The word love in Ephesians 2:4-5—But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved)—should cause us to ask a question. We hear much about God’s love today. We hear such clichés as “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” and other such sentimental saying. But is love actually enough to save us?
The beloved preacher and “radio pastor” J. Vernon McGee, who went to be with the Lord on December 1, 1988, recounts an incident that dramatically illustrates this. Back in the hippie days, he led a Bible class in San Diego. One day a young man approached McGee to talk. The young fellow was quite a sight. He had the word love written all over his clothes, his hat, his coat, down both legs of his pants, and even on his shoes. McGee asked him, “Why in the world do you have love written all over you?” He replied, “Man, God is love.” “Well,” McGee said, “I agree with you. Nothing could be truer than that.” But then the young man added, “God saves us by His love,” to which McGee said, “I don’t agree with that. God doesn’t save us by His love. Can you give me a verse that says He does?” The young fellow scratched his head and thought a while, admitted he couldn’t think of one, and then asked, “Well, if God doesn’t save us by love, then how does He save us?” McGee answered, “Very frankly, I’m glad you asked me that question because the Bible says, ‘By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.’ God saves us by His grace.” Then the young man wanted to know the difference. This is how McGee explained it to him:
“God cannot, on the basis of His love, open the back door of heaven and slip us in under cover of darkness. He can’t let down the bars of heaven at the front door and bring us in because of His love. God is also light. God is the moral ruler of this universe. God is righteousness. He is holy and He is good. That adds up to one thing: God cannot do things that are wrong—that is, wrong according to His own standard. So God couldn’t save us by love. Love had God strapped—we could say it put Him in a bind. He could love without being able to save. I thought you would quote John 3:16 to me. Let’s look at what that verse says: ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ Does it say God so loved the world that He saved the world? No, that’s exactly what it doesn’t say. God so loved this world that He gave His only begotten Son. You see, God couldn’t save the world by love because He goes on to say, ‘that whosoever believeth in him should not perish.’ You and I are going to perish. We’re lost sinners, and God still loves us, but the love of God can’t bring us into heaven. God had to provide a salvation, and He paid the penalty for our sins. Now a God of love can reach out His hands to a lost world and say, ‘If you will believe in My Son, because He died for you—if you will come on that basis—I can save you.’ God doesn’t save us by His love. God saves us by His grace.”
Oh, we do thank God for His great love, but as great as that love was, it was not enough. The so-called “Gospel of Love” being preached today is a false Gospel (Gal. 1:8-9). While God’s “love is the groundwork of our salvation,” something else is needed to build the structure. And that “structure” leads us to the third word that details our reconciliation to God.