The Wonderful Doctrine of the Love of God

John 15:9-17 (Part 2)

A woman wanted to impress the pastor when he came to visit so she said to her little girl, “Honey, go get the book that Mommy loves so much.” The little girl took off and soon came back with the new Penny’s catalog.

One of the simple truths of life is – you can tell what a person really loves by their actions. I might have casually mentioned, once or twice in my life, that I “love” fishing. My actions will either verify this or bring reasonable doubt. When I wake up earlier than normal, skip meals, endure bad weather, keep going despite poor results and work hard ahead of time to get all my other chores done – then you have pretty good assurance I really do love fishing. But if I always make excuses, only go out if everything is perfect and want to quit in half an hour if there are no bites, then you can know I really don’t love fishing no matter what my words claim. My level of effort and sacrifice demonstrates whether I “love” or whether I am really just a “wannabe lover of fishing”. Our actions demonstrate our love.       

So when the Bible tells us that “God loves us” there are going to be some very clear actions which demonstrate this. Last week we described the five aspects of God’s love. This week we simply want to follow up on that and look at some of the wondrous results of each of those five aspects of God’s love. So we have entitled this week’s teaching - the wondrous doctrine of the love of God. It’s actually an “unplanned” sermon – early this week I just knew God wanted us to go back and see how the five aspects of God’s love wondrously work out in our lives as Christian believers. 

PROPOSITION: When applied properly, the five aspects of God’s love are wondrous beyond belief.

I.  “God loves unconditionally” is Biblically deficient and an inaccurate picture of the wonder, magnificence, scope and depth of God’s love.  (Review of last week’s sermon)

Last week, I shared a very, very counter-cultural message with you. In our day, many Christians regularly say that “God loves people unconditionally”. But I challenged you that that statement is Biblically deficient and is a very inaccurate picture of the wonder, magnificence, scope and depth of God’s love. If you were not here last week, you can read my sermon notes on our church website under “Hot Topics.” Does God Really Love Everyone Unconditionally?”

A. It is not Biblical                                                                    John 15:9-10 (Daniel 9:4; Jude 21)

We saw that this statement simply isn’t Biblical. READ John 15:9-10 … then v 14. There are definite conditions needed to continue in God’s love – or even to be Jesus’ friend. There are a number of Bible passages that clearly demonstrate God’s love has a conditional aspect to it.    

B. Proponents rarely support view with actual verses                  John 3:16; Prodigal son

We saw that those who publicly claim that “God’s love is unconditional,” rarely use specific scriptural texts to demonstrate this - when they do, those texts either show some kind of condition needed or don’t actually teach unconditional love.

C. It is not found AT ALL in writings of church history

In our ignorance of history, we have forgotten that this wording is very new. In fact, the claim that “God’s love is unconditional” is not found in ANY Bible-believing writings ANYWHERE in history until around 40 years ago. 

D. It is a common thought of cult groups & false beliefs

But it was a common thought in false beliefs like the Universalists in the early 1800’s. Today “the unconditional love of God” is used quite often to support unbiblical beliefs (like there are many ways to heaven) and unbiblical morality (like gay marriage, adultery or living together outside of marriage are all fine with God).

E. The wonder of God’s love

I gave 4 other arguments in last week’s sermon, but the bottom line is that our modern phrase “God’s love is unconditional” is inaccurate and it is leading to too much false belief and actions. Can we really say there are NO CONDITIONS TO GOD’S LOVE? The Bible doesn’t say that. And every Sunday you come here, we proclaim a BIGGER truth. We say, “no one can work their way to heaven.” We can NOT EARN God’s love, His grace or His forgiveness. BUT to receive God’s grace and forgiveness, we must humble ourselves, repent of our wrong and believe Jesus is the only way to heaven. Those are conditions to receive God’s actions of love. So conditions, yes – earning love, no. Our evangelical faith uniquely stands for this because it is based on the real definition of God’s love. That is why we called last week’s sermon “the difficult doctrine of the love of God.”

Now let’s go back see BOTH the wonder & the misuse of God’s love in each of these 5 aspects. We’ll use the very same verses we did last week. Remember these are NOT five different loves – they are 5 aspects of the same love. They are all always at work.   

II.  Love within the Trinity – Relational/perfect love                    John 15:9-10; 3:35; 5:20

In John 15:9. Jesus said, “As the Father loved me, so I have loved you.” There is a love between the persons in the Trinity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit love each other incredibly. This first aspect of God’s love, I call “relational love” or “perfect love” because it is our ultimate example of love in the context of relationships.

A. The misuse

How do we misuse this? By not recognizing the completeness of it! I have often heard people say that God made humans so He could have someone to have fellowship with. Our picture of God becomes like a widower who needs a dog for companionship. The love within the trinity is so complete, so full and so amazing, that God’s doesn’t NEED us in any way. God has never been lonely, bored or needing some attention. God made us in His image so WE could have fellowship with Him. In a similar way, when we encourage Christians to have a personal quiet time with God everyday – we sometimes paint a picture of Jesus waiting alone for us. “Poor Jesus,” we think “he’ll be so lonely if I don’t take time for Him. You can completely erase that idea from your mind. When it comes to love – God doesn’t NEED any more love BECAUSE the love within the Godhead is so incredible.   

B. The wonder of it

God, as Trinity, is bursting full of love to a level we can’t imagine. That means there is never a bad time to come to Him with our prayer requests. That is so liberating! We’ve all had times where we had to go to another person and say, “Please forgive me, I really got upset with you yesterday – it had nothing to do with you, but I was really frustrated with another person.” That never happens to God.  Because of that perfect love in the Trinity, God is already totally content inside. Our insecurities, inadequacies, ill-chosen words, foolish actions and constant needs don’t overwhelm God at all. That is why our Lord’s patience with us is so great. I’m 55 years old and this is the first week of my life that I realized how incredibly privileged I am to be able to come into the presence of a God who is totally satisfied relationally. That is so freeing – in fact I don’t have words for it – but I do know we so long for that in others. Here is the new picture of God’s perfect love I have. God is like the most famous person I want to spent time with, but He is also this great family man who really gets incredible pleasure from His family. If I don’t stop life to be with Him, He’s still having the time of His life. But when I ring the door bell in prayer or being here in worship, Jesus excitedly stops whatever He was doing, gives me great assurance I am not bothering Him and then gives me His undivided attention which is so fantastic! That is the wonder of God’s love in its perfect or relational aspect   

III. God’s love for what He has made - Providential love           Gen 1 (it was good)

The second aspect of God’s love is His love for what He has made. Last week, we pointed out the Bible doesn’t use the word “love” for this, but it regularly pictures our physical world as the product of a loving creator. While sin has brought corruption and brokenness to nature – there is still an incredible specialness to the created world which we should care for. We call this God’s providential love.

A. The misuse

There are two ways we can misuse God’s special love for what He has created. The first is to worship or make gods of the creation around us. Nature worship, speaking about “Gaia, mother earth” or believing there is godness in the physical things around us does that. God, as the creator, is separate from nature. The other way we misuse this love is when we say “God loves everyone the same regardless of what you do or don’t do.” That is only true of this aspect of love – God does send the rain on the just and unjust alike. The sun shines on sinners and saints the same.

B. The wonder of it

Jesus tells us to consider the flowers of the field. Imagine, every year all over the world, countless acres of beautiful flowers bloom whether anyone is there to enjoy them or not. When we sent the Hubble telescope into orbit above the earth, we saw for the first time incredibly, beautiful cosmic formations that no human had ever seen before – but they have been there all the time. When we picture the care and beauty that God has put into His creation it boggles the mind. And it encourages us that He has done and will do many beautiful things in our lives as one of His creation. We also look forward to the future when God frees our physical world from the curse of sin. When Jesus returns, He is going to renew this planet and establish a true paradise here where the lion will lay down with the lamb and we won’t get bit by mosquitoes or worry about sicknesses like H1N1. And we will get our renewed, resurrection body.            

IV. God’s love for the world – Salvific love                               John 15:13; 3:16, I Tim 2:3-6

The third aspect of God’s love is His love for the world. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.” The world there includes those who are opposed to God and His ways. We READ in John 15:13. God’s loves goes far beyond this, because Jesus died for us while we were yet His enemies. This is God’s salvific love. However much God will judge the sinful world in the future, He also stands as the one who is compassionately and intensely inviting all sinners, even His enemies, to take that one undeserved way He has made available through Jesus’ death on the cross, so we are not condemned with others.

A. The misuse

People misuse this aspect of God’s love, when they claim everyone will go to heaven regardless of what they do or who they believe in. That violates God’s character of justice, righteousness & holiness. It also violates the freedom of choice He has given humans. There are not many ways to heaven, because we don’t even deserve one way. But God in His great love has invited us to heaven through the cross. We can choose to accept that invitation or foolishly try our own way. 

B. The wonder of it

The wonder of this aspect of God’s love is the most intense emotionally – because it pictures God pursuing us for salvation. Jesus told us to picture God as a shepherd who leaves the 99 to go rescue one lost lamb. In many ways, that is not logical – it is of the heart. In fact, God’s salvific love is so great it pursues us when we aren’t even interested. AND God sacrifices for us when we aren’t worthy.

A pastor visited a family whose son had been killed in a car accident. The mom just yelled at him, “Where was your God when my boy was killed?” The pastor quietly answered, “The same place He was when His Son was killed.” God so loved that He sacrificed the most important for us – even when we are mad at Him like that grieving mother. I wish I had better words for the wonder of this pursing love that calls us to repentance for salvation. Imagine the time when you most intensely felt the emotion of love – the intensity of God’s love for us is millions times more – even while we were yet sinners. Take the time you were most selfless in love – God’s sacrifice is millions times more. That is why it is such nonsense to believe God condemns or pre-destines people to hell before they are ever born. God has sought each one of us out – He desires all people to be saved. This week, I received this invitation to a conference called “The Quagmire of Hyper-Calvinism” At first I thought it might be some petty disagreement over theological wording. It is actually put on Calvinists who want to remind each other of God’s heart that the good news of Jesus is to go to ALL people, in ALL lands, calling ALL of them to repent and believe in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. We can’t understand God or His love if we don’t understand the INTENSITY of His desiring us to be saved.    

V. God’s love for the elect – Covenantal love                            Deut 7:7-8; Eph 5:25-27

The fourth aspect of God’s love is His special love for “the elect”. The elect simply are those whom God has chosen. Look at v 16. READ. This aspect of love is always associated with God’s choosing. Whether it is Israel in the OT, the church in the NT or you as a genuine Christian, God sets His affections on true believers in ways He doesn’t on anyone else. (repeat). I call this “covenantal love” because it is simply by God’s choice and not something we deserve or can earn.

A. The misuse

The great error in our day is to apply this aspect of covenantal love to people who are not chosen of God or living as growing Christians. That’s what unintentionally happens when we simplify God’s love to the current phrase “God’s love is unconditional” – again there are many examples in last week’s sermon. While God does not reveal infallibly who is chosen, He does give us indications: they will persevere in the faith until death; they will make Jesus Lord of their life; they will love & forgive others; while not perfect, Christ-like characteristics will be increasing in their lives; they will love God; they will worship with God’s people – and the list goes on. We also miss the awesome wonder of this love, when we fail to appreciate the Biblical doctrine of “election” or God’s choosing. Some spend their whole life just thinking about it intellectually – how could God elect and people still have free will; does that mean God predestines people to hell – of course they have already forgotten there are at least 5 distinct aspects to God’s love, not just this one. Remember, in the Bible God’s election, or choosing, is always given as an encouragement to true believers. This is meant to touch our souls!

B. The wonder of it

Let’s reclaim the wonder of that. Psalms calls it God’s unfailing love. Jeremiah 31:3 says “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” The greatest wonder of this covenantal love is that it is totally “unearned”. You don’t do things to deserve it. You don’t say things to earn it. No one can be “too bad” or “too undeserving” to receive this covenantal aspect of love. It is totally based on the will and choosing of the person doing it. And it is constant – not high one week and low the next. This is the love that couples pledge in the traditional marriage vow – for better or worse; richer or poorer; in sickness and in health …til death do us part.” This is the love that an adoptive parent agrees to – you can’t ship them back in 2 years if things get bad. One day a single friend asked a father of 4, “Why do you love your kids?” The father thought for a moment, but the only answer he could come up with was “Because they are mine.” They were his choice. That’s the wonder of covenantal love - you can’t earn it – you just receive it.

Now this aspect of the love of God is ONLY for true believers in Jesus Christ. Jesus chose the disciples. God chooses us as true believers – we are elect. The word “elect”, “chosen” are meant to bring a sense of confidence in our lives when we are weak, feel unworthy, worthless or irrelevant. I think it is Margaret Powers who described this in a dream she had – she was walking along the beach with the Lord Jesus and scenes from her life flashed across the skies. In each scene there were two sets of footprints. When the last scene of her life ended in the sky above, she turned back and looked down the beach where she had come from. There she noticed sometimes there were only one set of footprints were visible – and it happened at the lowest and saddest times of her life. “Lord, why did you leave me when I needed you the most.” And in her dream Jesus answered, “I didn’t leave you then – those are my footprints – I was carrying you.” Don’t we get a little tear in the corner of our eye when we think about this? Because it pictures that unfailing, everlasting, unearned covenantal aspect of God’s love.

VI. God’s love shown in provisional ways – Conditional love    (Point II A above)

Finally, God’s love is shown in provisional ways. READ v 9-10. To continue in this aspect of Jesus’ love we need to obey Jesus – otherwise we don’t remain in His love. READ v 14. That is definitely not unconditional.  If we obey Jesus, special blessings come – and those blessings are far beyond anything we deserve or earn because they are from God’s love.

A. The misuse

The error of our day is to forget this aspect of God’s love – to claim it is somehow a lesser form of love. God regularly reminds His spiritual children that there is great blessing from obedience! I have watched people claim that we should never think of rewards or physical blessings, or what we receive when we serve, sacrifice, & follow Jesus. Years later they are doing a lot less serving, sacrificing and following Jesus.  

B. The wonder of it

Again this is not earned love. When the Bible speaks of us getting 30, 60, even 100 times return on what we gave up – it is not talking about something we earned because that return is so much greater than we deserve. There simply is an aspect of love that is unleashed by the right actions of others. When we obey God it unleashes greater blessings from love. When we obeyed as kids, we simply received more positive, then if we disobeyed. If you overcame some obstacles to get here this morning, that is special to God and He is going to positively encourage you because of it. The “conditional” or “provisional” aspect of God’s love should excite us because it allows us to unleash even greater blessings from God’s love that will not come from the other 4 aspects. Obedience, sacrifice and service for the Lord opens up the flood gates of heaven in the same way that you want to do far more for your kids when they are obedient than when they are disobedient. Our sacrifices for the advancement of Jesus’ work in this world unleashes incredible rewards – some in this life, but much more in the life to come. If you really think about it provisional love makes “the work of life” worthwhile. It gives us encouragement in the tough times of life that is amazing. EVERYTHING you do rightly for Jesus, is valuable because of the conditional aspect of God’s love.  

God’s love is wondrously amazing – all five aspects of it!