Is God’s Love Unconditional?
I often hear well meaning preachers make the declaration that God’s love is “unconditional.” Is that an accurate proclamation? Can we accept it as Biblically accurate and thus true? How can we make the determination? As the Bible commands, we are to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good” when it comes to the teachings put forth.
First, let’s get a definition from Webster’s dictionary of the word “unconditional.” Merriam-Webster’s defines Unconditional as “not conditioned or limited.” Is that what we find declared from Scripture of God’s love? What can we discover about God’s love in the Bible?
The first verse that comes to mind for many Christians is John 3:16 that tells us “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.” We see that God’s love is so very great that He did not spare His own Son, that He was willing for Jesus to shed His blood and die in our place and suffer the curse of God while He hung on that tree (see Romans 8:32; Luke 22:20; 2 Corinthians 15:3-4; Galatians 3:13) . It is a tremendous love indeed! However, it is a love that is conditioned as stated in the verse itself! One must put one’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ if one is to receive everlasting life and not perish.
All mankind is under God’s wrath as stated in Romans 1:18 because of their rejection of God’s Word. We who are saved, prior to being saved, like the rest of mankind “were by nature the children of wrath” (Eph 2:3). Those who refuse to turn to God and trust Christ are still the children of wrath and remain under God’s wrath and are condemned already as stated in John 3:18-20. Men by nature hate the truth because they love their sin. Also see John 3:36.
We see also that not only does God conditionally love lost sinners and wants them to repent and be saved from His wrath (see 1 Timothy 2:1-6 and 2 Peter 3:9), but we also see that God hates “all workers of iniquity” (Psa 5:5) and that “the wicked and him that loveth violence His soul hateth” (Psa 11:5). God is love, but God also hates those that continue in their unrepentant, unbelieving attitudes toward Him, His Son and His Word.
God loves the world, but it is not an unconditional love. It is a love that is limited to those who repent toward God and put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, Acts 17:30; 20:21; 16:31; Luke 13:3; Romans 10:9; Mark 1:15. If God’s love were unconditional then He would have removed His wrath from upon the unrepentant, unbelievers and they too would have everlasting life. But it is clear from Scripture that this is not the case.
What about God’s love for the saved? Is it unconditional? First we need to see what Romans 8:35-39 says concerning God’s love for us. Simply it shows that not one being nor any thing can separate us from His love. Positionally, this is absolute truth as that passage declares. His love is vast and unbreakable. But what about in our daily Christian living? Some might think that the saved can live any way he pleases and still enjoy God’s love and joy and peace. Such a person will eventually discover that either 1) he has never been saved in the first place (see Titus 1:16; 2:11-14 and Matthew 7:21-23), or that 2) he or she is soon under much spiritual pain and anguish while suffering the chastisement of His loving Father. See Hebrews 12:3-13. It is clear from the Hebrews passage that the Lord wants all Christians to depart from sin, or else we will suffer God’s chastening as He guides us towards holiness in our daily life so that we can enjoy life with Him, vs 10-11.
And how can the Christian enjoy life with his Heavenly Father? John tells us how in 1 John 1:1-10. This epistle is written to those who have been saved. It is written to encourage them to walk in the light (truth found in Scripture) so that they (and we) can enjoy fellowship with God and His people (vss 3, 7) and so that our joy might be full(vs 3). It is God’s will that we walk with Him in the truth of the Bible, believing and obeying that which He has revealed, promised and commanded. As long as we do this then we are able to enjoy fully that sweet fellowship with Him and His people. We can see in this passage that there is a condition placed upon how we can experience practically God’s love for us and the joy that is found in His love, truth and fellowship. Even for believers there is a condition placed upon God’s love being enjoyed and experienced.
It is my firm conviction from the Scriptures that speaking of God’s love as being “unconditional” is not wise because it is not true according to the Bible. It is also my firm conviction based upon the Bible that God’s love for us is infinite as seen in Romans 8:35-39 and that it is attended with “unsearchable riches” (Eph 3:8), but yet it is able to be comprehended and known, but yet it is so vast that Paul said that it “passeth knowledge” (Eph 3:18-19). An apparent contradiction, but yet we can know God’s love, yet never plumb its depths!
As Barnes comments, the greater we come to know and experience that love, the greater it will render our souls to desire to live a life pleasing to Him. “Verse 19. And to know the love of Christ. The love of Christ towards us; the immensity of redeeming love. It is not merely the love which he showed for the Gentiles in calling them into his kingdom, which is here referred to; it is the love which is shown for the lost world in giving himself to die. This love is often referred to in the New Testament, and is declared to surpass all other which has ever been evinced. Cmt. on Ro 5:7, Cmt. on Ro 5:8; Cmt. on Joh 15:13. To know this; to feel this; to have a lively sense of it, is one of the highest privileges of the Christian. Nothing will so much excite gratitude in our hearts; nothing will prompt us so much to a life of self-denial; nothing will make us so benevolent and so dead to the world. Cmt. on 2Co 5:14.
“Which passeth knowledge. There seems to be a slight contradiction here in expressing a wish to know what cannot be known, or in a desire that they should understand that which cannot be understood. But it is the language of a man whose heart was full to overflowing. He had a deep sense of the love of Christ, and he expressed a wish that they should understand it. Suddenly he has such an apprehension of it, that he says it is indeed infinite. No one can attain to a full view of it. It had no limit. It was unlike anything which had ever been evinced before. It was love which led the Son of God to become incarnate; to leave the heavens; to be a man of sorrows; to be reviled and persecuted; to be put to death in the most shameful manner–ON A CROSS. Who could understand that Where else had there been anything like that? What was there with which to compare it? What was there by which it could be illustrated? And how could it be fully understood? Yet something of it might be seen, known, felt; and the apostle desired that, as far as possible, they should understand that great love which the Lord Jesus had manifested for a dying world.”