L — “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9-11 KJV)
L — “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world” (1 John 4:14 KJV)
L — “We love him, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
One thing that is important to keep in mind when reading the apostles’ letters to the churches, most of what they write about the work of redemption, they put in terms that indicate the work was done for us. Now, the question is raised whether these references include the whole world, or is the apostle meaning to refer only to the audience to which he is writing? It has become my conviction that these references are directed to the church and not the world at large unless the context specifically demands such an interpretation.
Now, to highlight the doctrine of Limited Atonement in this passage:
The paragraph which contains verses 7-12 is basically about the fact that our love for one another is evidence that God’s Son indeed has saved us. But look at some of the atonement theology contained in this paragraph:
In verse nine, the love of God is manifested toward the elect because God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that the elect might live through him.
In verse ten, we are shown the logical order of Christian love. God did not send his Son to propitiate him for sinners because he foresaw who’d love him, but the kind of love God reveals in Scripture is the kind revealed in his Son’s propitiatory work on behalf of the sovereignly chosen elect. God takes the initiative from A-Z in the doctrine of salvation.
In verse eleven, there is some very simple application. Would that it were this easy to apply all of Scripture! We have a very clear redemptive focus, and we are aware of man’s fallen condition in his lack of love for others.
The redemptive focus is that God has loved the elect by sending his Son to redeem them, and since not only does the elect benefit spiritually from this work, but once Christ’s work as our Substitute has been planned by the Father, accomplished by the Son and applied by the Holy Spirit to the elect, they now have the great Example of our holy, covenant Head to follow toward others. God wants the elect to give themselves to others on the “horizontal” plane as Christ gave himself for them on the “vertical” plane.
Those who struggle with the fact of sovereign grace need to keep in mind that all we ever do is a response to God’s working in us to will and do according to his pleasure. We did not initiate our creation; yet Adam, our Head in the covenant of works, did (under God’s inscrutable foreordination) fall into sin of his own free will (and if we were in his shoes, we would’ve also), but everything after that is based on God’s promise; a promise he was not obligated to make. It would have been perfectly fair for him to leave us in the condition in which we find ourselves in Adam. All of God’s redemptive work for the elect is done to keep his promise, to show mercy to the elect for his glory, to not be “fair,” but gracious! Remember, fairness means death!
Now look at verse 14. This is one of the non-Calvinist’s proof texts of a general atonement. My semi-pelagian friend, stop and think about the world in which the apostle John is writing. The natural children of Abraham had the world classified in two categories: “us” and “them”; Jew and Gentile. John was a Jew. When a Jew in the first century talks about God doing something for “the whole world,” he means to emphasize the amazing truth that God’s not only doing something for the people he delivered from bondage in Egypt, but in the Lord Jesus Christ, he’s now delivering sinners from every nation from bondage to sin! This was a truly awe-inspiring thing going on in the world. It happened to Rahab, and Ruth, but now Gentiles were being brought into the Kingdom of God en masse! If a Jew as going to communicate clearly, he needed to specify about whom he’s speaking. Jesus came to save, not the Jews only, but elect sinners from the whole world!
“Finally, brethren” (insert preacher joke here), verse nineteen is a restatement of that simple application that we are to go and do for others what God has done for us. God demonstrated the greatest expression of love in Christ on behalf of the elect in his sinless life, propitiatory death and life-imparting resurrection, and now we are to obey not only the Great Commandment (love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength), but the second as well, which is “like unto it” (love your neighbor as yourself). This love is the fruit of justification. R. C. Sproul once broadcast that the righteousness of God was imputed to us, but that when that justifying work took place, God’s love was imparted. If we’ve been justified by faith, then we, the believing elect, will love God and our brothers in Christ and the lost! So since the work of God is effectual, and we have his promise that it will happen, let’s get after it in the assurance that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance! As the English Standard Version translates verse nineteen, “We love (others) because he first loved us.”