“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
How do you view the love of God the Father? When you consider his love for you, provided you are a believer, what thoughts or emotions come to mind? Is this different from how your view and respond to the love of Jesus, God the Son?
Here’s what I’m getting at: Is it possible that you conceive of the love of Jesus as compassionate, forgiving, and self-giving, while you conceive of the Father’s love as tolerating, needing to be appeased by Jesus’ death, and thus not nearly as comforting and assuring as Jesus’ love?
This is a distinction that I’ve confronted recently (through the Bible and Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ), and one that I am in need of grasping more fully. When I consider my heart and mind, I see tendencies to view the Father’s love as less generous and free, and thus less good than the Son’s love. I see tendencies to view the Father’s love as entirely conditioned on Jesus’ death, rather than the cause of Jesus’ death in the first place. I realize that this is an area that both my mind and my heart need to align more fully with the truth of God’s character.
“The subtle danger here should be obvious: if we speak of the cross of Christ as the cause of the love of the Father, we imply that behind the cross and apart from it he may not actually love us at all. He needs to be ‘paid’ a ransom price in order to love us. But if it has required the death of Christ to persuade him to love us (‘Father, if I die, will you begin to love them?’), how can we ever be sure the Father himself loves us—‘deep down’ with an everlasting love?”
John 3:16 is quite clear: it is because God loved us that he sent Jesus to die for us. God’s love for sinners existed before the cross, and is the reason for the cross. God—Father, Son, and Spirit—loves us, and before the world began, God—Father, Son, and Spirit—conceived and agreed on a plan to save sinners through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
As Ferguson notes, “There is no dysfunction in the fellowship of the Trinity.” The Godhead is fully unified in their love for us. We don’t have an angry, tolerating Father, and a compassionate, gracious Son. We have a God who both hates sin and brings justice to sinners AND loves sinners enough to humble himself and suffer for their salvation.
Now, a clarification is needed: this does not mean that God forgives us apart from Jesus’ sacrificial death for our sins. This does not mean that our sin is atoned for, and God’s justice met, apart from Jesus’ death. Jesus’ death is absolutely necessary for us being forgiven, purified, reconciled to God, and adopted as his beloved sons and daughters. There is salvation in no other name!
But all of this is only possible because God first loved sinners like you and I. “…he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
In other words: It is because of our sin that God had to act (in a significant and costly way) to bring us to himself in peace. But it is because of his love that God was willing to act (in a significant and costly way) to bring us to himself in peace. We depend fully on the work of Christ, but in doing so, we are depending fully on the character of God himself!