Election and the Love of God
Of course, the verse that comes to most people's mind first when the love of God is mentioned is John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16 ESV) This verse is also frequently cited in debates of the Reformed doctrine of particular redemption, but that is a discussion for another time, perhaps. What all Christians should be able to agree on is that the cross is the greatest expression of the love of God. The greatness of God's love is seen in a willingness to sacrifice His Son on behalf of a rebellious people ("but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" - Romans 5:8 ESV). So what can we say about God's love?
1. It is expansive - John 3:16: However we interpret world, it is clearly meant to show that God's love is without national or ethnic boundaries. It is to our shame as American Christians that we have at times excluded certain peoples, most notably those of African descent, from being full participants within our fellowships. While that has changes to some degree, the church continues to be very segregated in the United States. Given the general decline in a Bible-based Christianity amidst a rising tide of generic spiritualism in the U.S., if we continue to be segregated, then there is little hope for a vibrant Christianity in the U.S. After all, Jesus Himself said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand" (Matthew 12:25).
2. It is unconditional - Romans 5:8: Jerry Bridges' statement in Transforming Grace is as true about God's love as it is of God's grace. "Christ's death was the result of God's [love]; [love] is not the result of Christ's death. But it is also true that our experience of God's [love] is made possible only by the death of Christ" (Transforming Grace, p. 23). We are told that it is not because of any merit in ourselves that God sent Jesus to die on the cross. We were still enemies of God, shaking our fists at the heavens and proclaiming that our wills and wants should be sovereign, and Jesus died for us. Praise God for His love.
3. It is particular - John 10:14-15: This is the intersection of God's love and election. God the Father chose certain individuals out of all the peoples of the earth for His own possession ("But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession" - 1 Peter 2:9). This chosen race comes from every race, from every tongue, from every tribe. This is not to say (though some will) that God does not in some sense love every individual. He is the creator, and loves all of His creation with the Creator's love. But there is a particular love that a groom has for his bride, and that is the love that Jesus has for His church (Ephesians 5:25). For those who claim that Jesus made no distinction in His sacrifice, a long discussion is not possible here, but I would point to John 17:9, from what is most frequently referred to as the "High Priestly Prayer" of Jesus, interceding for His people just before the crucifixion. Jesus says, "I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours." On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus makes a distinction as He prays between "the world" and "those whom you have given me" praying only for the latter.
So much more could be said about God's love, both in general and with respect to election. For those wanting to pursue the subject further, I would recommend D. A. Carson's "The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God" or John MacArthur's "The God Who Loves" as good resources for further study.