It’s difficult to grasp God’s love for us. For many, the love of Jesus comes through loud and clear, but God the Father often seems distant or looming. Many of our perceptions of God have been distorted by earthly shadows—fathers, employers, leaders, etc. To move forward in loving and being loved by God, we must replace our false ideas with biblically-saturated truth.
God’s attributes—including love—aren’t like human traits that strengthen or weaken nor are they like moods that come and go. God is all of his attributes perfectly, all the time. And yet, we still struggle to believe it can be true, that this great God can love us messy and stumbling sinners. Sometimes we don’t feel his love on a day to day basis like we desire, so walls of doubt begin to shut him out. Other times we unwittingly read the Word not through the lens of his love and grace to us in Christ, but through tinted lens of condemnation and guilt.
My hope is that by dwelling on God’s love for us, we’ll move from a general and vague idea to a sweet and personal experience. God desires as much, and once the fountain of the Father’s love is opened we’ll find ourselves stepping into new streams of gratitude, contentment, joy, and security. Here are seven examples from the New Testament of how God clearly and convincingly displays his fatherly love to his children.
1. The Father’s Love in Sending
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” (John 3:16)
The Father’s love for us is nowhere more conspicuous than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, and undeserved. The same Scriptures proclaiming Christ’s love in dying also reveal the immense love of the Father as the sending source. He so loved us that he gave his only begotten Son. This world-famous verse placards the pursuing love of the Father. And it’s not a nebulous or general love, but his particular love to actual persons like you and I.
Whether from the lies of the accuser or deception from our own minds, Christians can act as if Jesus is the good guy who convinces the fear-inducing Father to show mercy. In reality, the Father dearly wants to be in an intimate relationship with us so he dispatches the Son to bring us back. This unmerited love of God shines even brighter against the backdrop of our dark and ill-deserving condition. That’s why the Apostle John erupts with the words, “Here is love!” when he thinks about the Father giving Jesus to bring wayward children into his family. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). The cross is the exclamation and the evidence of how much the Father loves us.
2. The Father’s Love in Revealing
“And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.” (John 12:45)
As the Word, Jesus is the self-expression of God. The incarnation points to the Father’s love because it proves he wants to be known in a way that is clear, intimate, and according to truth. Because God is not like us in so many ways and cannot be seen or touched there are moments he might seem remote or intangible. Jesus takes our vague or slightly distorted notions of God and gives us the real picture of the Father in his fullness of grace and truth. We should look to the incarnation of Jesus to see just how near the Father has come. The Son shows us the Father, and through Jesus the invisible God is finally visible.
It should astound us that the infinite, transcendent, and perfect God would make knowing us and being known by us one of his highest priorities. What a joy that God is a Father who doesn’t just show mercy—and that would be wonderful enough—but he wants a real relationship where we know and love him. Our perceptions of God become fuzzy and distorted when we look at earthly figures of fathers or authorities. However, when we look at Jesus the character and compassion of the Father is clearly and accurately put on display.
3. The Father’s Love in Adopting
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.” (1 John 3:1)
God the Father’s love can be seen in the friendly and familial vocabulary describing a believer’s relationship with God. We are called his sons and daughters. God wants to be known and seen in this way which is why he draws on the affectionate language of Father and children. “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son” (Gal. 4:4-7). Paul was well aware how quickly we retreat back to fearing God as slaves so he presses home the truth we can trust him as children.
Imagine two people in your mind’s eye. First, imagine someone you feel comfortable with because you’re loved and accepted. When with them you don’t ever have to worry about being anything other than yourself. Now visualize a second person who creates an uneasy sense of the need to measure up or being on your best behavior. Think of the difference if you were just sitting in your living room with either person watching TV together or talking. How free do you feel with the first person versus how hesitant or anxious you feel with the second? Because of our justification in Christ, the Bible describes God the Father as the person in the room we should completely trust and therefore find rest with—awake to the fact we are truly known. The Father doesn’t hold back love until we change or earn it. It’s a full stream of God’s unconditional love to his children.
4. The Father’s Love in Comforting
“Blessed be…the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” (2 Cor. 1:3)
The Father expresses his love in the comfort he gives, and even in the fact he calls us to find our comfort in his fatherly embrace. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3). It’s a slightly different nuance but in Romans 15:5 Paul also calls him the God of encouragement. He doesn’t turn his children away or pile up heavy discouragements on their backs. He’s not looking to criticize you or asking you to toughen up. Instead, he’s a gentle God who gives the comfort we need when we hurt and the encouragement we need when weary.
The discomforts in this world are no match for the comforts of our Father. He wraps his strong but soothing arms around us. The comfort of the Father never goes away. It is not wearied or exhausted by our sins and it isn’t based on our performance. The Father comforts because he is the God of comfort. His love is seen both in the act and in the warm heart that calls us. We might imagine God with arms crossed ready to criticize or condemn, but God assures us that he stands with arms opened ready to welcome and console us.
5. The Father’s Love in Giving
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.” (Jas. 1:17)
The Father loves us by giving good gifts. He enjoys us enjoying him as we enjoy his gifts. This exhibits his care and provision for us but it also expresses his generous and glad heart towards his children. God hands out who knows how many gifts to us each day, but the problem is we either don’t see the gifts or we don’t stop to consider who they’re from. Gratitude happens when we open our eyes to an awareness of the gifts and then raise our eyes in a response of thanksgiving to the God who gave them. Our joy in gratitude becomes the joy of worship. The gift should always lead to the giver. David Pao says, “Thanksgiving in Paul is an act of worship. It is not focused primarily on the benefits received or the blessed condition of a person; instead, God is the centre of thanksgiving.”1
Jesus argues from the lesser to the greater to bring home the reality of God’s goodness. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Luke 11:13). The best examples of earthly fathers in their generosity and gifting are a tiny picture of God’s perfect love. God has blessed us with innumerable blessings, and the more we see them as gifts the greater opportunity we have to delight in the Father. In other words, one way to see God’s heart of love for us is to see the gifts that come from his hand to us.
6. The Father’s Love in Promising
“For all the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus Christ].” (2 Cor. 1:19)
The Father’s love is seen in the making and fulfilling of promises to his people. All God’s promises to us are confirmed and secured in Jesus (2 Cor. 1:19). First, he loves us by being true and faithful rather than being unreliable or deceptive (Titus 1:2). Nothing gives a greater sense of safety and security than a trustworthy father. Second, he demonstrates his love in the promises themselves. He keeps his word and he offers some pretty amazing blessings. he promises to love us as his own children, to give us his Holy Spirit, to keep us secure in Christ, to wipe away our sins, and to one day come back and restore all things (see Eph. 1:3-14).
The Bible is stocked full of promises that are strong enough and sweet enough to carry us through each day. Promises are God’s caffeine kick to reawaken and energize Christians. One of the best things to do when studying God’s Word is to intentionally pick out the promises of God and to anchor your life on them. They are true and they are good. If we ever doubt God’s promises he calls us to look back to the pledge of his Son (2 Cor. 1:20; Rom. 8:31-39) and the down-payment of his Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:14). God loves us by promising us with countless blessings and assurances, and he loves us by always keeping those promises.
7. The Father’s Love in Disciplining
“For the Lord disciplines the one he loves.” (Heb. 12:6)
The Father loves us not despite discipline but through it. I know this point is a hard sell but the Bible connects the dots. God’s discipline is a calm but firm correction, never a fit of rage. He aims to teach us not reject or punish. The NT links discipline and love to help cement in our mind that they’re not irreconcilable enemies, but rather, they’re actually related (Heb. 12:3-11; Rev. 3:19). The fact that God corrects his children should encourage us just how much he cares and provide proof he will never give up on or leave us in our sin.
A beautiful scene in the TV show “Parenthood” depicts this idea. One of the families had adopted an abandoned young boy. Early on he misbehaves and continues acting out his bad habits. The mom thinks they should keep looking the other way but the dad reminds her they’re his parents now. He’s their child so they need to treat him like family, not like a guest or stranger. Since he’s now their boy and they want what’s best for him they make the tough choice to give correction and explain what he’s done wrong. As God’s children, we also need to remind ourselves that discipline isn’t the same as displeasure. In fact, it demonstrates God’s commitment to us. God treats us not as strangers or guests who he has no relationship with but as a father who deeply loves his sons and daughters.
Loving How We’ve Been Loved
When we don’t live in light of God’s love for us we’ll either shy away from Him out of fear or exhaust ourselves trying to win his approval. My hope is that as we let the truth of God’s love drip from our heads to our hearts we’ll be refreshed in security and rest. This is a game-changer when it comes to how we draw near to our God. It also transforms relationships and how we treat one another. As we experience the Father’s love in specific ways, we can give the type of love we’ve received.
There are a lot of great insights out there on parenting and marriage, but we cannot love children or spouses well unless the perfect love of the Father is a first-hand experience. In a culture desperate in its desire for “true love” and yet clueless in what that looks like, both single and married Christians can point others to a satisfying, unending love their souls are aching for. The application could be extended to the hard people in our lives or the unlovely in our families and neighborhoods, but in each case we can only love others well as we see them through the lens of how God has loved us: freely, undeservingly, and steadfastly.
Dustin Crowe has a bachelor’s degree in Historical Theology from the Moody Bible Institute and studied at the master’s level at Southern Seminary. He is Local Outreach Coordinator of College Park Church, a church of 4,000 in Indianapolis, where he also helps with theological development.
1. David Pao, Thanksgiving: An Investigation of a Pauline Theme (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 28-29.