Valentine’s Meditation: Incarnational Love versus Gnostic Love

Well, it’s that day again. It shows up every year and beckons us towards good will and mandatory gifts for the ones we love (or at least that’s the attitude we sometimes encounter). In my morning devotions, I pondered the whole “love” thing in relation to the character of God (who is love), the incarnation of Jesus, the “new commandment” from Jesus, and the need for our love to be incarnate if it is to imitate Jesus’ love for us.

1. God is love. Some have debated whether this is an attribute, an ontological reality of God’s composition, or something he simply does. The Bible teaches us that God discloses himself as one who loves. His nature can only be understood if it is revealed in action. The ethics of love necessitates action, not mere thinking. Our loving thoughts are only loving when they manifest themselves in right action. God’s love is always linked with action. He shows his people “ahavah” and “hesed”, which are Hebrew words that John Frame describes as follows (bold mine):

Now we saw earlier in this chapter that the love of God sovereignly initiates his covenants. The word ʾahavah refers to this love in Deuteronomy 7:8. Hesed (as in 7:9) typically refers, not to the love of God that initiates a covenant, but to a divine love that presupposes a covenant’s present existence. God’s ʾahavah creates the relationship; his hesed fulfills and completes it. So of the two terms, ʾahavah tends to be more closely equivalent to “grace”: it is not a response to human obedience. But hesed does frequently presuppose human obedience to the covenant stipulations. Note in Deuteronomy 7:9 that God keeps his covenant of hesed “to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.” Hesed can be God’s response to repentance (Deut. 4:30–31; Ps. 51:1). Note also these verses:

To the faithful [hasid, from the hesed root] you show yourself faithful, to the blameless [tamim]  show yourself blameless. (2 Sam. 22:26; cf. Ps. 18:25)

All the ways of the Lord are loving [hesed] and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant. (Ps. 25:10)

… and that you, O Lord, are loving [hesed].Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done. (Ps. 62:12)

Hesed, then, is typically conditional, in a way that ʾahavah is not.[1]

2. God manifested his love incarnationally. God’s love is not like the so-called love that he condemns in us. The love I speak of here is the kind of love that wishes people well, but does nothing, or the so-called love of God accompanied by hatred for our brother. You can’t call yourself loving by your good intentions alone. This distorts true love as grounded in our triune God.

God practices what he preaches. He doesn’t just wish us well and then withhold provision from us, but actually manifests his love through the incarnation of Christ, whereby we are made objects of a real act of love.

1 John 4:8–9 (ESV) Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.

3. God first loved us. We must first become the object of love, to taste it and feel it, before we can become subjects of love. Love can only be known in the face of Jesus, who is love incarnate.

1 John 4:10a (ESV) 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us…

John 13:3 (ESV) 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

4. Love sacrificially satisfies. Love’s efficacy is rooted in the ability for one to sacrifice something of their time, energy, and resources to satisfy another person. Jesus love was sacrificial and it satisfied the Father, then in turn satisfied us. Love is missional. It accomplishes something.

1 John 4:10 (ESV) 10 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 (bold mine).

5. We are known by our love. We will be known by our love, not the good fuzzy thoughts kind of love, but the real love than acts in all the ways already mentioned. Our union with Christ is validated in our love for one another.

John 13:35 (ESV) 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

So, on this Valentine’s Day, don’t love in mere thought and intentions, but in actual action. We are not gnostics, who glory in merely having the right thinking and knowledge, but Christians, who believe that love is only true when it is tangibly expressed. We must love others as Jesus demonstrated his love for us. It was tangible love that was incarnate in his being and actions.


[1] Frame, J. M. (2002). The doctrine of God. A theology of lordship (439–440). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

© 2012, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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