Jesus was once asked which laws he believed were the most important to obey. The narrative of this account is recorded in Matthew 22:34-39:
“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Before we transition this study to looking at the various practical ways in which the doctrine of divine love can be applied in the Christian life, I believe it would first be helpful to establish certain nuances that have not yet been dealt with in this study.
As the Bible speaks about God’s divine love, it is typically in reference to God’s people, those whom belong to him through faith. However, one of the major areas of tension between Christianity and the modern world is the Christian message of exclusivism. Many consider Christianity and its historically understood doctrine of divine love as being unacceptable and prejudicial. John Macarthur recognizes this tension as well and writes:
It is also true that when Scripture speaks of divine love, the focus is usually on God’s eternal love toward the elect. God’s love for mankind reaches fruition in the election of those whom He saves. And not every aspect of divine love is extended to all sinners without exception… Can God sincerely love those whom he does not intervene to save?1
The Bible clearly expresses that God loves the whole world.2 Though God loves his elect (chosen) people in a special and unique way, he does have a general love for all people. Matthew 5:45b speaks of this general love, “…for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” God gives blessings of various kinds even to people who are his enemies and are rebelling against his authority. This is the kind of love Jesus is telling his disciples to emulate. Prior to his statement in Mathew 5:45b, Jesus says, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…”3
Though God does not love rebels in the same way he loves heirs, God still shows abundant love and grace to those who still hate him. He provides food, shelter, family, children, joy, happiness, and much more to those who only deserve judgment. Though many stumble when it comes to understanding how God loves unrepentant sinners, the Scripture is clear that he does. One of the primary problems in understanding this occurs when people believe that God’s love is entitled to them or to others. The idea of of being entitled to divine lose is a huge deception that can work in a person’s heart keeping them from coming to their own end and looking to Christ for salvation. When a person comes to understand their true nature as well as the vileness of sin, the question is not “how could God not love me?” but rather “how could a holy pure God find within himself the ability to love such an evil creature?” Therefore, the answer to reconciling divine love and how it relates to God’s elect and non-elect is to have a doctrine of divine love that is rooted in God as he is and not how people want him to be. My point is simple, no man made version of God is big and glorious enough to encompass a being who is able to love passionately His people while at the same time love those whom will perish. Only the God of Scripture is that awesome and if we seek to define God on our own terms rather than the terms he gives us to work with in His Word, we will always be confused by this paradox.
Consider a married man; few would complain if he chose not to love a woman who was not his wife the same way he loves his wife. In fact, most people would completely understand him withholding love for another woman. Though a man may love children, it would be completely acceptable for him to withhold a certain degree of his love from other children and keep it reserved only for his children. Most people have a moral framework that allows for giving and withholding various degrees of affection and love. Therefore, when it comes to the doctrine of divine love, the biggest problem with understanding God’s general and special love is not a moral problem. The biggest problem with distinguishing between the two is a spiritual problem; people want to assert themselves over God.
The Bible is clear that Jesus Christ died under the wrath of God for the sins of His people. The wrath Jesus endured was a wrath not owed to him but a wrath owed to sinners. Jesus willingly took this wrath in our place so that he could extinguish the debt we owed to the Father. The Bible does not speak of this exchange as being morally dubious or as an act contrary to love. Rather, the Bible speaks about this event as being the epitome of perfect divine love as it can be expressed towards creatures. If Christ could love a people to the degree that is demonstrated on the cross, what kind of love are his people capable of showing, His people who are not only given the righteousness of Christ as a Gift but the Holy Spirit (The Spirit of Love) as well? In the following posts I will seek to answer this question.
Here you may suppose the Father to say, when driving his bargain with Christ for you:
Father. My son, here is a company of poor miserable souls, that have utterly undone themselves, and now lie open to my justice! Justice demands satisfaction for them, or will satisfy itself in the eternal ruin of them: What shall be done for these souls And thus Christ returns.
Son. O my Father, such is my love to, and pity for them, that rather than they shall perish eternally, I will be responsible for them as their Surety; bring in all thy bills, that I may see what they owe thee; Lord, bring them all in, that there may be no after-reckonings with them; at my hand shalt thou require it. I will rather choose to suffer thy wrath than they should suffer it: upon me, my Father, upon me be all their debt.
Father. But, my Son, if thou undertake for them, thou must reckon to pay the last mite, expect no abatements; if I spare them, I will not spare thee.
Son. Content, Father, let it be so; charge it all upon me, I am able to discharge it: and though it prove a kind of undoing to me, though it impoverish all my riches, empty all my treasures, (for so indeed it did, 2 Cor. 8: 9. “Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor”) yet I am content to undertake it.
Blush, ungrateful believers, O let shame cover your faces; judge in yourselves now, has Christ deserved that you should stand with him for trifles, that you should shrink at a few petty difficulties, and complain, this is hard, and that is harsh? O if you knew the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in this his wonderful condescension for you, you could not do it.
~ John Flavel
John MacArthur, The God Who Loves: He Will Do Whatever It Takes to Draw Us to Him (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 111.
From a gang-member and professional rapper to a preacher and theologian, Kyle J. Howard has experienced Sovereign Grace and has dedicated his life to proclaiming it to others. Born into a multi-ethnic family of attorneys, Kyle was trained in rhetoric from an early age in preparation to one day take over the family law firm. However, when Kyle entered into his teen years, he rebelled against his family upbringing. At 15, Kyle became a member of a very violent gang known as the Crips. At 18, and shortly before signing a hip-hop recording contract, Kyle was radically converted to Christianity. Since then, Kyle has devoted his life to serving the church through the various gifts God has given him. Since 2012, Kyle has attended The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. At Southern, he has received an Associates in Biblical & Theological Studies, a Bachelors in Biblical Counseling, and is currently finishing up his Advanced Masters of Divinity in the field of Historical Theology. Kyle primarily serves the church as a Christian counselor and writer. Kyle provides a broad range of counseling services, but has begun focusing on providing soul care for Christians who are experiencing racial trauma. In his writing, Kyle has largely focused on issues concerning ethnic and racial reconciliation in the church. Along with counseling Christians struggling with trauma, Kyle has also begun coming alongside other counselors and majority culture churches and helping them cultivate ethnic and cultural sensitivity within their own counseling ministries. Kyle serves faithfully in his local church and has been married to his high school sweat heart (Vy) for ten years. They currently have three children. Kyle can be heard on his weekly podcast which is called the Coram Deo Podcast, read through his many articles at www.kylejhoward.com, or followed on Twitter @kylejameshoward.