God is Love but Love is Not God

Christian author A.W. Tozer once wrote, “To magnify one phase of God’s unitary character and diminish another is always wrong.” He goes on to explain how if we magnify only God’s love, then we are left with “a sentimental, spineless god.” He continues, “We’ve magnified the love of God without remembering that God is just.” This is precisely what is happening in the postmodern age of Christianity. Some, perhaps even many remove anything about God they don’t like such as His righteous judgment and wrath against sinful humanity and instead create for themselves a kind, loving, merciful—albeit powerless god—who must bend to the will of the individual rather than the individual being required to submit to the will of the true Sovereign God.

When the apostle John wrote those famous words, “God is love” (1 John 4:16), I’m sure he had no idea how that simple phrase would be so abused two thousand years later. Even John Wesley appeared to claim that the primary characteristic of God is love when he wrote in his explanatory notes, “God is often styled holy, righteous, wise; but not holiness, righteousness, or wisdom in the abstract, as he is said to be love; intimating that this is his darling, his reigning attribute, the attribute that sheds an amiable glory on all his other perfections.” Wesleyan theologians have been running with this presumption ever since.

In the postmodern feel-good age, many have taken this notion to an extreme far beyond a biblical understanding by reversing the order to say “Love is god.” They won’t say it so succinctly; instead, they will meander around a bit and eventually come to that conclusion. And quite recently, God has all but been erased from the equation with the phrase, “Love is love.” But love is not God and love without God is not love. While it is true that God is infinitely loving, He is also infinitely holy and infinitely just and infinitely righteous and good and merciful and faithful and sovereign. How could anyone possibly suggest that God’s infinite love is greater than God’s infinite holiness or even the other way around? No attribute of God’s character can be greater or lesser than any other attribute of God. If that were true, He would not be eternal because something of God that is lesser cannot be infinite.

God and everything about God is unitary. He is not made up of parts like humans are. Every characteristic of God functions as one. Tozer writes, “All that God says or does must accord with all His attributes… Every thought that God thinks, every word that God speaks, every act of God must accord with His faithfulness, wisdom, goodness, justice, holiness, love, truth, and all His other attributes.” When Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?”, His answer was, “Hear, Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one” (Mark 12:29 NASB). Isn’t that interesting? Before we get to the commandments about loving God and loving neighbor, we are commanded to recognize God’s sovereignty, His holiness, and His unitary nature. And that is because until we surrender to the Lordship of God, we cannot recognize the experience of being loved by the All-Powerful, Sovereign Creator of the universe. For the unsaved, God’s love is like light to the blind or sound to the deaf. They have no frame of reference to even imagine it.

God’s love permeates every aspect of His being, as do holiness and justice also permeates every aspect of His being. God’s love, holiness, and justice all functioned as one in the atonement when Christ chose to suffer and die on the cross for us. Because of God’s holiness, His justice required that the sinner be condemned. But because of God’s love for us, He established a way for us to be reconciled to Him that is holy and just. Romans 5:9 says, “And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.” The atonement of Christ was the payment for our sinfulness. So now God’s justice requires that those who are marked as belonging to Christ be brought into the kingdom of Heaven, no longer condemned, but justified in Christ. Only the love of a holy God could save us in such a way as this.

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