Is God love?
Is God love? Well, if you ask most people, yes. And for the short answer, yes.
But the reality is much more complex. By that I mean, what does the phrase ‘God is love’ truly mean?
I bring this up because there is great misunderstanding about this in the church. Some teach that because God is love everyone will go to heaven. Makes no difference whether or not you’ve accepted Christ as your Savior, you’re good to go because God is love, and a loving God won’t condemn anyone to hell. In fact, recent results of the 2022 American Worldview Survey from Arizona Christian University show that 30% of evangelical pastors don’t believe that accepting Christ and confessing one’s sins is necessary. Pastors aren’t the only ones on this bandwagon. Well over a dozen Christian musicians have released songs titled, “God is Love.” A search online will reveal an abundance of teachings and books about God’s love, but when did you last hear someone teach on God’s wrath? In reality, the Bible talks about His wrath more than twice as much as His love.
Paul faced a similar issue in the early church, one in which God’s grace was considered the only thing one needed to gain eternal life. He wrote in detail about this in Romans 5 and 6. The crux of the issue is stated in Romans 6:1, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” Those early Christians continued living in sin, sacrificing to idols, and more, expecting God’s grace alone to save them. The issue goes by a five-dollar theological term, antinomianism—the belief that Christians, by virtue of divine grace, are freed not only from biblical law and church-prescribed behavioral norms, but also from all moral law. However, today, the word ‘grace’ has largely been replaced by ‘love.’ Still, the lyrics of one popular contemporary Christian song comes to mind and implies that the grace issue is still alive . . . “grace is all you need.” Well, yes . . . and no.
So, again, what is meant by saying that God is love?
First, we need to know what love is. Is it a warm, tingly-all-over, can’t-live-without-you emotion? Is it simply a form of lust, as Hollywood portrays it? Many, many years ago, our pastor at the time taught on this, and his answer was that biblically, love is not an emotion, but an action. To say that Christians will be known by their love for one another reflects our actions toward each other. To love your neighbor as yourself means to act as God would want you to act toward them.
Therein lies the rub. Do we show others respect? Sure. Do we act with kindness toward others? Yep. Do we try to show them a better way, God’s way, through our own lives and actions? You bet. Do we accept their alternative lifestyles or actions that go against God’s Word and His prescribed way of living? Nope. When someone tells you that as a Christian, you are expected to love unconditionally, they usually mean ‘accept me and my lifestyle’ or you’re being hateful. Sadly, their version of loving will lead them to an eternity of torment.
So, yes, God is love, but He’s also holy and sovereign. He’s prescribed a way of living that He expects His people to follow. He knows we’re not perfect, but He expects us to try and to emulate His Son, Jesus, as best we can. Only through Jesus Christ can we expect God’s grace to redeem us from that eternity of torment. Those who’ve not accepted Christ cannot expect His grace, or love, to save them. Even many who claim to be Christian, but who openly continue to sin and live outside God’s ways, run the risk of Jesus telling them, “I never knew you.” The result, His wrath, is clearly presented in the Bible. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Romans 1:22-32 and 2 Timothy 3:2-5 as but two examples.
Perhaps we should consider one more thing. How does God Himself define love? Those who teach on God’s love typically head to 1 John 4:7 and read on from there. Twice in the next several verses, the text explicitly states that “God is love.” Indeed, He is the epitome of love. As you read that chapter, note that God so loved us that He sent us His Son—an action. In fact, those verses are full of actions—testifying, confessing, abiding, perfecting, and more. No gushy emotions mentioned. God’s love is shown through actions.
While most teachers will stop at the end of the chapter, read on. Specifically, in 1 John 5:3, we read, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”(emphasis mine) Indeed, another action: keeping His commandments. God defines love—”this is love”—as being obedient and keeping His commandments. That’s certainly different than the common concept of God being love. This is found again in John 14: 15, 23-24: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. … Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.’ “ It’s significant that this is mentioned three times in the Bible.
So, yes, God is love, but He’s also holy and sovereign and wants us to be obedient and keep His commandments. Sin has no place in His presence, and only through Christ is our sin erased by His grace. How does that fit with your understanding and lifestyle?
Do you think Christ to be a myth? Do you see the Bible as a bunch of millennia-old letters written by long-dead men? (They weren’t white men, by the way.) Do the descriptions in Romans 1 or 2 Timothy 3 fit you? Do you follow a religion outside of Christianity? If you answered yes to any of those, you might want to investigate the teachings of Christ for yourself instead of relying upon the hearsay of others. Your eternity depends on your actions now. Being a “good” person doesn’t cut it.
Perhaps you claim to be a Christian. Sexual sin is rampant among self-proclaimed Christians. And it’s not just homosexuality. Pornography, sexual relationships outside of marriage, adultery, and more are common. Living together in a loving, caring, monogamous relationship is still sin if it’s outside of marriage. And sin among “Christians” is not just sexual. Do you cheat on your taxes? Have you “robbed” a business partner by hiding funds or taking an unfair share? Have you ever given false witness against another? Do you lie routinely? Repentance from such is also critical to your eternity.
Sadly, antinomianism is alive and well today. Again, as Christians, we should be striving to eliminate such things from our lives and to live as God wants us to live. We’re not perfect, but the grace of Christ is there for those who are repentant and seek to follow Him. I, for one, do not want to risk hearing the Lord tell me He never knew me.