At Christmas, we highlight God’s love for humankind, evidenced by sending His only Son to take on flesh, and ultimately to bear the punishment for the sinners.
On the surface, the question who God loves might seem simple. He loves the world. Which is true. We know this because John 3:16 tells us so, but also because Jesus commissioned His followers to make disciples “of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19, NASB). Luke records Jesus’s words in Acts 1:8b: “You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
Those first disciples had walked with Jesus and listened to His teaching, watched Him be arrested and put to death, saw the place where He was buried, then witnessed the resurrected Christ walk into their room, talk with them, break bread, fix breakfast, and ascend into heaven. He left them with the command to tell everyone everywhere what they’d witnessed.
Why would they go to places all over the world—and why would we who have inherited this commission—if God’s love didn’t extend to those in the remotest parts of the earth?
But here “simple” comes to an end. Some believe the natural conclusion drawn from the fact that God loves the world is that God saves everyone: if you love ’em, you save ’em. This of course means the Paris terrorists are saved, the San Bernardino shooters are saved, Hitler is saved.
There’s something in most of us that recoils at such an idea. We want “good people” saved, but not the heinous ones. We want to tell the world that God loves them, unless the people are trying to kill us. Those, we’d happily send to hell.
But we’re an imperfect lot. Could it be that God loves Muslim terrorists, that if they were the only people in the world, He still would have sent His Son? And if so, does His love for them mean they are saved?
I know—too many questions. Talking about God’s love should make us feel good, not feel confused. But God simply defies our every effort to confine Him with our own mores and understandings. He is Other, which means greater, more Perfect than we can imagine.
The truth is, if God only loved the “good people,” He wouldn’t love any of us. None of us is good.
We forget that when we stare into the face of people who embrace evil and call it good. Most of us regularly fight the evil inside us, and hence, we are loath to call it evil. We get angry or jealous or selfish or greedy or covetous. We lust, we envy, we betray our friends, our spouses. We gossip, we lie, we say mean things about our boss, our coworkers, our in-laws. And we think we’re good because we didn’t shoot anybody today.
So who does God love—just the not so very bad, bad people?
He says He loves the world.
But in loving the world, is He therefore obligated to save everyone?
God isn’t obligated to do anything our human understanding dictates He should do. He’s already laid out how salvation works (John 3:16 again): He loves, we believe, He gives everlasting life.
The belief component is all important. Some people call this “easy believism” because they attach it to a false teaching Paul confronted in the New Testament. Some people thought that since they were “saved” or “in Christ” they could live however they wanted. After all, whatever sin they committed was forgiven, washed away by the blood of the Lamb.
Just one problem there. If we truly believe something, it affects our lives. If we believe our car will be repossessed if we don’t make the payment, we aren’t apt to take that money and go to Vegas or on a shopping spree. We believe we’ll lose our car if we don’t make the payments, so it affects how we act.
Husbands who believe their wives want something nice for Christmas act on that belief (to the best of their ability!) They would be foolish to say, Well, I didn’t get you a Christmas present this year because I bought myself some new golf clubs instead. His belief affects his actions, and wives all know this. So if he’s bought himself golf clubs, his actions demonstrate his true belief about his wife.
So too in our relationship with God. If we say we believe that Jesus came as payment for my sin, but we keep on sinning, willfully, knowingly, with no intention of changing our sinful behavior, we are demonstrating that we don’t really believe.
God loves, but we have fallen short of His glory, His holiness. All of us have. Everyone except Jesus Messiah. God doesn’t change His standards or go back on His word because He loves us. He declared from the beginning that rebellion carried a death sentence.
Jesus, of His own free will, took our sin that we who believe might have everlasting life. We who believe look so much like those who don’t believe. Except little by little who we are inside is being reshaped to look more and more like Jesus.
Those who don’t believe, those who say they believe by act in a way that shows they’re lying, have not escaped God’s love . . . or His wrath. In our human way of thinking, love and wrath seem incompatible. But Scripture leads me to believe they are not, when we’re talking about God. As I see it, God loves us so much, He isn’t going to force us to love Him back or to spend eternity with Him if we really hate Him. I’ve heard people say they’d rather be in hell than in heaven “with a God like that!” They hate Him.
God’s going to let them walk away. But He is also going to punish sin, just as He said He would. Since they’ve rejected Jesus’s payment of their debt, there’s nothing left but for them to pay their own debt.
So who does God love? The world! Absolutely. If only the world loved Him back.