Is it biblical to say God "loves you" to believers and nonbelievers alike?
Historically and theologically, we distinguish among three types of divine love.
There is God’s love of benevolence, where God has a kind spirit to the whole world. His benevolent will and love fall on everybody.
There is also the sense in which the love of God is defined in terms of God’s love of beneficence, which refers not just simply to His attitude toward the world, but how He displays that goodness universally. “The rain falls upon the just as well as on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). So that universal dimension of the love of God is manifest.
When we’re talking about the love of God in popular language, we call it God’s love of complacency. The love of complacency is not used in the way in which we use the term complacency in our age, in our culture. Our use of complacency means smugness and self-satisfaction. However, when the Scriptures indicate the love of complacency, it is that special love that God has for His Son and all of those who are in His Son and who are adopted into His family.
If we talk about the love of God in terms of the love of complacency, and we talk about it universally, that’s blasphemy. Because God does not love the whole world with the love of complacency. The Scriptures tell us that there are many ways in which God is at enmity with the world. He hates the world and those who are swift to shed blood. We have to take that into account.
When I hear preachers stand up and say that God loves everybody unconditionally, I want to scream and say, “Wait a minute, then why does He call us to repent? Why does He call us to come to the cross? Why does He call us to come to Christ?” If God loves everybody unconditionally, then you can do whatever you want and believe whatever you think, but that’s just not true. He’s placed an absolute condition by which He requires. He doesn’t just invite people to come to His Son; He commands all men everywhere to repent of their sins and to come to Christ. If you want to enjoy the love of complacency, you have to be in Christ.
Lightly edited for readability, this is a transcript of R.C Sproul’s answer given at our 2017 National Conference. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.