The love of God is in a class by itself. It transcends our experience. Nevertheless, it is a love that He shares in part with us and expects us to manifest to each other. He grants to His people—insofar as is possible given the Creator-creature distinction—His holy love (Rom. 5:5).
Long ago, Augustine of Hippo pointed out that the desire of every human heart is to experience a love that is transcendent. Regrettably for us today, however, I don’t think there’s any word in the English language that’s been more stripped of the depth of its meaning than the word love. Due to the shallow romanticism of secular culture, we tend to view the love of God in the same way popular music, art, and literature view love. Yet the Bible says God’s love is far different—and greater.
First John 4:7-11 gives us this classic statement with respect to the love of God:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love…. In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his only Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Here the Apostle grounds his admonition for Christians to love one another in the very character of God. “Love is from God,” he tells us. What he means is that Christian love comes from God Himself. This love is not natural to fallen humanity. It originates in God and is a divine gift to His people. When we are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are given a capacity for this supernatural love that has God as its source and foundation. When John says that “whoever loves has been born of God and knows God,” he is not teaching that every human being who loves another is therefore born of God. The kind of love of which he speaks comes only from regeneration. Without the Holy Spirit’s transformation of the human heart, no one has this capacity for love. No unregenerate person has this kind of love, and no regenerate person lacks such love. Therefore, a person who does not have the ability to love in the way John describes has not been born again. “Anyone who does not love [in this manner] does not know God.”
John does not stop there. Not only is love from God but God is love. Note that John does not use the word is as an equals sign. We cannot reverse the subject and the predicate in God is love and say love is God. John is not making a crass identification between love and God so that anyone who has a romantic feeling in his heart or any affection for another person has thereby encountered God. When he says God is love, he’s using a bit of hyperbole. In other words, love is such an intimate aspect or attribute of the character of God, that you can, in a manner of speaking, say that He is love. Any view of Him that neglects to include within it this profound sense of divine love is a distortion of who God is.