Communicable Attributes: God is Love so Dwell in Love

When we study one of the Lord’s attributes we focus on a characteristic that is attributed to His essence or being to tell us what He is like and Who He is.  Some attributes are exclusive to God and so referred to as incommunicable.[1]  But God shares other of His characteristics with His redeemed people—these we call His communicable attributes—and when we study them we also learn about how we are to be more like Him.

In 1 John 4:8, 16, John emphasizes by repetition that God is love.  He teaches us that the essence of God is love.

In our reformed zeal to highlight God’s sovereignty, holiness, and justice, we must take care not to gloss over that God also is love.[2]

You can see what love is to understand it.  Like a husband’s devotion to His wife.  And a Father’s affection for his child.  So we see God reveal Himself as the Father of His children and the Husband of His Church.  And we see that God loves Himself in each person of the Trinity from and to all eternity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.[3]  God also loves His Church from before the foundation of the world[4] with an everlasting love[5].  For God sent His Son to give us everlasting life by virtue of His love for us.[6]

Love is an affection, a sincere appreciation and high regard for someone else.  It is devotedness to another.  And especially, love is communal.  As God is love perfected and Thrice Personified, so He is the source of all loving in and for His people (1 John 4:7).

Christian, be sure that you adore God as love along with His other attributes.  It is true that God is not JUST love.  But it is also true that God IS love as well as just.[7]

R.C. Sproul wrote, “ …love is such an intimate aspect or attribute of the character of God … Any view of Him that neglects to include within it this profound sense of divine love is a distortion of who God is.”[8]  Let us never neglect to preach and teach and rejoice in this lovely truth: God is love.[9]

But as this attribute is communicable to us, so love should develop in our own character.

John even more repeats something else as His point and application of this divine attribute.  If God as love is truly in us this will be seen in our loving Him back and loving His brethren.[10]  Or as John puts it, Dwell in Love.

First, dwell in the love of God.

As described in Luke 7:47, love to God is seen in thankful expression.  Further, John constantly describes this love for God as abiding in His commandments; 1 John 2:4-5 says, He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.[11]

Second, dwell in the love of God’s people.

I married my second wife because her heart for me naturally included a heart that burned, as she put it, for my children.  Widows and Widowers will often say, “You marry me, you marry my kids.”   When I see my wife’s love for my children I know she loves me.  So too with God and His children.

Loving our Christian brethren is John’s context and main referent for 1 John 4:8, 16.  The truth of God’s love in our hearts is testified to by our love for the other people He loves; 1 John 4:20-21 reads, If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar … And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.  This is John’s emphasis throughout His letter.[12]   This word “dwell” means to “abide” or “remain”.  A true presence of God in each of our persons shows up and is present with God’s people.  Love is not fickle but faithful fellowship.[13]

So when someone says, “I love you, brother” but constantly abandons or abuses you, you are right to say, “I don’t believe you.”  But may we love others believably.    

James might have said, “Show me your love without your works?  I will show you my love by my works.”  For God is love; thus toward Him and one another you must Dwell in Love.[14]

Grant Van Leuven has been feeding the flock at the Puritan Evangelical Church of America in San Diego, CA, since 2010.  He and his wife, Fernanda, have five covenant children: Rachel, Olivia, Abraham, Isaac, and Gabriel (and they are expecting their sixth, Gideon Emmanuel, who is due November 10th!).  He earned his M.Div. at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA.

[1] Such as omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence.

[2] The Westminster Confession of Faith 2:1 emphasizes that God is “most loving”; but its corresponding Larger and Shorter Catechisms 7 and 4 respectively, answering “What is God” in summary more succinctly, omit “love”.

[3] Jesus said the Father loves Him (John 14:31) and that He loves the Father (John 15:9).  And one of the fruits of the Spirit is love (Galatians 5:22).

[4] Ephesians 1:4.

[5] Jeremiah 31:3.

[6] John 3:16.

[7] Be blessed to know that God reflects His own love in Christ upon you: 1 John 3:1, 16; 4:9-10, 13, 16, 19.

[8] See R.C. Sproul, “The Holy Love of God”, at

[9] Isn’t it often hard to understand how and why God would forgive us and never give up on us?  You can understand why you endure with your spouse, your children, and brethren: love.  It is the same with God for you.  Further, remember that God’s attributes are independently absolute; but each is best understood in relation to all His other attributes that are also absolute.  So God’s love is absolutely pure, wise, holy, good, just, and perfect.  And God’s love is absolute.  May you absolutely never forget that in Himself and in His relation to you … infinitely, eternally, and unchangeably, God is Love.

[10] In his book on 1 Corinthians 13, Christian Charity and Its Fruit, Thomas Watson teaches that “ … true Christian love will dispose of all proper acts of respect to both God and men.”  Thomas Watson, Christian Love and Its Fruit (Marshallton, Del.: The National Foundation for Christian Education), 3.  Jesus says these are the first and second greatest commandments (Matthew 22:37-39).

[11] See also 1 John 2:6, 15-17; 3:4-10, 22, 24; 4:4-6, 9-10, 17-19; 5:2-3, 4-5, 18-21; John 14:15, 23; and Exodus 20:6.

[12] See also 1 Johnn 2:10-11; 3:10-11, 14-18, 23; 4:7, 11-13.  

[13] Living in God’s love is born out in sacrificial, self-denying ways per 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. 

[14] To listen to sermons by the author given to prepare for this article, visit the following links: God is Love and Dwell in Love.


Grant Van Leuven