The Apostle John simplified all that you can use to describe the attributes of God by saying “God is love” (1 John 4:8). This is both overly simplified and at the same time profoundly accurate. As we look at John’s descriptions of God and Christ in this week’s lesson, try to see how each description really does boil down to an expression of God’s love. These same attributes are ones we need to develop for ourselves if we are to become like Him.
Reading Assignment: 1, 2, and 3 John.
Additional reading: Moroni 7:48; Doctrine and Covenants 45:3–5.
The extent of God’s love
We often think of God’s love in terms of a blessing here or a blessing there, but that is mostly surface thinking. His love for us goes very deep. When the plan of salvation was presented to us in the premortal world it was with the full understanding that we would live our lives in a fallen state.
This fallen state can only be overcome by the atonement of Christ. Without the atonement, we are lost to our Father in Heaven forever. Without the redeeming power of the atonement, we will never see His face again.
The Fall of mankind cut us out of the family of God. The act of our first sin deprives us of our inheritance of being heirs of our Father. Christ’s atonement cleanses us of our sins and we are adopted back into the family of God. We become heirs, with Christ, to inherit from our Father all that He has to offer His children. In 1 John 3:1 John makes reference to this doctrine. The translators of the Bible used the word “sons” but the Greek word literally means children or people.
1 Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.
In Romans 8:15, 17 we get a fuller definition of this doctrine. We are taught that upon baptism we are not made slaves but are adopted into God’s family. That is why we call him Father. If we are his children then we are also his heirs. We will be “joint-heirs with Christ” if we are willing to suffer with Christ in obeying God’s commandments.
15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
What a glorious adoption! The God of the universe claims us as His own and wants to make us like Him. Do we ever ponder on that sacred privilege? All that we go through in mortality is for this purpose, to prepare us to live in glory with our heavenly parents. What earthly temptation can be better than this exalted future?
The Father’s act of sending us a Savior in Christ is the ultimate demonstration of love. His willingness to sacrifice His first born son for the welfare of the rest of His family shows us how much he is willing to do to get us back. Every commandment we have received through God’s beloved Son is a recipe for eternal happiness. All the commandments are designed to refine us, purify us, and change us into celestial people. He has promised that all our trials will work for our benefit as long as we continue to keep the commandments.
Every interaction of God with His sons and daughters is born of love and a desire to exalt and glorify. This is He in whom we put our faith, to whom we pray and to whom we turn to for solace and protection in times of suffering and sorrow. This is the man who brings us such joy and rejoicing through the ministrations of the Spirit.
He first loved us
Why do we love God? John tells us it is because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). I have personally struggled with this logic for many years. It seemed so one-sided, so shallow. Maybe we are a little shallow.
“My mother ” are the words that came into my head as I pondered this one-sided love relationship. As I thought about my mother I began to have acts of love and service stream through my mind. I saw the times she helped me find things I had lost, the times she rescued me when I was in a place I shouldn’t have been in, the seemingly millions of times she made sure I was fed, clothed, cared for, and always felt loved and safe.
Isn’t this why we love our mothers? Don’t we love our mothers because they first loved us? I thought about others in my life and began to realize that this pattern holds true for almost everyone in my life. I tend to love those who demonstrate love for me. It is only after we reach a certain threshold of maturity that we learn that we can love without being loved in return.
The Savior’s love
In 1 John 3:8 we are told that Jesus came to earth to destroy the work of the devil.
8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
The Joseph Smith Translation changes the word “committeth” to “continueth in.” This makes a lot more sense.
Think about what Jesus did for us to destroy the work of the devil. What is the work of the devil? His work is to trap us, enslave us, to strip us of our agency, and ultimately to prevent us from returning to our heavenly home. He uses shame, anger, violence, intimidation, the enticement for all appetites of the flesh, pride, which is enmity, and hatred. He causes separation, loneliness, misery, and hopelessness.
Everything that Jesus has brought us and done for us destroys the works of Satan by bringing into our lives the opposite of what Satan can offer. Christ is the prince of peace, the bringer of light and truth. He liberates the soul, and through personal obedience to His commandments our moral agency is strengthened, our eternal perspective broadened and our connections to God tightened. He has sent us the Holy Ghost who teaches us truth, bears witness of it, and brings the words of Christ to our remembrance. The Holy Ghost opens our mouth and fills us with the words of life when we need to teach or when we need to influence another person for good.
Jesus has done so much to demonstrate to us our worth in the sight of God that it is difficult to list, categorize, or talk about all that He has and continues to do for us. To use an earthly comparison, it is like trying to describe to someone why you love your mother. Is any description every really accurate or complete?
How we learn to love
We are told in the scriptures that “If ye love me keep my commandments” (John 14:15). This always puzzled me. What does keeping the commandments have to do with love. Isn’t that all about obedience instead? The answer is found in 1 John 2:3 – 6.
3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
6 He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
Our goal is eternal life, to return to live with our heavenly parents. Isn’t this life eternal, to know God and Jesus Christ? What does John mean when he says that “we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments”?
When I was younger it was common to hear an American Indian saying, “Never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.” I confess, I have no idea if that is truly an American Indian saying, but I have remembered it and have heard it restated in several ways for decades. Until you have experienced what someone else experiences, you have no right to judge their attitudes and actions.
The same principle is true for knowing Christ and God. Until we have acted like them, lived like them, loved like them, and served like them, can we really say that we know them? The purpose of the commandments is to teach us how to be like them. The commandments, when lived well and consistently, change us into more Christlike people.
This is why Jesus can say that we don’t love Him unless we keep His commandments. If we are not willing to come to know Him through obedience to the commandments, we cannot learn to love Him and are living in judgment of Him as long as we are not willing to experience life as He does. Keeping the commandments makes it possible to feel like Christ feels, act, love, and behave like Christ does. It is our willingness to learn these lessons that demonstrates our love for Him and for our Father in Heaven.
This lesson is all about the many ways in which God and Christ have demonstrated their love for us. To understand just how deep and how far-reaching their love really is for us requires that we experience that love for ourselves. That love will grow from keeping Christ’s commandments and striving to learn to love as He loves. Only then will we gain a true sense of appreciation for the sacrifices they have made on our behalf. Only then will we learn to love and experience their joy in our service and the spreading of that love into the lives of others.