Timothy S. Morton
The term "unconditional love" has become one of the catchwords of recent years. It is used by nearly every segment of society to describe the kind of love they desire from others and "aspire" to give in return. The Christian world is caught up in this frenzy as well, including Fundamentalists. What is unconditional love? Is there such a concept in the Scriptures? Can man give such a love? Does God bestow such a love upon anyone? We will examine these questions in the following.
The use of "unconditional" as a description of "love," according to one source, cannot be found in use before the "hippy" movement of the 1960s. As often as the words are used together today one would think the concept is of ancient origin, but that is not the case. It is a product of the 60s along with LSD, "free love," and the "new age." "Unconditional" simply means "without condition or reservation." That is one is to "give love" without any physical, emotional, and especially moral judgments. "Love me for who I am" is a common request. Another way of saying this is, "It doesn't matter what I do, say, or believe, as a human being, I deserve unconditional love."
This unconditional love philosophy is really just and extension of the modern concept of self love. The basis of the self love craze is the mistaken notion that a person has intrinsic worth. That is, just because a person exists he is owed unconditional love by both God and man regardless of his actions, and he above all things must unconditionally love himself. This has to be one of the most diabolical schemes ever hatched out of the mind of Satan. Self-love, self-worth, and self-esteem are just forms of self-gratification. They make the person "feel good."
This self love philosophy is openly promoted in the secular world. Here is an example of the "teaching" found at www.coping.org,
To accept and love yourself unconditionally is to:
Place no condition on yourself as to how to behave or what to be in order to receive self acceptance and self love.
Not use "if - then" clauses in establishing conditions for accepting and loving yourself.
Take a risk to be open and vulnerable to who you are with no preset limits or expectations.
Accept and love yourself for the fact that you exist rather than for what you do.
Give yourself the respect and latitude to be yourself rather than to be what others want or expect you to be.
Set the stage for yourself to feel warmth, caring, and concern for yourself which results in your growing in self-esteem and self worth.
When you are the recipient of unconditional self acceptance and self love from yourself, you feel:
Free to be yourself.
You have value and worth.
Wanted and desired for you as you are rather than for what you do.
Listened to and understood.
That you have yourself to offer others which in itself is worthwhile.
Warm, cared for, and nurtured.
You are OK just the way you are.
That there is no need to wear a mask or to act in any way just to please another.
Free to be yourself and to open up your feelings with no fear of rejection or non-approval.
That it is possible to take the risk to be vulnerable in order to have open and honest relationships with others.
No fear of retribution or reprisal from others if you should make a mistake or experience a failure.
That there are no conditions set on your relationships with yourself.
Blah, blah, blah. Needless to say, anyone who continues to adhere to these beliefs cannot be saved. You must see yourself a sinner [Rom. 5:8], lost in sin [Luk 19:10], and without hope apart from Christ to be saved [Eph 2:12]. You must see you have a desperate need. These deceived self-reliant kooks who are in love with themselves have no hope. How is their self-love and "coping skills" going to help them at the Great White Throne judgment?
It should be no surprise that the world would be caught up in this unconditional love/self love frenzy, but that professing Christians would promote it is another matter. However, when believers abandon the Bible as the sole source of infallible truth and fall to the pop psychology of secular humanism this is not so surprising. James Dobson, of Focus on the Family has reportedly said, "I'm convinced the human spirit craves this kind of unconditional love and experiences something akin to 'soul hunger' when it cannot be achieved." Then he goes on to say "God's acceptance is unconditional."
A common contention among Fundamentalists that is promoted all over the airways and in print is the classic saying, "God loves the sinner, but not his sin." This is a confusing statement under examination. Can a sinner in some metaphysical way be separated from his sin? If he can then why is He still a sinner? Does the Lord see a person and his sin as separate entities? If so why did Christ have to die to redeem the sinner? Why couldn't He just separate him from his sin? This pet phrase may have a place in trying to lead someone to Christ, but it is poor doctrine.
Your author is not aware of any place in the Bible where the Lord considers a sinner's sins as somehow separate from the sinner. They are part of his very being and nature [Eph. 2:3]. Not only was he born in sin from his father Adam [Rom 5:19], he has sinned himself. Sin is so intertwined with him that if he wishes to be saved he needs to not only repent for what he has done [sin], but repent for what he is [a sinner, Luke 5:32, 15:10, 18:13]. Sin is so much a part of the sinner that the Lord considers him "of the Devil" [1Jo 3:8].
The whole concept of unconditional love is highly questionable. Can one love another without regard for their feelings, actions, or behavior? Some say a parent can love a child unconditionally [Isa 49:15]. Maybe, but what about when they cry all night and you need the sleep? What about when they become older rebels and get mixed up in sin? Does the parent love them the same as they did at an earlier time? If their love ever wavers in scope or intensity the slightest then it is not unconditional. It is based, if only partially, upon behavior.
What about spouses? Aren't they supposed to love each other unconditionally? One verse that every Christian wife knows is Eph. 5:25, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it." But the verse they neglect to quote along with it is Eph 5:22, "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord."Nevertheless, both verses show that there is supposed to be a mutual love between spouses. Loving one's wife as Christ loved the church is a tall order, but is this unconditional love? What if the spouse intentionally tries to steal love and devotion that belongs to the Lord? Is the believer supposed to sacrifice his duty to the Lord for his spouse?
If unconditional love is possible for men by all reason it could only apply to one supreme object of love and nothing else. It is contradictory for two parties to expect unconditional love from a single person because one party will always be favored. Thus even though one is to have great love for their spouse, giving as Christ gave for the church, it is to be secondary to their love for the Lord.
My contention is it is impossible for a finite man to do much of anything unconditional. He may deceive himself into thinks he loves unconditionally, but under examination there are always conditions. There are many powers that can pull him away, even in the slightest.
The first record in the Bible of God loving anything is in Deut. 4:37,
And because he loved thy fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them, and brought thee out in his sight with his mighty power out of Egypt;
Notice how the Lord's treatment of Israel is based on His love for their fathers [Abraham, Isaac, Jacob]. A little later the Lord expresses His love for Israel as a nation,
The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers...which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations; [Deut. 7:7-9]
Here we see that the Lord's love is without merit [Job 7:17]. One cannot make God love them because they have any inherent value or worth. Israel was a small disorganized and complaining people, yet God loved them for their ancestor's sake.
The first mention of God's love for an individual is in 2Sa 12:24 [see also Neh. 13:26],
And David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in unto her, and lay with her: and she bare a son, and he called his name Solomon: and the LORD loved him.
It is interesting to note that Solomon is the only individual mentioned by name in the Old Testament that God expresses His love for. It is further interesting that Solomon's life ended in apostasy [1Ki 11:9].
In the New Testament expressions of God's love for man in general and believers in particular is much more common. As Elwell's Evangelical Dictionary aptly states,
The demonstration of God's love for man is seen in each of the persons of the Trinity. Those who keep Christ's commandments evidence their love for him and they are loved by the Father (Joh 14:21, 23; 16:27). As the Father loves Christ, so also he loves the believer (Joh 17:23). The love of the Father for the believer is assured (Eph 6:23; 2Th 2:16; 1Jo 3:1). When God is mentioned, it almost invariably refers to the Father. This is emphasized when some gift or blessing given to the believer is also mentioned, because the gift is usually his Son (e.g., Joh 3:16; Rom 5:8; 1Jo 4:9-10, 16) or the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5). There are many references to Christ's love for man. While on earth Christ loved Lazarus, Mary, and Martha (Joh 11:3, 5, 36). There is his love for John the apostle (Joh 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20) and for the disciples as a group (Joh 13:34; 14:21; 15:9, 12). Christ's death is the evidence of his love for the believer (2Co 5:14; Gal 2:20; Eph 5:2; 1Ti 1:14-15; 1Jo 3:16). In his ascension there is an assurance of his love for believers individually (Rom 8:35, 37; Eph 6:23) as well as the church as a body (Eph 5:25). Finally, the Holy Spirit's love for the believer is mentioned in Rom 15:30.
Probably the classic verse on God's love is 1John 4:8 where it says,
"He that loveth not knoweth not
God; for God is love," but this
passage is often abused. God is love in that He is the epitome and
definition of love and His benevolence to man is a manifestation
of His love, but His great love must work in unison with His
other attributes, such as justice and judgment of sin. The Bible
is clear, however, that every good thing that happens to man [and
even many of what we consider bad things] comes about from God's
love and mercy. It seems to be the primary attribute that compels
Him to save believers. As another said,
"To say, 'God is love' implies that all His activity is loving activity. If He creates, He creates in love; if He rules, He rules in love; if He judges, He judges in love"
Some try to wrest the verse and claim "love is God." This is tantamount to blasphemy. One cannot find God by simply loving something.
Before we move on we must clear the air concerning the inherent or intrinsic value of a human soul. What is a man's soul actually worth to God, himself, or to others. Is it of infinite value as many of the self-love/self-esteem crowd claims today, or is it of a lessor value. Many Fundamentalists like to quote Mark 8:36,
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
Most construe this verse in such a way as to teach that a man's soul is more valuable that the whole world, but this is a great overstatement. What is the world, anyway? It is an earth full of people. John 3:16 makes that clear. Is one person more valuable than a world full of people just like him? Of course not. At the risk of damaging the self-esteem of some preachers, let me iterate that the verse does not say a soul is more valuable than the world. It says, "what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
What would it profit a man if he gained a new car and lost his soul? Nothing. What would it profit him if he gained a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and lost his soul? Nothing. What would it profit him if he gained all creation and lost his soul? Again, nothing. The Lord is not saying a soul is more valuable than the world. He is saying there is no profit in gaining anything, no matter how large, at the expense of his soul! The fact is most sell their soul out for a lot less than the world.
Some of you are thinking [I can hear your brains rattling from here], "Then what am I actually worth. It must be a huge amount since God paid such a price to save me." Listen to yourself. Your bloated ego has scrambled your mind. Do you actually believe when God redeemed you that you were so valuable that the only thing in the universe that He could find to pay for you was the precious blood of Christ? Don't flatter yourself. I'll tell you if no one else will, you aren't worth that much. In fact, 10 billion like you isn't worth that much. What are you, in yourself, [and me, of course] other than a filthy low-down sinner with a body made up of a few basic elements inhabited by a depraved soul [the real you]? How hard would it be for God to make 100 billion more just like you out of stones, dirt, or less [Mat 3:9]? Why He could do it before breakfast without drawing a second breath [pardon my levity].
No doubt many people deem themselves as very valuable and precious. They spend all they have and more just to try and patch up their fragile, sin-cursed body so they can spend another day upon this cursed and evil earth, but take little thought of the state of their soul. Each person's soul should be precious to them. It is the only one they have and is the essence of their being, but compared to the great scheme of things in God's program for man, it is no more valuable than any other.
About the only thing man has that will rival the scope or vastness of the world is the pride of his heart [Pro 16:18, Oba 1:3, 1Ti 3:6, 1Jo 2:16]. He thinks so much of himself; he reasons he is the "measure of all things." This pride is not immune to a believer. It still resides in his "old man" and flesh [Eph 4:22]. On the contrary, the Lord did not see the supposed inherent value of man, either individually or collectively, and then calculate what man was worth as if He was buying something of value. He paid the ultimate price because it is His nature to love and have mercy on us poor, needy sinners [Num 14:18]! He originally created man in His own image and likeness for Himself, for His glory, and it seems for fellowship, but He also wanted to show all creation through the redemption of man what kind of God He really is [Isa. 43:7, Pro. 16:4].
Salvation is all of God, dear reader. He provided man salvation because it is His nature to help hell-bound, destitute sinners and reveal Himself to them, not that man is "worth the price"! Man had a great need, God saw the need, and according to His immense love, mercy, and compassion supplied the need. The thought that He could have cast the whole world into hell and started over again in a moment does not seem to have been considered. Aren't you glad, dear reader, we have such a God for a Father?
However, the question still arises, what kind of value does the Scriptures place upon a man? The Bible is not specific, but here is a verse that gives us a general idea,
Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? [Mat 6:26]
Here's another [see also, Mat 10:31],
But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows. [Luk 12:7]
How do you like that comparison? At least twice when the Lord wanted to make a statement concerning the relative value of a man, He compared him with birds. Do you take comfort in the fact that you are more valuable than a flock of birds? That is a long way from the "infinite value" some of the modern self-esteem preachers suggest. David realized his little inherent worth and likened himself to a dog or even a flea on a dog. He said he was a mere dog before Saul [1Sa 24:14]. What would that make him before the God of heaven? Even wonder why David was considered a man after God's own heart [Act 13:22]? Some of you are sinking in you chair as you read this. Remember these truths the next time you get to feeling a little "special" [Psa 36:11, Pro 16:19, Pro 29:23]
The heading of this section will cause some readers to gasp. "Do you mean to tell me that you believe God's love has limitations?" Of course it does. "Is God's love not unconditional?" Absolutely not. A love without limitations is not really love at all. Husbands, what if your wife loved every other man in the world as much as she loved you? [Some of you unfortunate fellows may have a wife like that] Then the "love" she has for you is not really love because by definition "love" means someone gets special affection or devotion above others. A case can be made for the statement, "One who loves everyone actually loves no one."
Unconditional love in its basic sense requires that God love someone in every manner and every form regardless of their belief, relationship, or behavior. If this were true God would continually love the lost while they are in rebellion and even love those in hell. In fact, unconditional love would not allow anyone to go to hell. It is just another way of teaching Universalism; the belief God will eventually save everyone.
Love as God uses it is primarily a verb; an action word. To say one loves someone is not love in its essence. That person must manifest their love. Some go around telling family and friends they love them, and they may, but the object of those words is usually not convinced unto the love is seen. The person professing the love must show forth actions that express his love. Notice the Lord does not go around saying "I love you" to anyone until He shows His love. As we saw above He told Israel He loved them AFTER He delivered them from bondage. He tells the world He loved it AFTER He sent His son to die for it. The action always comes first. Romans 5 tells us God "commendeth his love toward us...."
However [and this is the clincher], if the potential recipient of God's love [any man] refuses to come to the place where this love is manifested [the cross], then this person does not receive the love. He doesn't get in on it, so to speak. While alive he still partakes of God's mercy, but not necessarily His love. Look at probably the most well known verse in the Bible, John 3:16,
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.
This verse is often used to "prove" that God loves everybody with an unconditional love, but notice the love is past tense. God loved the world enough to provide it a Savior, but those who refuse the Savior do not partake of the love. Only those who "believeth in him" get "everlasting life." In short, God's love for every sinner is found at the cross and there alone. Those who refuse the cross presently have God's wrath abiding on them as John testifies in the same chapter,
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. [Joh 3:36]
Wrath and unconditional love don't go together very well. In fact, they are pretty much opposites. Some may think, "This is just tough love" or something similar, but the fact remains, No where in the Bible does it say God loves a lost sinner who refuses His provision in the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead they inherit wrath [Psa 2:12; Rom 1:18, Rom 4:15, Rom 5:9; Gal 3:10; Eph 5:6; 1Th 1:10, 1Th 5:9; Heb 2:3; Heb 10:29; Rev 6:16, Rev 6:17]. Remember, to God love is an action and until a sinner receives and accepts God's action on the cross by faith, there is no other love from God to be manifested or received. Every bit of the love God has for the world is confined to the cross.
When the Lord provided Christ as man's salvation the whole world was unredeemed. Some had been saved in the Old Testament on credit [so to speak] in view of that day, but as far as redemption was concerned all mankind was lost. It is God's immense mercy and boundless love that motivated Him to provide such evil rebels a Savior,
But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, [Eph 2:4]
In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. [1Jo 4:9-10]
And those who receive this Savior's death as their own are accepted in God's love,
To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. [Eph1:6]
But boundless love is not unconditional love. The condition is receiving what was done at the cross as your own. Those who refuse it may enjoy God's mercy on earth for a while, but in hell they will see the full manifestation of not being "accepted in the beloved."
Again, to drive it home [some of you are probably still quivering], even though God manifested His love towards the world at Calvary, that does not mean He loves a lost man in His sin. The sinner has God's wrath abiding on him. As long as that sinner lives, however, he can access God's eternal love at the cross. A close relative of God's love, His mercy [Rom 9:16, 11:32, Eph 2:4, and especially Tit 3:5], allows him the opportunity. God's love motivated Him to provide mankind salvation, His mercy and grace allows man access to it
As the account of Corneilus in Acts 10 plainly shows, God will by His mercy go to great lengths to get the gospel to a sinner who knows he needs to get right with his Creator. Then once upon accepting the Christ of the cross, the Lord will love him as a son.
So much for this "God loves me just the way I am" tripe. It is a satanic deception.
One of the most profound verses in the Bible is John 17:23,
I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
Here Christ says that his Father will love His disciples as He has loved Christ. What an amazing and humbling thought. The God of heaven for the sake of Christ will love us as He loved Christ. John 15:9 says much the same. There are many more verses that show God's love for the believer, [Rom 5:5; 2Co 13:14; 2Th 2:16; 1Jo 2:5; 1Jo 4:12, 16; 1Jo 4:19; etc.] but probably the most precious [if any could be] are the verses that declare this love will never be separated from us,
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Rom. 8:37-39]
How could one be more secure in God's love than that?
Some completely disallow the thought that God could hate someone of something. This concept does not fit in their "belief system" [like the doctrine of a burning hell] and so they just cast it aside. But as has been said, "One can usually tell more about a person from knowing what he hates rather than what he loves."
Does God hate? We will let the Scriptures answer,
And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them. [Lev. 20:23]
Neither shalt thou set thee up any image; which the LORD thy God hateth. [Deut. 16:22]
The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity. [Psa. 5:5]
The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity. [Psa. 11:5]
These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren. [Pro. 6:16-19]
All their wickedness is in Gilgal: for there I hated them: for the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of mine house, I will love them no more: all their princes are revolters. [Hos.9:15]
The Lord GOD hath sworn by himself, saith the LORD the God of hosts, I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his palaces: therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is therein. [Amos6:8]
There are more verses, but this proved conclusively that God hates some things and some types of people. The usual way this is explained buy some commentators is this is "hate" in the Bible is not really "hate." It just means God loves this object less. Any old port in storm. I guess God loves iniquity and sin to some extent just not as much as He loves righteousness? See the mess these Bible correctors get into?
There may be an instance or two where the word “hate” is used in a relative sense to express only the strong preference of one to another [Pro 13:24, Luk 14:26], but that is not the general rule. "Hate" means hate [Mat 10:22, Mat 24:9, Mat 24:10, Mar 13:13, Luk 21:17, Joh 15:18-19, Joh 15:23, etc.], and the object of this hate is often not just the concept of sin, but the sinner!
A god who is not balanced and thus does not hate what is evil and contrary to Him is not much of a god, but that is all today's Bible denying modernists have. Maybe they should trade him in for "Allah."
Probably the closest thing to unconditional love you will find in the Bible [apart from the love within the Godhead] is the love a redeemed believer is to have for his Savior and Lord. The first and greatest commandment makes this clear,
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. [Mar. 12:30]
Believers are to love God with every fiber of their being. Unlike with man there is no danger that love for God is misplaced. He is always worthy. Furthermore, this love is not truly love until it is manifested
He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. [Joh. 14:21]
Christ goes on the claim that the Father will love us more on the condition we love Him,
For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God. [Joh. 16:27]
Those who truly love God are known of him [1Co 8:3], preserved by him [Psa 145:20], delivered by him [Psa 91:14], partake of his mercy [Exo 20:6; Deu 7:9], and have all things working for their good [Rom 8:28]. So there are distinct advantages for loving the one who delivered us from a devil's hell.
We could go on and show how a believer is to love his neighbor [ Lev 19:18; Mat 5:43; Mar 12:31; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; Jam 2:8), his brethren [Joh 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; 1Jo 3:23; 5:2; 2Jo 1:5), his family [Gen 22:2; 25:28; 37:3; 44:20; Exo 21:5), and even his enemies [Mat 5:43-44; Luk 6:27], etc., but we have proved our point. God is a god of love, but His love is not unconditional. He loved mankind enough to pay the ultimate price for his redemption, but that love cannot be accessed until a believer receives the purchaser of that redemption-the Lord Jesus Christ. Then he will have all the love he can fathom for eternity!
And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ. [2Th. 3:5]