I had an atheist man send me a message not long ago. He was asking a question about the nature of God. He said, “since God is unconditional love that means he cannot NOT love us, so…” Then he went on to ask his question. His question wasn’t even about God’s unconditional love. He took that as a given. He, like me, had been so indoctrinated into the idea that God is only love, that he had not considered any other options.
For the near 30 years that I have been cognizant of what’s going on, I’ve heard the ‘God loves you unconditionally’ message probably 100 times as often as I’ve heard any other teaching. I’ve been told that God loves unconditionally so many times that it would be easy to believe that we are spiritually invincible. Often this message of God’s unconditional love is not even set inside of a gospel presentation, it’s just presented as a fact. Believers and non-believers alike are bombarded with reminders that God loves them without condition. The conclusion that one could easily draw is, “If God loves me unconditionally, why should I worry about anything? He couldn’t let me die and spend eternity in torment if he loves me, could he?”
There’s a huge problem with the ‘unconditional’ love of God teaching. The problem is that we have no evidence that God’s love is unconditional. One of Jesus most trusted friends said, “God is Love.” However, he didn’t say, “God is unconditional love.” The word ‘unconditional’ doesn’t even appear in any of the standard English translations of the Bible. If you’ve been told that God loves you unconditionally, you’ve been lied to. Unconditional love is missing from the Bible. Why do we continue to teach it?
Salvation is not unconditional because Jesus said, “He who believes in Him [Jesus] is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” So there’s a single condition attached to salvation, believe in Jesus. It’s not unconditional.
Friendship with God is not unconditional because Jesus says, “you are my friends if you do everything I command.” Don’t confuse friendship with salvation; they are two different things. Friendship and closeness with God are synonyms. Being close to God is not unconditional because James said, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” Clearly a close fellowship with God requires work. That means it’s not unconditional.
Reward in Heaven can’t be unconditional because he said, “For the Son of Man will come… and then He will reward each according to his works.” Don’t confuse ‘reward’ with salvation, they are two different things. Reward requires good works. Only believers are eligible to gain rewards in addition to their salvation, sometimes this is called ‘treasure in heaven.’ That means that reward is not unconditional.
The Bible says that he loves the world a whole lot, as in chapter three of John. Paul says that Christ’s love is wide and high and deep. He even says that God wants all people to come to a knowledge of the truth and to be saved. However, nowhere in the Bible does it say that God loves without conditions. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. This seems especially true of the unbelievers. Paul tells us that God views those in sin as his enemies. Psalms tells us that God hates those who do iniquity. That’s right, He hates them. Iniquity means immoral or grossly unfair behavior. Psalms also tells us that God hates those who love to do violence. In Hosea it says that God came to hate the people at Gilgal and love them no more because of their evil. So God does not love all people equality, and in some cases, based on their evil, he even can hate them.
This may not surprise you too much. You may have already known that God could grow to hate those who do evil. You may have already heard that God considers unbelievers as enemies. However, this brings up an important question. Does God love all who believe in him? Does God love all Christians?
Remember what Paul said in Romans, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So, while his love may not be unconditional, he loves us enough to offer us an unbreakable promise. We can rest assured that once we’ve fulfilled his condition of ‘believing in Jesus’ then nothing can separate us from his love. That means that God loves all Christians. This brings up another question. Is it possible, as a Christian, to get God to love you even more than he already does? The answer to this may be strange to you. The answer is, yes.
Here’s a mind bender. God doesn’t love all Christians equally. He does love all Christians, but not the same amount. You’re probably thinking, “wow!” I know. This hit me pretty hard. I grew up hearing things like, “God can’t love you any more than he already does.” Oops, my Sunday School teacher apparently wasn’t getting that from her Bible, because the Bible teaches that God’s love is conditional. Even once we’re Christians God loves us more if we fulfill certain conditions.
Jesus said to his disciples, “for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.” Notice from this verse that God loves them because they are believers, and because they love Jesus. These are two distinct and separate attributes. Belief and love are two different things. These are two separate characteristics for which God loves the disciples. That means that God loves all believers to some extent, but he loves the believers who love Jesus even more than the ones who are just believers. In other words, God loves all Christians, but he loves those who are committed to the Christian lifestyle even more. So God loves some more than others on the condition of their salvation, and even more on the condition of their love for Jesus.
There are other statements in the Bible like this one. “God loves a cheerful giver.” He’s talking about Christians here. Some don’t give. Some give begrudgingly. Some give cheerfully. The one who gives cheerfully gets love from God because of it. This presumes that the others aren’t getting as much love because of their stinking attitude. This supports the idea that God loves all Christians, but loves those who are committed followers even more.
Jesus said, “you are my friends if you do everything I command.” Friendship is another way of saying ‘love.’ God loves all believers, but apparently he loves those who obey him more. We can be considered friends with the God of the universe. If we believe in him he will love us to some extent. If we believe in him and do what he commands, he will love us even more.
Now it’s important that you understand this. Our salvation is not tied to the amount of love that God has for us. God offered salvation because he “loved the world so much” as John put it. However, as an individual, if you are saved it’s because Jesus promised eternal life to all those who believe. You can become a believer, have eternal life, and still disappoint and frustrate God with your daily life. God isn’t saving you as an individual because you pleased him. If you have eternal life, it’s because you have fulfilled his one condition for gaining eternal life, which is believed in Jesus. The amount that God loves you, and the amount that you love God, is not what determines your salvation. It’s a good thing too, because no one could love God enough, or do enough good to make God love them enough to gain salvation.