Saturday, February 21, 2009

I Just Realized Something...God's Love Really IS Unconditional

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.


Barbara said...

Amen! How much more amazing is that grace as He brings us to deeper and deeper realization of how sufficent He is, how faithful He is, despite how undeserving or ill-deserving we are! That is amazing love. Amazing love, how can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Justin Taylor gives a solid follow up to Piper's post today as well, pulling from an essay-turned-booklet entitled, God's love: Better than Unconditional.

And CH Spurgeon on the subject:

If you get a chance, I highly recommend this video from CrossTV (Mark Kielar's production group): What Manner of Love is This? (as well as the others on that page). It carries through examples of increasing degrees of sacrifical love before coming to the ultimate, God's own love for us, since He Himself defines and embodies love. I must warn you, it goes into some graphic discussion of medical and historical testimony regarding the Passion and it is at times very disturbing but it will lead to worship and awe for this great love of this great God of ours, that amazing kindness that brings us back to repentance for trying to find our comfort in our own doings and in who we are rather than in who Christ is. Is he not good?

Romans 8:31-end:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

Just as it is written,

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! - Romans 11:33

Room to Think said...


Haven't read through much of your blog yet but will when I get the chance. Just wanted to thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. Feel free to comment on any other posts. I definitely don't have it all right but write what I know so far or have come to believe but any further insight is always helpful especially if I am on the wrong track :)


Ashley Weis said...

What a great post. Thank God for His Love!!! What on earth would I do without it? I fail so often. Sometimes I want to fail on purpose... ugh. Amazing grace, how sweet...

4simpsons said...

Thanks for going the extra mile and going back to the original languages. That makes a lot of sense now.