Commentary, Featured, John McReynolds - Posted by on Saturday, September 11, 2010 17:30 - 2 Comments 3,996 views

Basics 16 – The Love of God

BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINE

Understanding God

Lesson Sixteen:  The Love of God 

In today’s modern world Love is probably the most misunderstood of all of God’s attributes because we have such a distorted view of love as it relates to humanity …  The English word “love” has come to cover a wide variety of meanings.  Especially in today’s modern culture love is linked with emotion: “I love music”, “I love my new car”, “I love my wife”,“I love my children”, “I love my friend”, etc.  These are all statements of love that encompass a variety of meanings, and all evoke a variety of emotions.  In less decadent times the concept of love had a stronger component of morality and high personal character prone to doing the right thing, and is less dependent on emotions.  But in today’s post-modern culture love has become so linked with sex and emotions, and so many marriage relationships have become so dependent on emotions or “feelings” of love and sexual attraction, that when “the thrill is gone”—to quote the old song—the couple is ready to head for the divorce court.

 

 

 BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINE

Understanding God

Lesson Sixteen: 

The Love of God 

by John McReynolds

Before we begin our study let’s spend a few moments in silent prayer, confessing our known sins if need be—claiming the promise of I John 1:9—and otherwise preparing our hearts for the study of the Word of God. Let us pray:

We’re grateful, Heavenly Father for another opportunity in grace to feast on your marvelous Word. We pray that the Holy Spirit will take these doctrines and make them a source of blessing and growth in our lives that we might show forth the Love of Christ to a lost and dying world, for we ask it in His name—amen.

We are about to approach one of the most difficult subjects in the Word of God.  It is difficult, not because the Bible has little to say about it—on the contrary, the Bible has a great deal to say on the subject.  The subject of Biblical love—which encompasses both the Love of God and the love of man—is difficult because love is so misunderstood by so many people. 

In the space available we cannot possibly hope to treat the subject thoroughly—we will only be able to hit the highlights.  But I do hope to cover the basic concepts of Divine Love enough so that the reader can come away with an adequate enough understanding of it that he can s  uccessfully apply the principles of God’s love to his own Christian walk.

A Review of God’s Perfections and Attributes 

In previous lessons we have spoken of God in His essence—His ultimate nature—as having a number of perfections and attributes.  We distinguished between perfections and attribute thus:

God’s perfections are aspects of His Divine nature that relate to His infinity, His absoluteness, and His excellence.  In other words these are the characteristics we observe if we regard God only as He relates to Himself and the other Members of the Trinity.  To review, we listed seven of God’s perfections:

  1.  God is Infinite

  2.  God is Immense

  3.  God is Absolute

  4.  God is Unapproachable

  5.  God is Undiminishable

  6.  God is Eternal

  7.  God is Unity (He is one in essence and unified in His attributes)

And then in the last lesson we added an eighth perfection we had overlooked: God is perfectly, absolutely, infinitely, undiminishably Happy.

Gods attributes are aspects of His Divine being that relate to His creation in general, and specifically to His intelligent creation—angels and men.  We have listed His attributes as:

  1.  God is Sovereign

  2.  God is Righteous

  3.  God is Just

  4.  God is Love

  5.  God is Eternal Life

  6.  God is Omnipotent

  7.  God is Omniscient

  8.  God is Omnipresent

  9.  God is Immutable

10.  God is Veracity (Truth)

So far in this series we have dealt with God’s Sovereignty (lesson 13) and we dealt with Righteousness and Justice together under the concept of God’s Holiness (lesson 14).  And of course in the last lesson we back-tracked a little and dealt with Happiness as one of His perfections.

Love: Everybody Seeks It, But Few Understand It 

In today’s modern world Love is probably the most misunderstood of all of God’s attributes because we have such a distorted view of love as it relates to humanity.  It seems everybody is looking for love, but not many people know how to go about getting it.  They don’t know because they don’t understand love.  Even the movie character Forrest Gump had a better idea of what love is than the average person today.  So before we begin to try to fathom the depths of Divine Love, let’s try to sort out the mess we’ve made of human love. 

The English word “love” has come to cover a wide variety of meanings.  Especially in today’s modern culture love is linked with emotion: “I love music”, “I love my new car”, “I love my wife”,“I love my children”, “I love my friend”, etc.  These are all statements of love that encompass a variety of meanings, and all evoke a variety of emotions.  In less decadent times the concept of love had a stronger component of morality and high personal character prone to doing the right thing, and is less dependent on emotions.  But in today’s post-modern culture love has become so linked with sex and emotions, and so many marriage relationships have become so dependent on emotions or “feelings” of love and sexual attraction, that when “the thrill is gone”—to quote the old song—the couple is ready to head for the divorce court.

  There are several different forms of love—we’ll cover all of them in a moment.  But all forms of love have two factors in common: there is a virtue on which the love is dependent, and there is some expression of the love.  What do I mean by “virtue”?  Virtue is the basis for the love and determines what type of love is expressed.  This is virtue in a neutral sense.  As we are using the word here virtue is merely the attractive quality—it does not necessarily connote good or bad.  I want to point out that virtue can also mean godly virtue, or what we can call Christian virtue.  But for this discussion when I use the term “virtue” I mean virtue in the general sense.

As we will see in a moment, for example, a person may be physically attractive to another person, so that person can be said to possess the virtue of physical beauty or attractiveness.  Another person may display the virtue of a superior intellect, and so someone may be attracted to that person because of their “braininess”.  In each case the nature of the love relationships that develop will be quite different because of the nature of the attractions.

Four Greek Words for Love 

The Koine Greek spoken in New Testament times had four different words to describe the several meanings encompassed by our English word love.  These were the words eros, storge, philos, and agape.  Let’s look briefly at each one of these: 

Eros [ἔρως – pronounced AIR-ohs] – is passionate love, with a strong element of sensual desire and longing.  It is the root of such English words as erotic, erotica, and eroticismEros is a neutral word: it encompasses all of the meanings of romantic and physical love in all of its varied expressions, both legitimate—as within proper courtship and marriage, and illegitimate—carnal expressions of lustful desires outside of God’s design, as in adulterous or perverted relationships. 

In eros, the virtue possessed is sensual in nature—it is based on physical attractiveness—what we could call “romantic chemistry”.  The expression of eros is likewise sensual and ultimately sexual in nature, and often preliminary to a sexual act.  You will not find the word eros used in the New Testament.  However, the Jewish scholars of Alexandria who translated the Old Testament Scriptures into the Greek language translation known as the Septuagint, used eros to translate certain Hebrew words describing sexual encounters in the Old Testament (Pro. 7:8). 

Eros by itself is very undependable as the sole basis for a love relationship since it tends to be grounded only in physical / romantic / emotional attraction.  It requires a strong component of physical attraction or at least physical desire.  Once the attraction has waned the intensity of eros wanes with it.  It is usually very emotional in its expression—although the emotions tend to be very unstable, especially when the relationships are illicit or not tempered by godly virtue.  A biblical example of this is the incestuous rape of Tamar by her half-brother Amnon which is recounted in 2 Sam. 13.

Storge [στοργή – pronounced stor-GAY] – is natural affection, like that felt by parents for offspring.  This is familial love and encompasses any feelings of kinship.  It is only used twice in the New Testament (Rom. 1:31, 2 Tim. 3:3), both times in a negative sense to describe someone without natural affection.  Storge is similar in some respects to agape love (see below) in that it too can be unconditional and it can have a strong sacrificial component. Nevertheless it is much more limited in its scope than agape.

In storge, there is no intrinsic virtue other than the familial relationship.  Storge can develop in any relationship where there is familiarity—as occasioned by frequent and prolonged contact.  Storge does not necessarily require any particular quality on the part of the one who is loved—merely the fact of the relationship can be enough.  We illustrate that truth when we say that someone or something “has a face only a mother could love.” 

Storge can be very intense—naturally so in the case of mother and child.  But it can be very intense in other situations: Extreme danger can greatly intensify storge—examples are the relationships that develop between comrades-in-arms on the battlefield.  In war soldiers have often sacrificed themselves for their comrades, demonstrating extreme examples of the self-sacrificing aspect of storge.  The normal self-sacrificial expression of storge is seen when the person doing the loving provides for the needs of the object of their love, sacrificing out of their own substance with no thought of reciprocation.  The most basic and primal picture of this is the mother nursing her young.  This “providing for” or provisional expression of storge normally continues throughout the childhood and adolescent phases until the offspring is self-sufficient. 

The provisional aspect of storge is similar to the agape love associated with God as we noted above.  This aspect is reflected in one of the Hebrew names of God that relates to His infinite power or His omnipotence—El Shaddai—translated “God Almighty”.  The word shaddai is thought by some Hebrew scholars to come from a Hebrew root meaning breast and it pictures a mother suckling her young.  In every instance where the phrase “God Almighty” or “Almighty God” appears in the Old Testament it is this Hebrew phrase El Shaddai.  It could be translated literally, “the God of many breasts”—an aspect which is in view in Gen. 42:25.  Thus El Shaddai speaks not only of God’s infinite power being brought to bear on protection from enemies, but also in God’s infinite ability to supply all of our needs.

Philos [φίλος – pronounced PHIL-ahs] – friend, or philia [φιλία – pronounced phil-EE-ah] – friendship.  It is a dispassionate virtuous love; it includes loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires a high degree of virtue, equality, and an easy familiarity between the two parties.  In this respect it is similar to storgePhilos or philia is the root of the English words Philadelphia (brotherly love) and philanthropy (love for mankind as expressed in generosity).  Other words also derive from philos: philately means love of stamps or stamp collecting!

Philia love does not require intense feelings between the parties.  However, a philia relationship can develop into storge and result in more intense emotions than romantic love—witness the relationship between David and Jonathan (2 Sam. 1:26).  In its highest expressions philia requires the virtues of mutual loyalty, reliance, and familiarity based on trust.  There must be an equal footing between the friends, with all contributing equally toward the friendship for philia to survive.  Philia generally develops out of common interests.  It is a higher form of love, but it does require intrinsic virtue on the part of both parties and in that respect it is conditional, not unconditional.

Agape [ἀγάπη – pronounced ah-GAH-pay] – this is unconditional love with a strong self-sacrificial component.  Agape is generally considered to be the highest form of love—it is closest to the Divine expression of love, and is most often the word used in the New Testament to describe it.  The unconditional aspect of agape is very important: agape does not require virtue on the part of the one receiving it—rather agape depends strictly upon the character of the one bestowing it.  The Divine attribute of Love (agape) is the motivator behind grace—without agape, grace could not be sustained.

Agape love has its source in God—it is not a type of love that develops naturally in fallen man.  When it is found in people it is there because it has been developed either through the God-given laws of Divine Establishment in the case of unbelievers, or for believers through the development of the Spiritual House of the Soul as we have described it in previous lessons. 

A person who exhibits true agape love displays such a strong attitude of selflessness and self-sacrifice that those who observe it can readily see that it is unnatural—it is not something they would expect based on their own experiences and natural inclinations.  And people are either attracted to it or repelled by it.  When people are attracted to the agape love displayed in the life of the believer, that is often what makes them receptive to the Gospel—when they see agape love in the life of the believer they see a tiny glimpse of our Lord.

Complex Love Relationships

Now, human love relationships are very complicated—especially between men and women.  The relationship between a man and a woman may begin with a strong romantic attraction to each other, which may or may not last very long.  It is generally eros that initiates courtship.  If the attraction lasts, then a component of philia may begin to develop as the couple discovers common interests beyond the purely physical. 

Then the couple begins to also discover things that are not so attractive about each other.  But because their other attractive qualities are stronger they find ways to put up with what they consider unattractive weaknesses for the sake of the other, more desirable aspects of the relationship. 

And so a new component develops—storge, which is a more familiar type of love—the kind of love that has an unconditional element that is willing to put up with shortcomings for the sake of the more positive aspects of the relationship.  If the relationship continues for a significant portion of the couple’s lifetime, because of natural progression of aging and other factors, the erotic component usually diminishes, but if the relationship is healthy the philia and storge components will tend to sustain it and keep it stable.

What Makes Agape Different? 

Notice that I have not included agape in the above marriage scenario.  As we have said earlier, agape is Divine love.  We just saw how eros, storge, and philos combine in complex ways to form love relationships.  When the couple is a Christian couple and both are growing in the Lord, agape love comes to the fore and becomes the primary stabilizer of the relationship.  This is because a couple that is advancing in the Christian life together becomes progressively aware that the real purpose for their marriage is to glorify God.  And the development of agape love in their own lives enhances and stabilizes their marriage.

Agape Always Seeks the Good  

Agape is love that does not occur naturally, for two reasons.  First, because with agape love the goal is the good of the object. 

For God so loved [agapao, the verb form of agape] the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”—John 3:16. 

God gave His Son so that mankind might be redeemed and have eternal life.  And He did it while men were completely estranged from Him—we had no relationship with God whatsoever. 

But God demonstrates His own love [agape] toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”—Rom. 5:8. 

How many people do you know that would willingly sacrifice their only son just to give someone they have absolutely nothing in common with the chance to establish a relationship with them?  That is pure agape. And that is simply not something that is natural to us humans.

Godly Virtue in the Lover 

Second, agape requires that the virtue reside in the object—in the person doing the loving, not the person receiving it.  This is why agape is purely unconditional—it does not depend on virtue in the subject—the person receiving the love.  In other words the recipient of agape does not have to earn or deserve the love in any way—it depends totally on the virtue–integrity of the person doing the loving. 

All forms of natural human love require some virtue on the part of the subject—the person being loved.  Even storge, which comes closest to agape in terms of demonstrating unconditional love, depends on some pre-existing relationship between the one loving and the one being loved.  A mother loves her wayward child unconditionally, but it is natural because the child is related to her by birth—the relationship is the virtue on the part of the child. 

Redeeming Love 

But, as Rom. 5:8 tells us, when God demonstrated His love toward us we were totally estranged from Him.  There was no virtue in us because we were born sinners, and therefore we had no relationship with God—it was severed.  The only reason God saved us was because of the agape love that resides in Him.  We were completely abhorrent to Him.  There was nothing about us that was attractive to Him—yet He took action to save us.  Such is the nature of Divine agape love. 

The Old Testament book of Hosea illustrates this principle.  God commanded the prophet Hosea to go out and take a known harlot to be his wife.  He did this and brought the woman, Gomer, into his house.  In spite of repeated chances Gomer kept returning to her old ways of promiscuity and loose living.  During the course of their marriage she presented Hosea with three children—and he was not the father of the last two.  Finally she ran away from him and “hooked up” with another man.  When that relationship fizzled, Gomer became a cheap prostitute and ended up in a slave market.  Again God commanded Hosea to go and purchase her from the slave market and restore her to full status as his wife. 

The story of Hosea and Gomer is a picture of the situation that exists between God and man, and it paints a vivid picture of the lengths to which God will go to redeem us when we are totally unlovely and undeserving.  There is a romantic novel by Francine Rivers, Redeeming Love, that was inspired by the book of Hosea.  Normally I’m not a fan of romantic novels, but this one is excellent—I heartily recommend it.

Loving, or Just Feeling? 

We’ve been examining the various types of love.  But now let’s go back and review some love basics.  We have established that love relationships require a subject and an object.  We have seen that love can be objective—focused on the object, the one receiving the loving.  Or love can be subjective—focused on the subject, the one doing the loving. 

Love is also directional.  The expression of love is normally from one person toward another.  If we look at the sentence “I love you” we see a subject—“I”—a verb—“love”—and an object—“you”.  A simple sentence like this always expresses action which is initiated by the subject and is directed toward the object—the verb of action links the subject and the object together.  In this sentence the action verb is love

Now let’s look at the statement, “I feel love for you.”  In this case the word “love” is not a verb—it is a noun.  The verb is “feel”.  And it’s not really even an action verb—it’s a passive verb, because feeling love for someone does not require any overt action on the part of the “feeler”.  So if we compare the two sentences, “I love you”, and “I feel love for you”, we see that the first sentence is objective.  That is, the action of the verb “love” is directed toward the object— “you”.  But the second sentence, “I feel love for you”, is subjective.  That is because the action verb, “feel”, is directed toward the subjectI”.

This illustrates an important truth about love.  If I say “I love you” and I really mean “I feel love for you”, then my love is subjective—directed toward myself—and it’s basically selfish in character.  But if I say “I love you” and really mean “I love you”, then that love will result in some overt action intended for your good.  This is because true love always seeks the best for the object of love.  This is the Biblical perspective of love.  It is always objective—always directed toward the object. In Biblical agape love, those that are doing the loving derive their satisfaction from benefitting the objects of their love.

The Love Chapter 

The book of 1st Corinthians, chapter 13 is the quintessential chapter in the Bible on the subject of love.  Look at verses 4 through 7:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

When a person truly loves another person—when they can say “I love you” and truly mean it—then they will exhibit all these qualities through their actions.  Their actions will say “I love you” far louder than their words.

As we have already seen Divine love is almost exclusively described in the New Testament by the Greek word agape—deep, abiding, unconditional, self-sacrificing love.  It describes the love which God has for man—John 3:16, and it describes the love with which God expects His children to love Him.—Matt. 22:37.  The verses in 1 Cor. 13 we quoted above were describing agape love.  We’ve already seen some truths relating to agape love, but let’s try to get just a little better understanding of Divine love by listing some of the characteristics that make it distinct from the other, lower, human types of love.

Agape is Unconditional 

Agape love places no restraints on its object as conditions for the love—it is totally unconditional.  In the other three forms of love there are always some restraints—some limits—placed on the object of love.  For example, pure eros love is dependent on the virtue of romantic or physical attractiveness, and erotic love often does not survive the loss of that attractiveness on the part of the object.  Philos requires a common interest or at least a common situation.  Remove that commonality and you remove the basis for the friendship. 

Even storge requires family ties or at least ties of familiarity.  But if those are missing then the love relationship usually does not develop.  If you have ever watched shows about wild animals you may have seen episodes where an orphaned young animal was rejected by other mothers.  Only in animals where there is a well developed herd or pack instinct is the baby taken to nurse by a foster mother.

God’s agape love for mankind is not predicated on man’s inherent virtue.  Instead it is dependent entirely on God’s character—and when agape is expressed in the life of the believer the virtue is godly virtue, and no other.  It proceeds from God Himself.  Man cannot hope to earn or deserve the virtue which motivates God’s agape love for us.  Man possess no righteousness by which he can hope to earn the approbation of God—yet because of His agape love He has sovereignly elected us to salvation.

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.  And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.  But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.”—Isaiah 64:6-8 (KJV)

Agape is Objective 

Pure agape love is objective—its focus is on the object of love.  Agape is not selfish.  While it is true that it has pleased God to bestow the grace of salvation on us, and to share the infinite blessings of an eternity with Him, it came at a terrible cost.  His uniquely born Son, Jesus Christ, had to suffer excruciating death to pay that price, and suffer the much more agonizing weight of all the sins of all mankind plus the righteous wrath of the Father on each and every one of those sins.  As we will see momentarily, God paid an infinite price to redeem us.  That is not the action of a selfish Deity.  

No, God is not selfish, and therefore His love is not selfish.  It is the ultimate agape love, focused totally on the object of His love.  He loves Himself infinitely, but that is not a selfish love, because each member of the Godhead loves the other two members with this same infinite love.  And because He loves Himself, He loves the creation He has made. And because He loves it He has sovereignly decided to redeem it from its fallen state.  And to those of the race of men that have chosen to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, He has sovereignly imputed His very own Righteousness, making them acceptable to Him, and freeing Him to impute endless blessings from the riches of His agape love.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great [agape] love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”—Eph. 2:5-7

This begs the question: If God has this infinite love for His creation, how can we reconcile His love with the fact that He condemns the unbeliever to the Lake of Fire for all eternity?  I’m going to put off that question momentarily—not to avoid it, but because I want to finish this analysis of agape.  We will return shortly to the issue posed by the question.

Agape’s Virtue Resides in the Subject 

As we have seen, all love requires virtue.  It either resides in the object receiving the love or in the subject initiating the loving—and in the complex realities of human love it generally resides in both to one degree or another.  As we have seen there is attractiveness in the object in eros or romantic love.  There are family or familiarity relationships—either close or not so close—that form the basis of storge love, which can reside in any or all of the parties to the relationship.  There is commonality of interests that reside in all of the parties to philos relationships.

But in agape love the virtue resides in the personal integrity of the one loving.  And although it can—and should—reside in both parties to the relationship, it only needs to reside in the one who initiates the agape love—the subject of the relationship.  The receiving party—the object of the love—does not have to have any virtue at all.  This is the message of the book of Hosea, and this is the kind of love—redeeming love—with which God loves us.

Now at this point I must insert a very strong qualification—and a very stern warning.  Just because it is the nature of agape love to require virtue only in the subject, do not think for one minute that God does not require godly living from us.  Do not get the idea that just because He loves us that God will turn a blind eye toward sin.  At the same time that we are under the Love of God we are also under His Justice and His Righteousness.  You cannot get away with that kind of laissez faire thinking in the Christian life.  Even the unbeliever must understand the reality of his sin in order to realize his need of a Savior, and that understanding must include some realization that his sin has profoundly offended God.  That understanding must precede his putting faith alone in Christ alone to obtain his eternal salvation.

Agape is Optional 

The last point I want to make about agape love is that it is optional.  By that I mean that expressing agape love to someone who may or may not deserve it is strictly a matter of volition.  God did not have to send His Son into the world to save us.  But in His Plan He sovereignly decided that the Second Person of the Trinity would come into this fallen world as Jesus of Nazareth, live a perfect, sinless life and arrive at the cross as the perfect Lamb of God, there to give up His life as a sacrifice for the sins of all mankind.  This was an expression of God’s infinite agape love—

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16. 

Now what motivated God to take this action was His infinite agape love.  But it was not just His love for mankind that impelled Him to make this sacrifice—it was also His love for His own perfect essence which is resident in all three of the Members of the Trinity—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  God could have simply blinked mankind out of existence when Adam and Eve fell in the Garden.  But since mankind was a initially a part of His perfect creation, He was motivated to include in His Plan a way to redeem fallen mankind and restore our depraved race to its initial state of perfection.

Likewise, when we express agape love to someone who is unloveable—a disagreeable spouse, a disobedient child, an agressive driver in traffic, a difficult co-worker—it takes an active decision of the will to express it.  It is a matter of volition—of choice.  Why then would we even consider treating some driver who just sent a rude gesture our way, or the co-worker who just spread false rumors about us, with courtesy and deference?  We do it because our Lord commands us to do it!  God left us here after salvation as ambassadors—representatives—for Christ.  We are to display God’s perfect agape love for the rest of the world to see.  Matt. 5:28-48 gives Jesus’ instructions regarding how we are to express this perfect agape love of God:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons [ambassadors] of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Notice that God commands us to be perfect.  Now, I don’t know about you (well—yes, actually I do), but there is no way that I could do any of the selfless actions Jesus commanded in the above verses from my own nature.  When God tells us to be perfect He does so knowing perfectly well that we cannot possibly fulfill His command to be perfect.  This is why we must be born again—regenerated—and given a new nature from which it is possible to be perfect.  And even then it requires a lifelong process of perfecting our imperfect lives—what we call experiential sanctification—to achieve. 

Three Stages of Sanctification

To be sanctified means to be set apart for God’s special purpose.  All believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are sanctified.  Sanctification occurs in three stages: Stage one occurs at the moment of salvation when we are born again.  This is called Positional Sanctification.  This simply means that we are marked by God as His possession.  Nobody would be able to tell that we are set apart unto God by looking at us.

The second stage of sanctification occurs when the born-again believer takes in the Bible Doctrine God makes available to him, believes it, and applies it in His daily life.  As we have seen again and again in our studies it is the receiving, believing, and applying of God’s truth in our lives that effects a spiritual transformation in us.  This is called Experiential Sanctification, and when this occurs it is visible to other people.  They can look at us and tell that we are different—that we are set apart unto the Lord.

Stage three is known as Ultimate Sanctification, and it occurs when we depart from this life and are given our eternal rewards and blessings in heaven.  How great these rewards and blessings are depend on how much and how consistently we fulfilled the God-given opportunities to “… grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ …” while we were on the earth (2 Pet. 3:18). The rewards and blessings we receive in heaven depend on how well we “redeem the time …” while we’re here on earth (Eph. 5:16).  This is the only way we can “be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect” as Jesus commanded us in Matt. 5:48.  And it is the only way we can display the agape love of God to those around us during the time God has given us here after salvation.

It’s taken us a while to get through this little analysis of God’s love—agape love.  Just to recap we have seen that agape love is unconditional, it is objective, the virtue in agape resides in the subject—the one doing the loving, and it is optional—which is to say that it is not natural to us—it requires obedience on our part.

The Love of God and the Lake of Fire 

Now, a while ago we posed a question which we temporarily put off answering.  But as I promised then, we are now going to address it.  The question was, “If God has infinite, agape love for His creation, how are we to reconcile this with the fact that He condemns the unbeliever to the Lake of Fire for all eternity”?

This has been a question which has plagued Christians and those considering Christianity for many, many centuries.  Because of the absolute nature of God there is no pat answer to this difficult question.

To begin to understand this thorny issue we must review what we have studied about God up to this point.  We are currently studying God’s love.  Many people have criticized the Christian faith because of this very issue.  They ask, “How can a loving God condemn a person to eternal hell just because they refuse to believe in His Son?”  The answer is based in the fact that we cannot separate Divine Love from His other characteristics—the whole Person of God must be considered. 

God is not like us.  With us everything is relative.  What is a big deal to us may be no big deal to others.  But with God everything is absolute.  Either a thing is perfectly good or it is completely unrighteous.  With God everything is black and white.  Things are shades of gray for us because we are limited in our understanding, and because we cannot discern where white stops and black starts, we just sort of mix it all together in shades of gray.  But God is omniscient—He understands everything.  He can see clearly what is black and what is white.  It is no problem for Him to see the absolute truth of every matter.  He knows every man’s thought and action, which ones are righteous and which ones are sin.  And even though He loves us, because of His perfect character He must still judge us for our sin. 

Now it is true that “… God is Love” (1 John 4:8, 16).  But He is also Righteousness and Justice (Psalm 145:17—“The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works”).  As perfect Holy God He cannot tolerate any sin.  God is sovereign over all the universe—indeed over all of reality.  As Sovereign God He must judge His creation.  His Righteous standard is absolute, utter perfection—nothing less than this perfection can be tolerated from His creatures.  And when His perfect standard is transgressed, infinite God is profoundly and infinitely offended (Psalm 7:11—“God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day”). 

God must then pass judgment on sin, and specifically on those who have refused His solution to the sin problem—the work of His Son Jesus Christ.  He pronounces a sentence in keeping with the extent of His infinite anger:

But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds … to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, [He renders] wrath and indignation.” Rom.2:5-6, 8

God Will Judge Sin 

The Bible makes it plain that there is coming a day of judgment, and that at some point every person must stand before God.  God understood that because of the fall and the effects of sin on the whole human race and His own perfect character there was no way that any member of the human race would be able to survive His wrath against sin. 

Every person with a human father—that’s all of us—is born depraved.  We are all under the curse of sin.  Every one of us has three strikes against us right from the start.  First, because all of us are descended from Adam we all share the guilt of Adam’s sin.  Second, we also inherited a sinful nature that is willful, rebellious, and selfish at its very core.  Our very natures rebel against boundaries, moral constraints, and anyone who acts as an authority over us.  Third, from that sinful nature we commit acts of personal sin.  And not one of us is exempt from the effects of the fall: “As it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one”—Rom. 3:10.  So none of us could possibly hope to survive our day in court before God in judgment.

Why the Father Sent Us Jesus 

It was for this reason that God the Father, out of His agape love for us, sent His Son into the world to pay the just penalty of sin—John 3:16.  Jesus was a true human, born of a human mother, but because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, not by a human father, Jesus was not under the curse of sin:  He did not share in the guilt of Adam, He did not inherit a sinful nature, and for the entire 33 years He lived here on planet earth, Jesus lived a perfect human life, committing no acts of personal sin.  He constantly and continually remained within the plan and will of His Heavenly Father from the moment He was born until His last breath on the cross of Calvary.  And because He was a perfect, sinless human being, Jesus qualified as the perfect sacrifice for us.  Because He had no sin in Him, Jesus was the only human being ever born who was able to take our sins upon Himself, and satisfy the righteous anger of the Father by dying in our place.

Yes, Jesus is truly a human being, but He is also God—He is true Deity.  And because He is God He was able to take His life up again after He laid it down at the cross.  Look at what Jesus said in John 10:17-18:

For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again.  No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. [As true humanity] I have authority to lay it down, and [as true Deity] I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.

The Lord’s Eternal Pain  

We asked the question, “How can a loving God condemn men to the Lake of Fire for all eternity (Rev. 20:14)?”  So in these final words of this lesson let me try to give you a perspective on that.  As humans we have a great deal of difficulty trying to grasp what may seem to us to be an arbitrary and heartless aspect of God.  But the difficulty arises with the essential nature of how we perceive the universe, and how God perceives it.  God is infinite; we are finite. God is omniscient (all-knowing); we are deficient (especially with respect to knowledge).  God is eternal (not constrained by time); we are temporal (constrained by time).  Let’s see what some of these things really mean.

God knows all; we know almost nothing.  Because God is omniscient He knows with perfect understanding all things.  By perfect understanding I mean that His knowledge and the quality of understanding is perfect.  It cannot be diminished.  By contrast our knowledge is incomplete, and it tends to deteriorate.  I got a degree in chemistry, but that was over thirty years ago.  I’ve forgotten most of what I ever knew about chemistry, because I don’t use it anymore.  But God never loses knowledge.  Because He is unrestrained by time, his knowledge is fresh and new and real to Him.  That’s because for Him there is no past or future.  For God the entire universe is here, and what we call time—all of the past, present, and future, as well as all of eternity—for God is now.

The Bible says that we will be able to see His scars, the ones he obtained at Calvary, when we see Him face to face.  But how does God view His own scars?  How does He perceive His own sufferings on the Cross?

I don’t think we’ll ever know that fully—probably not even in eternity.  But maybe we can get a tiny glimpse of how much Christ suffered.  We know that He took the penalty of our sins in his own body upon the tree.  Jesus Christ suffered the full wrath of God, which God had graciously stored up to pour out on the Lamb in the fullness of time, instead of consuming us in atomic flame as we deserved.  We can never—thank God—know what agony He must have felt.

But, whatever He felt, it must have been finite, right?  After all, He died for all men, and there’s just so many of them, right?  He suffered for three hours on the Cross.  Three hours isn’t all that long…right?

The Infinite Penalty for Sin 

Wrong!  Remember, for Him there is no past or future.  For God all of what we call time—all of the past, present, and future, as well as all of eternity, is one all-inclusive, ever-present NOW.  So to Him, the unspeakable agonies of the Cross are real, and present, and utterly now.  Someday, in what is for us the future, as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ we will be with Him.  In that day, while we bask in His love and fellowship, He will still be feeling the agonies of the Cross, and the penalty He continues to pay for our sins, undiminished, right then.  For Him the agony is timeless; it will never end.  Being God, I seriously doubt that He shows it.  Many people have suffered back or knee or other injuries that cause them debilitating pain all of their lives.  They control it, live with it, and get on with their lives.  They can do this because they have the capacity to endure the pain.  I think that’s the way it is with Jesus Christ.  The only difference is that He is the only unique person of the universe who is capable of suffering that kind of timeless pain for us.  Because He is God, and infinite in nature, His capabilities are not in the least diminished by what He suffers—including His infinite capacity to love us.  In the words of the old hymn Amazing Love:

And can it be, that I should gain,

An interest in my Savior’s blood?

Died He for me, who caused His pain

For me who Him to death pursued?

Amazing love! How can it be

That Thou my God shoudst die for me?”

We caused our Lord the pain that He eternally feels.  Every time we sin that sin caused Jesus to scream aloud while He hung on the cross.  Every act of sin, every lie you tell, every impure thought you have adds to the pain our Lord suffers for all eternity. 

Let us never again imagine that Christ paid a finite price for us.  It was infinite in every respect.  The Lord Jesus Christ, our God, paid that price for us.  Is it so hard to understand then How God would be justified in His punishment of those who spit in His face when offered that free gift of salvation?  Our Lord will still be suffering the pain of our redemption a trillion, trillion years from now.  Should not those who reject His offer to suffer in their place, themselves suffer eternal punishment?  

Let us never again question God’s fairness in sentencing unbelievers to an eternity in the Lake of Fire.  Instead let us remember the pain He continually suffers the next time we are faced with those decisions we are faced with continually: to sin, or not to sin.  God gave us the means and the ability through the Holy Spirit to choose not to sin.  It’s simply up to us to choose rightly.

Thank You, Heavenly Father, that in your boundless, infinite love You authored the perfect plan of salvation.  We are so grateful that our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to carry out that plan when He came to this cursed earth, becoming a man, living the perfect life, and choosing to obey Your plan by giving Himself on the cross as the acceptable substitute for us. 

We are the ones who deserve Your wrath, but because of your amazing love, we who accept Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, are assured of a future with You.  Help us through Your word and by means of Your Holy Spirit to gain the spiritual growth and maturity to develop a proper gratitude for our Lord’s unspeakable gift.  Help us to repent and turn away from sin, realizing that when we don’t we are adding to the eternal pain of our Lord.

Bless now Your word to our hearts.  Cause it to edify us and conform us more perfectly to the image of our Lord, for it is in His name and to His glory we ask it, amen.

 

To the reader:  If you have read this lesson, I would greatly appreciate any feedback, questions, or comments you have.  Getting feedback from my readers is very helpful and encouraging to me.  I promise to respond to all legitimate questions or comments as appropriate.  But please, do keep your questions and comments appropriate and constructive.

Thank you very much.

In His Service,

John McReynolds

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Margaret
Dec 2, 2011 22:36

What about the fact that on the cross Jesus said "it is finished"
Apart from this I think your articles are wonderful !

jemcr45
Dec 4, 2011 19:08

Hi Margaret! If you are referring to what I believe you are, I think your question is a very good one. My last point in the article had to do with Jesus experiencing the pain of His sacrifice for all eternity, because of the fact that He is truly God, and therefore omniscient. Because He is omniscient He is intimately aware of all events past, present and future, including His own suffering on the cross. Jesus the man died on the cross, paying the penalty for sin, in the realm of Time. But resurrected Jesus lives in Eternity, where past, present, and future have no meaning, especially to omniscient God, which Jesus is. This is why I think the suffering He experienced on the cross is as real to Him in eternity as when He experienced it in time.

Now it is true that among His last words on the cross was the statement "It is finished!" The Greek word there is TETELESTAI, literally meaning "FINISHED!" Most theologians agree that Jesus was referring here to His mission to take the sins of the world upon Himself and pay the Divine penalty for the sins of mankind for all time. I don't think it meant that after Jesus finished paying the penalty He was saying, "Thank God THAT'S over!"

Another way to look at it is this: Many people understandably question how a loving God can sentence unbelievers to an pain-filled eternity in the Lake of Fire. I think the notion of Jesus' eternally felt pain answers that paradox. Jesus paid the penalty for sin–death–and the reality of that painful death on the cross is eternally fresh and real to Him. Since He was willing to pay that eternal penalty for mankind, is it not just that those who reject His provision for their eternal life should themselves experience eternal pain? Since they refused Jesus' offer to suffer in their place, what else is left for them except eternal suffering?

For what it's worth, there are many who do not like my conclusions in this matter–my dear wife is among them. We have had several spirited discussions about this. But I stand by my convictions. And if my explanation doesn't satisfactorily answer your question, we can always agree to disagree. Christian love allows that.

John

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