I was taught, like most, that God loved me if and when I changed. Simply put, if I repent then God will love me. But 1 John 4:8 and 16 says, “God is love.”

Love is the supreme revelation of the Christian faith. Divine love is the chief characteristic of living faith. Other religions know something about a God who is compassionate (to varying degrees) but no other religion has known the dynamism of divine love, a love that moves the entire creation toward the Creator. This God-Love is the most distinctive quality to be discovered in true Christianity. But listening to much of what I hear Christians say about God and faith you’d never know this to be the case.

Because God-Love is who God is we are loved. God loves you and me so that we can change. Richard Rohr says, “What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change. If the mystics say that one way, they say it a thousand ways. But because most of our common religion has not been at the mystical level, we’ve been given an inferior message—that God loves me when I change.”

Most of our religion is lived at the level of propositions and intellectual knowledge. This easily becomes a form of moralism. Believers of all the major Christian historical families are guilty of teaching moralism instead of love. (Note: Love will lead to true morality, not immorality! But we fear this is not the case until we know this love firsthand.) Moralism puts the motivation for deep change back on you. But you will never be holy enough, pure enough, refined enough, or loving enough. Never, no matter how long you try and how hard you work.

Richard Rohr is insightful when he concludes, “Whereas, when you fall into God’s mercy, when you fall into God’s great generosity, you find, seemingly from nowhere, this capacity to change. No one is more surprised than you are. You know it is a gift.”

The Apostle John links God-Love with our love for others. A true Christian, says John, begins by loving God through faith and faith is “believing in God’s love, that God is love (1 John 4:16). So faith and love are inseparably linked in biblical theology.

I can’t believe it took me decades to deeply grasp this truth since it is self-evident to all who read the Holy Scriptures with real faith.

When the great theologian Karl Barth was asked what was the most profound theological truth he had learned in his lifetime of deep biblical study he answered: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” That says it as well as anything I’ve heard. Do you really believe that he loves you?