Here is a question I was recently asked by a teenager in my ministry (many of the most difficult theological questions I’ve been asked came from Middle Schooler students). Since it’s such a good question, I can only assume many other would benefit from looking to Scripture for an answer. Here’s the question:
Does God love everyone, or only “his children?”
Christianity is built on the announcement of grace: that by the life, death, resurrection, and coming return of Jesus Christ our freedom from sin and death has been secured, and that our only hope comes by trusting in God’s provision rather than in our own good works. The gospel proclaims salvation as a free gift of faith. It is a message of the love of God for sinners, and yet it also implies that not all will be saved. The gospel is good news because there is bad news: we are all sinners who have heaped up judgment on ourselves. God is not fair – and that’s a good thing… because if God was fair, we’d all receive judgment for our sin.
With this in mind, the above question is perfectly natural because it seems like God must love Christians and hate “sinners.” But is this what the Bible teaches?
The short answer is this: God loves everyone, but he loves his children differently than he loves the whole world. I treat my kids differently than I treat others, and yet I genuinely love and care about those who are not my own kids.
Yes, God loves the whole world. All people are created in the image of God, and thereby receive God’s common grace and provision.
The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
1 John 4:8
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
Not all people are saved or receive God’s steadfast love. This isn’t because God does not love them enough to let them into heaven. If God needs to give the same grace to everyone then it isn’t grace anymore… it’s obligation. Saving grace is a gift for his children. Common grace is given to all. Both graces flow from love for those who are created in his image.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
The following is the clearest and most concise answer I’ve found among the articles I read for this article and reflects my conviction about the question:
Does God love everyone? Yes, He shows mercy and kindness to all. Does God love Christians more than He loves non-Christians? No, not in regards to His merciful love. Does God love Christians in a different way than He loves non-Christians? Yes; because believers have exercised faith in God’s Son, they are saved. God has a unique relationship with Christians in that only Christians have forgiveness based on God’s eternal grace. The unconditional, merciful love God has for everyone should bring us to faith, receiving with gratefulness the conditional, covenant love He grants those who receive Jesus Christ as Savior.”
Does God Love Everyone or Just Christians?
If you are interested in a theologically-rich study on this question, please consider D.A. Carson’s book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God.