At the heart of the Christian faith lies a real event that took place in history. It was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on the Mt. Calvary. Jesus bled and died for our sins according to the predetermined plan of God by the hands of wicked men. God the Father sent His Son to die on the cross in our place. He was literally the executioner. Through the slaying of His Son, God has reconciled the fallen humanity to Himself again. The sinless One was offered as a sacrifice to redeem the sinful ones.
This is how God loved the sinful humanity: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not be lost but have eternal life. – John 3:16
The cross is the intersection of God’s love and His fury. The cross depicts the depth of our sin and the height of God’s holiness; the purity of God’s wrath and the greatness of His mercy. Do you wish to see God’s love for the fallen humanity? Look at the cross. Do you wish to see God’s fury at the sinner? Look at the cross. Unless we first understand the righteousness, justice, holiness and wrath of God we cannot really grasp the love of God.
People have no difficulty in accepting that God is a God of love; but they have a great difficulty in believing how God can be a God of anger, a God of wrath, a God of fury, and a God of terror. Scripture says, “God is a just judge, And God is angry with the wicked every day.” (Ps. 7:11). The prophets spoke often of the wrath of God, the judgment of God. “The land is scorched by the wrath of the Lord of Hosts, and the people are like fuel for the fire” (Isaiah 9:19). “Look, My anger —My burning wrath —is about to be poured out on this place, on man and beast, on the tree of the field, and on the produce of the land. My wrath will burn and not be quenched” (Jeremiah 7:20). “Their silver and gold will be unable to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath” (Ezekiel 7:19). These are only a few passages, but the Old Testament is filled with the announcement of God’s wrath. In all of the scripture the more fierce exposure of God’s wrath we only find in the New Testament, at the Cross.
We live in a culture, the love of God has been sanitized, democratized, and above all sentimentalized. Nowadays if you tell people that God loves them, they are unlikely to be surprised. Basically, among Christians and pagans in our society the love of God is assumed. “God is a God of Love. And, He loves everybody. Not only that, He loves everybody unconditionally.” That idea is far from the Christian doctrine of the love of God. God is actually furious, as we should understand the Greek text of Romans 1:18. Were the Lord not graciously slow to manifest his anger fully (Num. 14:18), no sinner could live for even a second.
Today what we hear from the evangelical pulpit is about a God who has been defanged and tamed, and a God who is innocuous. Many preachers are saying that God has unconditional love for sinners. How does an unbeliever react if he hears that God loves unconditionally? What does that mean? It means that God is going to love you just as you are, you are perfectly acceptable to God, and you have nothing to fear Him, certainly not for His wrath for He is not going to pour His wrath on anyone because He loves unconditionally. Unconditional means there are no conditions. There are no strings, no commands. You don’t need to repent; you do not need to flee for your life to the cross; you can continually live in rebellion and disobedience for the rest of your lives offending God; whatever you do doesn’t matter, God loves you! And He loves you unconditionally!’ The Bible does not teach such a notion of unconditional love of God.
There are at least five different ways the Bible speaks of the love of God. (Ref. The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, D. A. Carson)
The intra-Trinitarian love of God
The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father (John 3:35, 5:20).
God’s providential (beneficence) love over all that he has made
His love is expressed toward His creation despite their disposition toward Him. In other words, God loves because it is His nature to love (1 John 4:8). He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).
God’s salvific (benevolence) love toward his fallen world
The manifestation of God’s love is so vast that the scope of His love is the whole world. God so loved the world that he gave his Son (John 3:16). This does not mean universal salvation.
God’s selecting love toward his elect
The elect may be the entire nation of Israel or the church as a body or individuals. In each case, God sets his affection on his chosen ones in a way in which he does not set his affection on others (Deut. 7:7-8; 10:14-15; Mal. 1:2-3; Eph. 5:25).
God’s conditional love towards His own
It is part of our covenant relationship with God once we come to know Him (Jude 21; John 15:9,10; Ps. 103:9-11, 13, 17-18).
Love of God in the scriptures is inseparably related to His electing grace. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Here, Paul doesn’t say that “all things work together for good for everyone”. Rather He qualifies it – “to those who are called”. This promise of divine providence is for the ‘called’ (by God). The Bible doesn’t teach us universal fatherhood or universal brotherhood. We are not all children of God. We are all creatures of God but He has not given the right to everyone to be His children – to be loved by Him. By virtue we are objects of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3-5). Only through Christ we get to enjoy God’s love.
God’s love is conditional. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” Only by adoption in Christ, every believer shares in God’s selecting love. It is the love enjoyed by Jacob, but not by Esau. Esau received God’s benevolent love and beneficial love, but not the selecting love. This love is reserved for the redeemed in whom God delights — not because there is anything inherently lovely or delightful in the elect — but they are so united to Christ-the Father’s Beloved, that the love the Father has for the Son (intra-Trinitarian love of God) spills over onto them. In Christ, the obstacle of alienation is overcome, and we are reconciled to God. But that reconciliation extends only to believers. Those who reject Christ remain at enmity with God, alienated from God, and objects of His wrath and hatred.