With God's holiness in mind, we now look at God's love. God loves people. God especially loves his people. That means God especially loves you.
How does God love everyone? He shows common grace by giving good things to all human beings. He “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:45).
Beyond that, he went to great lengths to save rebellious human beings from the consequences of their sin. “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:7-8, emphasis added). Stop and think about that for a while. God became human so he could die for his rebellious creatures. That’s a special love, more that we can really understand.
But how does he love you? About his redeemed people, God says he wants to “rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph 3:17). Jesus says, “even the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt 10:30). Not counted; numbered. He knows which hair is number 4,317. His knowledge of you is that of someone who loves you deeply. Psalm 23 is universally loved because it’s a picture of God’s care for his people. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” God's desire is to give good things to his people.
We’ll go deeper into this later, but God did not just save us from our sins for the sake of saving us from hell. He saved us so that he could adopt us, making us his very own dearly loved children (cf, Eph 3:3-10). His love for you is more intense, more powerful than anything human beings are capable of.
But if we treat God as if love is all he is, we err. Jen Wilkin says, “[I]t is possible for us to love the love of God too much. We do this when we emphasize the love of God at the expense of his other attributes. Sin can cause us to love a version of God that is not accurate. This is the basic definition of idolatry.”
We cannot think of God’s love as separate from his holiness. In his self-description, God calls himself “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished...” (Ex 34:6-7).
This is why God cannot, in his love, simply overlook everyone’s sins: God is holy holy holy. His “eyes are too pure to look on evil; [he] cannot tolerate wrongdoing” (Hab 1:13). Our treason stands between us and God.
God’s holy love requires justice, and that’s why Christ went to the cross. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).
We have to understand, Christ died on the cross, not to just forgive us, but to fix us. This is because, while he loves us as we are, he is not content for us to remain that way. I can’t say it better than CS Lewis did in The Problem of Pain:
“When Christianity says that God loves man, it means that God loves man: not that He has some ‘disinterested’ … concern for our welfare, but that, in awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of His love. You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the ‘lord of terrible aspect’, is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes. ...God loves us, but it is a love that wants to make us holy. And he is willing to go to such great lengths to make us into what he always intended us to be.
“Man does not exist for his own sake. ‘Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created’ [Rev 4:11]. We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased’. To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable… What we would here and now call our ‘happiness’ is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.”
So how should we respond to this?
Obviously the first thing God’s love should make us do is to love him back. But just like in a marriage, what God wants is not a love that is merely words. He wants a love that is expressed in action. “If you love me, you will keep my commands” (John 14:15). Obedience is God’s love language, so love him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
The second thing God’s love should make us do is imitate it. “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). God wants us to love our enemy, love our neighbor, and, most of all, love our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). God’s will is that love should be the mark of his people.
"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God" (Eph 3:17-19).
For more on this topic, I recommend “God Most Loving” in Jen Wilkin’s In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character
Part of Christianity 101