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God’s Conditional Love

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If the title of this article caught your attention, then I want to welcome you. I encourage you to examine and test what I say here with an open Bible, as well as your reason. I truly hope this will be helpful for you. It is Easter, a time in history when Jesus, the sinless Son of God, was put on trial; was crucified; was bodily raised from death and ascended back to where he is now seated, at the Father’s right hand. From his heart of love the Father “gave his only Son” for the purpose of living a life which fulfilled all righteousness, dying a death we all deserve to die, securing eternal life, complete salvation, and lavishing that love, intentionally and specifically on “whoever believes in him” (John 3:16). Simply put, the world consists of two kinds of people, those who place their hope and trust in Christ alone, and those who do not. Or as the bible defines us, we are either still “in Adam” or have come to be “in Christ” (see Romans 5, and Ephesians 1). Where are you seated?

“God’s love is unconditional”, or so say the vast majority of us, whether Christian or not. But is this true? What does this actually mean? If you have said this, what do you mean by it? Most importantly, is our understanding and view of God’s love in agreement with what God himself has shown us in his Word, The Bible? If not, it is simply wrong.

God has chosen to reveal himself, not entirely, but as much as we need to know about him, through his word. We also see the evidence of God, in a beautiful but vaguer sense, from nature. These are the two forms of God’s self-revelation which Scripture talks about. Some describe these forms of revelation as 1) Natural, or General Revelation (nature) and 2) Special Revelation (Scripture). For an example of this, consider Psalm 19:1-11,

(Natural Revelation)

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

(Special Revelation)
The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

This has to do with God’s love, in the sense that as beautiful as all of his creation is, and as much as it points us to a Divine Creator, it cannot explicitly teach us who created it, and what he is like. He has chosen to speak to us about himself and his love in understandable language through his Word. If you want another example, open a bible and read John 3:16 again. Better yet, read the whole chapter. I’m pointing this out because any discussion about God which does not involve his Word is insufficient.

Back to the question. Is God’s love unconditional?

If by “unconditional” you mean God does good and loving things for people without any requirements being met, like sending rain on all people, then that may be an ok use of the term.

If you mean that there are absolutely no conditions to be met for God to be in a loving relationship with us, as his children, then you are mistaken… Unfortunately, many hold to this unbiblical view.

In Genesis 3, we have the historical account of what is known as “the fall.” Often we use abstract language to describe this cosmic event, which has changed the nature of all human beings and the world we live in. For example, we may say that in Adam we “fell away” from God, or we were “lost.” There may be truth to these sayings, but we must also remember that we didn’t slide down a hill out of his presence; in the same way that we don’t trip up and fall into a sinful decision today. We choose to sin. Adam chose to sin, and as a result, choosing sin over God is part of our nature now. In Adam, we were cast out of God’s presence and separated from God, by God himself. Genesis 3:23-24 “therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” It was not just the one act of disobedience, but what in turn happened to the nature of Adam and Eve which caused them to be removed from God’s presence. They were now unworthy, guilty, sinners. They had become unrighteous. Before the fall, mankind was sinless, but now we are naturally born in sin and corrupted. So how can God promise that for those who are now Christians, nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39)? If God separated us, what has changed now, that makes us eternally acceptable to God? A CONDITION HAS BEEN FULFILLED. Righteousness.

God requires perfect righteousness. That is the condition…Our problem is that we are all unrighteous. How can unrighteous people fulfil righteousness? We can’t…What a dilemma! Yet God sent his only Son, Jesus, to accomplish salvation, by 1) living a life of perfect righteousness, then 2) dying a death where he was punished as if he were totally unrighteous, and finally rising victorious over death, all on behalf of “whoever believes in him” (John 3:16). Jesus himself says in Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.” And in verse 20 “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” This was not said because the Pharisee’s were criminals, but to get at the fact that even our best law keeping is tainted with sin, and therefore is not good enough. He goes on to teach that if you break one law you’re just as guilty as if you broke them all. More so, our obedience cannot change our natures. Paul the Apostle was himself a Pharisee, a zealous law keeper, “blameless” according to law-keeping; yet declares that no one can be made righteous by law keeping, or even faith in God + law-keeping, for the law’s purpose is to give us the knowledge of sin and hold us all accountable to God (Phil 3:4-9; Rom 3:19-20). The value of the law is multifaceted, but it was never given to save anyone. In one sense, the Law should teach us to trust in God’s Messiah, Jesus. He is the Righteous one. He is the only one that stands outside of passages which define all of humanity’s fallen nature, such as “None is righteous, no, not one;” and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:10; 23), for Jesus is truly the only righteous person; Jesus has never “fallen short” of God’s glory, but upholds and reveals it clearly, as the Apostle John tells us, in John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” That is why he can say things like “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). God will not lower his standard, or break his own law (as some slanderously say). He is righteous and therefore will act righteously. Sin must be punished. Sin and sinners will be punished. Either your sin has been totally paid for on the cross in Jesus Christ, or you will pay for it eternally. And we cannot rise from that death as Jesus did…What is your faith in? Furthermore, this righteousness which comes only through faith in Jesus Christ is not simply an earthly righteousness, it is “the righteousness of God.” Consider Romans 3:21-26

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Through the old covenants, the law, and the prophets, God revealed his righteousness. Consider the requirements of the sacrificial system, for example. All of those innocent animals, killed as substitutes in place of the people, yet they only achieved God’s “divine forbearance.” Ultimately the righteousness of God is displayed and encapsulated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the lamb of God, the Good Shepherd who “lays down his life for the sheep” and then takes it “up again”, all according to the will of The Father (John 10:11;17). God’s righteousness was manifested in this way so that those who believe the gospel will receive “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ.”

2 Corinthians 5:21 “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Jesus remained sinless, yet on the cross was treated by The Father as if he literally committed all the sins of everyone who would ever believe in him, so that those who believe in him will be accepted on the basis of his righteousness, and treated as if they have existed and lived in sinless perfection for their entire lives. Grace upon grace!! As one confession puts it, “he took our filthy rags, and gave us his righteous robe.” The parable of the prodigal son gives us a picture of this grace in story form, as the Father shows grace to the son who repents and comes home: Luke 15:22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.” Jesus was teaching the self-righteous Pharisees about God’s joy when a sinner repents, saying in verse 10 “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Do you have this joy?

God clothed his only Son in the guilt of many sinners, and punished him for them so that when they repent and believe in Christ, they are clothed with the very “righteousness of God!”

Praise The Lord that Jesus was our substitute, not only in his death and resurrection but also in his perfectly righteous life! He lived, died, rose again, ascended and is coming back for all those who receive him; those who “repent and believe in the gospel” and are “eagerly awaiting him” (Mark 1:15; Heb 9:28).

Come to him. Trust in him. Abide in him.

Happy Easter! 🙂

 

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