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Amazing Love

A Message by R.C. Sproul

In writing his first epistle to Timothy, Paul relied heavily on his understanding of God's love. Echoing Christ's teaching that the greatest commandment is love, he exhorted Timothy to focus on "love from a pure heart a good conscience and a sincere faith" as the goal of his instruction.

Man can hope to reach this goal only through the God who is love. Before the foundation of the world, God determined to create man in His own image, and to enter a loving relationship with him. Despite man's rejection of God and His love, God remained faithful to His purpose and promise, even to the point of sending His Son to the Cross. By this supreme act of love, God redeemed His people, freeing and enabling them to love Him in return.

In Ligonier Ministries' 1998 Los Angeles Conference, "Amazing Love," Jerry Bridges, Sinclair Ferguson, John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul unpack the amazing story of God's love. This series will give you a renewed sense of joy that accompanies the knowledge of God's love.

From the series: Amazing Love: 1998 Los Angeles Conference

Get R.C. Sproul's book God's Love in Paperback for a Gift of Any Amount

Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Secure in the Love of God

  2. devotional

    God's Display of His Love

  3. article

    The Holy Love of God

Secure in the Love of God

Knowledge of God’s creation and sovereign providence, question and answer 28 of the Heidelberg Catechism tell us, enables us to be patient in adversity and thank the Lord in all things (Job 1:20–21; 1 Thess. 5:18). But there are more benefits to knowing God’s sovereignty, namely, assurance of salvation and confidence that we will persevere in a state of grace until the end of our lives.

The Heidelberg Catechism looks to Romans 8:38–39 as a proof text for the benefits of assurance and confidence. It is easy to see why the authors of the catechism chose this passage when we consider Paul’s words in their immediate context. Following his discussion of the believer’s war against remaining sin in Romans 7, the Apostle directs us in Romans 8 to the work of Christ and our justification by faith alone to assure us of our reconciliation to the Father and to give us hope for sanctification (growth in holiness) (vv. 1–16). This faith is sovereignly worked in us by the Holy Spirit and rooted in our Creator’s sovereign predestination of His people, a predestination that also includes our glorification, the consummation of our redemption in the life to come (vv. 2, 15, 29–30). Romans 9 stresses God’s sovereignty in salvation, His right to show mercy and effect the redemption of His elect. The placement of today’s passage between the aforementioned sections of Romans shows the essential link between the Lord’s sovereign providence and the assurance that God cannot stop loving His people. Once our Father decides to set His special, salvific love on us, nothing can separate us from that love (8:38–39).

This special love is “in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39), which gives us further confidence that God’s people are forever secure in His love. The Father and the Son are united in their purpose to save the elect. God the Father has loved us in Christ Jesus His Son, and He has given us to the Son. Therefore, to let anything or anyone separate us from His Son would diminish the love He has for His Son. After all, those whom the Father has gifted to His Son cannot be taken from the Son, for the perfectly loving Father would never take back His gift to His Son (John 3:35; 10:27–30). John Calvin comments, “If, then, we are through [Christ] united to God, we may be assured of the immutable and unfailing kindness of God toward us.”

God's Display of His Love

Our Father in heaven has poured into the hearts of all who are in Christ His love for them (Rom. 5:5). He has convinced us of His love for us, and by this He fosters in us the will to persevere. Yet we cannot view the love of our Creator as merely subjective, as something that we are only convinced of inwardly. Instead, as the Apostle Paul reveals in today's passage, the love of our God has an objective component as well. He has not only made us feel or know of His love within our hearts, but He has also displayed that love in the most tangible way possible—by sending His Son to die for us (vv. 6–8).

There is much for us to consider as we reflect on Jesus' death as an objective revelation of the love of God. First, this death occurred "at the right time" (v. 6). Elsewhere, Paul speaks of the Father sending forth His Son to live and die for His people "in the fullness of time" (Gal. 4:4), which means that Christ came at the most suitable time in history for Him to come. The second person of the Holy Trinity became incarnate at the time God had appointed in eternity past, at the moment of history for which the Lord had been preparing through His revelation to the prophets. Yet while this conception is involved in Paul's statement that Jesus died "at the right time" in today's passage, it does not exhaust what the Apostle is saying. There is an additional layer of meaning that we should not miss. The right time of Christ's death was "while we were still weak" (Rom. 5:6). Jesus did not wait for us to have everything together, to be righteous before He died. Indeed, if we were righteous, it would have been the wrong time for Him to die, for righteous people have no need of an atonement. Christ died for the ungodly—our sin necessitated His sacrifice, and even before we truly understood that, Jesus paid the price to reverse our fallen condition.

Jesus' death for us while we were still sinners is the most incredible proof of God's love imaginable. As Paul notes in Romans 5:7–8, it is barely possible that people will die for a good person, though it does happen. Even when one sinner dies for another, however, it is still an imperfect person dying for another imperfect individual. If this is so, and if it is so incredible when one mere man dies for another, how much more amazing is it when the perfect God-man dies for those who are fallen, for those who hate Him? The depth of love that this takes is hardly fathomable. All we can do is think on it in silent awe, seeing that the Lord gave up so much for the redemption of people who are not deserving of it at all.

The Holy Love of God

R.C. Sproul

Long ago, Augustine of Hippo pointed out that the desire of every human heart is to experience a love that is transcendent. Regrettably for us today, however, I don't think there's any word in the English language that's been more stripped of the depth of its meaning than the word love. Due to the shallow romanticism of secular culture, we tend to view the love of God in the same way popular music, art, and literature view love. Yet the Bible says God's love is far different—and greater.

First John 4:7-11 gives us this classic statement with respect to the love of God:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.... In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his only Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Here the Apostle grounds his admonition for Christians to love one another in the very character of God. "Love is from God," he tells us. What he means is that Christian love comes from God Himself. This love is not natural to fallen humanity. It originates in God and is a divine gift to His people. When we are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are given a capacity for this supernatural love that has God as its source and foundation. When John says that "whoever loves has been born of God and knows God," he is not teaching that every human being who loves another is therefore born of God. The kind of love of which he speaks comes only from regeneration. Without the Holy Spirit's transformation of the human heart, no one has this capacity for love. No unregenerate person has this kind of love, and no regenerate person lacks such love. Therefore, a person who does not have the ability to love in the way John describes has not been born again. "Anyone who does not love [in this manner] does not know God."

John does not stop there. Not only is love from God but God is love. Note that John does not use the word is as an equals sign. We cannot reverse the subject and the predicate in God is love and say love is God. John is not making a crass identification between love and God so that anyone who has a romantic feeling in his heart or any affection for another person has thereby encountered God. When he says God is love, he's using a bit of hyperbole. In other words, love is such an intimate aspect or attribute of the character of God, that you can, in a manner of speaking, say that He is love. Any view of Him that neglects to include within it this profound sense of divine love is a distortion of who God is.

Of course, the normal problem we face is not that people ignore God's love; rather, people separate His love from His other attributes. I don't know how many times I've taught on God's sovereignty, holiness, or justice, only to hear the objection, "But my God is love"—as if God's love is incompatible with justice, sovereignty, or holiness.

Our most fundamental inclination as fallen human creatures is to exchange the truth that God reveals about Himself for a lie, and to serve and worship the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:18-32). We commit idolatry every time we substitute a lesser concept for His glory, whether that substitution takes the crass form of stone gods or the more sophisticated form of redefining God's character to suit our tastes. A god stripped of justice, of holiness, of sovereignty, and the rest is as much an idol as a statue of wood or stone. We must be careful not to substitute for the biblical God a god who is exhausted in his character by the one attribute of love, especially as popular culture defines it.

As Christians we believe in a God who is simple and not made up of parts. God is not one part sovereign, one part just, one part immutable, one part omniscient, one part eternal, and one part loving. Rather, He is all of His attributes at all times. To understand any single attribute, we must understand it in relation to all His other attributes. The love of God is eternal and sovereign. The love of God is immutable and holy. We treat all of His other attributes in the same way. God's justice is loving and eternal. His holiness is loving and omniscient. Our concept of the love of God will stay on track only as we understand His love in relationship to His other attributes.

Whatever else God's love is, it is holy. His love is therefore characterized by the qualities that define holiness—transcendence and purity. First, God's love is transcendent. It is set apart and different from everything we experience in creation. Second, God's love is pure. His love is absolutely flawless, having no selfishness, wickedness, or sin mixed in with it. God's love is not ordinary or profane. It is a majestic, sacred love that goes far beyond anything creatures can manifest. No shadow of evil covers the brightness of the pure glory of the love of God.

The love of God is in a class by itself. It transcends our experience. Nevertheless, it is a love that He shares in part with us and expects us to manifest to each other. He grants to His people—insofar as is possible given the Creator-creature distinction—His holy love (Rom. 5:5).

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