One of the great themes of the Bible is that declared forthrightly by the apostle John, “God is love!” (1 John 4:8b)
This is a theme expounded on in both the Old and New Testament.
Some think that there is a difference between God, as He is portrayed in the Old Testament, and God, as He is portrayed in the New Testament, but it is not so. The writers and prophets of the New Testament were quite clear in portraying the certainty of God’s wrath against sin (cf. Romans 1:18), and no prophet spoke more about hell than Jesus Christ Himself (cf. Mark 9:43-48). But the wrath of God does not negate the truth of God’s love anymore than the love of God negates the truth of God’s wrath.
Yet, as we look through the Old Testament, evidence of God’s love abounds. It was in love that God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden. It was in love, after their sin, that God clothed them. It was in love that God taught men how to worship and seek after Him. It was in love that God saved Noah. It was in love that God freed the Israelites from slavery. It was in love that God patiently bore with the many failings of His people, time and again, as He encouraged them to do better.
Speaking to the prophet Ezekiel, God explains, “if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die… Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die and not that he should turn from his ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:21, 23; NKJV)
Though written in the Old Testament, under the law of Moses, this is the exact doctrine taught in the New Testament under the law of Christ. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9; NKJV)
To “turn from his ways and live,” is just another way of saying, “repent.” Jesus may very well have had Ezekiel 18 in mind when He preached to His followers, “unless you repent, you will perish.” (cf. Luke 13:3, 5) It was in love that God encouraged repentance, and it was as a reflection of that love that Jesus preached, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 4:17)
The message from God has remained the same through the ages, because God does not change, and His loving nature does not change. God wants men to be saved from the consequences of their sins. This is why God sent Jesus to die for us. (John 3:16) Jesus is the manifestation of God’s love, because God, in love, has never wanted us to be lost. He does not want us to perish. God loves each of us, individually and personally, even as He knows each of us, individually and personally.
The loving nature of God has one other aspect we should consider. God commanded Moses concerning the manner in which God wanted men to treat one another saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18b) Jesus pointed to this as the second greatest commandment in all of the Law of Moses. It was in reflection of this commandment that Jesus taught His disciples the golden rule, “whatever you want men to do to you, to also to them.” (Matthew 7:12)
Much of the wrath of God is directed at men who ignore this admonition. God made man in His image. When we mistreat one another, we are mistreating those who were made in God’s image (cf. Genesis 9:5, 6). Therefore, the Bible teaches us, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20; NKJV) Our love for one another is a reflection of our love for God.
Further, being made in the image of God, there is the expectation and hope on the part of God, that we will live up to the potential He placed in us. God wants us to treat one another with love so that we will be more like Him. This is why Jesus told us, “love your enemy,” because that is what God does. “Therefore, you shall be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:44, 48)
So what is the conclusion? Just this: God is love, and we should never doubt that love, directed towards us. Instead, we should respond to it. We should accept the salvation He so desperately wants to give us. But we should also imitate that love, treating others with compassion, kindness, patience and forgiveness, as we learn to be more like God.
If you would like to learn more about the love of God, manifested towards man in His Son, and in His word, the church of Christ invites you to worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.