The Condition of God's Love

Perhaps the title of this post will shock some of you. How can it be? Doesn't God love unconditionally?

The genesis of this post starts with a meeting which I did not have a chance to attend when my leader challenged the people to think about the question whether God's love is unconditional. The answer he gave later on is that it is not (for reasons I will explain later on). This was followed by a series of unrelated exchanges from some of my group members and friends as well as some reflections on grace, part of it was mentioned in a few posts earlier. With some of my group members, there were mentions that I told truths but showed no grace. I was of course being difficult (and sometimes intentionally play hard-to-convince). But what people mean when they said that there is no grace is actually that they are not being shown niceness. This effectively equates grace to niceness, which I do not agree. Similarly, people equate love with niceness, which is not necessarily true as well.

In response to this, perhaps one thing that needs to be established (and perhaps the most obvious thing to do from the beginning) is to define what exactly is God's love. According to Wayne Grudem in his book on Systematic Theology, "God's love means that God eternally gives of Himself to others." This definition understands love as self-giving for the benefit of others. This attribute of God shows that it is part of his nature to give of himself in order to bring about blessing or good for others. R.E.O White, in his article on love in Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, wrote,
"In a sinful and suffering world divine love will show itself supremely in compassion and healing for the distressed and in redemptive concern for the alienated and the self-despairing. Hence the kingdom Christ proclaimed offered good news to the poor, to captives, the blind, the oppressed ... ; while the attitude of Jesus toward those ostracized, despised, or grieving over sin in some far country of the soul assured them of forgiveness and a welcome return to the Father’s house. Such forgiveness was free, its only precondition being readiness to receive it in repentance and faith. Even here, however, the moral clarity of divine love is not obscured. For the obdurate, the unforgiving, the self-righteous, Jesus has only warning of the consequences of sin and the judgment of God ... ; for the wavering or impulsive, stern discipline and unrelenting standards." (Emphasis mine)
To God's love, White further exposited that "the good news of divine love does impose its own obligation: to love God and to love others as God does." Compare this with the definition of unconditional love given in Wikipedia: "Unconditional love is known as affection without any limitations. It can be also love without conditions."

Indeed, a qualifier is made in that at any one point, no one should be made to 'earn' the love of God as if God's love can be earned. God's love is given and demonstrated on the Cross, without needing us to do anything (other than sin). But yet, does this love have a boundary? Does this mean that God's love is universal?

Similar to the case of grace, I highly suspect that when people talk about unconditional love, they are actually either referring to universalism or love that does not demand a response from them. In the former case, what they really mean that God loves everyone and by implication will not let everyone perish. As Christians, we ought to reject such notion of universalism. God may not want everyone to perish but the condition for not perishing is set forth by the favourite verse of John 3:16 - that whoever believes in Him shall not perish... For the latter, our definition of God's love already denied the notion that God's love does not require a response. In fact, God's love for us comes with a precondition of repentance and faith. In response for His love, He demands us to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, as our reasonable act of worship.

Another notion of unconditional love that most people have of God is that God will continue to love them regardless of their sin, that God will love them as who they are. But I will approach this notion from a eschatological perspective. God's love for you is not a free pass to eternal life. As mentioned, God wants to give us His love freely, but imagine a transaction - it is not a one-sided thing. The love is offered on the table and there is a condition that the recipient must reach out to the table to grab it. Yet, this love also has a deadline. The Scripture speaks of the Second Coming and the Final Judgment. It is the time when God's love and promise on the glorification will come to fruition. Beyond that deadline, those who have chose not to respond to the Cross will be thrown to hell where they will be eternally separated from God. So, in actual fact, we still have to respond to His love before we can receive one of the benefits of this love - entering into the Book of Life.

To conclude this short treatise, I will just point out one thing. Without the Cross, God cannot accept us and love us for who we are. Romans 1:18 - 3:20 says it very clearly. No matter who you are, you cannot lift yourself above your sins and be able to come to a right relationship with God. If you are a Gentile, you have volitionally failed to acknowledge God. If you are moral Jew/Gentile, your conscience will only serve to convict you. If you are a Jew by birth, your identity alone will not be able to save you. The problem is that without the Cross, we remain sinners who fall short of the glory of God. So people need to stop deceiving ourselves to say that God's love is unconditional and that God accepts us as who we are. This is only possible because God has to fulfil the condition to propitiate His wrath by sending Jesus onto the Cross.

And that is the reason for Christmas. The gospel is not about God's love, it is about how God has came down to earth as the God Incarnate - Jesus - so that He can go up to the Cross to die and be the one ultimate sacrifice to mitigate God's wrath due to our sin and thus freeing us from the bondage of sin to allow us to live a Spirit-led life. This is a gospel. And only God Himself can think of such an audacious plan. As Paul concludes his Romans epistle, it is only appropriate to end off with this doxology:
25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from[f] faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

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