See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God… 1 John 3:1
The love of God is the very foundation of the believer’s walk with Christ. There is no better time to be reminded of this profound truth than during the passion week – when those who are faithful commemorate the greatest expression of that divine love. The impact of events from that week 2000 years ago can perhaps be best summarized by the most famous verse in Bible, John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Expanding on the theology of this great text, the apostle John circled back several decades after the life of Christ in I John 3:1 to remind the reader of God’s great love before explaining the centrality of that love to spiritual life.
Understanding God’s love
There is no better passage to help us understand the practical implications of the reality of God’s love. John knew the importance of understanding the love of God. It was for this reason that he opens the verse with the command to “see!” The word doesn’t just mean to look at something, rather it means to grasp it or to fully comprehend the nature of something and live in light of it. John calls the reader to comprehend the truth of what he was about to say by paying strict attention. The force of the command underscores the importance of grasping the connection between understanding the love of God and living a victorious spiritual walk.
The degree of God’s love
John begins his explanation by establishing the degree of God’s love. He does this by using the word potaphn, a word used seven times in the New Testament which always implies astonishment. By itself, it’s a question, but when combined with the noun agape, it describes a superlative quality and quantity at the same time. There isn’t another term in English that adequately captures the same sense. It’s the word used in Mark 13:1 where Jesus’ disciples are marveling at the freshly constructed temple mount and exclaim in astonishment, “Look Teacher, how massive these stones are!” When applied to the concept of God’s love, the use of this word helps the reader comprehend the surpassing greatness of God’s love. The love of God is profoundly massive and unmatched in its greatness. The degree of God’s love is extreme.
The agency of God’s love
John continues by explaining the agency of this love. It belongs to “The Father.” The grammar of the text implies ownership. That is to say, the love on display through the work of Christ starts with the Father, comes from the Father, and is owned by the Father. It is a love that always seeks the betterment of those towards whom it is shown, and is entirely selfless (Eph. 2:4-6, Rom. 5:8, I John 4:1, Phil. 2:1-5). The description of this love as belonging to the Father is critically important because its origination with the Father implies that it is also infinite, just as He is infinite. Repeatedly in the Gospel of John, it is clear that the divine love emanates from the Father and is then expressed amongst the various members of the Triune God. An infinite loop of love exists as the Father and the Spirit are portrayed as loving the Son, and the Son and the Father love the Spirit, and the Spirit and the Son love the Father (John 17:24-26). The resulting glory of God’s work through Christ is that in His work, the Father and the Son incorporate those who believe into this relationship of eternal love.
The nature of God’s love
Finally, John summarizes the nature of the love of God as it is given to us. He takes the love that resides within himself, and He bestows it upon us. The word John uses here means to grant or give as an unearned gift. Paul confirms this in Ephesians 2:8 when he says, “you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” As recorded by John, the giving of this gift is in the perfect tense. It’s an action that happened in the past but has results that carry through today into the future. The act that provided that love was made 2,000 years ago, but the ramifications of that love will continue to impact us for eternity. The nature of God’s love for His people is so profound that it will always be the root and ground of our eternal life.
Someday, the halls of heaven will ring with the praises of those who understand that it is the love of God that serves as our ticket at the gate, transportation through the gate, and guarantees our eternal place inside the gate. It is the love of God that has brought us salvation.
The knowledge of God’s love—its degree, agency, and nature—matters because those theological realities serve as the foundation for everything else in our spiritual life. The knowledge of this love impacts and empowers everything else about our relationship to God and to the world around us. The delivery of this love has changed the very nature of God’s relationship to you, and your relationship to Him. John goes on in I John 3:1 to explain that we are now called the children of God. In using those terms, he is describing a definitive change. Something is true about us now—after having received the love of God—that wasn’t true before. Namely, we are now “called his children.” This idea of calling carries the idea of granting someone their name. The great reality of knowing the love of God is not just that we bear His image, but we also now bear His name as a fully privileged member of His family.
Transformed by God’s love
The benefits of membership in his family are explained in numerous places throughout the New Testament (I Pet 1:3-5 and Eph 1:3-14). Perhaps the clearest explanation is given in Ephesians 3:14-19 where Paul outlines the benefits being called by the name “child of God.” It is clear from this passage and others that the purpose of God’s love being granted to us is that we may now walk in intimate relationship to Him. When we’re found within His love, we find strength through His power, find the presence of Christ dwelling within us, find that we are rooted and grounded in His love, find that we can comprehend the breadth of God’s love that surpasses knowledge, and find that we are able to be filled up to the fullness of God.
A new standard
When you understand your relationship to the Father, it motivates you to live according to the standards set by Him. When you comprehend the massive greatness of His love for you that has selected you for membership in this family, it changes the way you view Him, and the way that you then view your responsibilities. This is the very reason that Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest…For my yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:28). When you understand God’s love for you, living according to His expectations is transformed from a duty to a delight. The reason that you must thoroughly understand the love of God is because that comprehension changes your relationship to Him, and when your relationship to Him changes, so does everything else about your spiritual life.
A new identity
The reality of I John 3:1 is that when you understand the truth about the greatness of God’s love, it doesn’t just transform your relationship to Him (positively), it also transforms your relationship to the world (negatively). As the text says, if you look like Christ, then the world won’t recognize you because they didn’t recognize Him. The reason for this is that the world has a different Father and they belong to a different family with separate DNA. They don’t look like each other, work the same way, or understand the customs from family to family (Eph. 2:1-3). The result is that the believer who has truly encountered the love of God will not return to his or her old sinful ways. If you’ve truly known the love of God, then you’ve been irreversibly changed, and the old ways have been left behind.
So many Christian’s spend their lives trying to figure out how close they can get to the world, rather than trying to figure out how far away they can possibly get. As you reflect upon the love of God this Easter holiday, recognize that your membership in the family of God and your interaction with the world are both shaped by your understanding of God’s love for you. When you fully comprehend the magnitude and impact of God’s love for you, it shapes everything about your relationship to Him and your relationship to the world around you. That knowledge then becomes the very foundation for all subsequent spiritual growth and the motivating factor in the way you live.