We hear a lot about unconditional love these days – “Jesus loves you, no strings attached,” etc. Does God love unconditionally? Can Christian parents love their children even if these children do not wish to walk in God’s ways?
In a popular children’s video series, each show ends with one of the main characters telling his viewers, “God made you special, and He loves you very much.” That statement reflects a now common assumption that God is the embodiment of love, bearing no hint of hatred, condemnation or disapproval.
You do well to question that assumption. Because no matter how warm and fuzzy it may make people feel, it doesn’t reflect the reality of what God has revealed about Himself.
But first, let’s recognize that the Bible does emphasize God’s love. With 1 John 4:16, we confess: “God is love.” Likewise, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19), recognizing that God did so love the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16).
Yet God’s love is not unconditional.
For not only is our God loving, He also is just and righteous. Psalm 5:4-5 reminds us that our God is “not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.” And Psalm 11:5 says that with His very being, God “hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” The God who is merciful, gracious and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness is the same God who “will by no means clear the guilty” (Exod. 34:6-7).
So to speak of God’s “unconditional” love is misleading. While He does show favour to all men – for instance, with the rain that waters our land and the food that fills our mouths (Acts 14:17) – His love requires the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Only through His perfect life, atoning death and triumphant resurrection can we be reconciled to God and saved from His wrath (Rom. 5:10). Only by Christ can we be redeemed from the curse that our lawlessness deserves (Gal. 3:13). Only by the love that sent Christ can we be rendered holy and blameless before God – and, in this way, be made able to receive God’s wholehearted love. So there is a condition to God’s love, and that condition is Christ. Of course, He promises His love to all who profess faith in Him, along with their children (Gen. 17:7; Acts 2:39). But if our profession is false, and in reality we lack faith, we make ourselves covenant-breakers who are cut off from God and His love. So there also is a condition on our part – but a condition met only through the work of God’s Spirit, who unites us to Christ and His merits. Again, the condition of God’s love is Christ.
What of Christian parents? Can we love our children “unconditionally”? Well, yes and no. We should always strive to love our children, just as God loved us enough to send Christ even “while we were still sinners” (Rom. 5:8). And that love ought to cause us to long for nothing less than their restoration to God through Christ (Gal. 6:1).
For young children, such love demands not only hugs and compliments, but discipline and instruction. For adult children who depart from God’s ways, true Christian love may require us to support the elders who bring Church discipline toward them, or even to withhold some expressions of parental love to keep them from mistaking our love for support of their sinful lifestyles. However, those are hard decisions to make. They call for much prayer and the counsel of trusted Christian advisors.
Our prayer should always be that our children’s souls might be restored to God (James 5:19-20) – a desire that should capture us because Christ has delivered us, and now His love dwells in us (1 John 4:7 ff.). So once more, our love is conditional only upon the gracious love of Christ, who poured out His love on the cross to deliver us – and to cause us to reflect His love to others.
Rev. Doug Barnes is pastor of Hills United Reformed Church, Canada.
Taken with permission from Christian Renewal
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