introduced you to the first post in his series here: