Is God’s Covenant Conditional or Unconditional?


According to the late Ray Dillard, professor of Old Testament at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, one of the great themes of the Bible is the question of whether the covenant with God is conditional or unconditional.

It is this question and this tension which drives the Old Testament.

There are places where it seems that God says to his people: “It’s conditional. You have to obey me.  I’m a holy God. I can have nothing to do with sin. If you want to be accepted by me, or have a relationship with me, then you have to obey me.”

There are other places where it seems that God is saying: “No matter what you do, I am going to be faithful to you. I will be there, I won’t give up on you, I will save you.”

So which is it?

In a way, you could say that the entire Old Testament is one big plot thickening, in which the big question is: Can we have a relationship with God? And if so: is our relationship with him conditional or unconditional? Is it that we have to fulfill something, or is it that he loves us no matter what?

So what’s the answer?

The answer is actually not found in the Old Testament. It it when we get to the cross of Calvary that the answer is revealed.

The answer is… YES.

It’s not one or the other, it’s both.

The covenant with God is BOTH conditional and unconditional.

In the death of Jesus on the cross you find that you have to take both the conditions of the covenant and the unconditional nature of God’s love seriously at the same time.

Jesus satisfied the conditions of the covenant on our behalf so that God could accept us and love us unconditionally.


4 thoughts on “Is God’s Covenant Conditional or Unconditional?

  1. But on the condition that we follow Him, right? What about those who live in sin, but say they love God? You know the ones who live within the changing society mores, but it does not exactly coincide with the biblical standard of life.

    1. That’s a good question, and one the Bible addresses quite clearly.

      If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:6-7)

      For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:26-29)

      The point being this: Jesus fulfilled the conditions of the covenant on our behalf, so that God could love us unconditionally. However, if we continue to live without him as our Lord, using grace as a license to sin, then it shows we have not really entered into fellowship with God.

      1. Perhaps this deserves a bit more explanation “Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” Who are the witnesses? I am a bit unclear on its meaning, so i imagine others would be too. How can one decide exactly what is biblical? What i mean is that some say smoking marijuana is not a sin mentioned, although i would disagree. Others have said homosexuality is not a sin because the new testament does not address it; i am not sure about that one. But those who believe it is a sin are the same that thought slavery was not a sin. Some of these are bothersome things for people to accept. If feels judgmental, especially in today’s society. The world is changing.

  2. The passage about setting aside the Law of Moses refers to the Old Testament punishment for those Jews who turned against the Law of Moses. Remember, this is in the Letter to the Hebrews, so there are many references to the OT Law. The point here is that if the consequence was so great for turning against the Law, how much more great will the consequence be for disregarding the fulfillment of the Law: Jesus.

    To the point about marijuana, I have written about it here:

    Regarding homosexuality, the New Testament does in fact explicitly address it and condemn it as sin:

    As far as the Bible seeming bothersome to people, that is all the more the proof that it is not the product of any one particular culture, because it scandalizes all cultures at one point or another. “Shame and honor cultures” are scandalized by the idea of forgiving your enemies and loving those who have sinned against you. They are scandalized by the Bible’s “liberal” (in their opinion) view of women. “Individualistic expressive cultures” (like ours) are scandalized by being told that some forms of “self-expression” are sin and worthy of judgement from God. If God just agreed with everything I think, then there would be nothing for me to submit myself to and allow him to be Lord of in my life.

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