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.
February 27, 2017 at 1:17 pm
Thank you for this post. I have been genuinely wrestling with Calvinism lately, especially because of the implications it has for how we see God. I’m not trying to be argumentative, but am genuinely seeking the truth.
I’m a little confused on this quote from the got questions article you cited:
“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 quote says God loves Christians more because they have exercised faith in Christ. However, based on the Calvinist perspective you are coming from, only the elect exercise faith in Christ because they were chosen before the foundation of the world. Therefore, why not just say God loves the elect in a “different way” than He loves the non-elect? I understand Calvinists do not deny the responsibility to believe; but the Calvinist also claims that the ultimate, deciding factor in salvation is God.
If this “different way” of God’s love between the non-elect and the elect results in one going to eternal torment in Hell, and the other going to everlasting bliss in Heaven, it seems odd to define God’s love to the non-elect as a “different.”
What are your thoughts on this?
February 27, 2017 at 1:40 pm
His Steve, thanks for your comment. Insightful questions here, and thanks for asking them with so much respect. I appreciate that.
I wouldn’t agree that God loves Christians “because” they have exercised faith in Christ. Instead, I’d clarify they exercise faith in Christ because they have received the saving love of God. Their faith proves or demonstrates what kind of love God has for them. We exercise our freedom to believe because we have been released from the blindness of sin. I know that opens up a whole other ball of wax, but that’s how I’d clarify what you’re asking about.
I’m also afraid I’m not quite following your final question.
February 27, 2017 at 2:10 pm
Thanks for the reply. Ok, so the elect exercise saving faith in Christ because they have received the saving love of God. Why do the elect only receive this saving love of God? I just don’t see how we can say God loves the non-elect in any way when he doesn’t offer them His saving love. I understand the Calvinist will say that nobody deserves it and it’s not grace if God is obligated.
Calvinism just seems to cast a shadow of doubt on the character of God. The non-elect are sealed in unbelief from the time he/she is born, until the time he/she dies, all due to the sin of another.
February 27, 2017 at 3:38 pm
That’s what I was guessing you were getting at, but wanted to be sure I saw where you were heading.
I’m not going to try to persuade or debate here… just stating what my position is on the question my student asked. Feel free to disagree
I totally understand how you can say, “Calling it love doesn’t make it so. That doesn’t sound like love to me.” I get it and I’ve honestly wrestled with this a lot. And yet, I keep returning to what the Bible says about who God is and how He loves, and I firmly believe what I’ve written in this post best reflects the consistent witness of Scripture. I don’t always “like” what the Bible says because it sometimes opposes my cultural assumptions of what is good and right… but this is one of those places where I have personally had to submit myself to what I see the Bible teaching, despite my own preference for what I want it to say.
That’s my story, and I’m friends with others who are convinced the Bible teaches differently, so please don’t hear that as a passive-agreesive statements. It’s simply my narrative about how I arrived to my convictions about the Calvinism/Arminian debate.
February 27, 2017 at 3:55 pm
Ya I get that. It all has to come down to what the Bible says. I’m just not convinced that the Bible actually teaches Calvinism. If it does and I can see it there, then I’ll accept it despite if I “like” it or not. Just curious, what books did you read that led you to land on Calvinism?
February 27, 2017 at 10:04 pm
It’s been a while… so my memory isn’t the best. Honestly, most of the influence probably came from seminary professors, classmates, and various required reading books.
Two authors do stand out: John Piper (reading Desiring God was hugely impactful while I was a senior in college and considering seminary) and Martin Luther (took a class on him in seminary and I find myself over and over again discovering ways he’s influenced me without my realizing it).
February 27, 2017 at 11:13 pm
Hi Steve and Mike,
Looks like a good discussion you’ve got going on here. Particularly, hard question from that Middle Schooler there Mike. Well done for tackling it.
I’m not going to inject myself into the middle of your Calvinism conversation but did want to mention things that led me to Calvinistic thinking that might help you Steve. (1) About 10 years ago I listened to a lot of John Piper’s biographical conferences messages he delivered at his Pastors Conference. I found these blew me away and in a way opened me to hear Calvinism for what it was. (2) I began to notice that many of the great reformers, pastors, and missionaries of the past were Calvinist. This is not to say all were or have been, but certainly many of them were convinced of this soteriology in one form or another and were still so active in evangelism (Judson, Whitefield, Edwards, Brainerd, Spurgeon, Carey, Taylor etc).
Anyway, I’ll leave that there with you.