As I was listening to The Narrow Mind today, pastor Gene played a video that pertains to the issue of God’s love. Since it fit so well with this series that I proposed a couple weeks ago (and have apparently had some trouble following through with), I thought I would post and comment on it. My comments will only cover the first minute of the video.
“Hi. I’m God. I’m the one that’s loved you all along, and my love is unconditional.”
Is God’s love unconditional? Let’s try and figure this out.
In Matthew 5:43-45, Jesus says
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”
This verse shows not only that God loves the unrighteous just as He loves the righteous, but it also explains the specific way that He loves the unrighteous exactly as He loves the righteous. God permits the evil to live on alongside the good, reaping the benefits of light and natural irrigation. This is God’s common grace (and love) to everyone, both the Christian who is made righteous by the atonement of Christ by grace through faith as well as the sinner who will remain in his rebellion against God to Judgment Day. God shows all His creation this common grace which comes from his unconditional love for all. (cf. Matt 13:24-30)
In Romans 5, Paul explains that
while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
As Jesus did, Paul also presents a case of God loving unconditionally. God chose to love certain sinners by sending Christ to atone for their sins by dying on a cross. These sinners had nothing going for them–they were ungodly, rebellious, refusing to seek God; fully depraved, just as Paul explained in Romans 3. And so every Christian who no longer has to suffer the just penalty for rebelling against God has experienced God’s unconditional love expressed to him.
But this is a special form of unconditional love. This is special grace, not common grace. It’s not for the unbeliever, but only for the believer. It’s not conditional on the belief of the believer, for God loved the believer in this way before the believer believed–while he was still a sinner. As Paul explains in Ephesians 2:4-5, it’s for the elect, those whom God chose to regenerate, the ones who while dead in their trespasses God chose to make alive because of His great love for them.
Finally, just to confuse you more (or to open your mind to the idea that God’s love is beyond our comprehension), God also seems to love believers in a conditional way.
Jesus explains in John 15 that He is the true vine, and we are to remain in His love.
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
Jesus’ command to remain in His love implies that we can stray from it. This doesn’t mean that we can lose our salvation, but rather that when we don’t abide (remain) in Him we’re not living for the glory of God as we ought to. We simply fall short of producing the amount of fruit that we should produce, and we fail to keep Jesus’ commandments during a period of weakness. David exemplified this in his period of rebellion against God with Bathsheba. While God still loved David, David had removed himself from God’s love, and so God loved David by discipling him.
Hebrews 12:5-6 quotes from the Old Testament,
My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.
In spite of God’s unconditional, special love for David, at this point in David’s life, God expressed His love to David in a disciplinary way rather than an approving way.
So, we have seen that God loves unconditionally in some ways (via common grace and special grace), and the form God’s love takes is conditional in other ways (via discipline as opposed to approving affirmation).
The video went on to say, “What? You don’t love me back? Then burn in hell forever.”
Pastor Gene (in his response to this video) pointed out that God’s reason for sending people to hell is not because people don’t love God back, but rather because people are sinners. They reject the authority of God in their lives. They reject Jesus as their Lord and Savior and Treasure. They deserve hell. Both God’s love and God’s justice demands that there be atonement for sins, and since a sin against God is infinitely wicked, the right punishment for sin against God is eternal death in an eternal hell. And contrary to what the man in the video said, the Bible very clearly teaches hell. We can go into that at a later time if anyone is interested.
Let’s take this back to the topic of God’s love. In addition to the fact that our human idea of love is distorted by sin (especially the fact that we hide from our sin and pretend we’re good people) and sees a loving God in stark opposition to a hell of eternal punishment, a serious problem we have in talking about God’s “love” is that the English word “love” is a very unspecific word. We can’t just tell people that Jesus loves them and present that as the Gospel, because they’ll misunderstand. They’ll think, “If God loves me and God is infinite, then He must love me in an infinite way. Why then should I worry about how He sees my sins? Surely He’ll waive any punishment of them for me, since He loves me with an infinite love.” True, God does love all people in that He makes His sun shine on the wicked and the righteous and in that He is patient with them, desiring that they should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
But we must notice that God also says, “As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:13). This clearly shows that while God loved both of these men (as we demonstrated earlier), He loved them in very different ways, and He hated Esau in a sense. It’s much better to tell someone the Gospel (that Jesus died and rose from the dead to save all the sinners who repent and believe in Him to be to the praise of His glory) rather than to get all sentimental with someone and tell them, “God loves you. So please, oh, please, won’t you love Him back?” That’s not the Gospel, and serves better than to confuse people than save them, and it undermines the concept of God’s glory — that He’s a holy God, and He deserves a lot better than the crap that we give Him with the idea that, “We’re not that bad!” Rubbish. Our sin becomes that much more sinful in light of a perfect God.
Recommended Reading: The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God