On the Discriminating Love of God

This will do the heads in of the progressives – both secular and religious. Discrimination and love in the same phrase? You betcha. Despite what the secularists and the trendy lefty Christians will tell you, God certainly loves, but his love is certainly discriminating.

discriminateBoth a proper understanding of God and his love as revealed in Scripture, as well as a proper understanding of the word “discriminate” makes all this perfectly clear. The primary meaning of the term is this: to make a distinction; to differentiate; to distinguish; to tell the difference; to separate; to tell apart; to discern a difference; etc.

Everyone discriminates every day of their lives. When you marry one person and not all the others, you have shown discrimination. When you put on blue socks instead of black socks you discriminate. When you choose a hot dog over a hamburger at a fast food place you have been involved in an act of discrimination.

And God fully discriminates all the time as well. He gives grace to the humble but resists the proud. He chooses Israel over all the nations of the earth. He gives eternal life to those who come to Christ in repentance and faith, but his wrath remains on the unrepentant. He chooses Jacob over Esau. And so on.

And his love is a discriminating love. I was again made aware of this in my daily reading. I have just read Psalm 103 again and this theme was quite pronounced. It is a great psalm about God’s love, but it is clear that this is a discriminating love. Three verses out of 22 speak to this:

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;

13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;

17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,

Those who fear him are the objects of his love. Not everyone indiscriminately. There is a necessary condition for his people to receive his love: reverence, fear, obedience. As Leslie Allen comments:

Take heed, warns the psalmist: this love is not to be wilfully abused. Its recipients must respond with respectful awe, vv 11, 13, 17. Yahweh lives up to his name on behalf of those who keep the requirements of his covenant. The activity of God, v 6, must find an echo of obedient activity in their lives. His mindfulness, v 14, calls for a corresponding mindfulness from his people. Love is essentially a two-way relationship of obligation.

Other passages which express similar thoughts would include the following:

-Psalm 25:14 The Lord confides in those who fear him;
he makes his covenant known to them.
-Psalm 31:19 How abundant are the good things
that you have stored up for those who fear you,
-Psalm 33:18 But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
-Psalm 147:11 the Lord delights in those who fear him

The love and favour of God is really in many respects dependent on how we respond. Things are the same in the New Testament as just a few more passages make clear:

-John 15:10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.
-1 John 2:15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.

Again we find the idea of having and remaining in God’s love dependent on the sorts of lives we are living – in this case, a life of obedience and of not loving the world. Of course anyone with a little theological awareness will realise that all this is in fact part of several much larger and hotly discussed debates, dealing with concepts such as divine election and predestination, the possibility of losing one’s salvation, and so on.

I do not here want to enter into those massive and theologically complex debates. They would require a number of articles just to properly introduce the issues, and that is not what I am seeking to do here. Suffice it to say that when it comes to concepts like divine choice, election, and related themes, they are fully biblical.

How exactly we are to understand them is another matter of course. And that is where all the hot and heavy debates arise. But let me get back to the concept of discriminating divine love. An article on the love of God by John MacArthur may be worth drawing upon here – although it will seem controversial to some. He writes:

An important distinction must be made: God loves believers with a particular love. God’s love for the elect is an infinite, eternal, saving love. We know from Scripture that this great love was the very cause of our election (Ephesians 2:4). Such love clearly is not directed toward all of mankind indiscriminately, but is bestowed uniquely and individually on those whom God chose in eternity past.
But from that, it does not follow that God’s attitude toward those He did not elect must be unmitigated hatred. Surely His pleading with the lost, His offers of mercy to the reprobate, and the call of the gospel to all who hear are all sincere expressions of the heart of a loving God. Remember, He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but tenderly calls sinners to turn from their evil ways and live….
Both God’s wrath and His love work to the same ultimate end — His glory. God is glorified in the condemnation of the wicked; He is glorified in every expression of love for all people without exception; and He is glorified in the particular love He manifests in saving His people.
Expressions of wrath and expressions of love — all are necessary to display God’s full glory. We must never ignore any aspect of His character, nor magnify one to the exclusion of another. When we commit those errors, we throw off the biblical balance, distort the true nature of God, and diminish His real glory.
Does God so love the world? Emphatically — yes! Proclaim that truth far and wide, and do so against the backdrop of God’s perfect wrath that awaits everyone who does not repent and turn to Christ.
Does the love of God differ in the breadth and depth and manner of its expression? Yes it does. Praise Him for the many manifestations of His love, especially toward the non-elect, and rejoice in the particular manifestation of His saving love for you who believe. God has chosen to display in you the glory of His redeeming grace.

Image of Is John 3:16 The Gospel?
Is John 3:16 The Gospel? by Pawson, David (Author) Amazon logo

Of course even this quote will be a can of worms to many folks, and again, it is part of some much bigger biblical discussion. My preference is to try to give some grounding for these matters in further articles before agitated debate breaks out over them here.

But returning to my initial theme: the love of God is indeed a discriminating love. The biblical material seems rather clear on this. Yes, many questions arise when seeking to comprehend all this, and believers will have to agree to disagree with many points along the way.

Perhaps just to round things off, let me make this suggestion. For those who want to take things further, various avenues could be proffered. One that I find quite helpful is the brief 2007 volume by David Pawson, Is John 3:16 the Gospel?

He does a quite helpful job of nailing down just what the gospel is, how we are to understand the love of God in general, and this much used passage in particular. I commend it to you to get more of a handle on these vital topics.

Again, I realise I may have opened myself up for some heated discussions here. That is fine, but as always, keep it civil, keep it biblical, and keep it presented with a humble and teachable spirit. That is the best way to proceed here.

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14 Replies to “On the Discriminating Love of God”

  1. God is Sovereign and that is good enough for me. His ways are not our ways but they are always good.

  2. It is very tempting to think God loves us unconditionally, but I have discovered He never said carry on just as you are. So, it is very good that the discrimination as you explain it Bill, exists. Where Grace is present it shows that although God discriminates there is not the harsh punishment of hatred with people associate with discrimination.

  3. “his wrath remains on the unrepentant”.

    Yep, an important part of the Gospel that is.

  4. Yes I agree. The notion of the love of God has been distorted in the extreme – especially by those who espouse a calling based on that theme. For some reason I can’t see what I have written so will leave it there. Thanks for the article Bill.

  5. God is love. In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation of our sins. Both from 1John. Propitiation of sins is what love is and this love is God. It is not possible for one who cannot say “I have sinned and deserve Your wrath” to receive love from God. He rejects God who is propitiating love. I have not read the book by David Pawson, but I would commend “The Wrath of Love” by Geoffrey C Bingham and “Ah, Strong, Strong Love” same author. Thanks Bill, this one will do the “progressives” heads in for sure! Perhaps that will lead to salvation for some one of them. Praise God.

  6. Probably a shocking and unloving article for the ‘Only Grace’ proponents amongst us, but this is a biblically sound and much needed reminder for the rest of us. Praise God that He is Soveriegn and Just and Loving and Long-Suffering and always Good! Thanks for never shrinking back from speaking truth in love, Bill.

  7. God’s love and God’s wrath are often presented in tension in Scripture, particularly in the OT. One need only read a book like Hosea, where in ch.11 God says on one hand “How can I give you up?”, then on the other that He will certainly judge them and send them into exile. This tension is only resolved at the cross, Here “heaven’s love and heaven’s justice meet”, as an old hymn has it (Oh, how much the modern church has lost by consigning these “old hymns” to the dustbin!).
    However, various moderns try to resolve the tension in other ways: the religious liberal does it by dissolving the wrath, and thereby proclaiming that God is only love. Certain evangelicals, concerned to correct this distortion, will proclaim wrath and justice (at least in their emphasis), and so the love side disappears down the plughole. The proper approach is to assert both, but in that context insist that God’s love is commended, His grace is demonstrated, and His patience is extended for this period of grace which we know as the Gospel age. However, His patience is not forever (that it is is a modern falsehood). A time is coming when the Son will tread winepress of the fierce wrath of God against sin. This is a message which the modern church does not want to hear.

    One final point: while you are correct to affirm that Divine discrimination raises the issue of election and predestination, I detect a reticence to affirm and expound this Biblical teaching. Why? Is it because you are fearful of some sort of backlash or controversy? If it is part of the “whole counsel of God” then proclaim it!

  8. Thanks Murray. If you read the piece carefully you will note that I explicitly say that these theological concepts “are fully biblical”. So no of course I do not disown them nor shy away from them. Again, for those who read the piece carefully, I did state why I did not want a full-on debate about them just here: because they are major biblical doctrines which can be rather complex, nuanced and quite involved (witness the massive libraries full of books on these issues), I did not want a full scale war here without first writing a number of introductory articles (totalling some many thousands of words) to try to carefully lay out the biblical data on these themes, what are some of the pros and cons, and so on.

    Anyone with any theological nous knows how hot and heavy the Calvinist-Arminian debates can be, as can be the debates over salvation and whether one can lose it or not, etc. It is exactly because so much has already been written on this elsewhere, and because folks can get so very agitated and angry in these debates, that it would be folly for me to launch into that all here without a bit of background material prepared first to lay out some of the basic biblical material on all this.

    There are of course strong passions on these topics held by folks on various sides of the debates, and thus to do it proper justice, some basic biblical data must first be canvassed. Among other things that will hopefully nullify the need for me to write massive comments here! I will do the lengthy exposition of theological themes in the articles, and then, based on those articles which seek to lay the ground work, a proper debate can be had. So no need to suggest possible faulty motives here thanks!

    As to proclaiming fully and simultaneously both the love and wrath of God, that I of course solidly agree with, as many dozens of articles on this site make clear.

  9. Without the verses that follow, John 3:16 only gives half the gospel.

    Joh 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
    Joh 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
    Joh 3:18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
    Joh 3:19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

    God loves the world and his love led to action that requires a response. Without that response the world stays in the condemnation that it has already brought upon itself through sin. Romans 11:22 sums things up quite well in the light of what Paul is teaching in that chapter.

    Rom 11:21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.
    Rom 11:22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
    Rom 11:23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again.

    God does indeed discriminate based on our response to him.

    Keep up the great work Bill.

  10. I don’t recall anywhere, however, in the scriptures that says that God hates anyone. He hates things like the doctrine of the Nicolaitans (Rev 2) but not people. The fact that the majority of people will be destroyed and at very least some people will be punished, is a matter of objectivity and justice, not emotion. The Father would much prefer it if everyone came to repentance but the inevitable result of hating and opposing God is death. It simply cannot be any other way.

  11. Thanks Michael. This too would have to be the subject of a full article or two to do it proper biblical justice, but actually God does on a number of occasions speak of hating individuals. Here are just some of these verses:
    Psalm 5:4-6
    Psalm 11:5
    Proverbs 6:16-19
    Jeremiah 12:8
    Hosea 9:15
    Malachi 1:2-3
    Romans 9:13

    How we are to understand these texts would need to be teased out further elsewhere.

  12. I think this is an excellent article. These days God’s love is being promoted at the expense of all the other attributes of God – I refer particularly of God’s justice. When our bishop arrived a few years ago I am reliably informed that he spent some $800,000 to $1,000,000 renovating his house. He seems to be constantly traveling overseas. Now I believe he is going to World Youth Day. Yet he has never uttered one direct word about the biblical morality, or immorality, of homosexual unions; a current topic with gay marriage on the agenda. Does anyone seriously think he is earning all this Catholic money? Clearly an issue of justice and whilst God is love he is also justice. I would not like to be in his red slippers.

  13. Thanks Bill. I had forgotten the scripture in Malachi quoted in Romans but some of the other scriptures look a little tenuous to me. Isn’t the one in Jeremiah the prophet himself speaking? Isn’t he basically complaining about the burden God has put on him as a prophet and Jehovah does not starts speaking prophetically through him until verse 14? Anyway I look forward to your teasing out.

  14. Thanks Bill. The bishop I am referring to is the bishop of Bathurst, Michael McKenna. My open letter will be substantially the same as the one printed above. My view is that if bishops are permitted to remain hidden on critical biblical issues (e.g. the biblical morality or otherwise, of same sex unions) then I am allowed to criticize them.

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