In ministry I often stress to people God’s love for them. Many Christians may know about God’s love cognitively but have never experienced the tangible love of the Father pouring down on them. It’s life-changing! It is so easy to forget not only that God loves us but that “God is love“(1 John 4:8).
Yet, God is not just love. Progressive Christians often stress “God is love” in a way that defines love as “permissiveness,” especially when it comes to sexual sin. For some reason, the progressive wing of the Church wants to hold a hard line on sin when it comes to economics and social justice yet advocates a kind of free-for-all when it comes to human sexuality. I heard one progressive writer say it like this, that when it comes to the LGBTQ issues, they are going to err on the side of love because God is love. Bu what is he really saying? He’s saying, when it comes to LGBTQ issues, he wants to err on the side of permissiveness because that is how he defines love. And God is love. This kind of thinking has led to all kinds of deception.
God is love, but He’s not “permissive” love (if we can even call that love), and He’s not only love. Before we read the phrase “God is love” in 1 John 4:8, we read “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all” in 1 John 1:5. And before we even get to 1 John 1, we read in 1 Peter 1:15-16 that God is holy. Not only is God holy but, because of His holiness, we are called to holiness. Here’s what it says, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.'” (1 Peter 1:15-16)
God’s love is never in conflict with God’s light and holiness, just as the Father is never in conflict with the Son and the Spirit. We worship a trinitarian God. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We understand that when people start to stress that God is Father but not Son or Spirit, they wander into heresy. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. The Holy Spirit is God the Spirit. While it is a mystery as to how they are “three-in-one,” the tension of this truth must be held. This same thing is true for God being Love, Light, and Holy.
While the Father, Son, and Spirit each express all three of these realities (love, light, holiness), it does seem like each person of the Godhead has adopted one as their specialty. The Father is all about love. 1 John 3:1 says, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”
Jesus, the Son, is all about Light. The Gospel of John speaks of Jesus as Light a few different times. “In him was life, and that life was the light of all humankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it“(John 1:4-5). “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world“(John 1:9).
The Holy Spirit, God the Spirit, is our source of holiness. His name even starts with “holy.” The apostle Paul clearly contrasts the difference between living by the flesh and living by the Spirit. The Spirit is the One that fosters in us a holy life as we keep in step with the Spirit.
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery…But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:16-19, 22-23
God’s love is never divorced from His light and holiness. The most loving thing God can do is to invite us out of the darkness and into His Light. The most loving thing God can do is call us to be like Him, be holy as He is holy. God is Love, yes. And, God is Light. And God is Holy. All three of these must be held together or our understanding of God (and love) gets warped.