Loved by God
To all that be in Rome, beloved of God. Romans 1:7
Let us not miss the implications of this grand statement. Every believer is loved by God.
Now, I want to push back here at a notion of the love of God that waters down the force of these words. It comes from a failure to distinguish between the love that God has for all people as their creator (cf. Mt. 5:44-48) and the special, saving love that God has for his people, his elect, as Paul will call them in chapters 8 and 9. If that were not the case, then there would be nothing special about what Paul says here. There would be nothing to be amazed at. There would be nothing to comfort and encourage the saints. But the reality is that if you belong to Christ, then God loves you in the same way he loves his Son. There is no higher love than that.
So when we think about this love of God, we have to note first of all that it is a special love. It is what the apostle John was amazed at when he exclaimed, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 Jn. 3:1). As John points out, this is the love that the most perfect Father has for his children. The Psalm puts it this way: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.” (Ps. 103:13). It is a love that causes God to rejoice over us when we repent. It is a love that embraces us in grace and peace. It is a love that embraces us in the fellowship of the Holy Trinity: “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” (Jn. 17:23). There is surely no love in the universe more special than that.
Think about the implications of this. If our children are in mortal peril, we would move heaven and earth if necessary to come to their aid. They are a part of us; it would tear our hearts out to see them hurting or in danger. But if God loves you with the love Paul is talking about here, he loves you like that, but even better. I think about what our Lord says at the end of the parable of the unjust judge: "And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Lk. 18:7-8). In other words, God is not a disinterested party when it comes to his elect. He is not aloof. He comes to their aid as a father comes to the aid of his son or daughter when they cry to him. Or think about what our Lord said in the Sermon on the Mount: “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Mt. 7:11). There is an infinite “how much more” in the love that God has for his children and the love that a mom or a dad has for their children.
The fact that God loves some people with a special love is a corollary of the fact that God is not the Father of all men. We do not believe in the universal fatherhood of God. The Bible teaches that to be a part of God’s family, we have to be adopted into it, and this only happens when we belong to Christ. For those people, and for none other, does God love them as a father loves his children.
Not only is God’s love special, it is also saving. By this I mean that this love begets our salvation, effects our salvation, and completes our salvation. It is the love of God that is the spring of all his saving action. It is God’s love also that keeps us and brings us to glory. This is Paul’s point later in chapter 8: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39).
Salvation does not mean deliverance from all the thorns and thistles of this life. But it does mean that suffering will eventually be replaced with incomparable glory that lasts forever. And this glory is the effect of being adopted into God’s family, of being forgiven and justified, sanctified by the Spirit and word, and finally glorified. All this is the fruit of God’s love for us. You can always judge a person’s love by what they are willing to give. God has given his elect something better than all the world. It is so good that it is worth it to give up the world for it, to lose one’s life in this world in order to gain the life that God’s love gives in the next.
God’s love is also particular. That is to say, the love Paul is thinking about here is not some general good-will and compassion that God has for the world. It is a special, saving, particular love. God’s love is intimately personal. You are on his mind and heart. Do you remember what Paul said in Gal. 2:20? “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” No one else in the world may care who you are. No one else may know who you are. But God knows who you are, and he loves you in particular.
Knowing God loves us ought to transform the way we look at this world. It ought especially to transform the way we look at trials. If God loves us, and God is sovereign over the world (which he is), then that means that there is no trial that comes to me that God has not sent from good and wise and loving purposes. I may not be able to see what those purposes are. But if God loves me I can be sure that the trial is good for me. Nothing comes to me that has not first come through the hands of a loving Father. I can endure the trial not knowing the reasons for it as long as I am sure that I am loved by God. I can leave it in his hands knowing that I am in his hands.
It ought also to transform the way we look at his laws. God loves us: this same God has given us commandments. They are therefore not there to punish us, but to free us from things that are ultimately enslaving. As the apostle John put it, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” (1 Jn. 5:3). They may feel that way to us at times, but that is the result of the indwelling sin that remains in our hearts. God’s law is not restrictive but freeing. His laws allow us to live in harmony with him, and that is the way we really live out what it means to be fully human, as created in the image of God. Or as our Lord put it, “ If ye know these things [his commandments], happy are ye if ye do them.” (Jn. 13:17).
It should also free us from craving the approval of man. If God loves us, let that suffice. It does not matter ultimately what another worm of the dust thinks of you. Paul knew that people looked at him and thought he was off his rocker. And if Paul cared one whit about the opinion of others, he would have prematurely ended his ministry. But he kept laboring. Why? He tells us: “For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:” (2 Cor. 5:13-14). It was God’s love for him that kept him faithful to the very end, not looking to the right or left for the approval of men.
We should therefore not be content with merely knowing about this love, but experiencing it. There is no replacement for the assurance of God’s love for us. There is nothing more bracing or more strengthening than to know that the God of the universe knows us and loves us with a special, saving, particular love. This is essentially what it means to have the assurance of salvation; to know with utter certainly that God loves you. Of course, if you are a believer, it is true whether you feel it or not. But oh how we ought to want to know God’s love that passes knowledge, that we might be filled with all the fullness of God!