What Do You Mean by Unconditional Love?

Erik Raymond —  May 15, 2014

shutterstock_171636374It is common today to hear people say, “God loves us unconditionally.” It is also common to watch people bristle when people say, “God elects us unconditionally.”

When people say that God loves us unconditionally they usually mean something like, “After conversion God loves you no matter what. Isn’t that great?”

In one sense this is true, God’s love for his people is not based upon what they do or do not do. But this does not mean that God loves us unconditionally. If God loves anyone he loves them conditionally.

What is the condition? It is the condition of what Christ has done for them. The basis for God’s love for anyone is the doing and dying of Christ for them.

Now, on the other hand, if the person means, “God set his love upon me by electing (choosing) me without any conditions in me…” Then this is true. In other words, it is absolutely true to say that God’s election (or act of love) is unconditional as far as they go.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:3–6)

Most people don’t mean this however. When we talk about unconditional love it rarely has much to do with Christ or election. Instead we reduce God’s love to a triumphant presumption that often is pregnant with license.

On the other hand we are truly humbled that God has elected rebels, sinners, unholy people like you and me then we will be captured by a vision of holiness (God) and the liberating power of grace! Instead of reclining into licentiousness we are pressing forward into holiness.

We would probably serve others well if we deleted careless references to unconditional love from our vocabulary. Instead we should boast (rather than blush) in the unconditional election of God and the reception of his conditional love (the doing and dying of Jesus for us, Rom. 3-5; Jn. 3:16).

Instead of clinging to catchy phrases that look good in Hallmark cards or pop tunes, let’s hit the notes of Scripture. Holiness grows in the soil of humility. And precise theology begets precise praise!

(for more reading on this you may enjoy Jonathan Leeman’s book The Surprising Offense of God’s Love)

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

Erik Raymond

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Erik has been writing at Ordinary Pastor since 2006. He lives in Omaha with his wife and kids while pastoring at Emmaus Bible Church. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/erikraymond

5 responses to What Do You Mean by Unconditional Love?

  1. I’m going to go out on a limb here, but following after this, would it also be true to say that since the relationship between Christ and the Church is the same relationship between husband and wife, then the fact that the man chooses the woman is a reflection of Christ choosing us? It would make some of the sense out of why it seems strange when the woman proposes to the man.

  2. “The basis for God’s love for anyone is the doing and dying of Christ for them.” I think this is backwards. The basis for his acceptance of anyone is Christ’s doing and dying, but not His love. His love and mercy sent Jesus.

  3. Amen!

    Apart from Christ Jesus, God might as well be the devil. (as far as His love for us is concerned)