God helped me understand something really exciting last night that's too good to keep (although it will probably seem so obvious to some of you readers that you will be perplexed at why this is a "big revelation"). Last night, mid-way through sauteing dinner, God totally corrected me on a misconception I've long held about Him.
The bottom line: God's love (agape) really is unconditional. I was wrong in thinking I can lose it. Looking at the whole of Scripture, we can make a water-tight case for that. This is HUGE to me and makes all the difference. Let me explain......
John Piper writes that God's love is unconditional "in a sense" - His electing love and regenerating love are not conditioned on our response. This is certainly true, but it doesn't answer the question of whether He loves everybody, and if we can "lose" His affection when we (His children) mess up. We're not talking about a saving love - obviously we know salvation is conditioned upon faith in Christ and repentance. I'm talking about how He feels about us when we're disobedient and not giving Him our whole hearts.
I've been struggling lately with John 14:21 and John 15:9-11, which make it sound as if His love is conditioned upon our obedience. I am not perfectly obedient, and the harder I try to repent and submit to His lordship, the more discouraged I get. I feared the threat of His withdrawing His love from me. Last night, as I was cooking, I started wondering if the Greek term in those verses might be "phileos", brotherly love/fellowship, which Peter confessed he had for Christ in John 21 (realizing he didn't truly have the perfect, unconditional "agape" love Christ was asking for). It would make sense, I thought, since Jesus is talking about those already in the Kingdom. Perhaps we could understand those verses to mean that if we don't "abide in" or don't obey Him, we forfeit a sense of His fellowship. Estranged relationally, we don't experience the greater intimacy of friendship. The use of "phileos" would help support this interpretation, I thought.
So I checked Strong's, but no; it wasn't "phileos". All of the verses that link God's love to obedience and walking with Him promise "agape". Hmm. This is a puzzle, because taken at face value, it would indicate that God is threatening to stop loving us if we don't please Him, which doesn't add up.
Then I noticed something else - the same verb "agapeos" is used when Jesus saw the rich young ruler in Mark 10:21 - "He looked at him and He loved him"; (he who walked away, never became regenerate); He loved the multitudes; and - most significantly - in all of the verses where Jesus commands us to love our enemies. Consistently, it's "agape" love He talks about - which, by definition, is unconditional and does not expect or demand reciprocation. Why does this matter? Because Jesus never tells us to do something He doesn't do Himself. He loves ("agape") His enemies; those who reject Him; His quibbling disciples; and even the multitudes (made up of people with all different types of hearts).
(I promise I'm going somewhere with this).
So now......if He's talking to His children, why would He "stop" loving them based on imperfect obedience....when He even loves those who hate Him, reject Him, or are indifferent to Him? The Bible clearly states that He loves them. He LOVES them. I'm sure sending those to hell who reject Him breaks His heart. But right now, my focus is on those of us who love Him but mess up. I asked myself this question: "Why, if He even loves His enemies and people before they become saved, would He think less of those trying to follow Him? It's impossible (and illogical)!" So that's not what the verses are saying - something else is implied.
Deeper fellowship and increasing intimacy is to be experienced with obedience to God - this makes sense. Sure, God will love His enemies, (although juustice demands that He must ultimately damn them), but it stands to reason that His relationship with His children is going to be qualitatively different. Looking at the verses about God's love, it occurred to me why Jesus didn't use "phileos" to describe this unique intimacy with God that we have -- it's too weak a word to describe God's love. To promise "agape" unconditionally to His enemies, but only "phileos" to His friends doesn't make sense. It would be like offering the use of your pickup truck to someone who already has the stretch limo you gave him. In fact, I'm not even sure you could describe a love as deep and vast as God's with "phileos" - it sort of degrades or minimizes (cheapens) it.
HOWEVER, the notion of friendship, fellowship, closer intimacy is implied in that love Jesus is promising His "friends". It's not directly conveyed by use of a different word, but all this time He's been telling them how to follow Him and be different from the rest of the world. He's offering them so much more - that friendship with Him - ON TOP OF the unconditional aspect of God's love and concern for them He already promises! If He loves us unreservedly, eternally and unconditionally, He's not going to say, "let's go back to being 'just friends'." That would be more absurd than my saying that to my husband, after 13 years of marriage. Uh, it's a little late....but the closeness of our relationship can fluctuate. I think that's implicit in what Jesus was saying.
This knowledge is HUGE. It's actually very freeing, because even when I wrong the Lord by being apathetic, hard, or even outright rebellious (hopefully that won't happen, but I'm still a sinner), coming back is possible because I still have that reservoir of His love to fall into. He will have noticed and been displeased with my heart, (and I can't expect unhindered fellowship because my heart's not right), but it hasn't qualitatively changed our relationship.
All that to say this: He still loves me. He won't stop, either, no matter what (although I have no intention of presuming on His grace or trying His patience). I think we can make that case strongly from the Bible. If you just take those 1 or 2 verses in a vacuum, you might miss it. This knowlege makes me want to pray, to worship, etc.; it's not "duty-worship" where I feel guilty if it's not enough.
Jesus, thank You for loving me in spite of myself. Thank You for Your unending patience and perseverence with my stubborn, unbelieving heart. I am so filled with gratitude that nothing I can do will make You love me less, and even more - nothing I CAN do will prompt You to love me more. Thank you for enabling me to see this amazing truth from Your Word, and to desire Your friendship and presence above all else.
6 years ago