by Terry Benton
in Answering Religious Error, April 15, 2015
That God’s love is “unconditional” means one thing to one person and a different thing to someone else. The Bible does not use the expression “unconditional love” but does imply it. God “so loved” the world (John 3:16). That would mean that love is what moved Him to give His Son for the sinful world. Paul said that he loved us “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8). Thus, it was not a situation where God would love us if .... God loved us when we were at our worst. Thus, in that regard, it was unconditional love. But, what does that mean? Some seem to think that because God loves us all unconditionally, that therefore He accepts us unconditionally. Is this what the Bible really teaches?
False Concepts of God’s Love
One clearly false concept is that God only loves us if we perfectly obey Him. But, that is not the case because the Bible says He loved us at our worst, “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8). The prodigal son’s father loved him unconditionally but certainly was not pleased with his son’s choices. To love is not to accept any and all behavior. A parent can “so love” a child but not be pleased with the lifestyle of that child. Still, love is what causes the parent to keep hoping for a turnaround and return of the lost child. Love longs for a turning point in the thinking of the child, and love is unconditional. But, love does not accept the child in rebellious behavior. The prodigal son’s father never stopped loving his son, but there was broken fellowship and relationship. The father was not glad about the son’s choices and behavior and did not pretend that relationship remained the same as ever. Perfect obedience was not the reason he loved his son. He loved his son while he was yet a sinner in hope of his son’s coming to himself and returning in humility. Love is that way. God is not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness (Psalms 5:4-6). A person determined to keep practicing sin is certainly not acceptable to the Lord (Proverbs 15:8-9). Love means God longs for a sinner who is ruining his life and his potential, longing for the sinner to wake up and turn back to God. God’s love causes Him to also hate what the sinner represents and how that sinner influences others to ruin their lives as well (Romans 1:20ff).
A similar false concept is that “God only loves us because we deserve His love.” God’s love is totally unconditional. The character of God is love. Relationship with God is in fact conditional. Love does not equate to relationship and acceptance. As an illustration, we might say that George loves everyone. Does everyone love George? And does George automatically let everyone in his house? Can we not love our enemies without trusting them with our house and our children? Love does not equate with relationship and acceptance.
Things God’s Love Will Not Do
Love will not automatically accept you “as you are” if that means “as you have been”. Love does not mean I accept my child as a murderer or adulterer or thief. Love means I have “good will” for someone and will help them get right with God. If one is “continuing in sin”, love means that I am sad for them and long for their salvation from sin and ruin.
Love does not automatically forgive you. Forgiveness is conditioned on being “in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3,7; Galatians 3:26-27). Love longs for our forgiveness and will provide a just way that it can happen if we want it. There are conditions for coming into Christ where forgiveness is enjoyed. God’s love longs to forgive, but will not automatically accept you “as you are” if that means you are going to decide to continue as you are.
Love will not force your love and service to Him. It will not force you to act against your will but yearns to get you to change your will in His favor. Therefore, love will not, by itself, prevent you from going to torment or hell. God loved even the rich man, but the rich man still went to torment (Luke 16:19f). It was not that God did not love him. It was that the rich man did not love God and therefore did not love his fellow man.
Things God’s Love Will Do
God’s love will provide a conditional way for you to be saved. (John 3:16; Mark 16:15-16). These conditions do not merit salvation on your end. They are things that you must do (Acts 2:37-41), and yet they are not works of merit whereby God owes us anything (Ephesians 2:8-9). Belief and baptism in Jesus’ name are not meritorious works, nor are they works of perfect law-keeping. They are both actions of the mind, will, and appeal to God for His mercy. God loves us and will forgive us if we believe, repent, and are baptized in Jesus’ name for the remission of sins. God’s love provides the remission of sins and the conditions.
These conditions are within your power to do. There is no excuse for not meeting these conditions.
God’s love will try to attract your better possibilities and potential and will provide the greatest incentives for you to repent (Rom. 2:4-8). Heaven and Hell are incentives, but God’s amazing love and fellowship is primary incentive.
God’s love is so great that He will do what is painful to Himself in order to be merciful and just in an effort to win your love and fellowship. God IS Love. (I John 3).
How Do We Define His Love?
We cannot define it as automatic acceptance. It does not mean that none will be lost. What does it mean? It means that there is “good will”, mercy, and compassion already resident within His character. It is there driving Jesus to the cross for your possible salvation. It is your greatest opportunity in life to have reconciliation with God now so that He can bring you home to glory.
Don’t blow your opportunity to experience and enjoy His greatness of Being. There are conditions for being made acceptable (Romans 5:1f). We see how 3,000 Jews came from lost and condemned to being acceptable, having remission of sins (Acts 2:36-41) all because of the love of God. You have the same opportunity because of His love. What will your response be?