We talk often of the love of God—and we should. It’s the favorite topic of so many Christians and even a lot of folks outside the church. They like the concept that God loves them no matter what. That is true, but when they focus solely on this attribute to the exclusion of God’s other attributes, even their understanding of His love gets distorted. “He’s going to let me into heaven because … well, a loving God wouldn’t let me go to hell.” I know a pastor’s wife who didn’t like to read the harsh Old Testament because she’d rather read the New Testament with all its emphasis on love. (I beg to differ. Read my post: Are There Two Gods in the Bible?)
We reason that God loves us because of who we are. But that’s a gross misunderstanding of God’s love. God loves us in spite of who we are! Paul reminds us of that reality.
“There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned way; all alike have become worthless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they deceive with their tongues. Vipers’ venom is under their lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and wretchedness are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:10-18).
Paul wasn’t writing about “those people over there.” These words describe us. You and me. We are nasty people. We are filthy with sin and rebellion. We are unlovable.
D.A. Carson painted a great picture of what this means about God’s love. I highly recommend his book, The God Who is There. In a section where he discussed John 3:16, Carson used the illustration of a couple in a romantic setting. When the man says, “I love you,” Carson asked us to consider what the man means by that.
“He could mean a lot of things…. When he says ‘I love you,’ he is in part saying that he finds her lovable, and if he has any sort of romantic twist, this is when it is likely to come out. ‘Sue, the color of your eyes—I could just sink into them. The smell of your hair, the dimples when you smile—there’s nothing about you I don’t love. Your personality—it is so wonderful. You’re such an encourager. You’ve got this laugh that can fill a whole room with smiles, it’s so contagious. Sue, I love you.’
We get that. It’s required dialogue in every romantic chick-flick. Many of us have said something similar or heard it said to us. But to understand God’s love, Carson wanted us to see what the man-in-love does not say.
“What he does not mean is this: ‘Sue, quite frankly, you are the most homely creature I know. Your bad breath could stop a herd of rampaging elephants. Your knees remind me of a crippled camel. You have the personality of Genghis Khan. You don’t have any sense of humor. You’re a miserable, self-righteous, narcissistic, hateful woman, and I love you.’
No one declares love like that! But God does. There is nothing lovable about us, yet God still loves us. Carson used John 3:16—“For God loved the world”—to help us see that.
“But the text says, ‘God so loved the world’—this broken and fallen world. It is as if God is saying to the world, ‘Morally speaking, you are the people of the crippled knees. You are the people of the moral bad breath. You are the people of the rampaging Genghis Khan personality. You are hateful and spiteful and murderous. And you know what? I love you anyway—not because you are so lovable but because I am that kind of God.’
We can truly be thankful that God is who He is. To know that God loves us when we are so unlovable should move us to love Him in return. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God’s amazing love translates into His amazing grace.
By His love and grace, we can be transformed. As the broken image of God is restored in us, we become the people He created us to be. But know this: even if you choose to ignore God’s love and stay in your sin, He still loves you.
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