It is God who takes the initiative in reconciling us to him, not Christ who take the initiative in persuading his reluctant Father to relent. The cross occurred because God is a God of grace, not to make him a God of grace (Derek Tidball, The Message of the Cross, p223).
Jesus did not convince the Father to love us. Jesus convinced us the Father loves us. God was not reluctant to love us until Jesus persuaded him otherwise. We are reluctant to love God until Jesus persuades us otherwise.
Scripture is quite clear that we are born enemies of God (Rom 5.10) and children of wrath (Eph 2.3). And until we obey the Son we remain under the wrath of God (Jn 3.36). Apart from Christ we are have “no hope and are without God in the world” (Eph 2.12). God stands against us from birth because we stand against him from the same. God hates all who do iniquity (Ps 5.5; 11.5). I do iniquity. Therefore, barring some change in either God or me, God hates me. And God does not change.
Yet, at the same time God stands against us he also makes provision in love to reconcile us to himself (Jn 3.16). The emphasis of John 3.16 is not “whoever believes” but on the extent of (or “the manner of” which is the meaning of “so”) God’s love to provide salvation to the very people (i.e. “world”) he must damn. Or, stated differently, John did not argue the extent man’s free will to believe Jesus. He stressed the extent of God’s free will to love those he otherwise hates. God purposed to hate his Son in order to prove his love for us. “Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in unchanging love” (Micah 7.18).
God pledges himself to love (by virtue of his grace) those he is obliged (by virtue of his holiness) to hate. This is the epitome of love. God did not hate us until he loved us. He loved us despite hating us. God does not start loving us when we believe. We believe because he loves us (1 Jn 4.10)! “What the cross changed was not his attitude but our standing before him” (Tidball: 224).
Jesus asked, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (Lk 6.32-33). For God to love us because we’re just that lovable makes God no more virtuous than any work-a-day sinner. But to love one’s enemies and bless those who deserve to be cursed? That’s love from another kingdom which operates under a different economy.
When Jesus commands us to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk 6.27-28) he’s not helping us toward less stress. Loving and blessing enemies is quite stressful! He’s commanding us to do what God did for us. He loved his enemies (Rom 5.8, 10). He did good those who hated him (Eph 2.4-7). He blessed those who cursed him (1 Cor 6.9-11). He prayed for those who mistreated him (Lk 22.31-32; 23.34; Jn 17.20). He loved sinners like us despite having also to hate us. He initiated (and affected!) reconciliation with the last people on earth who deserved to be reconciled (2 Cor 5.19). Therefore, God’s people love in the way only God can love (2 Cor 5.18).
Friend, who do you hate? From whom do you withhold blessing and prayer? And has God treated you (his enemy) the same way you’re treating your enemy? You may be rightly offended and justly owed but that is true of no one like it’s true of God. Yet, he did not let your hatred of him stop him from loving you to death (literally). “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is heaven” (Mt 6.10).