The New Testament repeatedly affirms God’s love, through Christ, to His people. With amazement, John writes, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1; see also 4:16). If ever exclamation marks were justified in a translation, surely they are here.
“God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:5; see also 8:39; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17–19; Titus 3:4–7). We are God’s “dearly loved children” (Ephesians 5:1) and “brothers loved by God” (1 Thessalonians 1:4).
Christ’s incarnation and atonement provide the ultimate demonstration of love : “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
Yet Scripture also reminds us that God cares as much that we share in His holiness as in His love: “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.... Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:10, 14).
True, God’s discipline toward His children may not feel loving. Part of our problem is that we think to “love” means to “do no harm,” when it really means “to be willing to do short-term harm for a redemptive purpose.” For those who are in Christ, God’s discipline is an act of love.
I appreciated these thoughts from Ray Ortlund about how Scripture demonstrates that God can be both for us, and against us:
God is for us. Romans 8:31
But I have this against you. Revelation 2:4. See also 2:14, 20; 3:3.
So, which is it? Is God for us, or is God against us? If we are in Christ, the answer is: maybe both. God is certainly for us, and God might also be against us.
God is for us in an absolute sense, in Christ. We have peace with God (Romans 5:1). There is now no condemnation threatening us, none at all (Romans 8:1). God foreknew us, predestined us, called us, justified us and promises to glorify us (Romans 8:29-30). God is for us.
So here is my assurance. I can sin my way out of my marriage, I can sin my way out of the ministry, I can sin my way out of physical health, and a lot more. But I cannot sin my way out of Christ, and neither can you, because the cross of Christ paid the damning penalty for our sins.
God might also be against us at times. Not that he de-justifies us, but he might discipline us (Hebrews 12:5-6). He might oppose us (James 4:6). He might send out wrath against us (2 Chronicles 19:2; 32:25). Not condemning wrath, but purifying wrath, correcting wrath, for a time. Even his disciplines and oppositions are gifts of love. How could it be otherwise? The smile of God is not an all-approving grin. What kind of Father would that be?
Is our understanding of the gospel biblical enough to include a category for the God who is for us also being against us? Is our understanding of the gospel big enough and complex enough so that we feel not only reassured but also solemnized? If the only message we are willing to receive is reassurance that God’s condemning wrath has fallen on Another, why? Why block out this other clearly biblical message, warning us that his disciplining wrath can fall on us? If we are in Christ, why deflect anything the Bible clearly says?
Even when God is against us, still, he is for us. His love is burning away whatever keeps us from pressing more deeply into his mighty heart.
“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19).
This post originally appeared on Ray’s blog.