The Heart of God’s Character

Today I’m sharing from John MacArthur’s Grace to You blog.

The Heart of God’s Character

by John MacArthur

God is love.

That statement doesn’t only reflect popular modern sentiment. It is actually a direct quote from God’s Word—1 John 4:8, to be precise. But in what sense is it true?

There are many ways to misunderstand John’s meaning. In fact, 1 John 4:8 seems a particular favorite of cultists. All kinds of false sects from Christian Science to the Children of God have misapplied this verse to support wildly heretical notions—the former using it to portray “God as divine Principle, Love, rather than personality” [1]; and the latter using it to justify sexual promiscuity. [2] It is important that we understand and reject not only those doctrines, but also the false ideas on which they are based, lest we be led astray in our own thinking.

First, the expression “God is love” is not meant to depersonalize God or portray Him as a force, a sensation, a principle, or some sort of cosmic energy. He is a personal being with all the attributes of personality—volition, feeling, and intellect. In fact, what the apostle is saying is that God’s love is the highest expression of His person. Therefore, to use this text to attempt to depersonalize God is to do great violence to the clear meaning of Scripture. Such an interpretation actually turns this text on its head.

Second, this verse by no means identifies God with everything our society labels love. Gordon Clark wrote, “John is not saying that all sorts of emotions called love are from God. The romanticism of Goethe, and much more the present sexual debauchery, are not from God.” [3] In fact, those who cite this verse to attempt to legitimize illicit forms of “love” are about as far from the apostle’s intent as it is possible to get. The love of which he speaks is a pure and holy love, consistent with all the divine attributes.

Third, this is not meant to be a definition of God or a summary of His attributes. Divine love in no way minimizes or nullifies God’s other attributes—His omniscience, His omnipotence, His omnipresence, His immutability, His lordship, His righteousness, His wrath against sin, or any of His glorious perfections. Deny any one of them, and you have denied the God of Scripture.

There is certainly more to God than love. Similar expressions elsewhere in Scripture demonstrate this. For example, the same apostle who penned these words also wrote, “God is spirit” (John 4:24). Scripture also says, “God is a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29). And Psalm 7:11 says, “God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day.” The simple statement “God is love” obviously does not convey everything that can be known about God. We know from Scripture that He is also holy and righteous and true to His Word. God’s love does not contradict His holiness; instead, it complements and magnifies it and gives it its deepest meaning. So we cannot isolate this one phrase from the rest of Scripture and attempt to make love represent the sum of what we know about God.

Notice, by the way, that this phrase “God is love” is not even the only such statement in John’s first epistle.

Read the rest here.