7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.1 John 4:7-21
I do not know about you, but the last few days have really put my convictions to the test regarding last week’s devotion. Love is difficult. Sometimes, not hating is difficult. And, despite how hard we try to hide it, following Christ seems difficult, too.
I believe all these things are difficult – specifically loving (and not-hating) as He told us to in pursuit of Him – because we are forgetful. One of the truths that should be most foundational for us is that our salvation – and His continued work in us (a.k.a. sanctification) is not accomplished by us; they are not produced by our own strength. When Paul described great difficulties (“a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me”, 2 Corinthians 12:7), he revealed some good news told to him personally by Jesus: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9), a truth that led him to understand that his strength existed when Christ’s strength carried him through his own weakness (2 Corinthians 12:10-11, Philippians 4:13). The same good news is for us today.
When we talk about love, it is easy to talk with very unrealistic expectations and ideals. We view and talk about love like the old Beatles song: “All we need is love (bah-ba-da-da-duh)”. But it is easier to make a mess of love than to find oneself successful and fulfilled. Add to that how woefully inadequate our English language is having only one word to describe how we feel about steak and our children and our spouses and our favorite whatever. But I ask you today to remember the good news from 1 Corinthians 12: our weakness (in this case not-loving/hating) does not limit the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives because He is strong for us!
Last week laid out a heavy challenge for us in that how we love (or hate) shows whether we truly belong to Christ because He “is love” (vv. 7-8). Today’s section helps us see how He can state with such conviction that, because “God is love”, His children will be characterized by love by showing how He is love – by proving it.
John uses similar phrases to deliver this proof to us: “In this the love of God was made manifest” (v. 9) and “In this is love” (v. 10). The word translated “manifest” in verse 9 is used like an old-school snapshot (think Polaroid); it captures a specific moment in time when something is openly shown or made visible. It reminds me of a particular pose that has gained popularity in wedding photography where the happy couple have a picture to capture the moment when the groom saw his bride for the first time in her dress or capturing the groom’s reaction the moment the church doors open, seeing his bride. But, for us, it is the other way around! The “this” that manifests love – proves love to us is our heavenly Groom, King Jesus, humbling Himself and dying in our place to redeem His Bride from bondage to sin and death (Philippians 2:5-8; Ephesians 5:25-27, 32)! Keeping that imagery in mind, look back at verse 9 in the Amplified Bible: “By this the love of God was displayed in us, in that God has sent His [One and] only begotten Son [the One who is truly unique, the only One of His kind] into the world so that we might live through Him.” What a beautiful and life-changing truth!
We see this manifested in other passages of Scripture as well, John 3:16, Romans 5:8, Galatians 2:20 to name a few. When I look at this great display of love, I cannot help but ask “why”. Why would he do this for me? Love. What did I do to deserve this? Nothing. Why – just why? God is love. He loves us. And He wants us to have the opportunity to “live through Him”. This brings all of the themes in 1 John – Life, Light, Love – together and shows how all are manifested (shown) in the person and work of Jesus Christ!
Not only does He give us the opportunity to have life in Him but He shows us how He did it, showing just how much He loves us. Verse 10 builds on the “this” – Christ’s sacrificial death on our behalf – from verse 9 by saying that “this” and “love” are one and the same: “In this is love”. So often, we take this part and turn it around and make it about us and put it from our perspective and from our own initiative. We begin saying things that seem to place salvation from our own doing. But, remember, Christ provides the strength; we provide weakness. We have “the wages of sin” but “the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). And, as a young man so eloquently put it as he was repenting and believing in Christ: “I did the sinning. He does the saving.” Our salvation lies not in “that we have loved Him” (v. 10); “we love because He first loved us” (v. 19). Our salvation lies by grace alone through faith alone in Him alone. Period.
Look at how John explains it: “not that we have loved God but that HE LOVED US and SENT HIS SON to be the PROPITIATION for our sins” (emphasis added). The key to this verse – the key to understanding His love – is in the word “propitiation”.
We looked at this word when we studied 1 John 2:1-2 where we see the reality of our sinfulness and the way that Christ is our “advocate with the Father” (2:1) when we fail and sin by being “the propitiation for our sins” (2:2). Now, we see that this is not some generic sacrifice that may possibly save some but, rather, a specific act of love to redeem His Bride! I do not want to get too technical here because I do not want to make this seem academic. I just want you to get as clear a picture as you can regarding what Christ has done to share His love with you.
The idea of propitiation is connected to payment and debt, kind of like the way that people refer to those getting released from jail have “paid their debt”. Our sin has consequences, namely death (see Romans 6:23 above). God is just (Romans 3:26) and cannot leave sin – a capital offense – unpunished. In love, He decided that for anyone who “believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And, in love, He decided that He would pay our sin debt Himself. When we were “dead in [our] trespasses”, He “made [us] alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands, [setting it] aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). He redeemed us from the curse of sin (Genesis 3) “by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13). And He gave us His righteousness in place of our unrighteousness – “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). In THIS is LOVE – in this Jesus!
See, propitiation is a sacrifice that trades wrath for favor, in our case the wrath of God that is rightly against sin traded for the favor of the Only Son of God. Propitiation trades unrighteousness for righteousness, our filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) for His glory (Romans 8:16-17). It is as if we owe a debt so huge that our creditor can not only garnish our wages or seize our property but take our lives and God in Christ steps in and trades bank accounts with us. He credits our account with more than the creditor could ever take, leaving us to live with Him in His house (John 14:1-3) and Him going down with ours. The only difference is that, if we were to go down for our sin debt, we would never recover. We would be forever damned as a consequence of our sin. But, as Peter preached at Pentecost:
“…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it” (Acts 2:23-24)!
In this is love. In this the love of God is made manifest. In this is Jesus! Not only that, He has provided His strength to fuel us and power us in accomplishing what He has called us to do and be. So, “if He has loved us, we also ought to love one another” (v. 11). Is this too much for people who have been loved like this? No, in the same way that Christ told Paul that His “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 2:9), the Spirit tells us through John that our love for others shows that “God abides in us and His love is perfected in us” (v. 12). May we share His perfect love with others and see His Word – His love – shared through our own lives!