7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.
10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
12 No one has beheld God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.
(1 John 4:7-13, NASB).
The divide between theology and practice
It seems that the divide between theology and practice is constantly an issue of discussion in Christian circles. What is the connection between belief and practice? How can grace be lived out practically? How does belief in Christ lead to the love of others? How can I live for God, shed my sin, and truly lead a holy life? How does sanctification really work?
1 John 4:9 has the answer: “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” If we want to have the love of God manifest through us, this is the way. The Greek word for “manifest” means “make actual and visible, realised”.
Let’s get this straight: the question on the table is, “How is the love of God made actual, how is it practically realized in us?” How do we move this from the realm of “paper” theology to real life? Isn’t that the question? And what is his answer?
“That God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.”
Is this the wrong answer?
If we are honest, we will admit that this makes us want to scream and slam our fist. We want to ask, “can we PLEASE have done with this begotten sending puzzle gibberish and have on with the real deal?” We are going to have to warm up to the idea that this is the real deal. Let’s step back and examine the answer a bit more closely. Here are the pieces of the puzzle:
- This is a community truth. Notice that the love of God is not something that is manifested singularly in you. It is manifested in us. The love of God is manifested in community, in relationship.
- God has “sent” His Son. He is an “apostello”, a messenger or a bearer of a letter. He is His only begotten Son. He has not simply sent any messenger, such as an angel or a prophet. He has not even sent some important emissary. He has sent His only Son. If this didn’t work out, there was no one else to send, no one more convincing or more important. In sending Jesus, God pulled out all the stops. If we reject His only Son, there are no other options left. He is His most precious emissary, and His one and only most precious one at that. God has sent His most precious only unique begotten and beloved Son.
- God has sent Him into the “world”. He did not send Him into our hearts. It doesn’t say that. He sent Him into the world. This is the Greek word “cosmos”, which really means the general society of men. He has sent Him, not into the community of faith or the community of the righteous and deserving, but into the world as a whole. This is part of what makes His answer so puzzling, because if He is sent into the world, how exactly does this work that this is the means by which His love is made manifest in US? “Us” is an exclusionary term – it indicates John and his intended believing readers. God did not send His Son into the church, He sent Him into the world as a whole. However, it is this sending of Him into the world as a whole that is an important piece of the manifest love puzzle.
Why this isn’t the answer we were looking for
Here is the thing: we want the love of God to be manifest because we do something. We want it to actually be OUR love for God that manifests. We need it to be practicable and doable. We need action points. We want law. However, it isn’t our love that is manifesting, so it isn’t ours to do. It is God’s love that is made manifest. We have been looking for our own workings to be enabled, but God is looking to manifest His workings. We want to live through ourselves, through our own affections and brilliance. But it is God’s love He is looking to manifest in us. We are the ones in the community of faith who have given up our own manifestation of godhood and look to Christ as our manifestation.
Why this is the best answer!
I think my friend Terrell Dismukes has caught the meaning I’m looking for:
I think it means that God showed us that he loved us, rather than just telling us that he loved us. Back in the other chapter, in 3:18, John says don’t just tell people you love them, but actually do something truly.
I thank God that he showed us that he loved us, by sending his Son to be the propitiation for our sins, so that we could have eternal life through him (check NLT on 1 Jn. 4:9), and also that he told us that he loved us (how he did it and explaining what it meant), by giving us the Bible. He both showed us and he told us that he loved us.
This makes a lot of sense. In 1 John 1:1 he tells us that what was from the beginning of time is that which the original disciples heard with their own ears, saw with their own eyes, and touched with their own hands. He didn’t just tell people a message, he actually did something. This something was to die for their sins.
So, by this the love of God was manifested in us: God came to the earth and was made incarnate flesh and blood, and died for our sins. The society of those who believe this live in a state of solid and true forgiveness in community. This is why he goes on in the next verse to say, in this is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us, and most critically, to be the propitiation for our sins. It is the propitiation which takes away the just and good wrath of God from our afflicting conscience and puts love and affection at the front and center of our community.
The reason this verse seems cryptic and maddening to us is that we want to put a to do list at the center of our relationships. In truth this only produces judgment of our failures. We want practicality but we do not count Christ’s blood as practical, because we harbor unbelief about its real power to utterly forgive and utterly save. Once we give over to full trust in the power of His blood which cries out for mercy and not for justice (1 John 1:7), love blossoms between us and Christian community forms around it. So by His propitiating blood, we live; we live “through” Him, so to speak.
14 “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up;
15 that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.
18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
(John 3:14-18, NASB).
One Easy Step to True Love!
So, biblically, you can manifest true love in one easy step: Believe in Christ!