(Part Two of the Playing King of the Mountain with God, Series)
This is the second blog in a series entitled, Playing King of the Mountain with God. We’re exploring why we Christians would risk disobeying God, which is in effect, saying to him, “ I know what’s best for me.” It’s an attempt to be co-king at least.
When I came to faith over 30 years ago, I was told that because of the cross, all my sins, past, present and future were now forgiven. I’m saved, so I’m safe from the judgment. Putting it crassly, I figured, “because of Jesus, God the Father can no longer touch me!”
Oddly, that notion led me in two opposite directions, almost simultaneously. In the same day, I’d feel such gratitude to Jesus, for my salvation that I literally burst into tears with joy. An hour latter I’d do or think some sinful thing, generally with some guilt, but no real fear of God, because his love for me was “unconditional.”
Is God’s Love Unconditional? “God’s love for us is unconditional. It never changes regardless of what we do or don’t do.” I recently heard a pastor I respect a lot make that statement on the radio, and I’ve heard variations of it all my Christian life. But is it true?
I had the same misgivings when I read this quote from the bestselling book, Jesus Calling. (A book I do like it by the way.) Here’s a portion of the reading for December 26. In it, the author assumes the voices of Jesus and says, “I am the Gift that continuously gives – bounteously, with no strings attached. Unconditional love is such a radical concept that even my most devoted followers fail to grasp it fully. Absolutely nothing in heaven or on earth can cause me to stop loving you. You may feel more loved when you are performing according to your expectations. But my love for you is perfect; therefore it is not subject to variation.”
Both of these quotes leave the distinct impression that God doesn’t love us or like us any differently whether we’re good or bad. Is that really true? If it is, it may be an explanation why so many Christians are behaving badly – thankful for God’s love, but without any fear of him at all.
Is that really the God of the Bible? Unconditional Love in Salvation It comes as a surprise to a lot of people that the phrase, unconditional love isn’t actually found anywhere in scripture – at least not in the top six versions I searched. Nevertheless, there is a sense in which it is true prior to our salvation. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
The Bible says that God loves all humans, generally, but he uniquely loves those who by faith cry out to him for salvation and believe in his son’s divinity, death burial and resurrection. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” I John 4:10
Jesus didn’t die for us because he saw our potential for goodness. We were sinners. Calvin called us totally depraved. So it’s not a stretch to think of God’s salvational love for all who have been or will be saved as “unconditional” before salvation.
And this much is also true, once a soul is truly born again, nothing – no sin can cause us to lose this love of God. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 God’s love for the elect is also unconditional.
Can God love us but still not like us at times? So, here’s the question, after salvation does God really have no different feelings toward us whether we are good, or bad, forgiving or unforgiving, profane or holy?
If that’s true, then what happened in the Old Testament? Here you have Israel, God’s beloved people – the people of the promise, worshiping the golden calf and God said to Moses, “Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” Exodus 32:10
God punished Aaron’s wife with leprosy, sent snakes when they complained about manna and he sent “his people” into captivity twice because they worshiped other Gods. Clearly, even though God at one level loved Israel, there were times he didn’t like them at all, when they disobeyed and displeased him. His feeling toward their sin was anything but unconditional – it was tough love to be sure!
New Testament “unconditional love” “Yes, but that was in the Old Testament, when they lived under the law. We now live by grace” is the common argument. Well then, what do we do with these verses?
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14-15
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 7:21
The Holy Spirit killed Ananias and Sapphira for lying. In Corinthians, we’re told God caused some believers to get sick and they died because they took communion in an “unworthy manner.” In 1 Corinthians 5 the church was told to discipline an immoral man. Paul handed some believers over to Satan, in the hope they’d repent.And in Hebrews 12, God says he disciplines those he loves, even though God’s punishment is “unpleasant at the time.” It even says in Ephesians 4:30 that we can “grieve the Holy Spirit” by our sin. This means when we disobey God, it saddens him.
God is pleased with those who act with mercy, justice and love and he’s unhappy with believers who don’t. And, I believe it’s dishonest, unbiblical and dangerous to think of God in any other way!
What About John 3:16 Love? We read in John 3:16 “For God so love the world…” and many other places in scripture we read of Gods love for both his people and the world. And “yes,” God does love the world, in this sense; He is kind and generous even to his enemies. He has given humans an internal moral compass to help us live civilly with one another. He sends rain and sunshine on the crops of both the righteous and unrighteous. Theologians refer to this as “common grace.” God is gracious and loving toward all. And he’s ready to forgive and accept all who repent and live by faith. In that sense, God does love the “whole world.”
The danger of believing in unconditional love I’ve been mentoring men for close to 30 years now and it’s been my experience that many of those who claim to be Christians, but are living in disobedience are grabbing on to the unconditional love idea like drowning sailors to a life ring. Why not enjoy a little pornography, or have a sexual fling, cheat on your taxes, or live vicariously through Fifty Shades of Grey? Why knock yourself out with holy living if Jesus is just as happy with you if you’re not, or if you’re forgiven in the end anyway?
While the unconditional love folks would probably never admit that, trust me, it’s what many in the church who are shamelessly behaving badly, actually believe, and we better be careful to not leave that impression lingering out there. It’s a subtle variation on Rob Bell’s Love Wins and while we want to affirm the love of God, because it’s all over the Bible, it’s only half the story if we don’t also speak of God’s justice, discipline and judgment. Jesus taught both and so should we.
God hasn’t mellowed since the Old Testament. He still hates sin and punishes disobedience in this life and the next, even for believers. “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Rev. 3:15-16 To fear God when we sin, is a good thing.
“Lukewarm living and claiming Christ’s name simultaneously is utterly disgusting to God.” Francis Chan, Crazy Love
Question: What do you think?
How following Jesus works in real life.
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