Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Love of God and Christian Assurance

A.  God’s love for sinners in 1 John 4:7-10

1 John 4 7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
Now that love for fellow Christians marks us out as being born of God and knowing God, let us ask more closely what this love is.  What does it look like?  What is the great example of it?

9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, [in order] that we might live through Him.  10 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.
The love of God who sent his only Son into the world in order that we might live shows what love is like.  It is the self-giving love with which God loved us apart from any right we had to be loved.  By this love he gave us new birth through the death of his Son.  This is the kind of love we should always expect from our Father, and it is this kind of love which he has implanted within us with which to love our fellow believers. 

The root of all is that we were loved by God when we did not love him, but instead were spiritually dead.  This same principle of origin, focus and power that we see in God’s love for us, animates the love for our brethren which is implanted within us by the gospel.  All love ultimately comes from God.  It is directed toward those who have no right to be loved.  And, it is the same principle by which we continue to be loved by God as believers, even in the midst of our weakness and distress, and our feelings of unworthiness and sin.

B.   God’s love for sinners in 1 John 4:13-16

1 John 4 13 By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.
And, what follows in the text is the verbal content of the gospel which the Spirit enables us to understand and believe:

14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.  15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
The mutual indwelling of the confessor and God the Father is the spiritual state and condition of anyone who confesses that Jesus is the Son of God.

Furthermore, as part of the gospel teaching that we have received at the prompting of the Spirit are the following observations concerning God’s love:

16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us.  God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
One component of the faith of the gospel is a true conviction of the love that God has for us sinners who have received the gospel message through the ministry of the Spirit.  Though this is stated corporately (“we have known …”), its application is also individual.  Each one of us who rightly receives the gospel says of himself and believes, “God loves me.  God sent his son to save me.”  This is an essential part of the gospel faith.
Pastoral experience shows that some people will continue to believe that God only gives the grace of salvation to those who are worthy – more worthy than me.  In other words, there is a human reflex to assume that a certain level of personal worthiness is required in order to receive the free grace of the gospel.  (It is hard to drive legalism out of our hearts.)  Furthermore, even if a person acknowledges that salvation is gifted to the unworthy, it is not uncommon that failures and sins in the Christian life coming afterward can cause doubts to rise again.

It is important to show that John’s teaching of the gospel does not permit these doubts to arise.  The gospel came our way in spite of our lovelessness and lack of any right to be loved by God.  God loved us when we did not love him.  But this did not stop him from loving us and bestowing his free grace upon us.  This principle of movement from the loving to the unloving pervades the whole economy of the Christian life.  If we find that we are weak, unworthy or sinning Christians, then we must rely in prayer and faith ever more heartily upon the unmerited favor of God our Father, who loves to love the loveless and unlovable, and to give them true life.

We cannot live a life of Christian love from our own resources.  Love for our Christian brethren is the reflection of Christ’s love to us – love which is always expressed toward the weak, the unworthy, the sinners.  We can express love toward our weak, unworthy or sinning brethren, just as much as we depend on the love of God our Father being expressed to us as his weak, unworthy or sinning children.

C.  Peace in the Judgment, 1 John 4:17-19

17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. [1]  18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.  19 We love Him because He first loved us. …
Fear of the judgment, or lack of Christian assurance, is a result of underplaying the power, the initiative, and the perseverance of God’s love toward us his weak and erring children.  This underplays his grace and doubts his Fatherhood.  

The capstone of insight which brings deliverance from these doubts is to recognize that we only love Him because He first loved us before we loved him at all.  Having loved us enough to give up his own Son for us when we hated him, he will no less ardently continue to love us when we have become his children, however weak, unworthy or sinful that we may be.

The pains that afflict believers in the midst of their doubts stem from loss of perception of our Father’s unfailing and persevering love directed toward us in our distress.  The love of Christ is directed toward us now, just as much as it was when we first believed, while standing in the very midst of our sins.


[1] We are continually forgiven and continually being cleansed from all unrighteousness through the atonement of Jesus Christ.  We love one another, and are hated by the world, like Christ.  At the Judgment we will be vindicated, received and glorified, because of what Christ has done for us and in us without our help.  We will see him as he is – that is, we will be perfect and perfectly capable of appreciating his nature and attributes as our Savior.  There will be no limits to our fellowship.