Is God’s Love Conditional?

Frequently I am told that God’s love is unconditional. I’m not entirely sure what is meant by this, but I’m quite sure it can’t mean what it says.

I think people are saying that once you are in God’s love there is no condition upon staying in it. I think that is what is meant, and I might agree, as long as you’re absolutely sure you are in it before you rely on the statement.

God’s love sure seems conditional to me, but then again, I read the Bible. If you just want to feel pleased with yourself apart from God’s Word, then go right on thinking God’s love is unconditional, as long as you’re OK finding out the conditions when it’s too late.

God’s love is conditional, we must explain this truth clearly, otherwise many think they are on their way to heaven who should have no expectation of that outcome. Observe the following:

He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” John 14:21

“If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” John 14:23

“every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8

“If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” 1 John 4:20,21

“Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.” 2 Corinthians 13:11

Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” Jude 21

25 thoughts on “Is God’s Love Conditional?”

  1. For God so loved the world… Kinda sounds like He loves everyone, it doesn’t say, only those who are trusting in Him
    While we were enemies of God He sent His son to die for us, again sounds like love.

    Now if you are talking about a relationship with God, yes I agree there are conditions

  2. For God so loved the world. . . and whoever believes in Him shall not perish.

    And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies. . . now hath he reconciled. . .If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled

    God’s love is there for all, but only those who meet the conditions benefit from it.

  3. I don’t think everyone “benefits” from God’s love to the point of salvation, but saying that “only those who meet the conditions benefit from it” is, I think, overstating it a bit. Did not God send Johan to Nineveh while they were still crummy people? I think I would consider that an act of love or grace not based in conditions.

  4. Yes, but again, they only benefited from it (avoiding judgment) because they believed, repented and did works meet for repentance. The fact that God offers love to all does not mean all benefit from His love, only those who respond to it benefit.

  5. “God’s love sure seems conditional to me”
    Your original point Jeff wasn’t; are the benefits of God’s love conditional.
    And yes I would agree the benefits are conditional, but His love is not.

  6. “he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father,” sure sounds conditional to me!

    I think there is a general love of God shown to all, then there is the family love of God that is conditional upon being in His family. Just trying to get some thinking about God’s love and often the flippant remarks we make about it that tend to generalize truths rather than keep them specified.

  7. Amen…I was glad to see this post on your blog.

    I’ve often wondered where this idea of God’s “unconditional love” came from…I couldn’t find it in the Bible, or in the writings of past men of God. I finally looked it up and it seems to come from a mix of Christianity and psychology. I don’t have the references now, but a quick search on the Internet should yield similar results.

    My problem with the phrase “unconditional love” is that “unconditional” means no conditions; Law, on the other hand, implies conditions. But with God, love and law are the same: God’s love is expressed in His law; the two great commandments are love to God and love to man…”if you love Me, keep My commandments”…”and this is love, that we walk after His commandments”…etc, etc. Therefore, how can this kind of love possibly be “without conditions?”

    Even if we think of the love of God expressed to the whole world, in giving all of us the same sun, rain, protection from the consequences of sin, etc., there is still a condition to these blessings: namely, that we are ignorant (“forgive them, for they know not what they do”). In the book of Revelation, when God’s wrath is poured out in the seven last plagues, it is only done because the world has been warned, and given a revelation of God through His church, which they have rejected. They are no longer ignorant, and therefore, no longer covered by God’s love. It is very conditional!

    Perhaps it would be better to speak of God’s love as “eternal”, or “unchanging”, rather than “unconditional”…

  8. I guess Christ didn’t really mean all that talk about a new command I give to you, to love your enemies, we can still place conditions on whom we should love, and so can he, I reckon.

    What folks seem to missing here is all the quotes are about our love directed at God. “if YOU love Me, keep My commandments”

    All of us have turned our backs on God, there is not one whom is good, and yet out of His great love for us He sent His son to die for His enemies, sounds pretty unconditional to me, other than we were still breathing.

  9. Rob Bell wrote a book called “Love Wins,” which has made much buzz on the internet, which I have studiously tried to avoid. His premise is that God’s love is unconditional, therefore there’s no hell. This is the idea I am concerned with. We emphasize this notion of unconditional love which then leads to the heretical teaching that all are saved.

    God is love, therefore His love is eternal and has greatly been displayed through creation and primarily through the Gospel. Yes, God loves us, the question is whether we love God, and God only saves those who respond to His love with their love. There is a sense in which God’s love is unconditionally there to all creation, otherwise we would not have life and breath.There is also a very real sense in which His love is conditional based on whether we love Him–“he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father.”

    Modern Christianity has overstated the point and is now bearing its fruit in Rob Bell’s highly successful “ministry” and various others.

  10. Paul,

    Our great need, and our ignorance of God, are the mighty conditions that qualify us for God’s love. Jacob expressed this great need when he pleaded with the angel to bless him. Those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.”

    Jesus did not die for the fallen angels. According to His nature, He certainly loved them as much as He loves us. But they sinned in the light of heaven and the knowledge of God, therefore, they are not ignorant; also, they have hardened themselves to the point where they are insensible to their great need of God. Still, to a certain extent they are deceived into thinking they are on the right path, therefore, their lives are continued until the day of judgement, when this point will be settled.

    Many of the conditions of God’s love are defined in 1 Cor. 13. “Love seeks not her own,”…it’s not selfish…charity “is not puffed up”…it’s not proud and boastful; it “never fails”. It’s not at all like the imitation love of many of the so-called christians of our time who feel free to walk away from their marriage vows just because “he/she didn’t love me, or respect me, or treat me well enough.”

    The spiritual battle going on in this world, is over this issue of what the character, or love, of God is all about, and how it is expressed. In Jesus’ time, mercy, grace, and faith were put aside for a counterfeit substitute: laws and traditions of men. In our time, the problem is different: law, personal responsibility, order, dignity, judgement, rebuking of sin…all are excused by a counterfeit substitutes: the (supposed) unconditional love of God, the “grace” of God, and a teaching of “faith” which is actually presumption (claiming God’s promises without fulfilling the conditions).

    When these ideas are taught, and the end result is that people hide from their sin under these excuses, then it is all just fig leaves…and what better place to take fig leaves from than the pages of the Bible? It is all the more deceptive.

    I’m not advocating a harsh attitude towards sinners….if I saw a man struggling with his sin, or who was so weighed down with the burden of his sins that he thought God could not love him anymore, I wouldn’t tell him about the “unconditional love of God”, but I would tell him that his great need was the very condition that qualified him for that love, and that Christ could never turn away from one who honestly felt and pleaded his great need of the Saviour.

  11. Frank,
    Before we meet these “conditions” for God to love us, what are His feelings towards us, hatred, or mere indifference?

  12. Ok. Lets say that God’s love or grace is conditional. That would mean that there is something we have to do to meet the condition. This “something” or Faith whatever you call it seems to be a very controversial subject. I can’t help but to refer to what Jesus said below.
    “The Son can do nothing of Himself” (John 5: 19).
    “I can of My own self do nothing; My judgment is just, because I seek not Mine own will” (John 5: 30).
    “I receive not glory from men” (John 5: 41).
    “I am come not to do Mine own will” (John 6:38).
    “My teaching is not Mine” (John 7:16)
    “I am not come of Myself” (John 7:28)
    “I do nothing of Myself” (John 8:28)
    “I have not come of Myself, but He sent Me” (John 8: 42).
    “I seek not Mine own glory” (John 8:50)
    “The words that I say, I speak not from Myself” (John 14: 10).
    “The word which ye hear is not Mine” (John 14: 24).

    Lots of use of the words Mine, Myself, I, Mine own, Self, to explain something completely opposite.
    These wise and mysterious words of our Lord do not seem to involve self in fulfilling any conditions. In fact we are to Deny self and let the Holy Spirit do the work. Notice I used the word “let” in that last sentence. That’s because I had to use some kind of word to explain it even thou use of that word is not right.
    My theory is this: The “something” that we do cannot be expressed in any words or deeds or any way possible, We are simply at a total loss for words and will not find them. This is Gods way of making his point about the bad condition we are in and he will not allow us in any way to express it or take take credit, or glory in that condition meeting.. In other words I have noting to say about condition fulfilling.

  13. Paul,

    >hatred, or mere indifference?

    You didn’t give me a third choice! The answer is “c. None of the above”.

    God is love. That is His nature. It doesn’t change. Just as an apple tree will always bring forth apples, so God will always bring forth love. But whether that love will reach us or not, depends on conditions.

    Speaking about God’s love, as something apart from us, has no practical value. Therefore, the idea of “unconditional love” is not just an attempt to define God’s nature, it is supposed to somehow comfort the sinner. This is where I think the danger lies. God’s love will not reach us if we do not fulfil the conditions, regardless of how many great feelings of love He may have towards us.

    For example, it is a manifestation of God’s love to make us His sons. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” (1 John 3:1). But we will not partake of this blessing without the condition of repentance: “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3).

  14. Frank,
    Hmmm. Well I loved my children unconditionally before they were even born, and even more so now, and you say God doesn’t do the same? You are throwing out the baby with the bath water, just because some folks have twisted unconditional love doesn’t mean we who truly know and treasure Him should.

  15. Jeff,
    I followed Mr. Piper’s sermon until the last few seconds when he stated that if Jesus would have prayed for Judas, Judas would be in heaven. That seems to put at least part of the blame for Judas’ betrayal and final death on Christ…?

    >”I loved my children unconditionally…”
    Wait a moment here…they are of your own flesh! That’s a huge condition!! When you can honestly say that you loved Osama bin Laden like you love your own children, then you might have a point.

    I certainly believe God loves even His enemies with an eternal love. But I would never describe this as “unconditional”, because there are rules and bounds that define how the love of God works in it’s relation to man. If it was not so, we would soon confuse God’s love with human (selfish) love.

    Do you suppose, for example, that the Jewish people who rejected Christ’s love did not love their children and neighbours? Certainly they did…it was even in zeal for their nation, and for the protection of their families and religion that they sentenced Christ to death. “Better one man die than that the whole nation perish.” This was an act of love towards their nation. But by this act they rejected the love of God. So it is quite possible to have great human love, and yet leave God’s love entirely out of the picture.

    Consider the church of Laodicea. They consider themselves rich and increased. I imagine if you went into their church service they would go on at great lengths about the love of God, how much He loves them, how infinitely great that love is. But what does Jesus say to them? “I will spue you out of my mouth.” The problem is that they don’t want to see their own spiritual lack, so they look at anything else instead to prove that they are rich. But Jesus commands them to repent: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”

    There is how God’s love works: He loves us so much, that He cannot tolerate to see sin destroy us, so He calls us to repent. If that were the meaning of “unconditional love” then I wouldn’t bother opposing it.

    But I sense that after you preach “unconditional love”, the very next thought will be, “…then even if I sin, God still loves me! And if God loves me so much, then He understands how weak and sinful I am, and will certainly not restrict me from entering heaven for just a few small sins.” And what then of the “repentance” that Jesus commands?…or of the repentance Paul speaks of that is “not to be repented of?” It is not mentioned. And so we end up with a blank check, in God’s name, for sin. And that is where the doctrine really uncovers itself, and we see that it is nothing more than the Catholic doctrine of indulgences in a modern dress!

  16. Frank,
    I believe you missed my point about my love for my children, my point was there wasn’t any conditions they had to meet for me to love them. I admit I don’t love others the way I love my own flesh, but then I’m not God. The love I’m talking about is meeting certain conditions before God can love someone. Is God’s grace conditional also? Do I have clean myself
    up first before I come to Him in my brokeness?

  17. Not to start another argument, but yeah, grace is conditional too, otherwise all have it. “For by grace are you saved through faith”, it’s not “For by grace are you saved through grace” Also there’s James and Peter with “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” It’s the same issue as the love one.

    Is God eternally gracious and gracious to all? Yes, just as He is eternally loving and loving of all. But there is a condition, because of His offer of grace and love, that we must respond to if we truly want to enter His grace and love to the saving of our souls.

  18. Paul,
    God sets the conditions, and therefore they are not burdensome. In the New Covenant, He plants the new law of life and love in us. It’s not up to us to “try” and generate it ourselves, or to “try and love” people that we hate. That is the Old Covenant approach, and it leads to bondage.

    Tossing out the conditions by which God’s love reaches us, and that define how that love acts, seems like freedom, but it will also lead to bondage, because it is simply another human standard in the place of God’s. Maybe these “new rules” are not framed in the context of the ten commandments, but that does not stop them from being legalism. Men who do not take God’s standard, are left to define their own.

    I have first-hand experience dealing with some folks who believed in God’s “unconditional love” towards them, and they acted as if they were so led by “the spirit”, that they did not need to pay close heed to His messages of counsel and judgement as defined in His word. They acted as if they thought they could not err, because God’s spirit was with them. But it was all feelings.

    The end result was that they favoured those who were close to them (seemingly “unconditionally”), and at the same time were extremely biased and prejudiced to those who were not close to them. In the name of God, they trampled all over the rights of another in order to advantage those whom they loved. It was the same spirit that was in the Jewish leaders, “let one man die, that the whole nation perish not.”

  19. Jeff,
    I believe Paul is telling us that salvation is by God’s grace, through faith that He gives us. All of these things are a gift, that is why he tells us, that it is not of our own doing. A gift by defintion is unconditional, we don’t earn it, otherwise it’s not a gift. By the way I don’t consider this exchange an argument ;-)

  20. Paul,
    Can you give some examples of “unconditional love” and how it works out practically?

    God gave man life, but it was definitely on the condition of obedience, otherwise why the warning about the tree, and the consequences of the fall? Certainly God didn’t take back the life He gave, but sin certainly stole it, and God allowed it to happen.

    When apostate Israel wouldn’t heed God’s prophets, Elijah prayed that there would be no rain. Even the rain was given on condition, and there are times when Love sees the need to withdraw blessings that are not appreciated.

    God called the Jewish nation to be His messengers to the world. In Christ’s time, they considered it to be an “unconditional” calling, but it was actually on the condition that they were a spiritual people, and would do that work.

    When they wouldn’t, but crucified Christ instead, the work was given to the early church, but again, on condition. It was only later, before and during the Reformation that the Catholic church declared themselves as “unconditionally” God’s true church.

    There is not such good fruit on this tree of “unconditionallity”. No conditions means no consequences…or am I missing something?

  21. Frank,
    While I was still God’s enemy He sent His son to die and pay the price for my sins. Before God changed my heart years ago I wanted nothing to do with Him, I was my own god, in fact I thought anyone who was trusting in God was weak and foolish. I thought anyone who said they loved God was a weirdo and a freak. I wanted nothing to do with God, Jesus or anyone who claimed to be a Christian. I wouldn’t say I hated God, but I didn’t want to have any contact with anyone or anything that was related to Him.

    I don’t need to go into a lot of detail but I lived pretty sinful life as far as booze, drugs and loose women were concerned. To make a long story short I was going to hell fast, and living for God couldn’t have been farther from my mind.

    God never gave up on me for some reason, if I were Him I sure would have, but I believe my mom’s prayers made a difference. God loved me unconditionally, because under no condition was I wanting Him. Now when it comes to reaping the benefits of His love, yes there are conditions, repentance being one of them. So when I say He loved me unconditionally, I mean it in the way the father loved the prodigal son, no matter what I did or didn’t do, for His glory God loved me.

  22. Paul,
    Thanks for sharing your experience. I can heartily say amen to it! It would also be interesting to know what it was that turned you from your rebellion against God. When you say “under no condition was I wanting Him” this is perhaps how you felt at some point, but was it really so? Somewhere along the line, there must have been a longing for God that was either deeply hidden, or awakened in you by some event or thought.

    In my case, God placed many thoughts in my mind when I was young, and these spoke to my conscience from time to time, until I finally acted on the promptings.

    Now, as regards “unconditional”. I feel we are on “holy ground” when we speak about God’s nature and character, so I want to be careful. In no way would I limit God’s love…it is His nature, and therefore must eternally exist and flow forth. There is no “variance” or “shadow of turning” with God’s character…it ever will be the same.

    Also, as I stated before, His character is also defined in His law, and in passages like 1 Cor. 13. These passages lay down certain rules by which we can identify God’s love. So it has certain principles by which it operates, and therefore I don’t feel comfortable using the word “unconditional”, since that seems to negate any principles of operation.

    I went to one website where a professed Christian was giving his view of “unconditional love” and he went so far as to say that not even sin could separate us from God’s love (he used the verse from Rom. 8:35, and inserted the word “sin” as one of those things that could not separate us from the love of Christ). To my understanding, this is going one giant step too far, and if that is the end result of this teaching, then I want to steer clear of being associated with it.

    As I’ve explained before, I have no difficulty believing that God’s love is extended to unworthy sinners and enemies, because their ignorance and great need makes them utterly qualified for it! God is especially interested in the “lost sheep”, the “prodigal son”, the lepers, etc; the parable of the good Samaritan indicates that where the greatest need is, there is where love is poured forth.

    Therefore, instead of preaching God’s “unconditional love” to a people who do not realize how deep is their sin, and who will just misuse the idea to cover up their defects, I think it would be wiser to preach so as to awaken them to their poor spiritual condition, as Christ tries to do to the church of Laodicea. Then, when they are fully awake, and cry out, “what shall we do to be saved?” then tell them that the love of God is sufficient to fully recover them from their disease. I feel that to be safer ground.

  23. Frank,
    Perhaps the term unconditional election would apply better to me, I know that it is a controversial subject but I do believe that is what Romans 8: 29 preaches. God has predestined His elect to be conformed to the image of His son, only God could enable my heart to want to bow before Him.
    The benefits of God’s love are conditional, but to those He has chosen, we will bend the knee willingly, when we behold His great mercy and grace.

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