R.C. Sproul Loved by God

ISBN 13: 9780849916489

Loved by God

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9780849916489: Loved by God
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God is the embodiment of love. He created love. His character and His actions are defined by love. In Loved by God, acclaimed theologian R.C. Sproul explores the unrelenting love of God-a love demonstrated most fully through the Son. Sproul also delves into the perplexing aspects of God's divine nature, such as how divine Love coexists with God's holiness and sovereignty, and what the Bible means when it speaks of God's hatred. A compelling book for all who seek to fulfill their calling as Christians-to love as God loves.

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About the Author:

Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry located near Orlando, Florida. His teaching can be heard on the program Renewing Your Mind. He is the author of more than 70 books. Dr. Sproul also serves as president of Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies, and Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


God Is Love

Love. This simple four-letter word reeks of the power of magic. Its very utterance conjures up a host of images that are as diverse as the tiny, colored pieces of glass that are configured into dazzling patterns by a kaleidoscope. By a mere turn of the tube, the glass pieces tumble into new and equally dazzling patterns. But magic depends upon illusion for its potency, no less with words than with pulling a rabbit out of a hat. The aroma of magic does not signal real power. The empty word "love" can never evoke its reality. Indeed the word staggers before its task of even describing the reality.

What is love? Is it the mystical essence exploited by the likes of Elmer Gantry when he called it the inspiration of philosophers and the bright and morning star? Is it a warm feeling in the pit of the stomach associated with the sight of a cute puppy? Is it an attitude of acceptance that makes saying you are sorry an unnecessary exercise? Is it a chemical response to the presence of an alluring member of the opposite sex?

If philosophers argue that the word "God" has suffered the death of a thousand qualifications, how much more must that be said of the word "love"? The elusive character of love has prompted far more than a thousand definitions. It has been used to describe so many things that its ability to describe a single thing has been sapped. A word that means everything obviously cannot mean anything. So then, because the term "love" has been layered with so many diverse and maudlin accretions, do we assume that it has lost all potency for communication and must be discarded to the scrap heap of useful vocabulary? By no means. The term is too rich and its usage so rooted in the entire history of human discourse that it would be catastrophic to abandon all hope of its reconstruction.

What is called for is the philosophy of the second glance, by which we look closely and carefully at what the word "love" does signify so we can separate the dross from the fine gold of its meaning. We need to distinguish between what "love" does mean and what it emphatically does not mean. This requires discerning the authentic from the counterfeit, the true from the false.

The problem we face is exacerbated when we realize that our interest is not limited to defining "love" in the abstract but defining it specifically as an attribute of God Himself. If we confess that love is an attribute of God, then our understanding of the nature of God is only as accurate as our understanding of the love we are attributing to Him. Nor may we retreat into a cavern of safety by declaring that although love is an attribute of God, it isn’t that important an attribute and therefore its distortion would do no serious harm to our full understanding of God. Though it is a dangerous error to construct a hierarchy of attributes of God, the attribute of love is so important that if we don’t get it right, we fail to have a sound understanding of God. Of course that could also be said of the other attributes of God, such as His omniscience, immutability, infinity, etc. In a word, all of the attributes of God are important. To say that His attribute of love is no more important than the others is not to say that it is less important or that it is unimportant. The Scriptures so clearly declare the importance of the love of God that to neglect it, negate it, or minimize it in any way would do violence to the sacred text.

To see how seriously the Bible takes the attribute of God’s love, we need only to look at John’s statement in his first epistle:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, 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 for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (4:7—11)

In this text John makes the remarkable assertion that "God is love." We notice immediately that he does not say simply that God is loving or that God loves. Rather he says that God is love. What are we to make of this? "Is" is a form of the verb "to be" and sometimes serves as a copula or forms a tautology. A tautology is the unnecessary repetition of an idea wherein there is nothing in the predicate that is not already present in the subject. For example, we could say that a bachelor is an unmarried man. (This may presuppose also that the bachelor has never been married in order to distinguish him from a divorced man or from a widower.)

Is John stating the link between his subject God and his predicate love as being an equation or an identification? I think not. If he meant to declare an identity or equation, then we would have something like this: God = love. Let us think for a moment about how an equal sign (=) functions in simple arithmetic. If we say that 4+3=7, we see an equal identity on both sides of the equation. Nothing would be distorted if we reversed the order of the equation so that it read 7=4+3. Essentially there is no difference between 7 and 4+3. They are identical in numerical value and content.

What would happen if we treated John’s declaration in this manner? We could then reverse the subject and the predicate so that we could say either that God is love or that love is God. This is dangerous business indeed. If we can reverse the two sides of the equation, then we can conclude that love is God. This could legitimize every conceivable heresy, including my own deification. If I have love, then I must have God or actually be God. How easily we could move to exalting human eroticism to a divine plane, as indeed has happened with countless religions that have confused sexual pleasure with sacred devotion to God. The phenomenon of sacred prostitution flourished in ancient religions and is still practiced in modern cults. If one can do something in "love," it is blanketed with a divine sanction.

It is clear that we don’t want to infer from this text that any act of love is therefore a divine act or that anything associated with our understanding of love must therefore be of God. At the same time, however, we don’t want to dismiss lightly the dramatic statement John makes in the text. He obviously had something important in mind when, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he penned the words "God is love." At the very least we conclude that what is being communicated here is that God, in His divine being and character, is so loving that we can say He is love. This would merely indicate emphasis, not necessarily identity. Or we could conclude that John is saying God is the fountain or source of all true love.

This approach would be similar to how we would handle Jesus’ statement that He is the way, the truth, and the life. Obviously Jesus meant far more than that He spoke the truth when He declared that He was the truth or, more properly speaking, is the truth. Again we would face the question of identity or equation with Jesus’ juxtaposition of the verb "to be" with the predicate "truth." If we reversed these, then we would conclude that any truth is Jesus. This would mean the word "truth" means the same thing as the word "Jesus." Rather than heading into such a linguistic morass, it would be more appropriate to conclude that Jesus is the ultimate source, standard, or fountainhead of truth. This is how the Scriptures frequently speak of the relationship of God to things like wisdom, beauty, knowledge, and goodness. God is not only wise, He is the ground of wisdom. He is not only beautiful, He is the source and standard of all beauty. He is not merely good, He is the norm of all goodness.

When we apply this manner of speaking to John’s declaration that God is love, we see a literary device that points to God’s being the source, the ground, the norm, and fountainhead of all love. We recall that the Biblical context in which John says that God is love is an exhortation or commandment regarding how we are to behave toward one another. John wrote, "Beloved, let us love one another." This is the imperative before us. When John sought to provide a rationale for this commandment, he added, "for love is of God."

To say that love is of God means that love belongs to or is the possession of God. He possesses it as a property of His divine being, as an attribute. It also means that love is ultimately from God. Wherever love is manifested, it points back to its ground, its owner, and its source, Who is God Himself. Again this does not mean that all love is God, but it does mean that all genuine love proceeds from God and is rooted in Him.

The love John is describing obviously is not just a generic love. The love he describes is a particular kind of love. He speaks of it in restrictive terms. It is restricted to those who are born of God and who know God. He goes on to say that the person who does not love in this restrictive sense does not know God and presumably is not born of God.

The restrictive type of love that characterizes God is the kind of love that is awakened in those who have been born of God. It is a supernatural gift with a supernatural origin. It is found only in the regenerate, for all who exercise it and only those who exercise it are born of God.

Divine Attributes

When we consider love as an attribute of God, we recognize that it is defined in relation to all the other attributes of God. This is true not only of love but also of every other attribute of God. It is important to remember that when we speak of the attributes of God, we are speaking of properties that cannot be reduced to composite parts. One of the first affirmations we make about the nature of God is that He is not a composite being. Rather we confess that God is a simple being. This does not mean that God is "easy" in the sense that a simple task is not a difficult task. Here simplicity is not contrasted with difficulty but with composition. A being who is composite is made up of definite parts. As a human creature, I am composed of many parts, such as arms, legs, eyes, ears, lungs, etc.

As a simple being, God is not made up of parts as we are. This is crucial to any proper understanding of the nature of God. This means that God is not partly immutable, partly omniscient, partly omnipotent, or partly infinite. He is not constructed of a section or segment of being that is then added to other sections or segments to comprise the whole of God. It is not so much that God has attributes but rather that He is His attributes. In simple terms (as distinct from difficult terms) this means that all of God’s attributes help define all of His other attributes. For example, when we say God is immutable, we are also saying that His immutability is an eternal immutability, an omnipotent immutability, a holy immutability, a loving immutability, etc. By the same token His love is an immutable love, an eternal love, an omnipotent love, a holy love, etc.

By remembering that God is a simple being and that He is His attributes, we can resist the temptation and avoid the error of pitting one of God’s attributes against another. God does not come to us like a chef who operates a smorgasbord restaurant. We cannot take our plates and help ourselves to only those attributes of God we find tasteful and pass by those attributes we find unpalatable. In practice this is done every day. It is the basis of idolatry in which we first deconstruct God by stripping Him of some of His attributes and then refashion Him into a different God more to our liking. An idol is a false god that serves as a substitute for the real God.

In antiquity and in contemporary primitive societies we see idola-try practiced in crude and crass forms. The idol maker who fashions a deity out of a block of stone or wood and then addresses it as if it were alive or had the power to do anything may be seen as somewhat foolish or stupid. We recall how the prophets of Israel ridiculed the idol makers of their day.

We live in more sophisticated times and are not quite as prone to worship the works of our own hands in such a crass manner. But we have not yet escaped the propensity to worship an idol created by our own minds. We must guard against a facile dismissal of the threat of idolatry. We must remember that the proclivity for idolatry is one of the strongest inclinations of our fallen natures.

The apostle Paul describes the universal human need for salvation and spells out the basis for the universality of human sin, summarizing it in his letter to the Romans:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man–and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (1:18—25)

Here Paul speaks of the twin sins that are fundamental to fallen human nature: idolatry and ingratitude. By refusing to honor God as God, we substitute an idol for the true God. This is what is meant by exchanging the truth of God for a lie that results in serving the creature rather than the Creator.

The need to be vigilant with respect to our natural instincts toward idolatry is especially acute when we are considering the love of God. I doubt there is another attribute of God more fraught with the peril of idolatry than this one. It is the attribute most often selected at our theological smorgasbord.

When lecturing on the holiness of God, the sovereignty of God, the justice of God, or the wrath of God, many times I am interrupted by someone who comments, "But my God is a God of love." I hasten to assure the person that I also believe in a God of love. But I often note in the protest a thinly veiled suggestion that the love of God is somehow incompatible with His holiness, justice, sovereignty, or wrath. Here the attribute of love has been isolated from God’s other attributes so that it is the only attribute by which God is known or it subsumes or swallows up all of His other attributes.

This is precisely what happens when we conceive of God as a composite being rather than a simple one. We have a structure that allows us to pick and choose our attributes and gives us a license to construct a god who is an idol. If the Bible is our primary source for God’s revelation of His nature and character and it ...

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