What about God’s Love for Sinners? – History & Theology, Part 75

We have been wading through some hard teaching while looking at the motives of God in saving sinners. While this is not a common subject and certainly not a popular one, it is a very needful one. It is at the root of creation and the Gospel. In the last few BLOGS we have been looking at the most avoided chapter in Scripture. That chapter is Romans 9. The teaching in that chapter, as we have said before, is not hard to understand though it is very hard to swallow. Can it be that God’s motive in saving sinners is as simple as Romans 9:23 sets it out to be? “To make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.” That is what the text says. In doing so it wipes out any hope that we might have in a free-will having anything to do with salvation since God is moved to save from motives found in Himself and not in man. In fact, the context of Romans 9 takes pains to show that it is not what man wills or does, but it is the will and pleasure of God.

There is, however, another side to the issue. There are verses that speak of the love of God for sinners in salvation. Romans 9 does not deny that God loves sinners, but it should provoke us to consider that we might not understand much of what His love really is. If God is motivated to save based on His own glory as Romans 9 teaches, then we must deal with what His love really means. Ephesians 5:1 is a good place to start: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”

These are wonderful verses, but we have to keep in mind that they do not and cannot contradict Romans 3 and 9. There can be no contradiction between the fact that God saves to display His glory of mercy and He has love for sinners. In fact, there can be no true mercy apart from love and no love apart from mercy. The Old Testament speaks of His lovingkindness and His mercy over and over. So Christ is said here to have loved us and died for us. But what does that mean? Does it mean that God’s love was primarily for human beings so that He did not love His Son as much as sinners in sending Him to die for sinners? There is an important distinction we must make to show what the true love of God really is. 1. There is what is called the love of God which is thought of as affections He has for someone or something. In other words, it is thought of as feelings God has for people and so He did something as a result of those feeling. 2. There is, however, another way to look at what God’s love is. His love is that which He is within His triune Being. When God loves Himself He loves Himself as triune. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father and that is part of what it means for God to love Himself. The Father could never love anyone more than the Son and the Son could never love anyone more than the Father. In fact, all love that the Father or the Son has must come from a love that they have for each other. This is consistent with the Greatest Commandments in which we are told that the Second Greatest Commandment “The second is like it” (Mat 22:39) is referring to the first. In other words, one cannot keep the second without keeping the first. This is like God who is the source of all true love and cannot love another who is not part of Himself in some way.

This is a vital distinction. If love is affection only and God had affections for the world, then it is clear that this is far different than Him having love for Himself and loving another by sharing His love for Himself with the other. If God’s love is for Himself and He exists in triune love for Himself, then His grace is found in setting His love on a person out of His love for Himself. If God saves sinners apart from love for Himself, then He is an idolater. If God saves sinners apart from giving Himself who is love, then He has not really saved them. But if God who is love itself gives Himself to sinners then that is true salvation and His motives are from Himself and so it is all of grace. This way of thinking is backwards to those who are used to thinking that God’s love for them is that He thinks of them and has joy in them and has affection for them. That is simply reading into the Bible and the character of God what passes in our modern day as human love. It is a humanistic way of thinking.

Notice from Ephesians 5:1-2 that while Christ loved “us” He also gave Himself as a sacrifice to the Father. It is because He loved the Father that He gave Himself as the outshining of the glory of God (Hebrews 1:3) to shine out the glory of God. God’s mercy and love are seen in that He shines their glory in giving Himself to sinners and setting His love on sinners. It is not that He has feelings for sinners and waits for them to do something so that He can save them, but that He is motivated within Himself to give Himself to sinners and share His love for Himself with them. His love is seen in sending Christ to die for sinners to remove the guilt of their sin so that He might dwell in them and manifest His love in and through them. Doing all for His glory and loving sinners is not a contradiction at all. Instead it shows us that His motive in salvation is Himself and not an act of a human free-will.

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