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It’s essential that we understand the love of God in conjunction with the other attributes of God. God’s love, for instance, is holy love. But all of the attributes of God come into play as well, even His eternity. God’s love, like God Himself, is eternal. When we talk about God’s eternity, we’re talking about something greater than duration. When we say God is eternal, we are saying that God is self-existent, that He has no beginning. He derives His existence or His being from no other source; rather, He has the power to be in and of Himself. He’s not dependent upon anything outside Himself for His own life or being.
There is no point at which God began. Before God ever made a world, He already existed. And the Scriptures make clear that as He existed from all eternity, there was already in His nature from all eternity the attribute of love. God didn’t become loving at the time of creation, for He has always been a God of love. Since that’s the case, and since there was nothing else besides God from all eternity, we have to ask, what was the object of the divine love from all eternity? The question has something of a complex answer.
When we think of creation, we make a distinction between creation and redemption. God created His world in a state of goodness, the world was plunged into ruin through the fall of the human race, and then the rest of history is the story of God’s work of redemption by which He is salvaging His people from this enormous collapse of the fall.
But before creation or redemption, God was. And God, before creation, knew about the fall, and from all eternity, He had a plan of redemption. And that plan of redemption was born of His triune character such that the work of redemption would be carried out by all three members of the Godhead. So, in theology we talk about the covenant of redemption, the covenant that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit made with one another, from all eternity, to save a people from sin.
The Father sent the Son into the world, but the Son did not reluctantly enter creation to effect our redemption. The Father covenanted to send the Son and the Son covenanted to willingly descend from heaven and take upon Himself a human nature, subject Himself to humiliation, and become obedient even unto death in order to redeem His people. And then, from all eternity, the Holy Spirit covenanted with the Father and the Son to apply the work of Christ to God’s people, so that the work of redemption is the work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Like creation, redemption is a Trinitarian work. The Father created the heavens and the earth through the eternal Son in the power of the Spirit (Gen. 1:1–2; John 1:1, 10). Creation and redemption are both accomplished by the Holy Trinity.
The Bible also tells us that one thing that motivated God from all eternity to implement redemption is His love for His creation. God gave His only begotten Son because He loves the world (John 3:16). But we would be mistaken if we thought that the primary object of the love of God was the world or even the people whom He redeems. It’s certainly true that God loves us, and on account of that love He sent Christ to be a propitiation for our sin. But the Father first loves the Son. It’s absolutely true that God loves us, but we must remember that He loves us in the Son.
We are included in the work of redemption because the Father sees us as belonging to the Son, whom He loves. “The Father loves the Son” (John 3:35), and in love He chose us in the Son for adoption as sons of the Father (Eph. 1:3–6). The Scriptures speak of God’s love for us, an eternal love for us that is rooted and grounded in the Father’s love for the Son.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). Notice the amazement John expresses here. What kind of love is this that we should be called the children of God? He can’t get over it. He doesn’t take this love for granted. He doesn’t hold that anyone who’s a creature is automatically a child of the Creator. John knows that to be counted a member of the family of God is a privilege granted by grace alone, and that it’s the greatest privilege any mortal could ever experience. And our being called the children of God as an expression of the incredible love of God is grounded in our adoption. We are not by nature children of God. Only by adoption are we regarded as the children of God.
Romans 8 articulates this well. Paul spends much of Romans 1–7 saying that by nature we are in the flesh, that is, hostile to God and under His wrath. We have none of the Spirit of God in us by our biological birth. But Paul says this of those whom God regenerates and justifies: “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (8:9–14). To be a child of God is not natural but supernatural. No unregenerate person, no one who lacks the presence of the Holy Ghost, has the privilege of being a child of God. But all who are indwelt by the Spirit of God are numbered in God’s family. “You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (vv. 15–16).
Because of the Father’s love for Christ, the Father has adopted us into the royal family, making us joint heirs with Christ. We are beloved of the Father because He is beloved of the Father, and we ought never to forget that. He is the eternal object of the Father’s affection, and we are the Father’s gifts of love to His Son. We are adopted by the Father in Christ, and the Father loves us because we are in the Son.