This past Sunday we attempted to grasp a biblical view of love. In that, we worked through some of the insufficient views of love in our culture.
But the truth is, there are also insufficient views of love in the church, and these are often more subtle, and thus more likely to ensnare us. Here are three.
First, we are sometimes led to believe that the central focus of God’s love is us, and that’s all there is to say about his love. God’s highest and greatest concern is me.
Not himself. Not his will, his glory, his kingdom, his eternal purposes, but me.
And of course, this easily leads us to think that whatever is most important to me must also be most important to God. God wants me to be happy (which is true, with some clarifications), so he must give me whatever I want, when I want it (which is not true in the least).
Second, God’s love is unconditional. We’ve probably all heard this in the church, or in Christian books or songs. And there is a sense in which this is true.
But there are a couple ways that this statement, by itself, leads us astray.
If we say that God loves all people, believers and unbelievers, unconditionally, we are not correct. The sins of unbelievers cry out for judgment. And God is not blind to them. Unless they repent and believe, they will meet his perfect justice (which, by the way, is an aspect of his love. Wrestle with that for a bit!).
But even for believers, God’s love isn’t really unconditional. There were conditions that had to be met for him to love us. Our sins cried out for judgment too, and Jesus bore our judgment for us in his death. We are loved on the condition of the sacrifice of Jesus, in our place, for our sins.
After we embrace Jesus as Savior, there is a sense in which God loves us unconditionally. But the danger in saying this without qualification is that we can forget that our salvation must prove itself in the fruit of righteousness. Those who have truly been saved bear fruit, they are new creations, they increasingly look different.
These are not “conditions” in the sense that they “cause” or “earn” our God’s love for us, but they are conditions that must be met to “confirm” that our salvation is genuine.
And a third insufficient view of love found both inside and outside the church is this: love is god. Love is the highest, most noble thing in the universe, and thus is essentially a god. We define everything by it.
And how this looks in the church is that we remake God to conform to our understanding of love.
I’ll let Jonathan Leeman, from his new book, The Rule of Love, explain the fallacy in this:
“When the Bible says, ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8), it’s not saying there is this thing out there called love and that God measures up to it. There is no dictionary definition of love hovering outside the universe, independent of God so that God answers to it. Rather, God in himself provides the definition, the reality, of what love is…. God’s own character gives us the definition and standards of love. Which means that understanding what love really is requires us to look at everything else about God—his holiness, his righteousness, his goodness, and so forth.”
In reality, God’s version of love is much better than we realize. Different, more complex, but better in every way. May we be aware of our own insufficient views of love, and increasingly see the wisdom, goodness, truth, and glory of God’s love.