3 Ways to Love Like God Does

Loving the People God Loves

What God loves, we must love. Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1–2). If we are beloved children, we must walk in Christlike love for his people. Repeatedly in the New Testament, God calls the members of his beloved church to love one another.1 Love for the church ought to be a fundamental characteristic of our lives. You have a people. They are your local church. And our love ought to mirror God’s love in three important ways.

1. Loving the Unlovely

Since the fall of Adam, sin has made everyone unlovely. Listen to some of the words that the Bible uses to describe fallen people: enemies (Rom. 5:10), strangers (Eph. 2:12), rebels (Ezek. 20:38), and haters (Rom. 1:30); impure (Eph. 5:5), disobedient (Eph. 2:2), hopeless (Eph. 2:12), and ignorant (Rom. 10:3). Our sin not only makes us repulsive; it rightly places us under God’s wrath and displeasure (Eph. 2:3). There is nothing attractive about any of this. But, thankfully, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). When we were unlovely, God loved us. We did nothing to deserve his love, but he loved us anyway. In what might seem like circular reasoning, God explains his love for his people this way: “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you” (Deut. 7:7–8). God loves his people because of his own eternal, sovereign, good pleasure and nothing else. His love is “uncaused, un-purchased and unconditional.”2 His love is “uninfluenced.”3

A Place to Belong

Megan Hill

This book helps readers delight in being a part of relationships within the church—no matter how messy and awkward they seem—with rich theology, practical direction, and study questions for group use.

He loves us because he loves us. So we love God’s people simply because God loves them. Hear the words of the apostle John: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). God’s people are not always lovely. Every one of us can be thoughtless, immature, unkind, foolish, and repeatedly snared by sin. And those are just our obvious failings. We probably don’t even know the worst about the people in our church. But God does, and he loves us anyway. When Christ hung on the cross, he died for each particular sin of each particular person the Father had given him. There is no sin of his people yet to be discovered by the Lord and nothing that can disqualify his true children from his love. As we walk in love for the local church, our love models the love of God himself. There was nothing lovely in us that caused God to love us, so we don’t wait for God’s people to seem attractive in order to love them. If God in his sovereign good pleasure has set his love on these people from eternity past, uniting them to his Son and gathering them into his church, then it is our privilege to love them too.

2. Loving Sacrificially

God loves us because he loves us, and he loves us at great cost to himself. As we have already seen, our sin and rebellion set us against God and put us under his wrath. But because of the great love with which he loved his people, he sacrificed his beloved Son. On that starlit night in Bethlehem, God himself came into the world as a human baby. The Son made his home with us, experiencing all the struggles of life in a fallen world. He obeyed the Father’s will, joyfully and perfectly. He took our sins upon him, dying the death we deserved on the cross. Because he loves us, God propitiated his own wrath. He appeased his own judgment. He paid his own penalty. He set himself against his own Son so that he might align himself with us.4 With great cost and out of a great love, God reconciled his people to himself so that we might enter into a relationship with him.5

God sets his love on sinful, rebellious, hateful, and ignorant people. And his love changes everything about us.

Our love for the local church, then, must assume this same self-sacrificing character. “By this we know love,” writes John, “that [Christ] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). Loving God’s people requires us to lay down our lives. In the local church, we will regularly give up time, emotional resources, money, respect from the world, physical comfort, and personal preferences. But as John Stott explains, “No-one who has been to the cross and seen God’s immeasurable and unmerited love displayed there can go back to a life of selfishness.”6 We can commit to loving the people God loves, even at great cost to ourselves.

3. Love That Makes Us Lovely

The ultimate result of God’s uncaused, sacrificial love is to make the objects of his love lovely. Garry Williams writes, “God does not find people who are beautiful and then decide to love them. Rather, he makes the objects of his love beautiful.”7 The glorious purpose of Christ’s incarnation, obedience, death, and resurrection was so that he might “present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27). God sets his love on sinful, rebellious, hateful, and ignorant people. And his love changes everything about us. Listen to some of the beautiful words that the Bible uses to describe the people God loves: clean (Heb. 10:22), holy (Eph. 5:27), blameless (Eph. 1:4), faithful (Col. 1:2), chosen (1 Thess. 1:4), and lacking nothing (1 Cor. 1:4–8). Like the prophet Hosea who took a prostitute for a wife, lavished on her gold and silver, nourished her with grain and wine, and dressed her with flax and wool, the Lord tenderly gathers his people to himself and by his love he makes his beloved lovely (Hos. 2:7–8, 14–23; Rom. 9:25–26).

We cannot make anyone lovely—not in the way that God does by removing our sin and imputing Christ’s perfect righteousness to us. But our love for one another in the church does produce a sort of radiant loveliness that shines before a watching world. The church father Tertullian famously imagined the Romans marveling at the first-century church, saying, “See, how those Christians love one another!” And Jesus himself makes this point: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Though we may be awkward and unremarkable on our own, gathered in the mutual love of the church, we grow in loveliness. Our loveliness blossoms out of the love of God for us and in us, and it is affirmed and magnified and publicly displayed in the love we have for one another. It stands before the watching world as an invitation: come and see God’s love displayed.


  1. Donald McLeod, Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 134.
  2. Arthur W. Pink, The Attributes of God (repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979), 77.
  3. See McLeod, Christ Crucified, 142.
  4. J. I. Packer, Knowing God (1973; repr., Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1993), 126–27.
  5. John R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, ed. Leon Morris (1964; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 166.
  6. Garry J. Williams, His Love Endures Forever (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 179.

This article is adapted from A Place to Belong: Learning to Love the Local Church by Megan Hill.

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