The Dynamics of the
Everlasting Gospel By E.H. Jack Sequeira
2 God’s Redemptive Love
The ground of our salvation is Gods love; apart from this love there would
be no gospel to preach [John 3:16; Ephesians 2:4-7; Titus 3:3-5; 1 John 4:9]. In
order, therefore, to understand and appreciate the good news of salvation, we must first
be rooted and grounded in Gods love [Ephesians 3:14-19].
The Bible clearly teaches that “God is love” [1 John 4:8, 16]. This
does not mean that one of God’s attributes is love, but that He is love
and therefore everything else about Him and His acts must be
understood in the context of this love, including His law [Matthew 22:36-40]
and His wrath [Romans 1:18-32. Note how Paul defines God’s wrath in the
passive [vss. 24, 26, 28; love does not coerce but lets go when we
deliberately choose our own way].
The greatest stumbling block to understanding God’s love is our
own human love. Most Christians make the mistake of projecting
human ideals of love on to God. By doing this we reduce God’s love to a
human level; the result is that we not only misrepresent God but also
distort the gospel of His saving grace in Christ. It is for this reason Paul
wants Christians to understand “the love of Christ, which passeth
knowledge” [Ephesians 3:19].
One major cause for this problem, as we shall see below, has to do
with our modern languages. The English language, like most modern
languages, has only one word for love. This makes it very difficult when
reading our English Bibles to distinquish between human concepts of
love, all of which are polluted with self-love, and God’s love. In
Scripture, God’s love (agape) completely contradicts human love
(phileo) so that the two cannot be compared but only contrasted.
Please note the following:
Isaiah 55:8, 9. Millions of light years separate
God’s thoughts and ways from ours.
Matthew 5:43-48. In contrast to human love [verse
43], Christ taught what God’s love is like and how this love must
distinguish the Christian from unbelievers [verses 44-48]. Note John
13:34, 35 also.
Romans 5:6-8. In verses 6 and 8 Paul explains
God’s love in contrast to human love [verse 7].
Distinction Between God’s Agape and Human
Unlike most of our modern languages (including English), which
have only one word for love, the New Testament writers had at least
four words in the Greek language to choose from when writing about
divine and human love. These four words were:
Storge—Family love or love for one’s own kin.
Phileo—Affectionate love between two people or
Eros—Its common meaning was love between opposite
sexes and from which the English got its word erotic. However, Plato
gave it a very noble and spiritual meaning and called it “heavenly
eros” (platonic love), and defined it as detaching oneself
from sensual and materialistic interests and seeking after “God.”
Thus eros as Plato defined it became the highest form of
human love to the Greeks.
Agape—An obscure word, especially in its noun
form, which generally meant loving others without a selfish motive.
Since the New Testament was writen in Greek which had these
four different words for love to choose from, the New Testament writers
could distinquish God’s love from human love by the use of different
words and this they did. The word eros never appears in the New
Testament, and the most common word used to describe human love is
phileo. God’s love, on the other hand, is defined by all the New
Testament writers as agape.
A good example of how two different words are used in the Greek
New Testament for love but translated into the same word in English is
John 21:15-17. In the first two questions Jesus used the verb form of
agape (love that never fails) [1 Corinthians 13:8]. Peter, on the other
hand, responded with a phileo, human affection, both times.
The third time Jesus switched to phileo, and it is this that
In the New Testament agape was given a very special meaning
derived from God’s revelation in the holy history of Christ, and which
was supremely demonstrated on the cross [Romans 5:6-10]. It completely
contradicts phileo and even heavenly eros (which to
the Greeks was the highest form of love) in at least three ways:
Human love (heavenly eros or phileo) is conditional
and therefore reciprocal. It needs arousing and depends on outward beauty
or goodness. When this human love is projected onto God it perverts the
gospel into legalism or conditional good news or good advice. Note how
man must do something good before God can save or even listen to him.
In contrast, God’s love (agape) is unconditional and therefore
spontaneous, uncaused, and independent of our goodness or self-worth.
With this understanding of God’s love, salvation or the gospel becomes
unconditional good news [Romans 5:6-10; Ephesians 2:4-6; Titus 3:3-5]. It is for
this reason the Bible clearly teaches that mankind is saved by grace
alone—undeserving or unmerited favor [Acts 15:11; Romans 3:24; 5:15;
11:6; Ephesians 1:7; 2:8-9; Titus 1:14; 2:11; 3:7].
Human love (heavenly eros or phileo) is changeable.
This means it is a love that fluctuates and is unreliable. A good example
is Peter. He promises Christ at the Passover feast: “I am ready to go with
thee, both into prison and to death” [Luke 22:31-34]. Yet when the test
came he failed miserably. In this respect it is worthy to note the
dialogue between Jesus and Peter after the resurrection, as already
mentioned above [John 21:15-17]. Twice Jesus asked Peter the question,
“Lovest (agapao) thou me more than these?” and both times Peter
responded, “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love (phileo) thee”
[verses 15-16]. The third time Jesus switched and said “lovest
(phileo) thou me?”
It was not the same question with which Jesus confronted Peter
the third time. It was as if He were saying, “Peter, is this the only
kind of love (phileo, this unreliable human love) you have
for me?” No wonder Peter was “grieved” by this last question. But he
was now a truly converted man (in the sense that he had lost all
confidence in himself, Philippians 3:3) and in humility he replied, “Lord,
thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love (phileo)
thee” [verse 17]. This is the only kind of love (phileo or
eros) that human beings can generate in and of themselves.
(Incidentally, the high divorce rate in the United States is
primarily due to this fluctuating, unreliable human love, devoid of
In complete contrast, God’s love (agape) is changeless. It
is this fact that prompted Him to declare to the unfaithful Jews,
“I have loved thee with an everlasting love” [Jeremiah 31:3]. According
to Paul’s description of God’s love, “agape never fails”
[1 Corinthians 13:8]. This was clearly demonstrated on the cross when
“having loved His own which were in the world, he loved (agapao)
them unto the end” [John 13:1]. When we Christians realize God’s
unchanging love for us and are “rooted and grounded in agape”
[Ephesians 3:17], we will be able to say with the great apostle Paul:
“Who shall separate us from the love [agape] of Christ? ...
For I am persuaded, that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor
principalities, nor powers, nor things present, not things to come,
nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate
us from the love [agape] of God, which is in Christ Jesus our
Lord” [Romans 8:35-39].
Human love, at its very best (heavenly eros) is self-seeking.
We are by nature egocentric and therefore everything we do and think, in
and of ourselves, is polluted with self-love or selfishness. Hence man’s
love is always trying to ascend, whether it be socially, politically,
academically, materially, economically, or even religiously; we are all
slaves to our “own way” [Isaiah 53:6; Philippians 2:21]. As we saw in our last
study, we are all shaped in “iniquity” (bent to self). Consequently all of
us, without exception, are coming short of God’s glory or agape
love [Romans 3:23].
But God’s love (agape) is the very opposite. It is self-giving.
It was because of this that Christ did not cling to His equality with
the Father, but emptied Himself and became God’s slave, obedient unto
death, even the death of the cross [Philippians 2:6-8]. All His earthly life,
Christ demonstrated God’s agape [John 17:4, first part.] This
is “the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” which the disciples
beheld [John 1:14]. He lived for the benefit of others; He actually became
poor for our sakes, that we “through His poverty might be rich” [2 Corinthians 8:9].
There is no self-love in God’s love [1 Corinthians 13:5], and it is this love
produced in the lives of Christians through the indwelling Spirit [Romans 5:5; Galatians 5:22] that is the most powerful witness of the transforming
power of the gospel [John 13:34-35]. This is what Christ meant when,
addressing his followers, He said: “You are the light of the world.... Let
your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works [of
agape], and glorify your Father, which is in heaven” [Matthew 5:14, 16].
The supreme manifestation of God’s self-giving love was
demonstrated on the cross when Christ tasted the second death for all
mankind [Hebrews 2:9]. This second death is obvious since believers who
are justified in Christ still have to die the first or sleep death but will be
exempted from the second death [Revelation 20:6]. The second death is the
cessation of life or saying goodbye to life forever. On the cross Christ
was submitting to this death. He was willing to be deprived of life
forever (not just three days) that we may live in His place (this will be
covered in detail in the fourth chapter). It was this self-emptying love that
transformed His disciples who before the cross were dominated by
self-interest [Luke 22:24]. Likewise, when we get a glimpse of this
self-sacrificing love of Christ shining from the cross of Calvary, we too
will be transformed [2 Corinthians 5:14-15].
In concluding this contrast between human and divine love, may it
become clear to every reader that it is only when we realize these
threefold qualities of God’s agape love (unconditional,
changeless, and self-giving), that the gospel comes to us as
unconditional good news of salvation. And when we are “rooted and
grounded” in this agape love we will cast out all fear and will be
able to serve our God with an unselfish motive [1 John 4:7, 12, 16-18].
Agape and the Great Controversy
When Satan rebelled against God in heaven [Revelation 12:7-9], he was
really rebelling against the God’s agape love the spirit of His law [Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:10; Galatians 5:13-14]. The idea that “love (agape)
seeketh not her own” (i.e., self) [1 Corinthians 13:5] was too restrictive to
Lucifer. Consequently he objected to it and introduced the principle of
self-love or eros [Ezekiel 28:15; Isaiah 14:12-14]. Therefore, ever since his
fall, the enemy of God and man (Satan) has hated the concept of agape.
When this concept was restored to the human race through the
preaching of the gospel, he naturally was ready to attack it with all his
might [Revelation 12:10-12]. Hence, the very first thing he attacked in the
Christian church was not the sabbath or the state of the dead; these
truths came later, but he zeroed in first on the concept of God’s agape
After the disciples had passed away from the scene, the leadership
of the church fell into the hands of the church “Fathers,” who were of
Greek origin. Immediately the great battle to substitute eros concepts
for agape began.
The Greeks were insulted that the New Testament writers ignored
the highest form of love in their language (heavenly eros) and used an
obscure word (agape) instead. They felt that the disciples of Christ, who
were all Jews (except Luke), did not really understand their language
and, therefore, a correction had to be made. The first to attempt this was
Marcion (died in 160 A.D.). He was succeeded by Origen (died in 254
A.D.) who actually changed John’s sublime statement “God is agape” [1
John 4:8] to “God is eros.” However, the battle did not stop there; it
continued until we come to Augustine, the fourth century bishop of
Hippo (North Africa) and one of the great “fathers” of Roman Catholic
Augustine realized how futile it was to substitute eros
for agape. Instead he did a very smart thing. By using Greek
logic, he took the concepts of agape as well as eros
and married the two together, producing a synthesis which he called
caritas (Latin) and from which we get our English word charity,
the word that is often used in our KJV for agape. This word
caritas was not only accepted by Christendom but became the
key word to define divine and Christian love in Roman Catholic theology.
Its meaning was a mixture of agape and eros so that
the gospel was perverted from “Not I, but Christ” [Galatians 2:20] to “I
plus Christ,” a concept of the gospel still prevalent today.
The moment the pure meaning of agape was corrupted, the gospel
became perverted with self-love, and the Christian church lost its power
and was plunged into darkness. It was not until the Reformation (16th
Century) that Luther realized the problem and tried to break the synthesis.
However, the church today is to a large degree still groping in darkness
as to the true meaning of the gospel.
The Three Gospels
Today three concepts of love exist: the concept of eros or self-love;
the concept of God’s agape or self-giving love; and the concept of caritas,
a mixture of self-love (eros and agape). Each of these three concepts
have produced in human history their own kind of gospel. The pagans who are steeped
in eros have produced in their various religions the gospel of works. As
Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, declared: Salvation is the movement
of the creature towards God. Plato taught a similar idea, and believed that
God only saves the lovable. In other words, the eros gospel teaches that man
must save himself by pleasing God through sacrifices and good works, to make himself
lovable. We call this “legalism” or salvation by works, the basis of all
At the heart of Roman Catholic theology is the caritas gospel: man
must first give evidence he wants to be saved through his good works,
and when God sees this, He will meet him halfway to save him. This
gospel teaches that we must do our best to meet God’s ideal and Christ
will make up the difference. The Galatian Christians fell into this trap
[Galatians 3:1-3] and so have a great number of Christians today the religion
of faith plus works, or justification plus sanctification. This is a subtle
The Bible however subscribes to neither the eros or the caritas
gospel. In complete contradiction to the above two gospels, the apostles
taught that while we were “helpless,” “ungodly,” “sinners,” and even
“enemies,” God demonstrated His agape love towards sinful men
through the death of His Son, which fully reconciled us to Him [Romans 5:6-10].
This agape gospel is the clear teaching of the New Testament.
[John 3:16, Ephesians 2:1-6, 1 Timothy 1:15, Titus 3:3-5 are but a few
examples.] Both the eros gospel as well as the caritas gospel may be described as conditional good news; but the agape gospel which turned
the world upside down in apostolic times [Acts 17:6] is unconditional
It is this gospel that the world desperately needs to see restored
and witnessed today, and which will lighten the earth with His glory
[Revelation 18:1] before the end comes [Matthew 24:14; Revelation 14:6-15]. For the
purposes of comparison, the following diagram represents the three
God’s Agape and Human Self-Worth
One of the effects of the sin problem is that it has produced in
many lives a very low sense of self-esteem or self-worth.
Unfortunatately this problem has magnified in our present complex
world with its high divorce rates and competitive lifestyle. The result is
a heyday for those who are in the counseling business. But may I
introduce you to the “wonderful counsellor” [Isaiah 9:6] who alone has a
permanent solution for you.
As we have already seen, in dealing with the sin problem (Chapter 1), the Bible puts very little value in sinful flesh.
To Nicodemas, whose religion put much emphasis on human achievement, Christ said:
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh” [John 3:6]. By this He meant
that there is nothing good in God’s eyes which the flesh is capable of
producing [Romans 7:18]. This is because every thing that man does, in
and of himself, is polluted with self-love. Hence there is none good and
no one righteous [Romans 3:10,12].
It is for this reason the apostle Paul told the Philippian Christians
that we are to have no confidence in the flesh [Philippians 3:3]. All this is
devastating to our Good News for you God’s agape love for each one of
us. The only permanent solution to the problem of a low self-worth is a
clear understanding of God’s unconditional love (agape) and His saving
truth in Christ. As the prophet Isaiah declared, in spite of our
sinfulness, God will make us more precious than the fine gold of Ophir
[Isaiah 13:12]. And this He has done in Christ, as we shall see in our study
of the next chapter.