Holiness is not Everything, God Really IS Love

Christians who have tried to hold true to the character of God cringe when it is commonly said that “God is love” as if positive feelings were the sum of what it means to be Christian. And this is a valid concern because for many people, Christianity is merely a means to feel loved and accepted and Evangelicals have taken to shying away from talk of God’s love. This fear of undermining God is perhaps best said by R.C. Sproul in his modern classic The Holiness of God,

Only once in sacred Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree. Only once is a characteristic of God mentioned three times in Succession The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. . . The Bible never says that God is love, love, love.

However, it is only thing to be reminded that God’s love is different from the love that we have as people, and another thing entirely to downplay the centrality of love that we find in who we as Christians know God to be or to downplay the importance of love in how we act as Christians. God really is love. It is not a statement we should be shying away from as if it was taboo, because without an understanding of just how God is love, we have failed at understanding how the church has known God for 2,000 years. We can only understand God as a God who IS love, and the love of God defines what it means to be Christian.

What is the defining attribute of the Christian God? Going from the quote I pulled from R.C. Sproul, you wouldn’t be wrong to say holiness, but holiness is not what separates God from the God of the muslims or the God of the Jews. In their conception of God holiness is far more the supreme attribute of God because a being with absolute oneness cannot be love. Indeed in the Koran we see that the love of God would be contingent on the faith and belief of those who love him and the Old Testament also talks of the steadfast love of God, but never of God as love. Why? Because love is other centered and needs to be shared between persons. Without a concept of the trinity, God cannot properly be love because in the trinity love can be shared in the relationship between the persons of the trinity. The trinity is not something most Christians consider often, but when we do we look towards Augustine and say that the trinity itself is a relation of love. This view of the trinity as a relation of love was later recapitulated by the most influential Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas. [1] [2] And within Protestantism, the popular Baptist minister John Piper mirrors this idea of the trinity as relationship when he wrote “So the Son is the eternal image that the Father has of his own perfections, and the Holy Spirit is the eternal love that flows between the Father and the Son as they delight in each other,” a view which he inherited from the influential Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards. [3] [4] The very essence of the trinity, of the Christian God, is love and we cannot shy away from that.

Because God is love, he is free to share his love with us. It is this love that sustains us, that allows us to live each and every day even though we sin and fall short of the glory of God. His love displayed to all the world is a mercy of compassion in that he has not stricken each person dead, and his love towards his own people is shown in the grace we have received through Jesus Christ our Lord. This love is not a love that is fickle, it is, as the Old Testament says is חסד (Chesed), it is a steadfast love or that the new testament calls ἀγάπη (agape) which C.S. Lewis renders as gift love, that pursues his people to the ends of the earth. It is love that has saved us and this love that we are called to share to those around us because it is a love that can only come from God and that we as people do not have a capacity to give. That is what makes this love a holy love, because it is a love that does not originate within ourselves. Faith and hope cease in the end when our hope is realized, but love will continue because it is the only part of the pauline triad that originates from God himself by our sharing in his Spirit.

Contemplate how God is love because the more you do, the more you will see how essential the love of God is to Christian action. In a struggle to be holy, we have cloistered ourselves in churches where the sinful are shamed into silence. We fail to remember that a holy love isn’t a separate love. It is a love that died on the cross for our salvation. It is a love that reaches out so that others might know the light of Christ. We as a church have failed to remember that love, as Paul says, is a superior way to knowledge and gifts that we so earnestly seek after. We fail to remember that “love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” And we do not remember to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” Seek after love, because love brings us into the spiritual life, sharing in the energies of the trinity and Spirit who is the love of God. Seeking a true love will make you holy, trying to be holy doesn’t always make you loving. Saying rightly that God is love doesn’t weaken the gospel, it illuminates it and moves us to share with others the extravagant love that has been freely shown to us as Christians and brought us to salvation.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1 John 4.8


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