Is God’s love conditional or unconditional?
Question: "Is God’s love conditional or unconditional?"
Answer: God’s love for mankind, as described in the Bible, is clearly unconditional in that His love is expressed toward the objects of His love despite their disposition toward Him. In other words, God loves without placing any conditions on the loved ones; He loves because it is His nature to love (1 John 4:8). That love moves Him toward benevolent action: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).
The unconditional nature of God’s love is most clearly seen in the gospel. The gospel message is basically a story of divine rescue. As God considered the plight of His rebellious people, He determined to save them from their sin, and this determination was based on His love (Ephesians 1:4–5). Listen to the apostle Paul’s words from his letter to the Romans:
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6–8).
Reading through the book of Romans, we learn that we are alienated from God due to our sin. We are at enmity with God, and His wrath is being revealed against the ungodly for their unrighteousness (Romans 1:18–20). We reject God, and God gives us over to our sin. We also learn that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23) and that none of us seek God; none of us do what is right before His eyes (Romans 3:10–18).
Despite the hostility and enmity we have toward God (for which God would be perfectly just to utterly destroy us), God revealed His love toward us in the giving of His Son, Jesus Christ, as the propitiation (the appeasement of God’s righteous wrath) for our sins. God did not wait for us to better ourselves as a condition of atoning for our sin. Rather, God condescended to become a man and live among His people (John 1:14). God experienced our humanity—everything it means to be a human being—and then offered Himself willingly as a substitutionary atonement for our sin.
This divine rescue, based on unconditional love, resulted in a gracious act of self-sacrifice. As Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). That is precisely what God, in Christ, has done. The unconditional nature of God’s love is made clear in other passages of Scripture:
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4–5).
"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:9–10).
It is important to note that God’s love is a love that initiates; it is never a response. That is precisely what makes it unconditional. If God’s love were conditional, then we would have to do something to earn or merit it. We would have to somehow appease His wrath or cleanse ourselves of sin before God would be able to love us. But that is not the biblical message. The biblical message—the gospel—is that God, motivated by love, moved unconditionally to save His people from their sin.
Also important is the fact that God’s unconditional love does not mean that everyone will be saved (see Matthew 25:46). Nor does it mean that God will never discipline His children. To ignore God’s merciful love, to reject the Savior who bought us (2 Peter 2:1), is to subject ourselves to God’s wrath for eternity (Romans 1:18), not His love. For a child of God to willfully disobey God is to invite the Father’s correction (Hebrews 12:5–11).
Does God love everyone? Yes, He shows mercy and kindness to all. In that sense His love is unconditional. Does God love Christians in a different way than He loves non-Christians? Yes. Because believers have exercised faith in God’s Son, they are saved. The unconditional, merciful love God has for everyone should bring us to faith, receiving with gratefulness the conditional, covenant love He grants those who receive Jesus as their Savior.
Recommended Resource: The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson
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