Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8 NIV)

The reverse would be:

Whoever does love does know God, because God is love.

If every human being is created in the image of God, then every human being is capable of loving, to some degree (because of sin), because God is love. Knowing this, don't we find examples in the world of, say, atheist parents which love their children, or religiously indifferent elderly couples that still seem to love each other?

How do these ideas connect with each other?

  • 4
    You can't always make the implication of that sort of reverse.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 12:38
  • Love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. I John 4:7. Outside of this is only natural instinct and self-preservation; not love.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 23:39
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    Like @curiousdannii, I'm unsure what you mean with "reverse". The logical structure is Px → Qx (Px: x loves; Qx: x knows God). Px → Qx implies ¬Qx → ¬Px, i.e. if one does not know God one cannot love. This is nowadays explained with the "ray of Truth" doctrine from the second Vatican council, "these religions ... often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all people" (see e.g. thinkingfaith.org/articles/20101027_1.htm).
    – user2672
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 9:24
  • 2
    The verse states: "Whoever does not love... You cannot reverse it and make it about "Whoever does love.." especially when the passage addresses that specific issue (4:16). Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 20:22

4 Answers 4


Stating a question in the form "love outside God" is misleading, for love is from God, and cannot be outside Him being His operation in our hearts and not just a psychological condition or a sentimental disposition; and God is not tied and fettered by anything and can operate everywhere through Holy Spirit, "Who blows wherever He wishes" (John 3:8). Thus, when non-Christians love their children, their spouses, their brothers and friends, their homeland, sometimes even willingly sacrificing themselves for the sake of this love, it is utterly stupid, and even worse - a sign of a vulgarity and a bad taste, to even suppose that God has nothing to do with it and those heroes of love are on the same level as their non-loving and egotistic neighbors! Thus, of course St. Augustine is not right when in his anti-Pelagian frenzy falls into another, no-less dangerous extreme and says that "all virtues of pagans are just resplendent and camouflaged vices"; really? So, for example, Hector loving his wife, his native Troy, caring for its helpless citizens and sacrificing himself for them is a camouflager of his vices?! - simply, it is false and calumniously disgraceful to say this!

God can work/operate in a non-Christian through love, and His operation can be blocked by an egotistic and unforgiving Christian, because the grace of holy baptism does not work automatically, but requires human co-action or synergy (1 Cor. 3:9) with the grace.

However, what is a difference that a Christian should make in the action of love? A very great one, as a matter of fact! - for a Christian is called to love in not a lesser sense than Christ Himself loved: "love each other as I loved you" (John 15:12). Accordingly, a Christian must become a Christ, a son of God by adoption and participation in the action of the Only Begotten natural and co-eternal Son of the eternal Father.

Thus, in a Christian the love should be perfected, and it is not enough for him to have divine operation of love only in a portioned way, as do non-Christians, but in a full and divinizing way, so as to enable Christians to love and bless even enemies, as Christ did (Matt 5:44). And such love is impossible without fully committing oneself to Christ, without, thus, becoming a Christian, and if salvation is exactly to have this deifying dimension of love, then neither salvation is possible without such a commitment to Christ. Therefore, a Christian should become Christ, give birth to Christ in his heart, let Him operate in him full-scale through human free reciprocation and co-operation, so that this human may die as simply a human and begin living as a "new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17) and a deified human, in whom already not he, but Christ lives (Gal 2:20).

This is a special dimension of love for Christians, and not, God forbid, thinking indiscreetly and dumbly that non-Christians do not know love and hence do not know God at all.

  • Thank you and everyone else for your answers. So, let me simplify what you have said and please correct me if I haven't understood you properly - God's love operates in everyone, Christian or not. Christians, however, attain a special kind of love, such as Christ's, that enables them to love and bless even their enemies. Therefore, God's love is able to operate through everyone, but the love of Christ is able to operate only through those that allow it - Christians. Is this correct? Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 13:30
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    Thanks, Damian, for commenting upon my post! Yes, Jesus ask and even demands us do such great and divine things, that we, creatures, are ontologically unable to do without, Him, the Creator, aiding us. And He expresses this beautifully in the parable about vine and twigs: "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5). That's why, Christians are "salt of the world" (Matt 5:13), for they should show to all the rest of humanity the perfection of love, which they possess through Christ. Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 14:27

"Loving one another" which may be possible because man was created in the image of God and God is love, fails to consider two important elements of the passage:

  1. "God is love" is repeated. The first addresses the negative condition (not loving). The second addresses the positive condition (loving).
  2. The passage includes a definition of love.

The immediate failure in the logical argument in the question is that it ignores what is written:

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8) [ESV]

The verse specifically addresses the condition of not loving. It cannot be reversed as that distorts the verse into addressing the condition of loving (which is specifically addressed in 4:16).

The second failure is it ignores the definition of love which is also given:

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. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
(1 John 4:10-12)

God's love (a noun) is inseparable from God's love (a verb): "and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." Following the OP's suggestion that loving others is possible (because man was created in the image of God) overlooks two components of "God is love:"

  1. God's love is a concept (noun) in action (verb).
  2. God's love is only satisfied by meeting the greatest need.

The idea that man can emulate love because God is love and man was created in the image of God, focuses narrowly on man's ability to love partially. A man can love his children yet hate his enemy. Yet failure to love your enemy is a failure to love as God loves; the first does not negate the second. One cannot claim they are loving as God loves when they do not love everyone; one cannot claim they are loving as God loves when they give up some of their possessions while choosing to withhold some for self. One cannot claim they are loving as God loves on the basis of love for family when their failure to love as God loves proves otherwise. In fact, such claims denigrate and diminish God's love.

Nor can one claim God's work of creation is an expression of His love while denying He sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins:

And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. (1 John 3:23)

God's love requires believing in the name of His son Jesus Christ who was sent to be the propitiation for our sins; anything less denigrates and diminishes God's love:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

Should we suppose a person can love as God without believing in God's greatest demonstration of His love?

Lastly, "God is love" is repeated:

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8)

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16)

The two statements work together. The first addresses the person who does not love, as the text clearly states. It is the second which speaks to the condition of the person who does love and this statement can be "reversed:"

We know and believe the love God has for us...
...God is love...
...whoever abides in love abides in God and God in him

Whoever abides in love abides in God and God in him...
...God is love...
...we know and believe the love God has for us.

It is not simply love. It is about abiding in love. By believing in the name of His Son and receiving His Spirit, the love of God will be perfected (a process) in a child of God.


The Context:

By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deception.

John writes to his agapētοi (dear ones), and cautions them:

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
-- 1 John 4:1 (KJV)

Having identified the need to test the spirits, John goes on to enlighten them as to how they might do so:

2Hereby you know the Spirit of God.
  • Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
  • 3And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God:
  • and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
-- 1 John 4:2-3 (KJV)

John informs his agapētοi that there are two spirits to be aware of: the Spirit of God, which moves people to acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, and the spirit of Antichrist that is now in the world, which would move people to deny that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.

4Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.
-- 1 John 4:4 (KJV)

Never mind teknia (little children), you have overcome those who are not moved by the Spirit of God, because the Spirit of God that is in you is greater than the spirit of Antichrist that is in the world.

5They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. 6We are of God:
  • he that knoweth God heareth us;
  • he that is not of God heareth not us.
Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
-- 1 John 4:5-6 (KJV)

The conversation of those who are of the world is confined to worldly things, which the world longs to hear. On the other hand, we are of God and our conversation includes passing on the knowledge of the love of God that has been manifest to mankind through Jesus Christ. Those who want to know God will be able to hear such things, but those who don't, won't.

The love that is "of God"

7Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
-- 1 John 4:7-8 (KJV)

In verses 9-13, John details what he means by love that is "of God". It:

  • was demonstrated by God in the sending of His only Son so that those who know Him (the Father) might live through him (the Son) (v. 9)

  • is not of men, but is of the Father who sent His only Son to be an atonement for their sins (v. 10)

  • is expected to be emulated by those who would claim to know God (v. 11)

  • is the only means by which the Father's presence is sensible to those who are "of God", and once it is, can then be perfected in them (v.12,13)

And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
-- 1 John 4:14 (KJV)

John, here, attests to the truth of what he reports, having been witness to the unfolding the events surrounding the manifestation of the love of the Father through the Son, his Saviour, Jesus Christ.


John is not just talking about the general notion of love, but love that is "of God", the ideal towards which one who would claim knowledge of God, must strive -- love that is only possible through the presence of the Spirit of God.

A question that John might ask those to whom the OP refers, "Does your love extend as far as telling those you love, of the love "of God" as it was manifest in the life, death, and resurrection of His only Son, Jesus Christ?"

John started out by identifying for his readers two spirits that would move the hearts of men. One can logically conclude that they are either moved by the Spirit of God, or they are not. Not being moved by the Spirit of God to advertise the love of God that is manifest in the coming of His Son, one could then logically determine whether or not they are being moved by the spirit of Antichrist, by asking, "What am I moved to say to those I love about Jesus Christ? Did he come in the flesh, or did he not?"

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
-- Hebrews 4:12 (KJV)

No one who truly reads the word of God can come away unchallenged.


Simply, Apostle John writing to Christians in the church or professed christians If they do not have love as mentioned above answers, they don't know God. John is not speaking to everyone outside the church. Those who are not Christians may or may not show love, but Christians must.

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