Is God’s Love Unconditional?

The term ‘unconditional love’ seems to have only appeared fairly recently in human history and is, I think, a product of the modern liberal western mentality which is obsessed with such notions as loving oneself and of always being affirmed and never judged. Past generations didn’t use the term because they simply had no need to. Because they better understood what love is than do people today, the term simply wasn’t necessary. One just talked about love. But because the term is so becoming so increasingly widespread even amongst Christians, we do need to give it some thought. Indeed, a great many believers seem to be incapable of talking about God’s love without needing to be constantly emphasising that it’s unconditional. But is it, though? Is it biblically correct to speak in terms of God’s love being unconditional?

Think of it like this! A coin has two sides and not just one, and many things in life similarly have more that just one aspect to them. So if we talk about something that has various aspects as if it only had one, then although what we say may be true in so far as it goes, it won’t be the whole truth of the matter and will actually be misleading. This is happening more and more in regards to how Christians are increasingly defining God’s love, and the result is not only that they are deceiving themselves, they are also deceiving unbelievers through the unbiblical content of their so-called evangelism.

I concur that it is most certainly the case that love is unconditional; but to merely emphasise that aspect of it’s nature, but to not also represent the other side of the coin, is to completely misrepresent what it is, and to completely fail to properly define it. You can no more have unqualified unconditional love than you can have a one-sided coin. Love that is not unconditional could not be considered to be love, but neither could something be considered to be love which claims itself to be solely unconditional with no further qualification! One-sided coins simply don’t exist, and neither does a love which claims as the only aspect of its nature it’s unconditionality.

Think of parents raising their kids. Any parent worth their salt loves their children unconditionally; but precisely because they love them unconditionally they also, by very definition, desire their ultimate happiness and well-being. Good, decent and responsible parents instinctively know that in order to accomplish this the child must be taught right from wrong and good from bad, and that the parent must be ready, whenever necessary, to actually impose discipline on the child in order to bring about that end. Parents who care nothing about their children’s behaviour, whether it be good or bad, and who care nothing about their developing characters, whether their kids are nice or horrible, and then claim that their lack of concern is because they love their children unconditionally, would not just be extremely bad parents, they would also be talking complete nonsense. Doing whatever is necessary in order to ensure that their childrens’ behaviour is moving from bad to good, and from wrong to right, is one of the necessary evidences that parents do indeed love their children. To then add the (completely unnecessary) caveat that such parents also love their children unconditionally is simply another way of saying that they love their children. A good parent, by very definition, loves their child unconditionally at any and every point in their moral development, but precisely because they do love their children with such unconditional love, they also cannot help but want to see them continually improving in their human and moral development. The ‘other side of the coin’ of love being unconditional is, therefore, that love also seeks to improve, in whatever way it can, the condition and well-being of its object.

The reason that love is, by very definition, unconditional, and why it could never be said to be love otherwise, is because the only alternative would be that it had to be earned. It would need to be secured by ongoing acceptable performance. But of course such could never be said to be love! It is simply the gaining of favour through merit, which is an entirely different thing to being loved! Conversely, however, to claim to ‘love’ someone whilst doing nothing to bring about their improvement is equally a complete mockery. You might as well assure a starving beggar in the street that you love him unconditionally, and then add that precisely because your love for him is unconditional it doesn’t matter whether or not you give him some food. Such would be both a mockery and travesty of any notion of love!

I therefore put it to you that the reason so many Christians are increasingly putting such emphasis on God’s love being unconditional, and going so completely out of their way to assure people that He loves everyone ‘just the way they are’, is because they have been deceived by the prevalent over-emphasis on the unconditional aspect of the nature of love, and the idea that the behaviour of those who are its objects is irrelevant to that love. And what this does, however unintentionally, is to spread the falsehood that the fact that God loves people unconditionally means that He won’t ever judge and punish them. Such is, of course, exactly what unrepentant sinners love to hear! It is a ‘gospel’ of having all the benefits of there being a divine Creator, but a Creator who puts no moral requirements upon those He has created, and Who will never punish them for their rejection of Him! What more could unrepentant sinners want by way of a totally false gospel? All the sin and depravity you could possibly want – with God’s unconditional love thrown in! And it’s Christians who are actually encouraging unbelievers to think like this. But here’s the problem: no such God, and therefore no such gospel, actually exists!

Of course God loves unbelievers unconditionally! Of course He loves them just the way they are! If you don’t love someone just the way they are then that’s just another way of saying that you don’t actually love them. But that doesn’t change the fact that, at the Great White Throne Judgement, this God-Who-unconditionally-loves-everybody-just-the-way-they-are will nevertheless throw those who haven’t repented of their sins, and who haven’t put their trust in Him, into the Lake of Fire for all eternity. However discomfiting to the modern mindset it might be, being loved unconditionally by the God Who actually does exist will avail those who reject Him absolutely nothing. Those who reject Him, and who refuse to repent, will be eternally lost, and the fact that in His love for them He has provided a way of escape, yet a way of escape which they refused to take, will make not the slightest bit of difference to fact of their eternal damnation!

Precisely because of His love the Lord has done everything necessary in order to provide salvation for all, but in order to receive that salvation the sinner must repent and believe, and if they don’t, then eternal judgement is all that awaits them! And the reason the Lord won’t let such into Heaven, even though He does indeed love them unconditionally, is because, as we have seen, there is no such thing as a love which doesn’t seek the improvement of the one loved, and therefore no such thing as a love that can’t be rejected by its object. If someone refuses to be improved by the unconditional love of God (or of anyone else for that matter), then the fact that He does so love them makes no ultimate difference. In refusing to be improved by Him they put themselves beyond anything further He can do. Though loved beyond measure, those who refuse to surrender shut themselves out from that love, and are thereby lost in their sins for all eternity. Moreover, if they so disliked the idea of being morally improved by a righteous God in this life, then just think how much they would hate being in Heaven in the next, where that same holiness and righteousness will be utterly revealed and totally all-encompassing! Don’t get me wrong! I’m not suggesting that they won’t hate being in the Lake of Fire, they most certainly will, but as those to whom God granted their desire to not be morally improved by Him, and to not be set free from their sin, they would also hate being in Heaven, though for completely different reasons!

The notion of a God of love Who just ignores sin, and Who accepts everyone just as they are, and Who is too loving to ever judge or punish anyone, is a complete fantasy! In fact, it is the most ridiculous and full-blown nonsense! There could no more be a God-of-love-but-not-righteousness-and-justice than there could be a coin with only one side. Love is, as we have seen, most certainly unconditional, but unconditional love, precisely because it is love, can never disregard the moral condition of its object.

There are ramifications here for believers too, and they are profound! We need to understand – indeed, be greatly reassured – that, as God’s children, He doesn’t love us any more when we are being obedient and faithful, and neither does He love us any less when we are sinning and in disobedience. When we are being obedient and faithful He smiles on us, but when we are sinning and being disobedient to Him, He still smiles on us, but desires to also discipline us and deal with our rebellion. He will even, if necessary, turn away from us relationally until we properly respond so as to restore our fellowship with Him. I don’t mean that He might not let us into Heaven after all, of course not! The believer getting to Heaven depends solely upon Jesus’ death, and there is nothing that can undo that! No! What I mean is that if we have un-dealt with sin in our lives then we are kidding ourselves if we think He is listening to us any more. He isn’t!

“If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me!” That’s what scripture says!

When we are in unrepentant sin the Lord just patiently waits for us to come clean and get right with Him so He can restore our relationship with Him. In such a circumstance the only thing He is saying to us, irrespective of anything we say to Him is, “Come clean and repent of that sin! You must say you are sorry!” (I have even from time to time found myself desperately repenting of just about everything except the specific thing He is actually convicting me of. Funny old world, isn’t it?)

Married couples understand this principle only too well! A husband who is unkind or disrespectful to his wife before he goes to work can hardly expect his relationship with her to be as it ought to be when he gets home, until he has put things right with her and said the needed sorry. It’s not that he and his wife have stopped being married, but rather that sin has disrupted the relationship between them until things are put right! So even though God’s children, we can nevertheless still be out of fellowship with Him relationally should we harbour unrepentant sin in our lives.

Perhaps we could put it like this: The issue isn’t actually whether God loves us, it’s whether or not we love Him; and Jesus said, “If you love me you will obey my commands.” Being loved is irrelevant unless the one who is loved responds in kind!

So let’s be a bit careful then when we talk about love being unconditional. Let’s make sure that we never, even inadvertently, give unbelievers reason to think that God’s love for them means that He isn’t concerned with how they behave or with their moral condition. Our loving God, precisely because He is love, will one day judge the living and the dead, and unrepentant sinners who have never embraced His salvation will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. That they were loved by Him is ultimately irrelevant to their impending eternal damnation! Their problem is that they didn’t love Him, and therefore refused to obey Him. Any understanding of God’s love that doesn’t take this sobering fact into account is pure, unadulterated deception!

For us as believers though what matters is simply this: precisely because the Lord loves us just the way we are, He wants to also improve us so that we don’t stay just the way we are. He wants to mature us, and to move us forward in Him into ever greater fulness of the Spirit and holiness of life.

As scripture so simply and clearly says, “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.”

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Home Sweet Home

I’ve been doing some much needed fixing up around the house lately and can be seen from time to time vanishing upstairs with a chisel in one hand and a paint brush in the other. The look of fear on Belinda and Bethany’s faces when this happens is matched only by their groans at the thought of the clearing up they have to face when I’m done; and I have notice too that Belinda will check our house insurance documents to make sure the premiums are paid up and that we’re properly covered for any damage that might result. I have always thought this a bit unfair of her, but then I do concede that there was that little hiccup with the blow torch and a downstairs carpet a couple of years ago. (Don’t ask!) But it doesn’t change the fact that I can be a useful old sausage here and there, and such am I currently being!

My limited practical skills are put to the test all the more though given that the house we live in is a bit….now how can I put this…a bit…higgledy-piggledy! It’s a council house, you see (that’s ‘government rental’ to my American friends), and was therefore constructed for practicality as opposed to any aesthetic considerations. Although we have lived here for nearly twenty years we have yet to find a proper right-angle where the walls and ceilings meet. None of the walls are actually flat and the doors don’t hang properly because the frames and lintels aren’t accurately parallel with each other. It’s all a bit of a challenge really, but although the thought of living in a better built abode one day is tantalising, this is still our home and we are nevertheless very happy in it. It is truly our home sweet home, notwithstanding the practical challenges entailed regarding ongoing maintenance.

And this is, I think, a nice little illustration of the relationship between our lives with the Lord down here and what awaits us after death. Although knowing and trusting the Lord brings us great contentment and peace, life is definitely, like our home, on the higgledy-piggledy side. Nothing fits quite as it should (sin will always cause disjointedness), and some bits, like our front door that has a gap at the bottom where the north wind pours in throughout the winter, are just downright disastrous. It’s good, yes! Even great sometimes! But man, it could be so much better! And of course the good news is that although there are no guarantees that Belinda, Bethany and I will ever live in a house with right-angles, flat walls, fully vertical doors and horizontal ceilings – oh yes, and a front door that shuts properly – we nonetheless know that, because we know the Lord, we are guaranteed that something infinitely better, in every way, awaits us after death.

The contrast for the believer between life here and life after death is the difference between living in some hovel with a roof that doesn’t even keep the rain off your head, and moving into a specially built palace on the most beautiful beach in the world in which every room has been designed, and then exquisitely crafted, just for you and for your complete personal satisfaction. There will, of course, be a 65″ 4K HDR TV in the man-cave to watch Star Trek re-runs on, and an entire rail network of full-size trains to play with and drive in the quarter of a million acre back yard

Of course, such an illustration doesn’t even begin to do justice to what I am trying to say because it’s limited entirely to material considerations, but it’s a start. Indeed, Jesus spoke promisingly of our eternal homes with Him the other side of death, so He obviously thinks the comparison is a good one too! I am therefore buoyed at having written this!

Do pray for Belinda and Bethany though. I’ve still got stuff to do and they look so worried when they see me with a blow torch in one hand, a box of matches in the other, a bow-saw between my teeth and a look of grim determination on my twitching face. But all will be well. Not necessarily because of the improvements I am making – well, I think they’re improvements – but because one day we will be with the Lord in the utter perfection of righteousness; and therefore of complete happiness and contentment. Even Star Trek and trains will fade into inconsequential oblivion in comparison!

Heaven…quite literally!

I have long been perplexed by the fact that just about everyone, Christians included, spell Heaven with a small h. Heaven is, if I am not very much mistaken, a place, and places, if I am not even more mistaken, are proper nouns which should always be capitalised. This fact can’t just be put down to the fact that most people don’t believe that Heaven is a real place because most people don’t believe in such places Asgard, Valhalla or Narnia either, yet such are nevertheless always capitalised. No, the presumption of a place being fictitious doesn’t change the fact that it should be still be spelt with a capital letter. Whether it be Thomas More’s Erewhon, Dylan Thomas’ Llaregub or Gene Roddenberry’s Vulcan, places, whether believed to be real or fictitious, are always started with a capital letter. So why not Heaven? And especially, why don’t Christians capitalise it?

At least most people get Paradise right, even though it’s only a part of Heaven, much as London is only a part of England. So wouldn’t it be strange if I were to capitalise London, yet spelt England with a small e? What on earth is going on?

Well, I actually have no idea, this adding to the sheer extent of my perplexity. So all I can do is put forward a tentative theory, and it is this: What if it’s part of a ploy by the enemy to minimise the reality of Heaven in people’s minds by reducing it more to a state of being than an actual place? I talk a lot about the Early Church Fathers in my teaching because their thinking has had a monumental effect on the Christian faith over two millennia, partly good, but partly too a complete disaster. And one of the more disastrous aspects was the influence they laboured under from Greek thinking and philosophy which understood the physical material universe as being inherently evil. This led, quite logically, to the idea that anything really spiritual must also be non-physical, hence the traditional Christian art that depicts Heaven as comprising non-corporeal-type beings floating around on clouds. To the modern mind such a notion quickly translates into the idea of an almost metaphorical spiritual state of being as opposed to an actual place. So what does the Bible say?

It is simply not possible for us to get our minds around the idea, in any significant way, of there being something outside of the Universe, but that is precisely what we are dealing with when we speak of Heaven. The Lord has lived there throughout eternity, the angelic realm having come into being and living there too before the creation of the actual Universe. So Heaven, this place God calls His home (it even has a garden), is therefore somewhere completely other than in the cosmos in which the rest of God’s creation exists. What we can, or at least vaguely, get our heads round though is that just as Jesus got a resurrection body which, although physical (he ate and drank in it), was so much more than that, being a vessel perfectly fitted for a human being to be able exist in God’s home outside of the Universe, so too will we, as God’s people, eventually get the same type of body. But there is just so much more!

Not only will we one day be physical beyond our comprehension, but the Lord is actually going to create a completely new Universe made from the same ‘stuff’ as Jesus’ resurrection body (I call it ‘miracle matter’), and Heaven is going to actually enter that Universe and land on the newly created Planet Earth, the Lord thus making His home with us as promised in His Word.

Let’s get this straight once and for all. Heaven is a literal place outside of this literal Universe, and should therefore, as a place, be capitalised when written. Jesus is literally God become a man, and He was literally raised from the dead in a literal physical ‘miracle matter’ body, being now literally back in the literal place outside the Universe called Heaven. Believers literally join Him there when they die; and folk who don’t believe such to be literally true, and who just laugh and scoff, are in for a terrible shock when they discover, when they die, that Hades and the Lake of Fire are literal places too!

What a wonderful salvation and eternity Jesus has won for us, and for any who will yet humble themselves, repent of their sins and simply receive it as a free gift from Him. I am literally cock-a-hoop about the whole literal thing!

Home Sweet Home

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The travelling we do as a family is extensive, and, although a great privilege and blessing, the trips are long, somewhat arduous, and quite exhausting. They always end with long haul flights which, as anyone who does them a lot knows, are about as much fun as having your toenails pulled out. But what keeps us going at that point is one simple, and utterly delightful, fact: We’re going home! Man, we’re going home!

And just like our trips, life in this world, though comprising of great joy, and the most wonderful sense of purpose in the Lord, can be exhausting, arduous, debilitating and often heartbreaking. A fallen world is never going to be a truly fun thing, and serving the Lord, having our sinfulness dealt with, plus being opposed left, right and centre by the evil one, makes it decidedly all the harder. But what keeps us on track as the Lord’s people, and what makes it all worthwhile, is the sure and certain knowledge that, the whole time, we are actually on our way home, and that we will eventually, for a surety, most definitely get there.

Home, where rest follows labour and peace follows turmoil. Where security reigns and the vagaries and, at times, even dangers, of travel give way to the calm safety of the delight of just being at home with one’s family. Where difficulty and trial give way to freedom, fun and delight.

For Belinda, Bethany and I there is nothing quite like coming home. That we are together on our travels is everything to us and is the reason why I can accept invitations to serve the Lord’s people in such far flung places the way I do; but it doesn’t, and cannot, compare to us actually getting home once our task is accomplished. And so it is with our home in Heaven with the Lord. We will get there, and it will be everything we could possibly ever imagine – and far more! More rest, more peace, more love, more security, more freedom, more fun and joy than we could ever begin to even conceive! The whole family of God together at last, but together at last with Him!

I have, as some of you will know from my battle with cancer, faced death and looked it squarely in the eye, and although it is obviously a bit of a bummer that it usually means leaving loved ones behind (though I always knew that Belinda and Bethany would join me later), I can nevertheless confirm that there is truly is no sting to it, given what – or, rather, Who – awaits us beyond it!

So be brave, Christian friend!  Be brave and keep going! Be diligent and unstoppable in serving the Lord, battling against sin and living godly in Christ Jesus! Keep resisting the devil and his wiles and keep being the light of the Lord in this dark, dreadful, beautiful, evil and wicked world! You are headed home! You are going to get there! You are going to be so very happy and have not yet the slightest clue just how incredible, wonderful and amazing it is going to be! You will be with Jesus! You will be without sin! You will, indeed, be home at last!