Knowing God, Chapter 12

Into the Heart of God

Twice in the letter of 1 John the apostle declares, “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8,16), and we ought to admit that this phrase has been misused and misunderstood so many times that it is difficult to even see its true meaning any more. But this statement is so vitally important to John’s writings, and to the Scriptures as a whole, that we must discover its meaning and apply it to ourselves. Before we do so, however, Dr. Packer advises us to take care: “When we looked at God’s wisdom, we saw something of his mind; when we thought of his power, we saw something of his hand and his arm; when we consider his word, we learned about his mouth; but now, contemplating his love, we are to look into his heart. We shall stand on holy ground; we need the grace of reverence, that we may tread it without sin.”

Two statements about what John has said will help us keep the phrase “God is love” in perspective. First, “’God is love’ is not the complete truth about God so far as the Bible is concerned.” What he means by this is that we cannot take the phrase “God is love” apart from the rest of what the Bible tells us about God. On one hand, John also says that God is spirit (Jn. 4:24), a statement which points to his limitless and unchanging nature, so that Packer can say “the love of God who is spirit is no fitful, fluctuating thing, as human love is, nor is it a mere impotent longing for things that may never be.” No, God’s love is permanent, unchanging, and powerful to the point of transforming its objects, men and women created in God’s image. And John also tells us that God is light (1 Jn. 1:5), which means that he is the definition of moral purity and virtue, and that his love cannot be rightly thought of as “an indulgent, benevolent softness, divorced from moral standards and concerns,” Instead, we ought to agree that “God’s love is holy love.”

The second statement that Packer makes about the phrase “God is love” is that “’God is love’ is the complete truth about God so far as the Christian is concerned.” In other words, his love is expressed to believers in everything that he says and does toward us. This is expressed most directly in Paul’s words from Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” In every moment and every circumstance of life, God is love to us. Even when things appear to be going wrong, we know that God is expressing his love to us and furthering his purpose in us.

With these reminders in place, Packer gives us the following definition: “God’s love is an exercise of his goodness toward individual sinners whereby, having identified himself with their welfare, he has given his Son to be their Savior, and now brings them to know and enjoy him in a covenant relation.” In light of all this, what effect should “God is love” have on your life?

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