Last night at my bible study, we considered the following verses from 1 John 4:
God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins (4:9-10).
I asked the question: what do these verses imply about humanity? Humans are called two wonderful things: dead and sinful. As the philosopher Plotinus once said in another context, nothing is ever so ugly as something dead. Even the ugliest living person is handsomer than a dead body. And of course, there is a certain ugliness that accompanies sin, as well. The sinful person has a kind of inner ugliness, which is sufficient to undo any sort of outer beauty that a person might have.
Humanity is described in terms that are utterly degrading and humbling. The mass of human persons, apart from the intervention of God in Jesus Christ, is properly defined as dead and sinful. These are not the sorts of qualities we find in the persons we love! On the contrary, we like people who are alive and who are righteous. But this is what sets the love of God apart from our own love: God loves the dead and the sinful, and he wants to give them life and make atonement for their sin.
Of course, God loves the living and righteous, as well. Certainly God the Father loves Christ, who is the Life and who is perfectly righteous in every way. But God's love is not limited to those who are alive and righteous. It also extends to those who are dead and who are sinful! Consequently, God's love is all-embracing, comprehensive, and even unconditional. This is what John communicates when he says that God loved us before we loved him!
Now what is the import of this? Understanding God to be this way ought to motivate us always to seek mercy from him, whenever we might sin in whatever way. Yet oftentimes, if we sin in a bad way, we might feel a certain difficulty in approaching God. We feel like we ought not draw too close; perhaps there's even a voice inside us that says: "Don't you draw too near to God -- he'll strike you with lightning if you approach him!" That voice is from the devil, and we ought not regard it! God's love for us is the same whether we are righteous or sinful, dead or alive. And if we happen to be dead and sinful, his love always invites us, so long as we are in this life, to confess and to repent and to be restored to him!
There is nothing I can do to make God stop loving me. That is because God's very nature is love, and his love knows no limits (1 John 4:8). But if I am not careful, if I do not keep close watch over myself, I can find myself drifting away from God's love into a life of self-exclusion and self-imposed exile. If I die unreconciled to God, there can be no hope for me. So I have constantly to remind myself that God is love, that he always calls me to draw near to him, and to seek his mercy in the face of all my sins, however many they may be. If I sin, the obstacle to reconciliation with God is never with him, but with me.