Four Expressions of God’s Love

God’s heart is that we know and experience the vastness of His love, both in its magnitude and in its complexity. Through the years theologians have referred to this complexity with a variety of expressions. For example, one tradition refers to them as the benevolent, beneficent, and complacent love of God.

As disciples and in our disciplemaking ministries, it’s important for us to ever seek to fathom the depths of God’s love and live in light of what we discover, and then to help others do the same. As I seek to apply this in my own life and ministry, I’ve come to see that there are four essential expressions of God’s love. Let’s look at them one at a time.

God’s Creative Sustaining Love is evidenced in all that He has created, but especially in His provision for mankind even when people reject God. The model is found in nature and illustrated when Jesus said that the rain falls on the just and the unjust.

The proper response to His creative sustaining love is reverence and gratitude. This is illustrated in Romans 1:18-32, where this response is absent.

God’s Individual Redemptive Love is expressed in His eternal plan to call out people to be His own. It is this love that is expressed in the familiar first part of John 3:16. The biblical model of this love is seen in the events of the initial Passover. God redeemed people for Himself as they responded by believing and applying the blood of a lamb to the doorposts of their homes allowing the death angel to pass over them.

The appropriate response to God’s redemptive love is repentance and belief in the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ (John 3:16), which opens the door to the next expression of God’s love.

God’s Covenant Family Love is accompanied by a new identity and position in Christ, “the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This expression of God’s love is seen in such passages as John 1:12 and 1 John 3:1-3. Family love includes (among others) justification, adoption, citizenship, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

The expected response to this expression of God’s love is faith-filled obedience. The apostle John states in his first letter that obedience is a clear indicator of being a child of God and is how we are to demonstrate our love for Him.

The biblical model for covenant family love is God’s relationship with Abraham and the subsequent people of Israel. God calls Israel His family, His people, and a vine. The Old Testament tells the rather difficult journey of this family trying to figure out who God is and how they should relate to Him.

God’s Personal Intimate Love exposes us to the heart of God and is a result not only of maturity but continued alignment to God’s will. This expression of God’s love is not positional but relational, dynamic, and intentional. It is the color of God’s love expressed in John 14:21 where a pattern of obedience leads to an increased intimacy with Him (revelation/manifestation).

The model of this expression of God’s love is seen in the love between the Father and the Son (see John 14:31 and John 5:20). In this example, we get a glimpse of how we are to love Christ. The desire to please Him is the proper response to his intimate love, not as an attempt to merit His love (we cannot earn it) but as the proper response to His love and grace given to us.

If we do not experience the intimate love of God, we will miss the relational depth that Jesus has with the Father and wants to have with us (John 17:26). The intimate love of God is the passion behind discipleship, eclipses duty, and is the ultimate motivation to walk worthy of Him: pleasing Him in all respects (Colossians 1.10). It is this color of love that is expressed toward His disciples in John 15 when He calls them not only servants but friends.

As you’ve explored and experienced God’s love in its various forms, which aspect are you most familiar with? Practically speaking, how can you express God’s love to those you disciple?

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