I shared this on Sunday in my sermon on Romans 5:3 – 11 from The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters by Sinclair Ferguson:
This comes to expression when the gospel is preached in these terms: God loves you because Christ died for you!
How do those words distort the gospel? They imply that the death of Christ is the reason for the love of God for me.
By contrast the Scriptures affirm that the love of God for us is the reason for the death of Christ. That is the emphasis of John 3:16. God (i.e. the Father, since here “God” is the antecedent of “his…Son”) so loved the world that he gave his Son for us. The Son does not need to do anything to persuade the Father to love us; he already does!
The subtle danger here should be obvious: if we speak of the cross of Christ as the cause of the love of the Father, we imply that behind the cross and apart from it he may not actually love us at all. He needs to be “paid” a ransom price in order to love us. But if it has required the death of Christ to persuade him to love us (“Father, if I die, will you begin to love them?”), how can we ever be sure the Father himself loves us – “deep down” with an everlasting love? True, the Father does not love us because we are sinners; but he does love us even though we are sinners. He loved us before Christ died for us. It is because he loves us that Christ died for us!