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God Is Love

God is love. It is appropriate that this phrase has become so well used in describing God, for God’s love is his one characteristic which explains the relationship he has chosen to have with us. But this phrase is much misunderstood and misused. It has been used to the exclusion of God’s other attributes, such as his holiness and justice. It is also used in a trite way, being equated to human affections. But, compared to God’s love, the deepest human affections are pitifully shallow.

Packer defines God’s love thusly: “God’s love is an exercise of his goodness toward individual sinners whereby, having identified himself with their welfare, he has given his Son to be their Savior, and now brings them to know and enjoy him in a covenant relation.” He explains,


1. Gods love is an exercise of his goodness. The bible means by God’s goodness his cosmic generosity. Goodness in God, writes Berkhof, is “that perfection in God which prompts him to deal bountifully and kindly with all His creatures. It is the affection which the creator feels toward His sentient creatures as such.” (Systematic Theology, p. 70, citing Ps 145:9, 15–16; compare Lk 6:35; Acts 14:7). Of this goodness God’s love is the supreme and most glorious manifestation. . . .

2. God’s love is an exercise of his goodness toward sinners. As such it has the nature of grace and mercy. It is an outgoing of God in kindness which is not merely undeserved but is actually contrary to desert; for the objects of God’s love are rational creatures who have broken God’s law, whose nature is corrupt in God’s sight, and who merit only condemnation and final banishment from his presence.

It is staggering that God should love sinners; yet it is true. God loves creatures who have become unlovely and (one would have though) unlovable. There was nothing whatever in the object of his love to call it forth; nothing in us could attract or prompt it. Love among persons is awakened by something in the beloved, but the love of God is free, spontaneous, unevoked, uncaused. God loves people because he has chosen to love them . . . no reason for his love can be given except his own sovereign pleasure.

. . .

3. God’s love is an exercise in his goodness toward individual sinners. It is not a vague, defused good will toward everyone in general and nobody in particular; rather, as being a function of omniscient almightiness, its nature is to particularize both its objects and its effects. God’s purpose of love, formed before creation (Eph 1:4), involved, first, the choice and selection, of those whom he would bless, and second, the appointment of the benefits to be given them and the means whereby these benefits would be procured and enjoyed. All this was made sure from the start.

. . . The exercise of God’s love toward individual sinners in time is the execution of his purpose to bless those same individual sinners’a purpose which he formed in eternity.

4. God’s love to sinners involves his identifying himself with their welfare. Such an identification is involved in all love: it is, indeed, the test of whether love is genuine or not. If a father continues cheerful and carefree while his son is getting into trouble, or if a husband remains unmoved when his wife is in distress, we wonder at once how much love there can be in their relationship, for we know that those who truly love are only happy when those whom they love are truly happy also. So it is with God and his love for us.

. . . It is not for nothing that the Bible habitually speaks of God as the loving Father and Husband of his people. It follows from the very nature of these relationships that God’s happiness will not be complete till all his beloved ones are finally out of trouble:

Till all the ransomed church of God
Be saved, to sin no more.

. . . 

Thus God saves, not only for his glory, but also for his gladness. . . .

5. God’s love to sinners was expressed by the gift of his Son to be their Savior. The measure of his love is how much it gives, and the measure of the love of God is the gift of his only Son to become human, and to die for sins, and so to become the one mediator who can bring us to God.

. . .

Thus, John goes straight on from his first “God is love” to say, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we love God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn 4:9–10). Similarly, in his Gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall . . . have eternal life” (Jn. 3: 16). So too Paul writes, “God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinner, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). . . .

6. God’s love to sinners reaches its objective as it brings them to know and enjoy him in a covenant relation. A covenant relation is one in which two parties are permanently pledged to each other in mutual service and dependence. (example: marriage). A covenant promise is one by which a covenant relation is set up. (example: marriage vows). Biblical religion has the form of covenant relation with God. . . .

All Christians inherit this promise through faith in Christ, as Paul argues in Galatians 3:15–29. What does it mean? It is truth in a pantechnicon promise: it contains everything. “This is the first and fundamental promise,” declared Sibbes, the Puritan; “indeed, it is the life and soul of all the promises” (Works VI, 8). . . . Thus faith in Christ introduces us into a relation big with incalculable blessing, both now and for eternity.

—J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 123–127.

Posted 2008·12·02 by David Kjos
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Posted in: J I Packer · Knowing God · Love (of God)

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