The Character of God’s Love
By this the love of God was displayed in us, in that God has sent His [One and] only begotten Son [the One who is truly unique, the only One of His kind] into the world so 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 [that is, the atoning sacrifice, and the satisfying offering] for our sins [fulfilling God’s requirement for justice against sin and placating His wrath]. (1 John 4:9-10)
The second thing our text teaches us about the love of God is that God’s love is a holy love. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” (John 3:16) A great many people cannot understand that. They say, “If God loves me, I cannot see why He doesn’t forgive my sins outright without His Son dying in my place. I cannot see the necessity of Christ’s death. If God is love, and if God loves me and everybody else, why doesn’t He take us to heaven right away without Christ dying for us.
The text answers the question, “God so loved.” That so brings out the character of God’s love. God could not and would not pardon sin without an atonement. It must either manifest itself in the punishment of the sinner, that is our eternal banishment from His presence, or it must manifest itself some other way.
The death of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary was God providing atonement for sinful man. But some people say, “That is not fair. Are you saying that God took the sin of man and laid it on Jesus, an innocent third person? That is not fair.”
But Jesus Christ was not a third person. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself”(2 Corinthians 5:19). The atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross is not God taking my sin from me and laying it on a third person. It is God the Father taking the penalty of my sin into His own heart and dying in His Son, in my place. Jesus was not merely the first Person. He was the second Person, too. Jesus Christ was the Son of Man, the Second Adam, the representative Man. No ordinary man could have died for you and me. It would have been of no value. But Jesus Christ was the Second Adam, your representative and mine. When Christ died on the cross of Calvary, I died in Him, and the penalty of my sin was paid.
If you do not believe in the deity of Christ, the Atonement becomes irrational. If you remove the humanity of Christ and believe He is merely divine, the Atonement becomes irrational.But take all that the Bible says- that God was in Christ, and that in Christ the Word became God manifest in the flesh- and the Atonement is the most profound and wonderful truth the world has ever seen.
You may have gone deeper into sin than you realize yourself, but while your sins are high as the mountains, the Atonement that covers them is as high as the heavens. While your sins are as deep as the ocean, the Atonement that swallows them up is as deep as eternity. On the ground of Christ’s atoning death, there is pardon for the vilest sinner on earth.
In a world of imperfection we are challenged to accept a perfect love with perfect justice. There is much proof of the love of God for humanity. We read that God formed us from the dust of the earth. When I read that, I get the picture of God lovingly shaping Adam into something to be treasured. God could have simply spoke life into His created being but the Bible says that God breathed the breath of life into it and man became a living soul. Of all of God’s created beings, only humanity received the breath of God making us not only natural beings but spiritual beings as well. We became eternal beings for we received the breath of the Eternal God. God placed His breath into Adam and placed him in paradise where his every need and desire was supplied. Even the need for companionship was met as God created Eve from Adam’s side. Though Adam had God as his constant friend, God in His love gave him another human for companionship. It was in this place that the first humans rejected God and chose to ignore His commands. Their sin of disobedience brought into action the perfect justice of God who said, “In the day you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will die.” And so they did that day- they died the death of their spirit in that they separated themselves from the Giver of Life. The justice of God demanded it to be so. Then we see the perfect love of God intervene before sin and death finished its course. You see, once their spirits died and they were separated from the source of life- God- it was just a matter of time before the poison that had put to death their spirits would also put to death their souls and bodies. The perfect justice of God invoked the perfect punishment. “The wages of sin is death,” says Paul and we know that to be true. When you think about sin and it’s consequences you can see how that everything that God calls sin has a destructive nature to it and left unchecked will ultimately destroy the one who participates in it. So the perfect love of God intervened and redeemed Adam and Eve from destruction. God Himself clothed their nakedness that had been exposed by sin with the skins of innocent animals who gave up their lives in the place of Adam and Eve. The symbology of this sacrifice was pointing to the complete redemption of humans through the ultimate sacrifice of Christ who would take the penalty of sin upon Himself thus satisfying the perfect justice of God which required punishment for sin. This taking upon Himself our sins was done through the perfect love of God. Let us not forget that though Christ was fully human and died on the cross, He was also fully God and took upon Himself as man and God the full penalty of our sins. That Adam sinned and that we sin was and is no surprise for God. In the creation of the world, God who foreknew had already planned our redemption. Before you and I were born, God had already planned the Atonement for us. Before we breathed our first breath, Christ had already made atonement for us. Before we sinned our first sin, the sin offering sacrifice of Christ was made.
This is the perfect love of God. God hasn’t waited until we sin to figure out what to do about it. He has already made provision for it in Christ. Many would say that for God to consign to hell for eternity those who reject Christ is cruel and unloving. Yet they forget the extreme cost God paid and Christ paid to offer the Atonement. While we may not ever fully understand this kind of love and justice, let me offer a small picture of it. Suppose you owed a large debt and someone came to you and offered to pay it for you, would you take them up or would you say, “No thanks, I’ll pay it myself”? Suppose you had committed a crime and you were caught and sentenced to prison and someone came to you and offered to serve your time, would you say, “No thanks, I’ll serve it myself”? Suppose you had done something that merited punishment and someone offered to take your punishment, would you say, “No thanks, I’ll take it myself”? I think that if you or anyone you know would reject this kind of offer, most of us would feel that they received justice. The perfect love of God has provided a way of escape from eternal just penalty for sin through Christ Jesus.
“For God so [greatly] loved and dearly prized the world, that He [even] gave His [One and] only begotten Son, so that whoever believes and trusts in Him [as Savior] shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge and condemn the world [that is, to initiate the final judgment of the world], but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 Whoever believes and has decided to trust in Him [as personal Savior and Lord] is not judged [for this one, there is no judgment, no rejection, no condemnation]; but the one who does not believe [and has decided to reject Him as personal Savior and Lord] is judged already [that one has been convicted and sentenced], because he has not believed and trusted in the name of the [One and] only begotten Son of God [the One who is truly unique, the only One of His kind, the One who alone can save him].” (John 3:16-18)
To reject Christ is to reject God’s love. To reject God’s love is to reject God’s grace. To reject God’s grace is to reject God’s mercy. And there’s nothing left except God’s justice.
In the words of an old song:
What can wash away my sins?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
Dr. John Thompson