“and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”

// 2 Peter 1:7

Jesus makes a bold statement in John 16:27 when He says, “for the Father Himself loves [phileo] you, because you have loved [phileo] me and have believed that I came from God.” Jesus, here, links friendship to belief: when we believe Him, we demonstrate friendly affection toward Him.

Faith in God makes us into friends of God; we get the pleasure to become His friend. But wait, there is more.

For God, it isn’t enough that we become His friend. He had that with Abraham and loved it [James 2:23]. The whole narrative of the Old Testament, in a nutshell, can be seen in Abraham’s journey into faith: God got him to believe in His goodness and thus won Abraham as a friend. So when Jesus came, He added something. Friendship with God was already on the table for humanity, a friendship that faith creates, likened to what Abraham had. A few heroes of the faith, as detailed in Hebrews 11, took up that offer. But God, in Jesus, offered to humanity something greater, something richer, something more transformative. In Abraham we got friendship, but with Jesus we get Sonship – we get to become children of God.

“How would you like to become a child of God, and grow up to be His fully mature son or daughter, inheriting everything He owns? How would you like to remain a friend to the King, but also join His family, becoming His own offspring?” This is what the Gospel message offers. In Christ, we are embraced by a love so profound, so limitless, that it has the power to transform our inner nature, to re-form us to become His progeny. His love, when poured out into our hearts, deposits His own genetics, and this we call being born again.

We are not adopted into His family, in the Western sense of adoption, but actually born again into it by a profound, otherworldly love. And that love then has the power to adopt us, in the Hebrew sense: when we mature fully into His own nature, He publicly recognizes us as His own adult sons or daughters. In Jesus’ day, when you were adopted, it was a public spectacle where the father would say, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!” Sound familiar?

What manner of love can do this? What manner of love can remake our genetics, recreate our hearts, and grow us up to look just like our Father and to become as mature in love as Jesus?

Agape is the term used by the writers of the New Testament for this manner of love, and it means ‘love, benevolence, good will, esteem.’ The plural for it means ‘love-feasts’. The connotation in the Greek is that of loving preference or intentional good will. We could say that it is the esteeming, good-willed treatment of another that you’ve chosen to love fully and with an explicit, preferential bias.

This love of God envelopes us in His goodness – He intentionally seeks to demonstrate His goodwill to us in all ways, and He shows that He is completely unapologetic about loving us in this way. This agape love is the invitation to sit with Him at a love-feast of the Trinity with His people–at His dinner party–where He makes a place for each of us at His table.

That we have a place with Him at His table removes our shame, and that we have a preferred place with Him at His table demonstrates the honor and esteem He lavishes upon us. His friendship [phileo] toward us invites us to this table, engendering in us the faith to believe His invitation is real. And upon sitting to eat with Him, His love [agape] recreates us in His image and likeness – we are born again as His children and then He matures us, adopting us as mature sons and daughters.

“See what kind of love [agape] the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God; and so we are...” [1 John 3:1].

// Samuel Nicolosi