As a young Christian, I remember hearing that God’s love is unconditional. And yet, I also heard that it was necessary to believe in Jesus and embrace the gospel in order to become a child of God and receive salvation. Is that a “condition”? Is God’s love really unconditional?
I saw an interesting conversation online yesterday. It was a discussion over what was being taught at a certain church in regard to salvation, the love of God and the work of Jesus on the cross.
Recently William Paul Young, the author of The Shack, released his first non-fiction book: Lies We Believe About God, in which he lays out what he believes. I happened to see this book on the shelf at Walmart recently, alongside a bunch of other books in the religion/spirituality realm which I hope that no-one will ever read because of their aberrant/heterodox theology and claims about God.
Here’s a word of advice: As a rule, don’t buy books about God / Spirituality / Theology from Walmart.
Basically, in Lies We Believe About God, William Paul Young comes out as a full-fledged universalist; he believes that all people will be saved, that God doesn’t require anything of us, that the idea of Hell is a creation of Medieval Christendom for the purpose of manipulating people into submission, and that no matter someone does or believes, they are a child of God and will therefore be saved and have eternal life.
Of course, these beliefs fly in the face of what the Bible clearly teaches and what Christians have taught and believed for 2000 years. For an explanation of the content of this book and a response to it, check out this great article from the Gospel Coalition.
How this ties into the online discussion that I witnessed yesterday, was that this church which had embraced the views of Wm. Paul Young and had taken a hard turn towards universalist theology. As a result, some people had left the church while others had embraced this teaching.
The crux of both this online conversation and the beliefs of William Paul Young is the question of whether the love of God is conditional or unconditional. The one thing that was assumed as true by all, is that God’s love is unconditional, which then created some issues, questions and difficulties for those on both sides…
Some made the conclusion that if God’s love is unconditional, then even the requirement that one must believe in Jesus constitutes a condition! Therefore, they conclude: ‘believing in Jesus must not be necessary for salvation.’ Furthermore, they conclude: ‘God does not require anything of us in order to accept us as his children, since he loves us unconditionally, and therefore all people are children of God simply by virtue of having been created, and therefore all of the promises of the Bible which pertain to the “children of God” belong to all people universally, no matter what they do or believe.’
Others, who hold orthodox Christian beliefs, disagreed with this, pointing out that Jesus himself clearly taught that unless one believes in Him they will not have salvation (John 3:18), and that the status of “Child of God” is reserved for those who believe (John 1:12). They struggled, however, to explain how these things did not constitute “conditions” – which would then contradict the claim that God’s love is “unconditional.”
So what is the answer? Is God’s love conditional or unconditional?
First of all, I do believe that God loves all people, but the question of whether all people have salvation or are in a covenant relationship with God is another issue.
This question of whether the covenant with God is conditional or unconditional is one of the great tensions of the Old Testament. In some places, it seems to be saying that God will love and bless and be faithful to his people unconditionally, no matter what they do. Yet, in other places it seems to be saying that the covenant is conditional, that certain requirements must be met in order for it to apply.
This tension builds and builds throughout the Old Testament, but is never actually resolved… UNTIL we get to Jesus!
In Jesus, the question is answered and the tension is resolved. The message of the gospel is that Jesus met all of the conditions of the covenant so that IN HIM (and only in Him) God can love us and accept us unconditionally.
The message of the gospel is that Jesus met all of the conditions of the covenant so that IN HIM (and only in Him) God can love us and accept us unconditionally.
Jesus is the answer to all the riddles.
Is God’s love conditional or unconditional? The answer is: Yes.
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus met all the righteous requirements of the Law, he fulfilled all of the conditions of the covenant, once and for all, on our behalf, so that if we are “in Him” by faith, then we are declared righteous, we are justified, and we have become children of God. Apart from Jesus, there is no such promise or hope. This is why the gospel is truly good news!
Much aberrant theology comes from deficient Christology.
May we be those who make much of Jesus and who celebrate the gospel: “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to His saints.” (Colossians 1:26)
3 thoughts on “Is God’s Love Conditional or Unconditional?”
Nick, Thank you so much for your posts, which I always find very thought-provoking and sparks wonderful conversations in my family. So many times I have considered replying, but today I actually have the time to do so. My comment is that I think we need to define the term love. Because, if love is defined as wanting the best for someone, then I believe an argument could be made that God loves everyone unconditionally, and desires that no one perishes but that all have eternal life. 🙂
Lynette, thanks for leaving a comment! It’s encouraging to hear from those who read. I agree with you, that love is wanting the best for someone, although I would add that love is not only sentiment but also actions which exhibits a set of behaviors. In this sense, I do believe that God does love all people unconditionally – and as you point out: 1 Timothy 2:4 says “God our Savior desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
The question is, whether this means that all people WILL be saved, regardless of what they do or don’t believe about Jesus, or whether they embrace Him as Savior and Lord. Universalists would say yes. I guess in their case, they are not only saying that the love of God is unconditional, but that salvation and a covenant relationship with God is unconditional – which I think is a view which contradicts Scripture.