December 7, 2019
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God Is Love: Loved by God with R.C. Sproul


I wonder how many of you who are here or who
are watching this program or are listening to it on tape ever saw the Hollywood movie
entitled ‘Elmer Gantry’. Or perhaps you read the book upon which it
was based which is an American classic written by Sinclair Lewis. If you’ve ever seen that film you know that
the stars in the movie were Burt Lancaster and Shirley Jones, and the movie was a parody
about two famous evangelists. Burt Lancaster was really — as Elmer Gantry
— was parroting the evangelist Billy Sunday, and Shirley Jones as Sister Sharon Falconer
was a parody of Aimee Semple McPherson. And of course Sinclair Lewis was poking fun
at these evangelists, and one of the irregular scenes in the movie was when Burt Lancaster,
being Elmer Gantry, would come out on the stage, he would run out on the stage and slide
like a baseball player sliding into second base, because that’s what Billy Sunday was
known for — he had been a Major League Baseball player and a base-stealer — so Gantry slides
into second base and he says, “safe in the arms of Jesus.” And then, if you remember Burt Lancaster he
would flash that inimitable grin of his and his eyes would get that gleam and then he
would start off his sermon by saying, “Love, what is love? Love is the morning and the evening star,
love is the inspiration of the artist, the substance of the philosophers.” And he would go on and on with this syrupy,
saccharine, definition of love. And of course the spoof that was behind this
was the idea that an evangelist can always get a crowd if he continually speaks in meaningless
terms about the love of God. I don’t think there’s any word in the English
language that’s been stripped of the depth of meaning such as that word love. I remember as a child having those toys that
were kaleidoscopes where you would peer in the end of it and you would see these beautiful
patterns that were made by the colored stones at the end. And as you turned the section of the kaleidoscope
then all of the little pieces of stone would tumble into a different pattern with a rapid
change, a rapid pace; that’s what happens with this word love which has come to have
almost a mystical, a magical meaning to it in the secular culture. Again, if I can date myself and go back to
the ’50s to a famous popular song of the time, it was called ‘Love is a Many Splendored Thing’
and it’s been celebrated ever since music began as perhaps the strongest emotion that
can be experienced by human beings as the goal and the desire of every human heart to
experience a dimension of love that is transcendent. Well, again, when we come to the Biblical
concept of the love of God we have to be very careful because our tendency is to come to
the text with ideas of love that have been drawn from the romanticism of our secular
culture, from the popular music and art and so on, and literature. Whereas what we want to do when we’re talking
about the love of God is to glean from Scripture the Biblical concept of this magnificent attribute
of God. So in this series what we’re going to be doing
is trying to take a close look at how the Bible speaks of the love of God. How God exercises that love in His work of
redemption. Who are the objects of His love? In what sense can it be said of God that he
not only loves but also that he hates, which is one of the most difficult concepts that
we have to wrestle with. And so let’s begin our study by looking at
the first epistle of John, in the fourth chapter where we have the classic statement with respect
to the love of God. In chapter 4 of 1 John beginning at verse
7, we read this admonition: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and
everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for
God is love. And in this the love of God was manifested
toward us that God has sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through
him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but
that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved if God so loved us, we also ought
to love one another.” So here when the apostle is enjoining Christian
people to demonstrate love one for another, he grounds this admonition in the very character
of God. So let’s look a little bit more closely at
what he says when he says, “Let us love one another,” for the first thing he says is “for
love is of God.” Love is of God. What he’s saying here is that the love that
he’s describing, ‘agape’ love, Christian love, is a love that comes from God himself. This is not a natural love; this is not a
love that is found in the flesh of mankind. This is a love that has its origin in God
himself. It is a divine gift. It’s one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit
that is awakened in our souls when we are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are given a capacity for love that is not
natural. It is a love that comes from God that belongs
to God and in this kind of love God is seen as the foundation, the fountain, the source
of all true love. Now, the next portion here could be very misleading
if we don’t be careful, where he says, “Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” Now, that does not mean that every human being
who experiences human, natural, love is therefore born of God. Rather, what John is saying is that the kind
of love of which he is speaking is a kind of love that only comes from regeneration
from those who have been changed inwardly by the power of the Holy Ghost, and, in a
very real sense it’s the indispensable sign of regeneration. Let me put it this way. Without the transforming power of the Holy
Spirit no person has this capacity for love. That’s the one side. The other side of it is if a person does have
that ability to love that is a clear indication that they have been born of the Holy Ghost. So no one who is un-reborn or unregenerate
has this kind of love and no one who has been regenerate lacks this kind of love. All who have been born of God have this love,
and all who have this love at the same time have been born of God. And then he goes on to say, “He who does not
love” — that is — in this manner — “does not know God.” He who does not love does not know God, for
God is love. Now, this is one of the most powerful statements
about the love of God that we find in the Bible. In the first place we hear that love is of
God. Now, John goes beyond that and makes the statement
God is love. Now, what does he mean when he says that? How is he using the verb ‘to be’ in this passage? We’ve had some discussions in America about
the meaning of ‘is’, where we say it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is. Well, that’s because the verb ‘to be’ of which
one part is the word ‘is’ can be used in more than one way. Sometimes we use the verb ‘is’ as a linking
verb and it doesn’t take a direct object. In that case it takes a predicate nominative
where there is an identity between the subject and the predicate. And so is can be used in some cases in the
English language as an equal sign. And if we would say that God is love in that
sense then that would mean that we could reverse the predicate and the subject and say love
is God. And that would be to distort what John is
saying. John is not making a crass identification
between love and God, so that anybody who has a romantic feeling in their heart or any
sense of affection for another person thereby has encountered God. That’s not the point. When he says love — that God is love, he’s
using a form of literary expression that is a bit hyperbolical. That is to say, that God is so loving, that
love is such an intimate aspect or attribute of the character of God, God is so closely
linked with love, that you can, in a manner of speaking, say that he is love. It’s a similar type of expression that we
find in Jesus when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” That is to say that Christ is so intimately
connected with truth, so far removed from falsehood, and from the lie or from any kind
of deception that we can say in a transcendent way that he not only speaks the truth, but
he’s so intimately connected with truth that we say he is the truth just as he is life
in so far as all of life has its source in him and in his power. Now, when the Scriptures speak of love in
this manner with respect to God, that means that however else we understand the character
of God, any view of God, that is set forth that neglects to include within it this profound
sense of love would be a distortion of who God is because love is so closely connected
with His character and with his essence. But that’s not normally the problem that we
have in theology today. Our problem is not so much that we tend to
think of God as a god who has no love, but rather the problem that we find in the culture
of our day is a view of God that carries with it a cheap view of love, and a sense of love
by which all of the other attributes of God are removed or stripped from his character
and swallowed up by one attribute which is the attribute of love. I don’t know how many times I’ve lectured
on the sovereignty of God, or on the justice of God, or on the holiness of God, only to
have people object to those qualities of God and respond by saying, “but my God is a God
of love.” As if love (as it’s related to God) is incompatible
with justice. Or that if God is loving, he can have no sovereignty,
or that the love of God precludes his holiness, which would be a radical distortion of God. And so we need to have this warning, this
caveat as we begin, remembering that our most fundamental inclination as fallen human creatures
when we contemplate the character of God is to exchange the truth of God that he reveals
about himself for a lie as the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 1, and serve and worship
the creature rather than the creator. And that is by falling into the most primordial
of all sins, the sin of idolatry. Now, in the ancient world idolatry was practiced
in a very crass and crude way where people would fashion for themselves idols made of
wood or stone and then they would fall down on their knees and worship these — the things
that they had created with their own hands, and we tend to compliment ourselves today
and say well we don’t engage in that kind of pagan activity or primitive forms of idolatry
that were found in the ancient world. No, we’re more sophisticated than that. But any time we exchange the glory of the
true God for a lesser concept whether it’s one made out of stone or wood, or just one
that is constructed by our own mind, we’re still engaged in idolatry. And a god who is stripped of his attributes
of justice, of holiness, of sovereignty, and the rest, is just as much an idol as something
made out of wood or stone. And so we have to be very careful that we
don’t substitute for the Biblical God a god who is exhausted in his character and being
by this one attribute of love, which attribute in the first place we don’t understand in
Biblical categories but we carry a secular concept of love which says love means never
having to say that you’re sorry. Where can we find something like that in the
pages of Scripture? The God of love of Scripture is a God who
requires those who love to say they’re sorry when they injure other people and when they
violate God himself, and so we remember that though love is an attribute of God, and an
extremely important attribute of God, that God is a simple being, not in the sense that
he’s simplistic but when we understand the doctrine of God we understand that God is
not made up of parts. It’s not like God is one part sovereignty,
one part justice, one part immutability, one part omniscience, one part eternality, one
part love. Rather we think that God is his attributes
at all times, so that to understand any single attribute of God you must understand that
attribute as it relates and connects with all the other attributes of God. For example, as we’re going to look at in
this course, the love of God is an eternal love. The love of God is a sovereign love. The love of God is an immutable love. The love of God is a holy love. That all of the attributes that go with love,
or with God, also go with love. God’s justice is a loving justice. His holiness is a loving holiness. And, his omniscience is a loving omniscience,
just as his love is an omniscient love. And so the danger we must guard against is
extrapolating love from all of the rest of the attributes as if it stood alone and it
alone defined the nature and character of God. And once we begin to understand that love
is one of several attributes of God, albeit one that you can’t understand God without
it, once we understand that then our concept of the love of God I believe will be deepened
by our understanding of its relationship with these other categories. Just in passing before we look at the eternal
love of God in the next lecture I want to just speak for a moment of the holy love of
God. When we say that God is love we must add to
that immediately this descriptive term, that God’s love is a holy love. That perhaps more than anything else serves
as a guard for our loading the concept of the love of God with secular categories. Because there is a profane, a common view
of love in our culture that is celebrated in pop art that has nothing to do with the
love of God. So whatever else God’s love is like, first
of all it is holy and what does that mean? If we look at the term ‘holy’ in Scripture
we see that it has two distinct, main meanings. And the first meaning, the primary meaning
of holiness in the Scriptures is that the term holy means that which is other, or different,
or apart. That has to do with this, that when we say
that God is holy, we’re saying that God is different from everything that we experience
in the created order. That God is a higher order of being. That God is transcendent, so that when we
speak of his holiness, we speak of his divine greatness, his majesty, that rises above all
things in the created realm. That’s the primary meaning. To be holy means to be set apart, to be different. The secondary meaning of holiness is purity. Absolute purity — without any blemish, without
any touch of evil mixed with it. So that when, and both of these references
to holy define the love of God. So the first thing we have to understand about
God’s love is that it is transcendent. It’s not common. It’s not profane. It’s not ordinary. But it is a majestic, sacred, transcendent
kind of love that goes far beyond anything the creature can ever manifest. And secondly, the love of God is always a
love that has no mixture of selfishness, of wickedness, or of sin within it. There’s no shadow that covers the brightness
of the pure glory of the love of God. And so when we encounter His love, we encounter
a love that is ‘sui generis’, that’s in a class by itself, a love that transcends our
human experiences, and yet it is a love that He shares in part with his creatures, and
expect us to manifest to each other, a different kind of love, a holy kind of love.

Otis Rodgers

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