“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8
Last June, the Supreme Court came to an historical and game-changing decision when it ruled that gay marriage is a constitutional right. In one fell swoop, SCOTUS redefined the nature of marriage in the United States. Within hours, social media erupted with the hashtag #lovewins, which quickly became the anthem of celebration for those supporting gay marriage. Even today, #lovewins represents a culture war in which traditional morals and values clash with a society that embraces an amoral, anti-Christian worldview.
The phrase “love wins” is not a new one, though. Four years prior to this Supreme Court ruling, pastor Rob Bell came out with a book entitled Love Wins. In a massive departure from traditional evangelical Christianity, Bell argued in his book for a sort of universalistic Christianity. Disregarding a Christian history rich in a theology of sin, heaven, and hell, Bell claims that our worst hell will be experienced in this life, while every last one of us will make it to heaven eventually. No matter what a person’s religious beliefs in this life, he will eventually find his way to heaven, because, as Bell says it, “love wins” (for a thorough discussion of his book, see this review).
Does love win? Did it win when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage? Will love eventually win through one sweeping act of God in which all human beings, whether or not they follow Christ in this life, will receive the good blessing of Christ’s salvation?
Once again, at the core of these discussions are our assumptions about the nature of love.
As a society, we assume much about love when we make statements concerning life, morality, and God, but we are not in the habit of thinking too deeply about the implications of our beliefs. In the process, we have arrived at a place of having many unspoken rules about what love demands of us. For instance, it is now considered unloving to have absolute beliefs about the ways in which we as humans should live. “Right” and “wrong” have become relative terms, and to speak of someone else’s behavior as being “wrong” is considered judgmental and even hateful. Christians are being silenced from speaking up about anything at all for fear of backlash from a very outspoken and reactive culture.
So what is “love,” and how does love influence the ways we should live?
1 John 4:7-8 (quoted above) declares that “God is love,” meaning our very definition and understanding of love is wrapped up within the character of Almighty God. Yet we often miss out on the richness of God’s love because we fail to explore the depth of His character. We emphasize the love of God to the detriment of recognizing that God is also, for instance, holy, righteous, and just. God is love, but love is not god.
In fact, before ever even mentioning the love of God, the author of 1 John says that "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). God is light; He is pure and sinless. God, in other words, is holy, and this is our starting point for understanding the love of God. To proclaim an understanding of God’s love without first exploring God’s holiness is to divorce God’s love from Who He is. In fact, the reality of God’s holiness enriches the reality of God’s love.
R.C. Sproul says,
“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.”
One pastor points out that we as a culture want to proclaim “love, love, love,” or even “grace, grace, grace,” when we talk about God. We make our discussions of God all about us and what He can do for us. Yet before we rejoice in His love or any of those easier to accept characteristics of God, first we must remember that God is “holy, holy, holy.” Then, and only then, do we begin to grasp just “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Eph. 3:18).
You see, it is God’s awesome holiness that makes His relentless, sacrificial love so spectacular and mind-boggling to a sinful and otherwise hopeless people, and that includes you and me. God did not compromise His holiness to relate with and to redeem humanity. God has remained holy, always. The fact that God, sinless and holy in every way, has pursued us in our wickedness, is incomprehensible.
As we seek to engage our culture with the love of Christ, we are then guided by His holiness. We remember that God’s holy ways also represent the best way for all of us to live. The antithesis of sin, His holiness reveals where we find true joy and fulfillment in life. God’s holy ways lead us away from sin and death, and they guide us toward His original design and intentions for us, His creation.
God’s holiness is good.
Therefore, everything we do and say is wrapped up in the wisdom of a holy God. We do not speak up for the disabled and serve the poor because we are better, but because God’s way is best. We do not we teach and model godly sexuality because we are better, but because God’s way is best. We do not fight for the unborn because we are better, but because God’s way is best.
We speak of God’s holiness (not our own) to an unholy culture because His love dictates that we do so. To be silent, to passively sit by while the lost world around us becomes further entangled in sin, is actually the most unloving thing we could ever do.
The first step in redeeming the concept of love from a sinful world, then, is to simply marvel at the incomprehensible love of a holy God. We find in Him a love that has never compromised on His holiness, yet He loved us enough to not leave us dead in our sins. Jesus pursued us all the way to the cross, and He took upon Himself our curse of sin so that we might know Him (Is.53:6; Jn.17:3),
His is a love that beats much deeper than any other love this world will ever know.