There is little doubt that the love of God is the most popular therefore most preached on attribute of God. Many a Christian and unbeliever know about the “love” of God. The question is it the correct teaching of the love of God? I have read and listened to countless sermons and teachings on the “love” of God that have made me cringe and left me scratching my head (I, too, have been guilty, in the past, of botching the love of God).
The impression that is often left is that God “loves” everyone equally the same unconditionally and that He has the power to save everyone if He so desires but “loves” people so much that He leaves it to their “free-will” to “accept” His love and the many who do not God will be eternally saddened that He has to punish them. Thus God becomes some weak God that has the power to save all but doesn’t even though He loves everyone the same. Aside from the problem that everyone who “accepts” His love now has some room to boast since they were smart enough to receive His “love,” we are faced with the explicate declaration of God Himself that, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Ro. 9:13). Spin the word “hated” any way you wish but one things is undeniably clear- God did not love Esau they way He loved Jacob and such love was not contingent upon their so called “free-will” or acceptance of His love (Ro. 9:11). Did God “force” Jacob to love Him? Of course not. They amazing thing about grace is that it wins the hardened sinner over. That is to say it takes the Christ rejecter and makes him new. The Spirit of God breathes life into the person dead in their trespasses and sins so that he is now convicted of his sin and the judgement of God and understands that, speaking of Jesus, the Word of God says “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Co 5:21). In biblical terms it is called “regeneration” or “born again.”
That is love! If the Lord were to leave us all to our own wills, apart from His saving grace, we would all perish. God first acted upon us before we called upon Christ just as we read in Ephesians 2:1-5 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (emphasis mine).” Notice that it is God performing that action making us alive. God gives life not potential life. Dead people do not raise themselves. But since God is rich in mercy and is love He grants life to those he predestined to adopt, in love, in eternity past (Eph. 1:3-14).
And contrary to popular assumption, that God gives every single sinner a measure of faith and it is up to each one tho exercise it because He loves everyone the same, God does not act upon every sinner in a saving manner else all would be saved. The Gospel is to be proclaimed to all but that does mean all have a measure of faith to believe. In fact the only place the Word of God mentions a measure of faith being granted is spoken of in reference to believers (Ro. 12:3) in connection with spiritual gifts. So unless on is willing to assert that God grants every single individual that has ever lived a spiritual gift (even those currently perishing in hell) it is quiet silly to assume that faith is given to everyone.
It is at this point that many a believer will get emotionally involved and upset thinking that if that is true then God is unjust or unfair. God must “love” everyone equally the same they believe (and most likely because they were always taught) and in comes the common cliche, “God loves the sinner but hates the sin!” To this John Gerstner rightly points out:
“Repent or Perish” forces people to ponder seriously the slogan, “God hates the sin and loves the sinner.” Is a necessary repentance consistent with “God loves the sinner”? If God loves the sinner while he is alive, it is strange that God sends him to hell as soon as he dies. God loves the sinner to death? Loves him to everlasting torment?
There is something wrong here. Either God loves the sinner and will not send him into the furnace of His eternal wrath; or He sends him into His eternal wrath and does not love him.
What leads almost everyone to believe that God loves the sinner is that God does the sinner so much good. He bestows so many favors including letting him continue to live. How can God let the sinner live and give him so many blessings, unless he loves him? There is a kind of love between God and sinners. We call it the “love of benevolence.” That means the love of goodwill…God can do well to the sinner without loving him with the other kind of love…*
Understanding the sovereign love of God becomes only problematic when we know little of His holiness and sovereignty. That is also to say that if you know little of His holiness you know little of His love or if you know nothing of His holiness you know nothing of His love.
Soli Deo Gloria!
* Quoted by Vincent Cheung, Systematic Theology (Boston, MA.: Reformation Ministries International, 2003), pp. 107-108