What is (Not) God's Love?

God loves you. This is true, good, right, llnd beautiful. But, it's not a rug under which we can sweep all our unrepentant sin, willful disobedience, and excuse-laden, self-aggrandizing determination to do what we want. God loves us, and His love for us is different that we may think.

How God (Doesn't) Love Us

In the modern newspeak, God's love can sound like this, "God love you and accepts you just the way you are. He doesn't want to change you. He wants to surround you with His love and acceptance. So, choose love."

I wonder what you think about that sentence. Here's the thing, it's not untrue, it's just incomplete. The best lies always are. Let's pull it apart:

  1. "God loves you and accepts you just the way you are..." True part: God does love his people, and accepts us into his family just the way we are. When He saved me, He wasn't merely loving the future, perfect version of Adam Mabry. He set his love on me when I was a sinner, His enemy, and an object of wrath.(Eph. 2:1-3)

    Incomplete Part: God does not want to leave us the way we are. He calls us to conform us. He saves us to sanctify us. If we come to God and refuse to allow Him to change anything and everything He wishes to, we're refusing His love. (Rom. 8:29)

  2. "He doesn't want to change you. He wants to surround you with His love and acceptance." True part: You and I are made in the image of God. There is some fingerprint of His divine purpose and image in all people, and no, He doesn't change that. He does wish to love us.

    Incomplete Part: He does want to change you in many, many ways. He wants to give you a new heart (Ez 36:26), reorder your affections (1 Jn 5:2), change lots of your behavior (Jn 14:15), and make you become more and more like His Son Jesus and less and less like the world from which you've come. (Rom 12:2, 1 Pet 1:14) This necessarily means He will confront you in His word, rebuke you, and correct you.

Emotion and Devotion

The ooey-gooey, feckless false love the world around us offers is too low a thing for God. His love for His people is bigger and better than that.

Two words in the Old Testament shed light on the way God loves us. The first word is often translated "compassion," and is related to the Hebrew word for "womb." It is surging, maternal, emotional, and beautiful. Isaiah gives us God's words, saying, "For a tiny moment I left you, and with great compassion I will gather you." (Is 54:7). God has emotional love for his people, to be sure.

We can stop listening after that, however. Because we're such a post-Romantic, heart-driven people, that we think, "Well, if God feels emotional love toward me, He would never want to change me." So, we must keep reading.

For a tiny moment I left you, and with great compassion I will gather you. In a rush of anger I hid my face from you, but with everlasting devotion I have set myself to show you compassion. (Is 54:7-8)

The other word give to us for God's love is the word we often translate as "steadfast," "everlasting," or "devotion." In other words, God's love is His determination — His complete commitment — to fully, completely, and finally love His people.

A Bloody, Beautiful Thing

So, what does God's love look like? This:

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  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 Jn 4:9-10)

The very definition and highest example of love that the cosmos has ever witnessed was the moment with God's emotion and devotion collided with sin and separation on a splintered, bloody Roman cross. Two conclusion follow.

  1. Don't cheapen the love of God to the level of a 7th grade crush by singing songs about it, posting a Facebook meme, and then doing, thinking, and feeling whatever seems right. If God loves you with emotion and devotion then your love for God ought to involve both too.
  2. God changing you means God loves you, not the reverse. The opposite of love isn't hate, it's apathy. If God were apathetic toward His people — uninterested in their growth, progress, and obedience — He would not love us. He shows us this by doing for us the one thing that brings about the greatest imaginable change, dying on a cross for our sin.