1 John 4
We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:19
For those of you reading who were on the church camp two weekends ago, this passage will be familiar from Nils’ last talk on ‘Love Displayed’. He explained that the source of our love for each other is God’s love for us and therefore it is natural for us to love others. He also unpacked how our love must be sacrificial—it will cost us—and when we love well it is magnetic—it becomes an evangelistic tool as the world looks at the love of the Church. I don’t want to try to repeat what Nils said, so I am just going to focus today’s devotion on what it means that ‘he [God] first loved us.’
This idea of a loving God is one that our world is quite happy to accept. Unfortunately, what our world means about God’s ‘love’ can sometimes be quite far from what the Bible has to say about His love. Here’s a quote from a popular TV celebrity about how she understands God’s love:
“Today, I feel the fierce love of all that is God so deeply, so strongly and so purely in my heart that it lifts and carries me. Sometimes I actually feel weightless in the love that is God, because I feel it in all things.”
For her, God’s love is a feeling, an emotional experience she has. We’ll see how this view is quite different from the way this passage describes God’s love as first and foremost an action.
Sadly, even many professing Christians have completely misunderstood what God’s love means. Here is another quote but this time from an ‘evangelical’ megachurch pastor:
“No one can resist God’s pursuit forever because God’s love will eventually melt even the hardest hearts.”
He goes on to explain that in the end, God’s love will even overcome Hell and Hell will be no more as everyone eventually turns to God.
These are common views in our world today of what it means that God is love. But, we must not, and cannot let the world determine our theology of God, we must turn to what the Scriptures say as we try to understand who He is. This is how John describes God’s love in today’s passage:
‘This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’ (verse 10).
The ESV uses the word ‘propitiation’ instead of ‘atoning sacrifice’, which means the turning away of God’s anger against our sin. This is the part of God which our world, and even many modern ‘Christians’, want to deny: God is angry at us because of our sin. They can’t believe that a loving God could ever be angry at sinners and send them to Hell.
If we deny the sacrifice of Jesus as God’s Son on the cross, John says that is the ‘spirit of the antichrist’ (verse 2–3). If we deny that God is angry at our sin, then we either deny that God is a holy God who cannot tolerate anything less than perfection, or we deny that we are sinful and rightly deserve punishment because of it. Well, we were reminded from the sermon on Sunday morning that God is holy and so He must punish sin. And we were reminded from the devotions last week that if we claim to be without sin we are both deceiving ourselves and making God out to be a liar (1 John 1:8 & 10).
However, when we rightly understand the seriousness of our sin and the magnitude of God’s wrath against it, we will truly understand the immensity of God’s love displayed on the cross—that He would send His one and only Son to be the propitiation for our sins. And only then will we begin to love as He first loved us.
I encourage you to go and listen to the song ‘How Deep the Father’s Love For Us’, to reflect on those words, to confess your sins that sent Jesus to the cross, and to rejoice in His great love for us.