Updated: Feb 11, 2019
There’s a new wolf among the flock and it has new clothes; its name is “Unconditional Love.”
From the pulpits and pews across America to millions of memes on millions of Facebook pages, this wolf is parading itself as a Biblical truth. It prowls amidst the unlearned and feeds on those who quickly embrace “sweet little lies.”
In granting the benefit of doubt to those who make such proclamations, if they mean, God loved us first and did so without our having done anything to merit or deserve His love, then I agree, as do the Scriptures:
We love Him because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. Romans 5:6-9
However, if those who use the term, “Unconditional Love,” mean there are no conditions to the reception of God’s love, they err.
Where, within the pages of the Bible, is the book, chapter, and verse that make such a declaration? It is not there. Like the famed “Sinner’s Prayer,” it does not exist. To say that God loves everyone UNCONDITIONALLY implies that there are no conditions to the reception and rewards of God’s love. Such intimations convey sentiments that are as foreign to Scripture as day is to night and easily lead many to conclude they need do nothing to be beneficiaries of God’s love.
Actually, I believe this whole argument can be laid to rest by understanding one thing, reception versus rejection. God’s love and the reception of His love are two different things. Like the cross and the Holy One who hung on it… He and it can be received or rejected.
God’s love for you is unconditional in that He loves you regardless of your past or current disposition towards Him. That amazing boundless love He offers to all as a free gift. We can never merit it, earn it, or compensate God for it. Since God’s infinite love originates within Himself by virtue of Who He is, He has the right to declare the conditions by which that love is received and therefore becomes efficacious.
If we receive God, we receive His love… If we reject God, we reject His love. John makes this clear in the introduction to his Gospel:
He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:11-13 [Emphasis mine].
John’s points out clearly that Christ came to the Jews, but many of the Jews rejected Him, especially the religious leaders of the Jewish community. Did God love them? Yes, with the same immeasurable love He has for the whole world… but they, because they rejected Him, will be rejected by Him: In Matthew 23, Jesus denounced the Hypocrisy of the religious leaders at Jerusalem and pronounced eight “Woes” upon them. He also asked a rhetorical question implying their eternal demise;
“Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” Matthew 23:33
My point in one's acceptance or rejection of God and His love is solidified even more so by Jesus’ conclusion of that holy tirade;
Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. Matthew 23:34-38 [Emphasis mine].
The Bible says,
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
Many advocates of “unconditional love” start with this verse, but this most famous verse actually kills the new wolf in its new sheep’s clothing. The verse defines the SCOPE of God’s love – “the world” but it also sets a CONDITION for receiving that love… faith – “whosoever believes.”
There is not a single Christ believing group, from the most devout Catholic to the most consecrated Protestant that teach the reception of God’s love demands NOTHING from the recipients of God’s love. All, with the exception of Universalists, teach FAITH. Faith becomes the condition upon which God’s love is received. Even those who practice infant baptism, stress the condition of faith necessary within the hearts of the parents in order for the baptism of the infant to be legitimate, (with only one exception*).
A popular statement to make God’s anger toward sin and the sinner more palatable is, “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.” Such statements attempt to soften and make acceptable the picture the Bible paints of a God who is wrathful toward sinners who persist in their sin.
God not only hates sin, he hates the sinner.
Psalms 5:5, The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. [Emphasis mine].
Psalms 11:5, The LORD tests the righteous, but His soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. [Emphasis mine].
Lev. 20:23, "Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I shall drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them." [Emphasis mine].
Prov. 6:16-19, "There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers." [Emphasis mine].
Hosea 9:15, "All their evil is at Gilgal; indeed, I came to hate them there! Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of My house! I will love them no more; All their princes are rebels." [Emphasis mine].
Like R.C. Sproul, I will also remind you, it is not the sin that God banishes to hell, but the sinner.
I will always be the first to proclaim the marvelous, radical, and self-sacrificing love of God… the Scriptures shout that amazing truth from the corridors of heaven to the blood soaked cross of Calvary. There are hundreds of verses that promulgate the love of God, but not one of them says God’s love is received by man unconditionally.
A close friend and fellow graduate of Harding School of Biblical Studies, Jeff Gardner said “God extends his love to everyone regardless of justness or unjustness. God is love, but he’s not lovey-dovey.” He then reminded me of Romans 11:22 which speaks of “the goodness and severity of God.”
What makes this wolf so hard to catch is the slippery slope on which he lives. That slope is the SCOPE of God’s love versus the CONDITIONS of receiving God’s love. One has to do with WHO God loves while the other has to do with HOW God’s love and the salvation that accompanies it is received.
God is the purveyor of His wonderful love, grace, and mercy. Since He is the one who proclaims, demonstrates, exercises, and makes available His love, grace, and mercy, He has the right to place conditions on the reception of these incredible gifts… and He has done so.
When we believe, repent, confess Christ, and are baptized, (conditions of salvation dictated by God**), we receive the blessing of salvation. We do not earn or merit such love or the salvation that accompanies it. We simply respond to the conditions that God has placed on receiving His love. When we live our lives faithful to God, He grants us a “Crown of Life.” Revelation 2:10. We do not earn, merit, or even deserve such a crown, but enjoy the eternal reward of such because we have responded positively to the condition God dictated, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
God’s love is phenomenal… it reaches beyond our understanding. Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus and said this:
[That you] may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height — to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:18,19 [Brackets and emphasis mine].
But to say that God’s love is UNCONDITIONAL dangerously implies to all that God has no conditions attached to the reception of His love and regardless of your obedience or disobedience, faith or lack thereof, you are and will be the beneficiaries of His love. Therein lies the wolf.