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  • Writer's pictureWill Stockdale

Because God Loved Us

On the Christian virtue of love

There’s a good chance that the first verse you ever memorized was John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” 

We stress this verse to our children and emphasize it in our evangelism because it so concisely encapsulates the core of God’s character. If we were to ask, What is at the center of who God is and what he does? The Bible would tell us in 1 John 4:8 that “God is love.” 

We stress the centrality of God’s love because its demonstration baffles the human mind. We who are used to expecting reciprocity for our deeds find no such reality in God. As 1 John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Our posture is in fact much worse than indifference towards God. As John Calvin wrote, “Therefore, he loved us even when we practiced enmity towards him and committed wickedness.” God’s love for the world comes totally and completely from within himself. 

It is this love that sent the Son into the world to die for the sins of man, and it is love that guides his ruling over us. Theologian Stephen Charnock put it like this: “His love to his people is as great as his sovereignty over them. He stands not upon his dominion with his people so much as upon his affection to them.” After Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father, the love of God made a way for the Holy Spirit to dwell richly in our lives. And perhaps it is for this reason that the apostle Paul lists “love” as the first fruit of the Spirit. 

The Christian life is about love from beginning to end. It is love that bought our redemption, it is love that guides our walk with Jesus, and it is love that we will enter when He calls us home. It is because of the breadth of Christian love that we know it to be more than a feeling. In the Hebrew Bible several different  words are used for love. One of them is Ahavah. That is a type of affectionate love, a love we feel and sense. But there is also a word for love, Hesed, that means steadfast love, or covenant faithfulness. To quote from one pastor, it is a love that says I’m not going anywhere.

In the New Testament the word most commonly used for love is agape. It is also the word used in our  passage. It means, “the active love of God for his Son and his people.” As we can see from this definition, love is, to borrow from Journey, “more than a feeling.” Love in the Christian life is oriented towards action and obedience. It tastes and sees the goodness of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and desires to know him more deeply by walking in step with the Spirit. This is what Jesus said to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” 

Getting this order right is crucial for our flourishing. So often we expect for our feelings to do the heavy lifting and be the things that drive our affections. But as we know, our feelings are fickle. To live this life well we need to stand on something more firm. And so we stand on the promises  of God. We keep his commandments. We pursue righteousness because that is what God loves to see in us. When we love by delighting in God for who he is and choosing to live in a way that pleases him our feelings are shaped by those actions, and even grow to delight in God. A delight that  will only grow deeper throughout eternity. 

The fruit of the Spirit is love because God first loved us to bring about in us the greatest Christian virtue of all. 

Rev. Will Stockdale is a Ministry Associate in Washington, D.C. and cohost of The Statement.


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