Do you believe both of these statements?
1. God loved us before we loved him, and not because we loved him.
2. God loves us in response to our love for him—because we love him.
They are both true.
Before I give you the texts to show it, the key in all such questions is to insist that you define terms and make necessary distinctions. The same words can mean different things in different places.
In support of the first statement, we cite:
1 John 4:10: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Ephesians 1:4-5: “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.”
In support of the second statement:
John 14:21: “And he who loves me will be loved by my Father.”
John 14:23: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him.”
John 16:27: “The Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”
The reason this is not a contradiction is that love is different in the two cases. Theologians (like Jonathan Edwards and John Murray) have used the terms “love of benevolence” and “love of complacency.”
Statement one speaks of God’s love of benevolence. It is free, unconditional, and purely benevolent—flowing unelicited from God’s sovereign good will.
Statement two speaks of God’s love of complacency. It is God’s positive response to virtue. To be sure, the virtue is a quality he himself has awakened in us by his own prior grace. But it is a real virtue. And there is real enjoyment in God because of what he sees.
Let’s be sure we read the word of God with discernment, and make the distinctions implied whenever things look contradictory.