As Reformed believers we must admit that on the surface God’s universal love is difficult to reconcile with the belief in election. And we find election to be true and confirmed, and rather indisputably, from the beginning of the Bible to the end.

The Elect:
The greatest expression of God’s love toward sin-saturated mankind is evident in the fact that He applies a unique kind of love on undeserving sinners and elected them for salvation even before the foundation of the world had been laid. There is clearly a sense in which God’s love for His people is a distinct, special, definite love determined clearly to save them no matter what the cost. And the cost was great.

Something else we see that is when the Bible refers to divine love, the focus is typically on God’s eternal love for His elect. God’s love for mankind reaches it’s apex in the election of those He saves. And not every characteristic of God’s love is extended to all sinners without exception. If that were the case, then everyone would eventually be saved. But it is clear that there are many who will not be saved: Matthew 7:22-23, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (ESV). Can God genuinely love those that He does not intervene and bring to salvation?

The Non-Elect:
If we take Scripture for what it says, there is no getting around the fact that God’s love reaches all the way to sinners that He will ultimately condemn. However, He takes no pleasure in destroying and punishing unrepentant sinners: Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11, “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live” and “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (ESV). And in Matthew 23:37 we see Jesus lamenting, or weeping, over Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (ESV).

It is extremely important that we receive the testimony of Scripture regarding the above question, “Can God genuinely love those that He does not intervene and bring to salvation?” Erroll Hulse states in “The Love of God for All Mankind,” an article from Reformation Today (Nov.-Dec. 1983, p.18): “We will not be disposed to invite wayward transgressors to Christ, or reason with them, or bring to them the overtures of the gospel, unless we are convinced that God is favorably disposed to them. Only if we are genuinely persuaded that He will have them to be saved are we likely to make the effort. If God does not love them it is hardly likely that we will make it our business to love them. Especially is this the case when there is so much that is repulsive in the ungodliness and sinfulness of Christ-rejecters.”

Again, biblically, we can’t get around the fact that God’s compassionate, merciful love is unlimited in extent. He loves all of mankind. This love reaches out to all people from all times. It is what Titus 3:4 refers to as “the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind.” God’s special and particular love for the elect simply does not cancel a universal love encapsulated with compassion nor a true desire on God’s part to see every sinner surrender to Christ.

Mark 10:
Chapter ten of Mark is a great story demonstrating God’s love for the lost. It is the story of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus and started asking Him the question of all questions: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Scripture informs us: “And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother’” (Mark 10:18-19, ESV).

Every nuance of Jesus’ reply was meant to strategically confront the young man’s sin. A lot of people misunderstand the point of Jesus’ initial question: “Why do you call me good?” Jesus was not denying His own sinlessness or divinity. Numerous verses in the Bible affirm that Jesus was sinless – “…holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26, ESV). And, of course, His is also God incarnate: John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (ESV). But Jesus’ reply to this young man was two-pronged: one, to emphasize His own deity, confronting the rich young ruler with the reality of who He was; and two, to gently admonish a cocky young man who clearly thought too highly of himself.

To emphasize the second point above, Jesus quoted a portion of Scripture from the Ten Commandments. If the young man would have been honest with himself, he would have had to confess that he had not kept the law perfectly. What he did instead was respond boldly, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up” (v.20). This was outright arrogance and open disrespect on the part of the young man. It shows how little he comprehended the demands of the law and how little he respected the law. Compare his frivolous response with the way Peter reacted when he finally saw Christ for who He truly was. Peter fell to his face and cried out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8, ESV). The rich young man’s response was way over on the other end of the pendulum. He was not even willing to confess that he had sinned.

Jesus still gives him a second chance though. Jesus says, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21b, ESV). The rich young ruler refuses and sulks away. There were two things he wouldn’t do: a) he wouldn’t admit his sin, and b), he wouldn’t surrender to the lordship of Christ. In other words, he closed himself off from the eternal life it appeared he had been eagerly seeking. It turns out there were more important things to this young man than eternal life. His pride and his material possessions took priority over Christ’s claims on his life. And so he turned his back on the only true Light of the life he thought he had been searching for.

This is the last we see of this man in the Scriptures. As far as we know this man continued on living in sin and unbelief. But, our ultimate point here is to notice a key phrase in Mark 10:21a which is easy to pass over: “And Jesus, looking at him, LOVED him” (emphasis added, ESV). In this passage we are unequivocally told that Jesus loved an obviously, unrepentant, unsubmissive unbeliever. Jesus LOVED him.


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