“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us,”
Many of the great truths of the Christian faith are found in these verses that are before us — truths about grace, love, and sin. Yet, this is a verse that is often misconstrued as model for evangelism. People will say, “God loves you, so turn to him in faith…” And while it is true that God is the very standard by which love is measured and that his love is great beyond all of our comprehension, Paul is not saying that God loved all people in this case. Remember to whom he is writing. He is writing to saved Christians — people who are already believers — people who have already experienced the love that God has for them through their regeneration. God, indeed, has a great love for his elect, and that is all that Paul is stating. There is love indeed for God’s people, but not for all people without exception.
So, why can’t we say, “God loves you” as a general call to faith? The simple answer is that we do not know who the Elect are until faith is demonstrated in their lives. When it comes to evangelizing unbelievers, we just don’t know and it would be dishonest of us to promise a reprobate soul that God loved them and sent his Son to die for their sins. Sometimes the same question needs to be asked within the church. I have known many who say the right things about faith and God but yet live like pagans do. Could they be Elect? Maybe? It is hard to tell. To God’s elect, we can extend the promise of God’s love with a clear conscience, to others, not so much.
But what about children? Doesn’t Jesus love the little children, all the little children of the world? We do know that is a song and not a Bible verse. And we do know that song better suits a Unitarian Universalist church rather than a Bible-believing Church. Don’t we? Nevertheless, when we are talking to covenant children (kids of parents who are believers and thus are being raised in the church), we can say, “God loves you” with a clear conscience because we believe that God ordinarily builds his true church through covenant families — that the promises of God are said to be given to believers and to their children. Thus, when it comes to covenant children, we treat them as if they are regenerate until they demonstrate by their lives that they are not so. And part of treating a child as part of the covenant is reminding them of the covenant promises that God gives by faith to his own — one of those promises being his love.
So, yes, if you are a Christian this day and reading this, God loves you with a great love. Yet, if you are not, the only thing that can be said is “repent and believe.” Just as there is no neutrality on our part toward God, there is also no neutrality on God’s part toward us.