In Exodus 3:14, God says, “I am who I am.” Such a declaration is powerful because the Lord God was declaring not only who He is at His absolute essence, but also declaring to the world, “I am the only God!” As we fast forward to the New Testament, the Lord Jesus Christ declares seven times, “I Am!” in the Gospel of John. In Leviticus 11:44-46, we are taught that God is holy, meaning He is set apart. In 1st Peter 1:13-15, we are taught that as a result of God’s holiness, He requires Christians to live holy lives. Gaining a right understanding of the love of God requires a biblical understanding of His holiness. The matter of understanding the holiness and love of God is so serious because, if we get His holiness wrong, we diminish and undermine His character. If we get the love of God wrong, then we have a God who will crush humanity in judgment, not love us through Christ alone.
The Love of God and the Christian Faith
In the book of 1st John, the Apostle John roots the assurance of the Christian using the interplay between external evidence and the internal testimony of grace. To abide in Christ is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit at work in the Christian. The Holy Spirit provides assurance that the people of God belong to Jesus, but never operates apart from outward evidence of faith. The presence of the Holy Spirit is discerned both by His internal testimony and by obedience to the commands of Jesus given through His apostles (1st John 4:6).
Some of the other commands of John include belief in the Son Jesus (1st John 3:23; 4:1-5) and love for one another as Christians (1st John 3:23). Love, to John, is a critical mark of the Christian who has genuine faith. Those who have not been born of God do not know God, nor can they know that “God is love” (1st John 4:8). Love is essential to the nature of God. Those who have become partakers of the new nature (2nd Peter 1:4) are the people of God. They alone increasingly reflect the holy and loving character of God and love others. The transformed hearts of Christians respond to the call of God to love one another.
John is addressing those in 1st John who thought love made God too personal. Many today follow along with John’s original audience believing “God is love”, but do not believe what the Bible teaches about the rest of God’s character. Such people often recoil at the idea that the way to heaven is narrow (Matthew 7:13-14) and restricted by Christ only through Him (John 14:6; Acts 4:14).
When Christians speak of the love of God, we are not minimizing the other characteristics of God. For example, the simplicity of God tells us the love of God never operates apart from the holiness, mercy, omnipotence, justice, or other divine attributes. It is loving, therefore, to seek justice and demand holiness, but never to do so at the expense of mercy. Christians need the help of God and the wisdom He provides to apply His love into every phase of our lives.
The Love of God and His Discipline
Within God’s perfect love is the reality that God chastens those whom He loves. Hebrews 12:5-7 reminds us, “You have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?”
Christians should both expect and embrace the discipline God gives them. The divine discipline of God is intended to help the people of God grow in a relationship with our heavenly Father. Revelation 3:19 states, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.”
Throughout the book of Proverbs, Solomon speaks about a father disciplining and correcting their children out of love. To the biblical writers, rejecting correction from the Lord God is to walk in the way of foolishness and wickedness. To walk in the light according to the biblical writers, is to accept correction, repent, and become wise. Such Christians understand that the loving embrace of God involves the guiding rod and staff wielded by the Chief Shepherd, Jesus.
The Love of God and the Jealous God
In Exodus 34:14, we find the command, “Worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” John Frame in Systematic Theology explains, “God’s jealousy is not inconsistent with his love or goodness. On the contrary, his jealousy is part of his love.”
The Love of God and the Christian’s Security
In Romans 8:31-39, Paul writes about the love of God and how down to the nanosecond the Christian is held secure in His sovereign hands. Only those who are truly Christ’s will be held until the end, for they have true faith in Him. Times of doubt may come, and the storms of life may assail them, but if we belong to Christ, we are held by Him and will belong to Him always. Such biblical truth should cause Christians to draw near humbly to the throne of God to know and grow in the love of God.