The love of God! Writers of the Bible seem to strain to find the words to describe and measure His love for humans. His love is unfailing (Ex. 15:13). It endures forever (Ps. 136). It reaches to the heavens (Ps. 36:5,6). Over the centuries, preachers and poets have taken their turn trying to describe what is almost incomprehensible. We’re often the better for their efforts.
In recent years however, it’s become common to describe God’s love as being ‘unconditional.’ As I mentioned in the Aug. 25 church service, I’m not keen on the term. Below are some observations as to why I think we can do better.
First, in today’s cultural mindset the term unconditional love carries some baggage. As one man has said, “Unconditional love, as most understand it, begins and ends with sympathy and empathy, with blanket acceptance. It accepts you as you are with no expectations. You in turn can take it or leave it” – David Powlinson, God’s Love, Better Than Unconditional.
Second, the word ‘unconditional’ conveys the meaning that something has no conditions or restrictions, no limits, or, being unqualified.
It seems to me describing God’s love as unconditional doesn’t capture the purity of His holy character. We’re not prone to think love and wrath can flow from the same person but the Bible goes to great lengths to record both God’s perfect love toward humans and His perfect response to their disregard and disobedience against Him. Our disregard and rebellion is called sin; His perfect response to our sin is called ‘wrath.’ Since Adam’s rebellion the backdrop of God’s love for us is His unrelenting righteous wrath now being revealed and being stored up against us (Genesis 1-3; John 3:36; Romans 1-3; Rom. 5:6-10; 2 Thess. 1:7-9). Because God loves us He does not leave us to ourselves, He acts. But what He does demonstrates His altogether pure and holy character. It also demands a response.
In the Bible, the focal point of God’s righteous love is His delivering up His own Son to die in place of sinners. When Jesus Christ died on the cross it was a blood sacrifice that appeased God’s wrath on behalf of all those who avail themselves of it (Heb. 9:22; John 3:14-16). That is the condition. To be protected from His righteous wrath and to be assured of His love we must respond – we must avail ourselves of what He has done. We must wholly depend on who Jesus is and what He has done. Right now God lovingly implores that all men everywhere turn from their sin and to Him in obedient faith so as to escape the final and full wrath to come (Acts 17:30, 31; Romans 1:1-6; 1:16-18).
So rather than ‘unconditional,’ I think ‘totally-sufficient love’ or ‘perfect love’ or ‘altogether pure love’ better capture the holy, pure love of God.
Let me close by encouraging those who have turned to God and are availing themselves of what Jesus Christ has accomplished and then let me remind us of why words matter.
- The love God demonstrates at the cross is so perfect we have no need to look anywhere else for anything else: There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus who is our all and all (II Tim. 1:5; I John 4:9,10; Acts 4:12; I Cor. 1:30-31; 2 Cor. 1:20; Col. 3:11. When you know Christ you know unfailing, multi-faceted love!
- The love of God that delivered up His own beloved Son in place of sinners was so sufficient and complete it will never be repeated; we never need fear it will diminish or wear out. It was a “once-for-all” act (Heb. 7:27; 9:11-28; 10:10; Rom. 3:24-26; 5:9; I John 1:9). His love endures forever!
- For those who respond in faith, God lavishes them with His love. To those who are in Christ Jesus, He swears by His own name that nothing – NOTHING — can separate them from His love. To those in Christ Jesus God promises He will only do them good (I John 3:1; Romans 8; Heb. 6:13-20)!
Two reminders as to why our words matter.
1. When Jesus was here on earth, many of His own people came to violently oppose Him – to the point they had him delivered over to the Romans to be crucified. The Bible never identifies opposition to Jesus as being due to his teaching God’s love as unconditional. Rather, people sought to kill him because He taught He alone was the way to the Father and that the only way to honor the Father was to honor Him (John 5, 14). Any explanation on our part about God’s love should reflect this.
2. The Apostle Paul wrote the book of Galatians because people were teaching a different gospel than what the risen Christ had revealed to Paul. The apostle does not expose the ‘different gospel’ as being errant because its teachings were ‘conditional’ and the true gospel as being ‘unconditional.’ Rather, the only message by which one can be saved was being altered and thus made of no benefit (1:3-10; 5:2). Paul battled for the purity of the Gospel because it is the only gospel God has given by which we must be saved. Paul would have been wasting everyone’s time if faith alone in Christ alone was not the condition for benefiting from God’s saving love.
In Christ alone!