Don’t Rip “God is Love” Out of Context

In one of the comments on an earlier post, the question was posted: “If God is love, how then can He send so many to hell?” We know that God is love because the Bible states this to be true. But in saying this, far too many people rip “God is love” out of context and make it mean whatever they want it to mean.

For instance, those seeking to have adulterous relationships often use this passage about God since at the heart of their adultery is their own view of what love is. They live by the premise that if you can quote one verse in the Bible proving that God is a loving God, therefore He must not be a judging God, then you can go off and commit any sin you would like, be it adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, etc. “God is love” is the liberal talisman that opens the door to every sin of your desire. Just state the verse and plunge headlong into wickedness. After all, since “God is love” then He certainly cannot have any standards of holiness that would keep us from our most seedy desires, right? Since He is love and we get to define love the way that seems right in our minds, then we can rush headlong into a host of sins, knowing that a loving God, as WE DEFINE HIM, would not send anyone to hell in the end, right?

This seems to be the implication that so many use when it comes to twisting and ripping this verse out of context. But before you rush headlong into wickedness, there are some things you should know about God and this verse where this declaration is made before you do so.

First off, there are only two places in the Bible that directly say “God is love,” both of which are found in John’s first letter to his fellow believers. John is not writing to the world or the people of the world. In his letter he makes it clear that there are those who are “in Christ” and those of the world. Those of the world have no part with the people of God, with Christ, or with the forgiveness found in Christ because they deny Christ. Therefore any hope of the love of God being the world’s to obtain is unthinkable.

Secondly, John shows us what this love means. 1 John 4:7-9 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.

He is defining what the love of God means for those who are in Christ: that God has sent His only begotten into the world, that we might live through HimHe is showing believers in Christ, what manner they are to live in Christ in response to the gift of salvation that comes through Christ. He tells us that God is loveand shows us what that love looks like. He doesn’t say anything about not sending the masses to hell, or allowing the wicked of the world off the hook for their wickedness. There is no reference to universalism in this passage at all, but a direct link to believers as recipients of God’s love through His Son.

Long before John gets to his point about describing God’s love for us, he has already made it clear that we cannot continue on in sinfulness if we want to be apart of God’s people.

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

John has makes it clear that the path to licentiousness is not acceptable for the believer. There is no place for the “way of sin” in the life of the believer. We know that we do sin, but this is not our habit and when we do, we certainly do not embrace that sin and hold it up as something to honor and behold as so many do in our world today.

The broader abuse of this passage is the liberty many take by defining what God is by this verse without respect to the Bibles other claims about what and who God is. In other words, those who abuse this truth do so because they also ignore God’s other attributes, like His holiness.

I know this is shocking to some, but His holiness has far more implications for the world and non-believers than His love does. Whereas the believer is the recipient of God’s special love, the non-believer is the recipient to God’s special judgment. This is because God’s holiness demands that sin be dealt with.

As I pointed out in the comments section, God deals with man’s sinfulness in one of two ways. The first way, and the way that I advocate that all of my readers allow Him to deal with our sin is via the cross of Christ. Out of His love for His people, He has provided the atoning sacrifice necessary to deal with our sin. When we place our faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, our sin is imputed to Christ and dealt with on the cross, while His righteousness is imputed to us, making us acceptable before the Father. To reject Christ and His sacrifice, is to reject God’s love.

This leads to the other way that God deals with man’s sinfulness: through His judgment and wrath. He does this both temporally and eternally. His holiness demands it and He will not clear the guilty (Exodus 34:6-8). This being the case, should not the mantra of those seeking to share the good news of Christ be: God is holy! instead of God is love?

After all, so many people have a warped view of what love is, that it really comes no where close to revealing what God’s love is. The concept of love has been abused by our culture that we are actually doing a diservice by echoing the truth. It would be much better to say God is holy and then explaining what that means instead of this abused concept that God is loving, therefore meaning that He loves us unconditionally. He doesn’t love us unconditionally. The conditions of His love are very specific and most people are ignorant of these biblical truths.


30 thoughts on “Don’t Rip “God is Love” Out of Context

  1. Hello! Ive nominated you for the The Liebster Blog Award. Please see my recent post for more details!. You will have to do the exact thing I did there. Mention who nominated you, Answer the Questions (11) Nominate 11 people, Ask them 11 Questions and make sure to include the Award Photo in your post.

    Blessings my friend!


  2. There is a serious problem with the concept “If God is love He couldn’t send people to Hell.” It is a rank failure to comprehend both love and God.

    The suggestion is that “love only does nice things”. This is easily understood in purely human thinking as … stupid. No loving parent only does “nice things” for their kids. Sometimes we have to do things that the child will not find “nice”. Sometimes they will assure us “You’re ruining my life!” But love always seeks for what’s best, not for what’s nice.

    Then there is the very nature and essence of God. God is not “the man upstairs”, the “big guy”. He is God. He told Israel that their fatal mistake was “you thought that I was one like yourself” (Psa 50:21). He’s not. While our sin nature makes us think the universe revolves around us, it actually does revolve around God. He is the point. He is the reason. He is the One. So when we commit Cosmic Treason against a perfectly Just and Holy God, it is not possible that there would be no justice, and that level of a violation against an Eternal God demands an eternal punishment.

    When we read “God is love”, we cannot say that “Love is God.” Nor can we say, “Our pitiful concepts of ‘love’ define God’s character.” Instead, we find that love is contained in and defined by God. As such, God must, logically and morally, first love Himself as the center of the universe, the ultimate Being. And that requires Hell for sinners. The question, then, is not “How could He send so many people to Hell?”, but “How can He avoid sending everyone?” And that is the essence of the Gospel.


  3. This question reveals the man-centeredness of the asker. Not a slight on such mindsets mind you, I’m man-centered myself, though by God’s grace less and less… I hope. But, it shows how we use our own self as a reference point. I don’t like the idea of hell, so, I see being sent there as a blemish on God’s character rather than a just reward for my own rebellion. The question might well be asked, if God sent every person to hell, would he still “be love”? I think he answers that question in the scripture you cite. He says that “in this the love of God (something that is) is manifested (to make known evident or certain by showing or displaying) to…” who? Us! So by Him sending his son he is showing us something that was, is and will always be: love. And, something that would have been, would be, and would always be, even if he had not sent his son. That this is reality is not a blemish on God. It is a reason for great gratitude, and praise, and honor that he condescended to sin his Son while we were yet sinners! It is a very good reason to repent, and hide from his wrath in his loving kindness.


  4. I have to say in love that I don’t think you have a clue about God’s love. Eph.2.4&5,8:
    “God, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved-…For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”
    Yes, based on John 3.16, God loves the world, sinners and all. “Salvation comes through God’s grace and the faith of the believer, not through human merit or achievement.”(p.5,Welcome to the Episcopal Church, by Christopher L. Webber). Timothy, do not do God a disservice and say he hates sinners. He loves the world.


    • Earl,
      According to what you seem to be saying, that it really doesn’t matter, that no one goes to hell, then it really doesn’t matter what I say. Why would it matter if everyone goes to heaven and God loves everyone? We might as well live it up and not worry about it if God loves everyone and no one goes to hell and there is no hell or damnation. In fact, we can say that since it doesn’t matter, we should apologize to Hitler for his atrocities and we should have joined his cause. Is that what you are saying? It doesn’t matter?


  5. Timothy, I do believe that there will be a judgment day. But even in judgment, God’s love will shine. I do think there is some sort of hell but unlike you, I have not solidified those thoughts.


    • Earl,
      My views on hell are developed from Scripture and what Jesus actually told us about hell. He is the one that developed the doctrine for us. He is the one that says that it is eternal and a place for the wicked. You might actually spend some time reading up on it. Most of what Jesus says is found in the gospels. Those are the books entitled: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Please, before you condemn me for my views and beliefs, you might actually read the word.

      Earlier you quoted Ephesian 2 to me. Again, open your eyes and read the first part of Ephesians. Paul is NOT writing to everyone. He is writing to believers only. The truths apply only to those who HAVE believed in Jesus Christ.

      Study… read, words mean things. You have rejected every attempt we have made to help you open your eyes to the truth, but alas, you are more convinced in the sayings of the Episcopalians than God’s word. You earlier wrote that I was a Calvinist, and I am. One of the traits you will find about Calvinist is that we don’t quote Calvin, or the WCF or anything else. We actually know and quote Scripture.

      Do yourself a favor… do the same and actually learn things in context.


      • Timothy, I agree with much of what you say. I just disagree when you said that God hates the sinner. How do I define God’s love—-by Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 13.1-13. -“and the greatest of these is love”
        In sum, I believe in God because God first loved me.


      • Earl,
        I agree with you that He loves those who are His chosen/elect/predestined and saved.

        But to imply that this same effectual love is given to those who reject Him, etc., and show no repentance is not found in Scripture. Again, you are implying John 3:16 implies this, when I don’t believe it does.

        We also see in Romans 1 God pouring out His wrath on those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. That not very loving according to your view point, yet He is doing it.

        Later we see in Romans 9 God choosing Jacob and hating Esau. Yup, He said He hated Esau, even before they were born. Where is the love?


  6. Earl, if your knowledge of the Bible is typical of Episcopalians, someone needs to send the General Convention a whole convoy of Bibles, concordances, & lexicons.

    1) The word “world” John 3:16 is the Gr. word kosmos, “the primary order, the arrangement…the earth….the universe (its common meaning among the Greeks of the time)”. Only by metonymy does it mean the human race, and that primarily of “the present condition of human affairs, in alienation from and in opposition to God”. [Vine’s Greek Lexicon of NT Words]

    It is THAT – His beautiful, His “good”, Creation – He loved enough to come and die to redeem from the Destroyer[s].

    2) Have you ever checked various translations of the very first word we have on the coming of Christ to earth? Much as I love the old KJV, it (and the several translations based on it) got this one wrong. Later-discovered manuscripts have finished the sentence. Look at 20 readings of the verse:
    The NIV gives the clear majority reading. You might call it the first “Calvinist” proof text in the NT:

    “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.”

    He came to earth “to call out of it a people for His name”, a “little flock”, “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world”. God’s “good will” is to them, sinners though they were and are and will be till He relieves them of the body of sin that weighs them down. You will not find one unambiguous statement in the Bible that God loves all mankind.

    (When you check that page, scroll down to the comment from Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible – which, BTW, can be read online, and though I can’t speak for his whole commentary since I haven’t read it all, what I’ve read of it recommends it above all commentaries I know. His scholarship is mind-blowing and his remarks here are excellent.)

    3) What about the rest of the John 3:16 sentence: “…that whosover believeth in Him might have everlasting life”? Here too is an exclusion of – if we’re to believe such passages as Matt. 7:13 – most of humanity.

    You obviously consider yourself a Christian, a “believer” in Christ. Christ referred to hell (by word or unmistakable allusion) ~46 times. How, please, can one say he believes “in” someone but doesn’t believe what that Person so clearly & emphatically teaches?

    4) And re: your pride that the Episcopal church is “the golden mean”, the “moderate” position that avoids the extremes: you might should re-read another “…3:16”: this one in the Revelation. 🙂


    • Phobehb, I think most Greek scholar would agree with me that “world” in John 3.16 means humans as well as the created world given its context. Try as you might, God loves the world and your hermeneutics are faulty. I have in front of me, The Greek New Testament, 4th revised Edition (with) Dictionary; The New Greek/English Interlinear New Testament; The New Oxford Annotated Bible 3rd Edition, NRSV (in its notes, it plainly says “human society”; The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd edition Revised and Edited by Frederick Danker, base on Walter Bauer’s. I stand on scholarship and the Bible that “God so loves the world…” refers to humans.

      You question how can I believe in someone (Jesus) and not believe in what he teaches (hell). First, I believe in hell; I have so solid conceptions of it. It is not a requirement of salvation to believe in hell or to understand hell. I do not know what hell is but I am certain I am not going there.

      And here I speculate. I do not believe in universalism but somehow I believe God will reclaim all that is God’s. “…and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things,…” Colossians 1.20

      As far as the other anti-Episcopalian things you said, you are just not versed in the Episcopal church enough to say those things.
      Love you but turning on 2 million people is bound to lead you astray.


      • Just for comparison, I believe that John 3:16 refers to “the world” as in “all humans”. Of course, it is a mistake to understand it to say “God loved all humans so much that He gave His only begotten Son …” because that’s not what it says. The word “so” in English can mean a quantity (“so much”), but in this usage it is a quality (“just so”). The text, then, says “This is the way in which God loved the world …” So in what way did God love the world? He sent His Son so that whosoever believes would have eternal life. Thus, John 3:16 says that God loves the world in this way — He loves those who believe. The rest He loves by giving them the opportunity to receive eternal life, even if they don’t.

        It is a mistake to understand John 3:16 as a blanket “God loves everybody and He loves everybody in the very same way.” It just isn’t in there.


      • Stan says: ‘… I believe that John 3:16 refers to “the world” as in “all humans”. ‘

        So what John 3:16 is saying is : “For God so loved all humans that He sent His only begotten son to give Him the excuse to condemn all but a few of them to hell” ?


  7. Correction: that scripture reference in 3) should be Matt. 7:13,14. I recalled it as a single verse, but the rest of the thought is in vs. 14. Oh heck; I’ll save you the trouble:

    3 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”


  8. Phoebe,
    Luke 2:14 was one of the first verses my Greek professor, Dan Wallace, taught us in my first year Greek class. He used it to show, not only the love God has for those He is determined to save, but to show the need to know the Greek. It has been a wonderful verse for me since then.

    I do love your passion even though we disagree. It seems to me that we need to get busy preaching the gospel to those 2 million people, or 3 billion or whatever it is. 😉

    While we may disagree about God’s view toward those who are un-elect, I do agree that He does love those who are His as His own private possession and royal priesthood. And I also agree that we need to share the gospel with as many as we can, for while I believe in God’s election, I do admit that I don’t know who they are until the confess Christ as Savior.


  9. No, God didn’t choose to write Elect/Not Elect on anyone’s forehead. Years ago my little church here had an interim pastor – a good, generous, and so-obviously devout man – who was what I think must be meant by the term hyper-Calvinist. One summer he instructed the dear young woman who was leading that year’s VBS that she was NOT to tell the children that Jesus loves them, because she had no way of knowing that was true.

    “Calvinist” as we all were/are, we were stunned & appalled by that–still recall it in wonderment. Surely our commission is to preach the Good News as the sower scattered the seed in Matt.13, and trust God to determine what part of it falls on ground He has prepared.


  10. What I said was that God loves “the world” (and I conclude it means “humanity”) in one particular way. That way in which He loves all humanity is to send His Son … for the elect.

    You might want to also compare this with what I wrote above this where I indicated that love is not a warm-feeling concept where God does warm and cuddly things for His creations. It is where God seeks the best for the ones He loves, beginning with Himself. (If God loved anyone or anything above Himself He would be an idolater.) Thus, in the end, God is glorified when “whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” and when those who do not believe are justly punished for their Cosmic Treason. In the end God’s glory fully displayed is best for everyone.

    Every parent knows that disciplining a child is not the product of hate, but love. God loving the world in no way requires that He save the world, that He save anyone, or that He “be nice to” us.

    (In all honesty, I didn’t even understand your “So what John 3:16 is saying is : ‘For God so loved all humans that He sent His only begotten son to give Him the excuse to condemn all but a few of them to hell’?” I suspect your point was lost in the sarcasm, often not conducive to a friendly dialog on biblical truth. Just a helpful tip on communication.)


    • Stan writes:
      ‘In all honesty, I didn’t even understand your “So what John 3:16 is saying is : ‘For God so loved all humans that He sent His only begotten son to give Him the excuse to condemn all but a few of them to hell’?” I suspect your point was lost in the sarcasm, often not conducive to a friendly dialog on biblical truth. Just a helpful tip on communication.)’

      Nor do sniffy “helpful tips” about sarcasm further a friendly dialogue, esp. when you’re not sure it was sarcasm, which it was not.

      I saw immed. after posting that my comment was unclear. I was paraphrasing not just vs. 16 but vss. 16-18 & Matt. 7:14, but there being no Edit or Delete feature I had to let it stand. Here’s what I was trying to say. First the two passages:

      John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. ”

      Matt. 7:14 “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

      And here is my (slightly revised) paraphrase suggesting that if “world” (Gr.,kosmos) in John 3:16 (the verse that is often called “the Gospel in a nutshell”) means “all humans”, the Gospel is anything but “Good News” for that “world”:

      ‘So what John 3:16-18 is saying is : “For God so loved all humans that He sent His only begotten Son to give Himself a reason to condemn all but a few of them (Mt.7:14) to hell”?’

      You and I seem to be on the same page in this matter, and the point I’m trying to make might seem a trivial one; but I think it is huge.

      Right now I must go down and run through the hymns and generally get my ducks in a row for church tomorrow. Stay tuned.


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  12. I apologize for arriving late at the conversation, but I would present a different take: I’m not so sure that God is aware of sinner’s existence. We are told that when we receive salvation, God removes our sin as far as the east is from the west, and remembers it no more. Further, we read that God will say to the unbeliever on the day of judgment, “Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity, I never knew you”. We know that God is holy, and perfect. Therefore is it possible that because God is so holy that He doesn’t see the sinner because the sinner is covered with sin? God is so holy that the concept of willful sinning is foreign to Him?


  13. We all are headed to Hell for our sin anyway. The only way to avoid the punishment we deserve is to accept God’s gift of salvation through the death of Christ on the cross.


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