If you are in Christ, you are beloved of God—a defining, life-changing, and all-encompassing reality that surpasses finite comprehension and calculation.
The apostle Paul addresses the Christians in Rome as “beloved of God,” referring to them as people distinguished supremely by the fact that in Christ they are freely and eternally loved by God. They needed to know themselves, first and foremost, as loved by God. So do we.
But what exactly does this unique address mean? Is God’s providential love for His creation in view (Matthew 5:44-45)? Is this speaking of God’s compassionate love towards all sinners (John 3:16)? No. Whenever “beloved of God” is used of sinners in Scripture it invariably speaks of a covenantal love like that of a husband to a wife (Hosea 2:19). This love of God through Christ uniquely (1) calls and (2) creates.
God’s love initiates our salvation by calling us to God. Notice that Paul puts this first in his address: “loved by God” (Romans 1:7). This is the causa prima—the first cause, the genius, the initiator, the genesis of all good that they are as Christians. Because they are beloved of God they are called, chosen, saints who belong to Jesus (Romans 1:6).
These are not people who are righteous and therefore God loves them. These are not people who believe God and therefore He loves them. They are not loved by God because they first loved Him. God’s love initiates (1 John 4:10, 19). God’s love calls (Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13).
Martin Luther said it this way, “His love is the beginning of all good things in us. … Love comes before the call.” God’s love is what is behind God’s call. God’s love calls, being entirely a work of grace. And, as Thomas Manton reminds us, “The whole design [of grace] is to show us how we are beloved of God.”
God’s love creates what it commands—it is efficacious. Sinners are beloved of God not because they are or have done something lovely (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). Rather, they are made lovely because they are beloved of God.
This is why Martin Luther said, “The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. … Rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good. Therefore sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive.”
Because this love of God creates, it is not merely an invitation (Hosea 11:4). God gives us a graphic portrayal of this love in Ezekiel. He describes His chosen ones as an unwanted newborn of a prostitute. The umbilical cord still attached and the infant a filthy mess. Left for dead, exposed in an open field and ready to be devoured by dogs. This was the condition of the people He chose to love and rescue. They are people who because of sin had no chance of survival (Ezekiel 16:4-6). Even worse, they were dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3). If God’s love were only an invitation, none would come to Him. But praise be to God for His great love with which He loved us—a love that made us alive (Ephesians 2:4–5).
The sum of salvation in Christ is this: God’s prevailing love—a love that calls and creates. The gospel is a revelation of divine love, the greatest of all comforts and delights. If you know yourself as beloved of God, you can endure and even thrive in the most contrary of conditions (Romans 8:35-39). Indeed, nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”