If a Christian is anything they are ones who are loved of God.
There is a general John 3:16-kind-of-sense in which God loves the whole world—every person, believer or unbeliever, without exception—but there is also a unique way in which God loves the Christian. When Paul writes to the Christians in Rome and calls them “beloved of God” (Ro. 1:7), he is not saying to them that God loves them just like he loves everyone else on the planet. He is making a distinction between them and other unbelieving Romans.
The fact that he addresses the letter specifically to Romans who are “beloved of God” and “called to be saints” (1:7) explicitly shows that he is not talking to everyone in the city. He is talking about Christians. He is writing to those who have received the good news of the gospel and trusted God’s Son, Jesus.
At the outset of the letter, Paul is identifying the believers in Rome and reminding them of who they are at the level of their identity. He is saying to them that God uniquely loves them. Please do not misunderstand. Certainly God loves all people, no matter what they might think of him, but not all men and women are the beloved of God. To put it another way, God loves everyone enough to invite them to the wedding, but not everyone is his Bride.
None of us emphasizes God’s magnificent love for everyone enough, but I am also convinced that because we tend to speak of the love of God in such a general way we underestimate the exceptional love God has for the believer. By speaking so much of all who are loved of God we minimize the inimitable beloved of God.
From what I gather (and I’m no Greek scholar), the background for this word “beloved” is revealing. It contains the following:
• Especially loved.
• Dearly loved. Or: even dearest love.
• A one-of-its-class kind of love.
• Particularly cherished.
• Something like loved squared. That is, love to the second, third, fourth, etc., power.
This same word Paul uses here for God’s people in Romans is used of Jesus at his baptism in the Matthew’s Gospel:
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt. 3:17)
If we really believed this it would change everything about us. So much of our identity is caught up in so many other things, even good and important things, like construction worker or teacher or pastor or dad or mom. We often tie our identity to these significant things, but it is not the most important thing about us. God’s love is. We can even get used to biblical categories of identity like disciple or saint, but what safety, what endearment, what grace is found in being the beloved of God. To be loved eternally, no matter what, unleashes massive confidence and freedom. This should permeate all our other identities and inform their significance—not the other way around.
There is something about being loved by anyone that is overwhelmingly powerful to the human soul, but to be loved by the Creator of heaven and earth who gave himself for us and to us, though we often ignore, belittle, and reject him, is flabbergasting. If you know Jesus, stop thinking of God’s love for you in some general way, it is personal, elective, husband-like love.
The Nineteenth century evangelist D.L. Moody wrote,
I know of no truth in the whole Bible that ought to come home to us with such power and tenderness as that of the Love of God; and there is no truth in the Bible that Satan would so much like to blot out. (Source)
Satan and your own sin will try to get you to minimize and blot this out of your heart everyday. Fight with all your might against this. Stop generalizing the love of God as some impersonal category. Set as a seal upon your heart the marvelous reality that you come at each and every day—with all that you do, don’t do, and should have done—“wrapped in the love of God the Father” (Jude 1:1, NET).