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God Is Love

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
February 12, 2024 12:01 am

God Is Love

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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February 12, 2024 12:01 am

People have many ideas about what it means for God to be loving, but not all those ideas are accurate. Today, R.C. Sproul helps us avoid common misconceptions so we can better understand the Bible's teaching that "God is love."

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Our problem is not so much that we tend to think of God as a God who has no love, but rather the problem that we find in the culture of our day is a view of God that carries with it a cheap view of love and a sense of love by which all the other attributes of God are removed or stripped from His character and swallowed up by one attribute which is the attribute of love. The idea of love has been so distorted today that not only is it often overly romanticized or sentimentalized, but it has also been perverted to condone and justify sin.

And when it comes to theology, as you just heard from R.C. Sproul, many use the love of God to try and eclipse His other attributes. So this week on Renewing Your Mind, we'll be taking the time to consider the love of God from a Biblical perspective. I'm Nathan W. Bingham and I encourage you to listen all week.

As this is a new week, we have a new resource offer for you as well. Build your Bible study library when you request the complete 11-part series on the love of God, when you give a donation of any amount at When you think of the love of God, what Bible verses come to mind? John 3.16?

What about 1 John 4.8 where we're told, God is love? As it's a text that is foundational and is often misunderstood, that's where we'll begin this week's study. Here's Dr. Sproul. Sproul, I wonder how many of you who are here or who are watching this program or listening to it ever saw the Hollywood movie entitled Elmer Gantry. Or perhaps you read the book upon which it was based, which is an American classic written by Sinclair Lewis. And if you've ever seen that film, you know that the stars in the movie were Burt Lancaster and Shirley Jones, and the movie was a parody about two famous evangelists. Burt Lancaster was really as Elmer Gantry was parodying the evangelist Billy Sunday and Shirley Jones as sister Sharon Falconer was a parody of Amy Semple McPherson.

And of course, Sinclair Lewis was poking fun at these evangelists. And one of the regular scenes in the movie was when Burt Lancaster, being Elmer Gantry, would come out on the stage. He would run out on the stage and slide like a baseball player sliding into second base because that's what Billy Sunday was known for.

He had been a major league baseball player and a base stealer. So Gantry slides into second base and he says, safe in the arms of Jesus. And then if you remember Burt Lancaster, he would flash that inimitable grin of his and his eyes would get that gleam, and then he would start off his sermon by saying, love. What is love? Love is the morning and the evening star. Love is the inspiration of the artist, the substance of the philosophers. And he would go on and on with this syrupy, saccharine definition of love.

And of course, the spoof that was behind this was the idea that an evangelist can always get a crowd if he continually speaks in meaningless terms about the love of God. I don't think there's any word in the English language that's been stripped of the depth of meaning such as that word love. I remember as a child having those toys that were kaleidoscopes where you would peer in the end of it and you would see these beautiful patterns that were made by the colored stones at the end.

And as you turned the section of the kaleidoscope, then all of the little pieces of stone would tumble into a different pattern with a rapid change, a rapid pace. That's what happens with this word love, which has come to have almost a mystical, magical meaning to it in the secular culture. Again, if I can date myself and go back to the fifties to a famous popular song of the time, it was called, Love is a Many Splendored Thing. And it's been celebrated ever since music began as perhaps the strongest emotion that can be experienced by human beings as the goal and the desire of every human heart to experience a dimension of love that is transcendent. Well, again, when we come to the biblical concept of the love of God, we have to be very careful because our tendency is to come to the text with ideas of love that have been drawn from the romanticism of our secular culture, from the popular music and art and literature. Whereas what we want to do when we're talking about the love of God is to glean from Scripture the biblical concept of this magnificent attribute of God. So in this series, what we're going to be doing is trying to take a close look at how the Bible speaks of the love of God, how God exercises that love in His work of redemption.

Who are the objects of His love? In what sense can it be said of God that He not only loves but also that He hates, which is one of the most difficult concepts that we have to wrestle with? And so let's begin our study by looking at the first epistle of John in the fourth chapter where we have the classic statement with respect to the love of God. In chapter 4 of 1 John, beginning at verse 7, we read this admonition, Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. And he who does not love does not know God, for God is love. And in this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we love God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. So here, when the Apostle is enjoining Christian people to demonstrate love one for another, he grounds this admonition in the very character of God.

So let's look a little bit more closely at what he says. When he says, let us love one another, for the first thing he says is, for love is of God. Love is of God. What he's saying here is that the love that he's describing, agape love, Christian love, is a love that comes from God Himself.

This is not a natural love. This is not a love that is found in the flesh of mankind. This is a love that has its origin in God Himself. It is a divine gift. It's one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit that is awakened to God.

It's one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit that is awakened in our souls when we are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are given a capacity for love that is not natural. It is a love that comes from God, that belongs to God. And in this kind of love, God is seen as the fountain, the source of all true love. Now, the next portion here could be very misleading if we don't be careful where he says, everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Now, that does not mean that every human being who experiences human natural love is therefore born of God. Rather, what John is saying is that the kind of love of which he is speaking is a kind of love that only comes from regeneration from those who have been changed inwardly by the power of the Holy Ghost. And in a very real sense, it's the indispensable sign of regeneration.

Let me put it this way. Without the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, no person has this capacity for love. That's the one side. The other side of it is if a person does have that ability to love, that is a clear indication that they have been born of the Holy Ghost. So, no one who is unreborn or unregenerate has this kind of love, and no one who has been regenerate lacks this kind of love. All who have been born of God have this love, and all who have this love at the same time have been born of God. And then he goes on to say, he who does not love, that is in this manner, does not know God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. Now, this is one of the most powerful statements about the love of God that we find in the Bible. In the first place, we hear that love is of God. Now, John goes beyond that and makes the statement, God is love.

Now, what does he mean when he says that? How is he using the verb to be in this passage? We've had some discussions in America about the meaning of is, where we say it depends on what the meaning of is is. Well, that's because the verb to be, of which one part is the word is, can be used in more than one way. Sometimes we use the verb is as a linking verb, and it doesn't take a direct object.

In that case, it takes a predicate nominative where there is an identity between the subject and the predicate. And so, is can be used in some cases in the English language as an equal sign. And if we would say that God is love in that sense, then that would mean that we could reverse the predicate and the subject and say love is God. And that would be to distort what John is saying here. John is not making a crass identification between love and God, so that anybody who has a romantic feeling in their heart or any sense of affection for another person thereby has encountered God.

That's not the point. When he says that God is love, he's using a form of literary expression that is a bit hyperbolical. That is to say that God is so loving, that love is such an intimate aspect or attribute of the character of God. God is so closely linked with love that you can, in a manner of speaking, say that he is love. It's a similar type of expression that we find in Jesus when Jesus says, I am the way, the truth, and the life.

That is to say that Christ is so intimately connected with truth, so far removed from falsehood and from the lie or from any kind of deception that we can say in a transcendent way that he not only speaks the truth, but he's so intimately connected with truth that we say he is the truth, just as he is life insofar as all of life has its source in him and in his power. Now, when the Scriptures speak of love in this manner with respect to God, that means that however else we understand the character of God, any view of God that is set forth that neglects to include within it this profound sense of love would be a distortion of who God is because love is so closely connected with his character and with his essence. But that's not normally the problem that we have in theology today. Our problem is not so much that we tend to think of God as a God who has no love, but rather the problem that we find in the culture of our day is a view of God that carries with it a cheap view of love and a sense of love by which all the other attributes of God are removed or stripped from his character and swallowed up by one attribute, which is the attribute of love.

I don't know how many times I've lectured on the sovereignty of God or on the justice of God or on the holiness of God, only to have people object to those qualities of God and respond by saying, but my God is a God of love, as if love, as it's related to God, is incompatible with justice, or that if God is loving, he can have no sovereignty, or that the love of God precludes his holiness, which would be a radical distortion of God. And so we need to have this warning, this caveat, as we begin remembering that our most fundamental interest and most fundamental inclination as fallen human creatures when we contemplate the character of God is to exchange the truth of God that he reveals about himself for a lie, as the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 1, and serve and worship the creature rather than the Creator. And that is by falling into the most primordial of all sins, the sin of idolatry. Now, in the ancient world, idolatry was practiced in a very crass and crude way, where people would fashion for themselves idols made of wood or stone, and then they would fall down on their knees and worship these things that they had created with their own hands. And we tend to compliment ourselves today and say, well, we don't engage in that kind of pagan activity or primitive forms of idolatry that were found in the ancient world.

No, we're more sophisticated than that. But any time we exchange the glory of the true God for a lesser concept, whether it's one made out of stone or wood or just one that is constructed by our own mind, we're still engaged in idolatry. And a God who is stripped of his attributes of justice, of holiness, of sovereignty, and the rest is just as much an idol as something made out of wood or stone. And so we have to be very careful that we don't substitute for the biblical God a God who is exhausted in his character and being by this one attribute of love, which attribute in the first place we don't understand in biblical categories, but we carry a secular concept of love which says love means never having to say that you're sorry.

Where can we find something like that in the pages of Scripture? The God of love of Scripture is a God who requires those who love to say they're sorry when they injure other people and when they violate God himself. And so we remember that though love is an attribute of God and an extremely important attribute of God, that God is a simple being, not in the sense that he's simplistic, but when we understand the doctrine of God, we understand that God is not made up of parts. It's not like God is one part sovereignty, one part justice, one part immutability, one part omniscience, one part eternality, one part love.

Rather, we think that God is his attributes at all times, so that to understand any single attribute of God, you must understand that attribute as it relates and connects with all the other attributes of God. For example, as we're going to look at in this course, the love of God is an eternal love. The love of God is a sovereign love. The love of God is an immutable love. The love of God is a holy love, that all of the attributes that go with God also go with love.

God's justice is a loving justice. His holiness is a loving holiness, and his omniscience is a loving omniscience, just as his love is an omniscient love. And so the danger we must guard against is extrapolating love from all of the rest of the attributes as if it stood alone, and it alone defined the nature and character of God. And once we begin to understand that love is one of several attributes of God, albeit one that you can't understand God without it, once we understand that, then our concept of the love of God, I believe, will be deepened by our understanding of its relationship with these other categories. Just in passing, before we look at the eternal love of God in the next lecture, I'm going to just speak for a moment of the holy love of God. When we say that God is love, we must add to that immediately this descriptive term, that God's love is a holy love. That, perhaps more than anything else, serves as a guard for our loading the concept of the love of God with secular categories, because there is a profane, a common view of love in our culture that is celebrated in pop art that has nothing to do with the love of God. So whatever else God's love is like, first of all, it is holy.

And what does that mean? If we look at the term holy in Scripture, we see that it has two distinct main meanings. And the first meaning, the primary meaning of holiness in the Scriptures, is that the term holy means that which is other or different or apart. That has to do with this, that when we say that God is holy, we're saying that God is different from everything that we experience in the created order, that God is a higher order of being, that God is transcendent, so that when we speak of His holiness, we speak of His divine greatness, His majesty that rises above all things in the created realm. That's the primary meaning, to be holy.

It means to be set apart, to be different. The secondary meaning of holiness is purity, absolute purity without any blemish, without any touch of evil mixed with it. And both of these references to holy define the love of God. So the first thing we have to understand about God's love is that it is transcendent. It's not common. It's not profane.

It's not ordinary. But it is a majestic, sacred, sacred, transcendent kind of love that goes far beyond anything the creature can ever manifest. And secondly, the love of God is always a love that has no mixture of selfishness, of wickedness, or of sin within it. There is no shadow that covers the brightness of the pure glory of the love of God. And so when we encounter His love, we encounter a love that is sui generis, that's in a class by itself, a love that transcends our human experiences, and yet it is a love that He shares in part with His creatures and expects us to manifest to each other a different kind of love, a holy kind of love.

That was R.C. Sproul on this Monday edition of Renewing Your Mind, helping us see the biblical definition of God's love. As Dr. Sproul mentioned, he'll consider the eternal love of God tomorrow, but this week he'll also look at God's loving kindness, His electing love, and agape love. But if you'd like to study the entire 11-message series, request your copy at or by calling us at 800 435 4343. To thank you for supporting an outreach that wouldn't be possible without your support, we'll unlock this series for you in the free Ligonier app, give you access to the digital study guide, and send you the series on DVD. Make your donation and request these resources at We learned today that God is love, but it's important to note that God didn't become a God of love. From all eternity, before you and I existed, it was still true that God is love. And that's our topic tomorrow, here on Renewing Your Mind. Thank you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-12 02:41:01 / 2024-02-12 02:48:59 / 8

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