“God is love” is one of the most often-quoted sentiments from the Bible. But do we know what it means? Surprisingly, few do. Here’s what the Bible explains.
“God is love” is a direct quote from two different verses in the Bible—1 John 4:8 and 1 John 4:16. However, this truth, which is a description of the fundamental nature of God, is expressed many times in other scriptures.
Another often-quoted verse is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world.” In John 16:27 we read, “For the Father Himself loves you.” The apostle John, again, speaks of God’s love in 1 John 3:1 when he says, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us.”
These verses are simply a sampling of the many times this truth is expressed in the Scriptures. God is love, and He expresses His love in many ways.
When commenting on the verse “God is love,” commentators speak of God being “benevolence itself” (Barnes Notes). Or, as the Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary records, “God is fundamentally and essentially LOVE: not merely is loving.”
However, none of the commentators explain the ultimate purpose of God—what God is doing because of His nature of love. The greatest expression of His love toward humanity is revealed in the purpose for our creation.
One of the verses quoted above reveals the incredible truth of what God is doing because of His love. The apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:1, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” God’s purpose for creating humankind is that He wants a family—children. God wants a family of sons and daughters of His own kind. Please let the incredible reality of that statement register in your mind.
In 2 Corinthians 6:17-18 the apostle Paul records this awesome truth when he wrote, “Therefore ‘Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.’ ‘I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.’”
God’s plan and purpose for human salvation is to offer all humanity the opportunity to become His own sons and daughters in His own family—on His level of life.
God is love. Love is the fundamental essence of His nature and character—His very being. God is perfect in love. God’s love is manifested by His absolutely pure desire to care for, share and give.
At present, the God family is composed of two members—God Most High (who is known to us now as God the Father) and the Word (the member of the God family who became the flesh-and-blood human being Jesus Christ—John 1:1-2, 14). These two members of the God family make up Elohim. Elohim is the first word translated “God” in the Bible (Genesis 1:1). Elohim is a plural word, the plural of Eloha. Elohim can be viewed as the family name of God.
God’s purpose for creating humankind is to give all of us the opportunity to become heirs with Christ, a part of the ruling God family—to become the sons and daughters of God—brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:14-17; Hebrews 2:9-11; Titus 3:7).
John recorded further in 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He [Jesus Christ] is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” Once we receive the Holy Spirit, God considers us His children; but we must complete a process of spiritual development before the fullness of the process of birth into God’s family can occur.
Our destiny (if we submit to God and go through the process of conversion) is to become a member of the God family like God’s firstborn Son is now. If we inherit life in God’s family, we will become like God the Father and Jesus Christ. This is why God (Elohim) created us the way They did.
In Genesis 1:26 we read, “Then God [Elohim] said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion.’” We were patterned after God’s (Elohim’s) image and likeness because Elohim in Their love want us in Their family. (See our sections on “What Is the Meaning of Life?” and “Plan of Salvation.”)
With power and authority in the family of God also comes the requirement that all must be done in love, not in selfishness, pride, greed or arrogance. We must become like God in character and nature if we are to become like Him in being!
The love of the Father and the Son
“God is love” not only describes the nature of God the Father; “God is love” also describes the nature of God the Son (Jesus Christ). These two members of the God family deeply love each other. Love is their nature.
John 3:35 records, “The Father loves the Son.” We also read in John 5:20, “For the Father loves the Son.”
We also know that Jesus loves His Father. John recorded Jesus’ words in John 14:31, “But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do.”
Further, we see in this verse what Jesus’ love for His Father leads Him to do. Because of Their bond of love, Jesus always seeks to do whatever pleases His Father. John records in John 8:29, “And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.”
The love that the Father and the Son have for each other produces a bond of oneness between them. Jesus said in John 10:30, “I and My Father are one.”
Love—the motivating force behind salvation
The end result of the salvation process is to become the actual sons and daughters of God. In Their love, God Most High and the Word decided that they wanted to share Their way of life with others just like Themselves. They decided that They wanted to share all that They are and have with others.
As a result, they ordained a plan and created human life with the purpose of giving human beings the incredible opportunity of becoming actual members of Their family. This plan for offering sonship to humankind is called salvation.
The requirement for receiving salvation
To receive this incredible gift of eternal life in the family of God, all that God wants to see us do is to learn to grow toward loving Him as much as He loves us. The question that must be answered is, How does God want us to show love toward Him? God answers that question in His Word. John records, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
“Loving God” and “keeping His commandments” are two truths that are often linked in the Bible in the Old and New Testaments. Numerous passages reveal this:
“Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the LORD your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess. … You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:1, 5).
“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).
“Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God drives you. … And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. …
“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them” (Deuteronomy 30:1, 6, 19-20).
“And I prayed to the LORD my God, and made confession, and said, ‘O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments’” (Daniel 9:4).
“‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets’” (Matthew 22:36-40).
“If you love Me, keep My commandments. … He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. … If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:15, 21, 23).
“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:3-6).
These passages are just a sampling of the many scriptures that link these two truths.
The meaning of “God is love”
God is love. God in His love wants us to become His sons and daughters. All we have to do to become His children—to become at one with Him—is to learn to love Him, His family and His creation, as He loves.
“And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me” (John 17:22-23).
This is the meaning of “God is love.”
For more on this subject, read the article “Love of God.”
Another resource that can be helpful is “Knowing God,” our free seven-day Journey. Let us be your guide as you spend a week discovering who God is and what He has in store for you—in this life and the next.