7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God 8 He that loves not, knows not God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested unto us because He sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son: the propitiation for our sins.1 John 4:7-10
John’s thought now moves into an extended discussion of God’s love towards us, and its effects in us. The base confession that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh assists us in prioritizing our earthly loves. We are to overcome those who are “anti-Christ”, and this how we love our enemies (4:4). We don’t link arms with false teachers. Rather, we oppose them with the truth of God’s love to us in Christ’s Incarnation.
The Christian life is one that is begotten by God’s love. This makes us both partakers and distributors of God’s love. We love our enemies, and we do this by faithfully opposing their errors, in all gentleness, firmness, and humility. So we love those who are “without” in one way, but we ought to bear love towards those who are “within” the fellowship of God. Those born of Him, should love others who are born of Him. Thus John gives his famous command to “love one another”. Clearly, we must love those who share in the regenerating love of God.
But it is important to note that truly loving others is only possible through a new birth (v7). Those who love are born of God, and know God. From this, we should see the opposite is also true; those who do not love aren’t born of God nor do they know God (v8). While man is born with natural affections, it is the new birth through Christ which restores and rightly orders these loves.
But there is an important error that many people make with John’s famous line, “God is love.” They read it, and then immediately invert it to: “Love is God.” AW Tozer points out the folly of inverting John’s statement, “This is a great error. John was by those words stating a fact, but he was not offering a definition.”1 This line should be taken with John’s earlier statement that God is light (1:5). Love & light (i.e. wisdom) are communicable attributes of God, but they aren’t the definition of God. If we get that wrong we end up worshipping attributes of God, not God Himself.
All that being said, we must affirm that if God is the fount of true love, those whom He transforms by His love will bear this family resemblance. The light of God illuminates for us the Love of God. It is vital that we understand what love is in light of God’s truth, and we do this by looking at how God manifested His love (vv9-10). God loved us by sending (literally commissioning) His Son, in the flesh, to make a way for us to obtain Life. But the way in which Jesus brought us life was by His death.
God’s love was not content to simply overlook our sin. Rather, He made Christ the propitiation (the covering) for our sins. And here is one of the deepest doctrines of Scripture, which many have protested against. This love was shown to us not because we first showed love to God, but because He determined, by His sovereign grace, to shed His love upon us in Christ. You did not choose Him, but He chose you (Jn. 15:16). It wasn’t as if you loved Him enough so as to obligate God to love you. God’s love was freely given, through no deserving on your part.
In other words, the Love of God is no gentle kitten. It is not sentimentality. It is not warm fuzzies. Rather it is a bulwark of deliverance. It is a deep ocean of forgiveness. It is a heaven of undeserved favor. God’s Love, through Jesus Christ coming in the flesh to die in your stead, forms the basis for our love towards our brethren, and our love for our enemy.
This is a love that is true. Your sins were black as hell, but the light has come in Christ. This love of God did not redefine our sin. This Love was manifested in the flesh that He might die to cover our sins. This is a love that dies. This is a love that tells the truth. This is a love that has come that we might live.
Yes. God is Love. And John doesn’t leave us to erroneously invert that statement into a worship of the false goddess of love. He defines that Love. God’s Love had a name: Jesus. God’s Love died in our place, because our sins were like scarlet. God’s Love was Life, and now by Him we partake of that Eternal Life.
All this, we should bear in mind, was aiming to undermine the false teacher, Cerinthus, who taught that the Spirit came upon Jesus at His baptism, and left Him before the Passion. In other words, John insists that it was in the Incarnation and subsequent life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ where God’s love is imparted to us. And in no other way. In this was the Love of God displayed, and it alone.
William Gadsby’s wonderful hymn put’s it wonderfully:
His loving heart engaged to be
Their everlasting Surety;
’Twas love that took their cause in hand,
And love maintains it to the end.
Love cannot from its post withdraw;
Nor death, nor hell, nor sin, nor law,
Can turn the Surety’s heart away;
He’ll love his own to endless day.2
1 Tozer, A. W. Essay. In The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in the Christian Life, 97. San Francisco, Ca.: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992.
2 Gadsby, William. “The Love of Christ Is Rich and Free.” Hymnary.org. Accessed January 5, 2023. https://hymnary.org/text/the_love_of_christ_is_rich_and_free.
- 1 John 4:7-10 | God is Love
- 1 John 4:4-6 | Overcoming Swarms of Devils
- 1 John 4:1-3 | Stranger Danger
- 1 John 3:23-24 | The Nail in Timidity’s Coffin
- 1 John 3:19-22 | God is Greater than Our Hearts
- 1 John 3:13-18 | The World Hates You
- 1 John 3:10-12 | Children of God, Children of the Devil
- 1 John 3:7-9 | To Destroy the Works of the Devil
- 1 John 3:4-6 | Sin is Lawlessness
- 1 John 3:1-3 | What Unearthly Love