In some Reformed circles there’s a debate about whether a Christian should ever tell unbelievers that God loves them. The argument goes something like this, “We never see an example of Jesus or Paul, or any other NT writer, using such language when preaching or speaking to unbelievers”. I don’t know that this assertion establishes the position, and I don’t pretend the argument isn’t more nuanced than this. However, I also don’t believe it to be true primarily because of the Incarnation. Jesus was born, God’s Son was given. The gospel is “good news”, and part of that good news is that God does love you.
Some of my brothers and sisters in the faith will be quick to point out that God doesn’t really love unbelievers because if He did, they would become believers. In other words, the only love that counts is God’s redeeming love. Making such a distinction, I think, is unhelpful theologizing (that might not be an actual word, but it conveys what I’m trying to get across). If there is redeeming love, can you explain to me what non-redeeming love is, exactly? It can’t simply be good will. Good will is not love in the Scriptural sense. I’m open to correction though, so let me hear it in the combox if you think I’m mistaken. Let’s consider an example in Scripture of Jesus loving an unbeliever:
“And as He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and began asking Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, Do Not Murder, Do Not Commit Adultery, Do Not Steal, Do Not Bear False Witness, Do Not Defraud, Honor Your Father and Mother.’ And he said to Him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.’ And looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ Mark 10:17-21
Now, there’s no indication in the text that the Rich Young Ruler ever did follow Christ. Some will make that assertion because “Jesus felt a love for him”, and if that is so, he must have been saved later because, well, Jesus only loves those whom He saves. If we go no further than the text, we cannot make that assumption. It says that Jesus felt a love for him (as a total aside, this also disproves the notion that love is not a feeling. It’s much more than that, but it definitely is a feeling. But I digress…).
In my opinion, it’s biblical to tell unbelievers that God loves them and that He invites them to come to Him in the gospel of His Son. The gospel is not simply a regal command to “repent and believe”, but a fatherly pleading and exhortation to do so. I think the Incarnation itself (among other things, such as the fact that “God is love”) establishes this. Don’t miss this important aspect of the First Advent, nor doubt whether or not it’s pleasing to our heavenly Father if you tell sinners He loves them. The failure to express God’s love when we share the gospel may be a primary reason our evangelism is not particularly winsome or fruitful. At least consider the possibility…