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"God is Love" and the Believer's Response

God is love; that is absolutely true, and we should celebrate and praise God for who He is! However, many want to cling to this attribute of God as a means to excuse sin. The world, and even some professing Christians, teaches that because God is love, it's okay to engage in sin. They teach that if God is love, He will just excuse the disobedience--if God is love, He will only want us to be happy. Although this idea is becoming widely embraced, it is an inaccurate and honestly harmful conclusion about God's love and character.

I want to add a disclaimer: There are not enough words--not even enough minds on Earth--to fully understand and describe God. His love far transcends ours, and we do not even have the capacity to understand it fully. While my explanation is only a tiny fraction of it, hopefully it is an accurate, heartfelt glimpse into the great God we serve! With that being said, let's dive into the meaning of "God is love" and how that love is demonstrated:

1. God doesn't just love; He IS love.

We often use "love" as a verb, like loving a person or thing. We also might use it as an adjective, describing someone as a "loving" person, or we may use it as a noun to define certain behaviors, such as making sacrifices for someone. God, however, IS love; He is the action, description, and definition of love. We were made in His image, so we are capable of loving too, but we will never BE love like He is. Because we were made in His likeness, we learned love from Him, even though we have skewed it over time. Love is important to everyone, and I think that's one thing everyone could agree on in the world today, but the way we understand and express love has gotten twisted. Of course Satan would try to taint our perceptions of God's character! God remains unchanged. He does not change His character based on our behavior. Everything He does is laced with love; He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13). Whether He disciplines or extends grace, He made His decision out of love. He is the perfect and complete embodiment of 1 Corinthians 13 love. He is not merely capable of loving in that way; He IS that way. The more we devote ourselves to walking and looking like Christ, the better we will love others; we are learning from Love Himself!

2. God is sacrificial to the highest degree.

First John 4:8 says that God is love. This love isn't about lovey-dovey feelings that come and go. Our feelings are conditional and untrustworthy. Love is a part of God's character, not His feelings. We attach the word love to our grandmas and our favorite type of chips, so we use love so loosely that it often loses its power. In this verse, the Greek word for love is agape. Agape love is self-sacrificial. Agape love is behind Jesus' life, death, and resurrection (John 3:16). Agape love is the kind God expects from His children toward Him (Mark 12:30) and toward His people (John 15:13). The difference between God's agape love and our agape love is that we have a sinful nature while He does not. God, in His love, is the most self-sacrificing Being that exists. He has no selfish motives. Agape love is unconditional and not based on the actions of others. As humans, we tend to stop "loving" people the moment they cross a boundary or wrong us. That's not agape love, or love at all, really. God is always acting in agape love--unconditional, self-sacrificing love. Can you imagine always being in a sacrificial posture toward others? This type of love certainly isn't common in our self-focused culture, but even still, this is who God is. Beautiful.

3. God's love is NOT synonymous with acceptance.

God does love us despite what we do, and He certainly responds to us based on His character, not our best efforts or biggest failures. However, as a society, we have wrongly made "love" and "acceptance" synonymous. God accepts us as people because we are made in His image, but that does not mean He accepts our sinful choices. When we live in sin because God will "love us anyway," it is not God's love that is in question: it is our love for God that needs addressed. A husband cannot cheat on his wife multiple times and return home expecting her to simply forgive him because she loves him...and still claim to love her. We'd call that ridiculous! So, why do we behave this way toward God? It's similar to the question many pose: "How could a loving God 'send' people to Hell?" When in reality, Hell is a personal choice we make--God doesn't "send" people to Hell; people choose to go to Hell. We make high accusations toward God and expect His perfect love to excuse our willful rebellion. If God accepted everything in His love, He'd be denying His character. He can't accept sin because He is sinless; that's why Jesus came and died. If God is love, He cannot accept hate. Equating love with acceptance is a logical fallacy. It not only can't be done; it shouldn't be done. God, in His perfect love, cannot accept everything that is opposite of His nature. This is a large part of the Gospel message!

I encourage you to test to see if your faith is genuine. Genuine faith produces repentance, and genuine love for God produces obedience. If we continually disregard God to pursue our own pleasures, we are fooling ourselves to claim we love Him. I am not referring to battling with sin; we all battle with sin. I am referring to a willful, disobedient spirit that has no desire to submit itself to the authority of God's Word but still expects forgiveness for behaviors they have no remorse over. While it seems like a rabbit trail, it is essential to analyze our own motives when acknowledging that God is love. We tend to perceive God's love through the lens of our own selfish motives rather than embracing and submitting to who He is.

4. God's love brings discipline and grace, and often, they go hand-in-hand.

Would you consider it love for a father to never discipline his child? It is loving for God to discipline His children, and it's something we should approach with gratitude. Hebrews states that God disciplines the one He loves (12:6). The fact God cares enough about us to redirect us after we sin or during times of affliction is evidence of His abundant grace and mercy. Sometimes God spares us from the consequences we deserve (one significant example: Hell), but sometimes He allows us to be disciplined and refined, which isn't a fun and easy process. It's painful, but the motive behind it is love. God's love does not exempt us from pain, and His heart isn't to make us happy 24/7. Why? Sometimes what might make us happy in a moment isn't best for us long term--God is in the details and the big picture. Happiness is fleeting, and it's typically self-focused. The joy God brings is constant and God-focused. We can rely on His joy during times of discipline or difficulty, knowing that everything He allows is laced with love and will be worked together for good (Rom. 8:28).

5. God's love welcomes us, transforms us, and indwells us.

God's eyes pierce through the very core of who we are. Nothing about us is a surprise to Him. Instead of discarding us or tossing us into the depths of Hell, He chooses patience with us. He chooses to fight for His people. He chooses grace, mercy, and kindness. He welcomes us with all of our ick, entirely as we are, but we cannot be in the presence of God and remain the same. As followers of Christ, we are constantly being refined. His love is so incredibly powerful that it transforms our lives. Consider the disciples and Paul. The moment they met Love, who is Christ, they were changed. Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus and shifted from killing Christians to being willing to die for Christ, which he eventually did. The Holy Spirit, who is God, dwells within us, which is why one of the fruits of the Spirit is love. Love made a home in our hearts. His presence alone could kill us, but He humbles Himself enough to live within us. The One who never sins chooses to help us fight it nonetheless. There's that agape love again...sacrificing so much to be a constant source of joy, peace, love, guidance, comfort, etc. for us.

This doesn't even begin to describe God's character, but what an honor it is to spend our lives learning and loving Him all the more. How good is our God!

Keep your eyes on True Love!

~Ally B.

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