Summary: Knowing God loves us changes everything. We are secure in His love and able to love others. God's love is infinite, individual, initiative, and involved. The Cross is the proof of God's love.
Esteemed theologian Karl Barth was asked by a student at the University of Chicago, “What is the essence of the biblical message?” Everyone breathlessly awaited a profound, scholarly answer. Barth replied: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” The love of God changes everything. Peter Kreeft writes: “Nothing makes us saints faster than being hit over the head with God’s love.” When we encounter God’s love, we begin to love what He loves, and how He loves.
It is the nature of God to love. Not all religions accept this. If you were to ask a Muslim, “Do you love God and does God love you?” the answer would be: “I obey God and He rewards me.” Love isn’t part of the equation; fear of punishment is. For Buddhists, if there is a God, he is impersonal; he is not the divine Lover. The Buddha taught that desire causes suffering, and so love is an illusion, a selfish attachment, something to overcome. To this we respond: God is love.
If your child asks, “Why do you love me?” you could say, “Because you’re such a great kid; you’re smart and kind”…but then you’d be tying your love to your child’s performance, which is conditional love. Or you could answer by saying, “I love you because you’re mine.” This is God’s love for us. God doesn’t love us because we deserve His love but because He has chosen to love us. C.S. Lewis said, “Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.” It is the free gift of God’s love that gives us our new birth. Heaven is free because God’s love is free. When we’re uncertain about someone’s love, we live insecure lives. God’s love is our security and it cancels out our fears.
We fully appreciate God’s love when we realize just how unworthy we are of it. God loves the unlovable. His love is greater than our sin. We can’t fully appreciate this unless we understand the bitter awfulness of our sin. “God loves us not because of who we are and what we have done but because of who God is” (Phil Yancey).
So what is love? If we don’t know what love is, we can’t grasp the true nature of God. Love is an unconditional, sacrificial, compassionate commitment.
God’s love is…
▪Infinite--The true measure of God’s love is that He loves us without measure. There is no limit to God’s love…and unlike human love, God’s love never changes.
▪Initiative--It reaches out to us, not waiting for us to do something. He loved us before we knew Him, and loved us at our worst. He chose us and even though we weren’t seeking Him, He sought us.
▪Individual--“God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love” (St. Augustine). It is a big world, yet God has “engraved us on the palms of His hands” (Isaiah 49:16).
▪Involved--“God could have created us without loving us, but He would not have gone to the cross without loving us” (Randy Alcorn). God acted on His love in the Person of Jesus, who is Love Incarnate. Upon the cross Jesus was declaring: “This is how much I love you.” The cross is proof of God’s self-giving love--a love that reaches out to save and transform us.
I grew up believing in Jesus without understanding the cross, why He suffered. I knew Jesus died and rose from the dead, but the idea of His death as payment for my sin was a complete unknown. God’s holiness required that divine justice be satisfied, and God’s love paid the price, through the sacrifice of His Son. “God never forgives sin with a wave of His hand. He takes sin too seriously to do that” (Leon Morris). When I realized that Jesus died in my place, taking my punishment, I understood the love of God, the heart of the Gospel message, and I prayed to receive Jesus as my Savior.
From our reading in I John 4, we see that love comes from God. No definition of love is adequate without going straight to the Source. Everything God does is an expression of love. “God loves us, not because of what we are, but because of what He is” (Leon Morris). Love is God’s nature, and our new nature--we become what God is, and God is love!
In his book The God Who Loves You, Peter Kreeft points out a dangerous fallacy: To say “God is love” describes His character…but to say “love is God” is the worship of love instead of the worship of God. We’re in love with God, not in love with love. To claim “All you need is love” isn’t saying enough. We need to embrace the Source of love if we hope to be loving, caring, complete people. Another misperception: God does not love us out of need; it is not as though without us He is incomplete. He created us and declared us good.