Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Conditional vs. Unconditional Love for God

I've been thinking a lot about love lately. Our modern emotional view of love doesn't seem to have much in common, if anything, with the kind of love described in the Bible. Emotional love is mentioned very infrequently. Have you ever noticed the word "love" doesn't even appear in the ENTIRE book of Acts? Acts is the book about the founding of the church. If love is such an essential component of Christianity, why did the Holy Spirit neglect to utter this word "love" even one time in the book of Acts?

I'm starting see that our modern emotional view of love is entirely selfish which is directly opposed to Biblical love. The Biblical notion of divine love I see in Paul's writings is a righteous love. It seems to have more to do with justice than feelings.

"God manifests his own love (agape) for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us... Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath [of God]... [W]hile we were enemies [of God], we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son."
--Romans 5:9-10

I'm starting to wonder if our modern evangelical gospel is warped too, largely related to the Emotional Jesus who we believe loves us unconditionally. Where in the Bible does it say, "Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?" Where in the Bible does it say, "Ask Jesus into your heart," which is generally the phrasing used in emotionally manipulative and tearful altar calls I heard for most of my life in the church I grew up attending.

One of my best friends re-ignited this line of thinking in me, but these thoughts have been bouncing around in my head for years. I have really struggled to reconcile the emotional love preached from the pulpit and seen in our culture with the love I see in the Bible. My friend is (thankfully) pointing me back to Scripture, and I'm not finding a lot of feel-good love in Scripture. The love I see is a sacrificial love that cost Jesus everything. It is anti-selfish love, not the all-about-me love prevalent in our culture and even our churches.

Jesus seems to have a different view of love than the unconditional affirmation view held by many in the modern evangelical church. Four times in John 14, Jesus says some variant of, "If you love me, you will obey what I command." The last instance is an inversion of this: "He who does not love me will not obey my teaching." The very words of Jesus Himself tell us that our love for God is demonstrated by our obedience. God's love for us was demonstrated by Jesus being obedient to the Father even unto death. Seems to me that love is tied up inextricably with obedience, is it not?

If our love is directly tied to our obedience, then is OUR love for God conditional? Yes, it is! It is conditional on our obedience. So, can we really justify our expectation of unconditional love from God when we love God conditionally? Where is the justice in that? Why should we expect to receive what we do not give? Thank God for grace and the obedience of Jesus in going to the Cross even if He didn't feel like doing it.


  1. Hey I found your blog on google, searching for "how to discover truth." That's a very interesting idea on God and love, and the thing I think you and I (forget everyone else, since we CAN'T speak for them, which is the key here), we need to understand that the only way to unconditionally love something is if it's a part of yourself that you discover, share, and follow. How can you conditionally accept or decline a part of yourself? To me, God is a simple word that manifests endless, boundless possibilities; an older word for Imagination. An imagination that establishes a direction and a purpose to follow, that applies to us in our own unique way. This universal passion that we may share, to me, is the realization of an actual, genuine love.

  2. The proper response to the unconditional love of God is to reciprocate with love. That is what is meant by having an intimate personal relationship with God. I love God because He loves me unconditionally, not because I have to follow rules and regulations in order to earn His love. That at it's core is legalism, us having to DO something in order to EARN God's love. To truly love is to WANT to do what is expected of you, not out of fear of punishment, but out of gratitude for a love that is unconditional. God loves you whether you love him or not, but you can't have an intimate personal relationship with someone without reciprocating their love. If you don't believe me, ask your girlfriend or wife!

  3. John, in the Bible Jesus clearly said, "If you love me obey my commandments." Obedience is love, not legalism. If you only love God because he loves you, that is selfish. You owe God obedience because of who He is, not what He has done for you. I never said you have to do something to EARN God's love. Grace is opposed to earning, but not opposed to effort. God EXPECTS you to DO something to show your love. He said so. Just read the Book. Obey him! If you don't, you are unloving.

    1. Grace is not opposed to the law or Torah. Even Paul says this. Paul kept Torah and took the nazarite vow to prove it Acts 21:24. Loving God is obeying Him. This is not legalism. we do not keep the law for salvation. Blessings are in keeping the law and he who does not is cursed. One does not want to be in a state of grace. Falling into grace means you have sinned. Grace is given to those trying to be obedient, not to those who disobedient willfully. God expects us to follow His laws. The one law that is forgotten is the one He said to remember (Sabbath). They are not burdensome. And after He gave the law in Deut. 4:2 He tells us not to add or subtract from it. If the law is abolished, why is there an unclean animal in Rev. 18? Dispensationalism is a man made religion. It needs to stop.

  4. You are so on point with this article. I was challenged with this question not to long ago, and because I typically like to have the answer immediately I was halted, and was pointed to the scripture that everyone knows John 3:16 For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.- This scripture is so key to the question/statement of unconditional love. He didn't say that He loved us that he gave his only son to die for all to receive heaven. He said SO THAT ALL WHO BELIEVE IN HIM.. All that believe in him is the condition. When you dig into this scripture you see that he sacrificially gave up someone so perfect for us to believe in him. What are we ready to sacrifice in return.

    Excellent post my friend!

    God bless all of you..

  5. Rob,

    John 3:16 is interesting because it says God loved "the world" not just the people of the world. What it is really saying is God loved his creation. People tend to overly personalize that particular verse and take it out of context. Most people never read the rest of the chapter which is only 5 more verses.

    Here's the rest of the chapter (emphasis is mine):

    God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.