Below is an excellent article well written, well reasoned and worth the time to read and discern the presentation.
Do to the excellent nature of this article, I won’t be adding any big comments or concerns, I will just allow this article to speak for itself.
But yes, I did add, bold, italics, underlining and such, and some color as visual prompts to the original message to help highlight the points that stuck out to me.
Is Unconditional Love Biblical?
Dan R. Smedra
Catchy misunderstood phrase or biblical truth?
Before reacting to the article’s provocative title, let me say clearly, we are not suggesting that God’s love (favor), as expressed and explained in Scripture, can be earned or merited. It cannot. What we are saying is the Gospel of grace comes on HIS TERMS, and the continued enjoyment of that blessing comes with His conditions. The nature of the Good News (gospel) is according to God’s authorship, not our own. As recipients of a gift, we do not get to dictate, change or omit the terms upon which it is offered or shared. Whatever you want to call it, “easy-believism,” “cheap grace,” it is not according to God. The goal of this article is to compare what typically passes in certain circles as “Christian love” with the actual teachings of Scripture. Fair enough?
In one of his rich expositions on the subject of love (Romans 12), the Apostle Paul wrote, “Love must be without hypocrisy…” (Rom. 12:9a). In other words, it should be sincere. Implicit in this statement is the converse reality…that not all expressions of love, so-called, are genuine and transparent. So it’s only fair to ask, “Is the oft repeated, “unconditional love” heard and taught from modern church pulpits a clear and genuine presentation of God’s love?” Or, has the subject been distorted?
While God’s love is unwavering and unrelenting, it is not unconditional. According to the testimony of Scripture, when it comes to the subject of God’s love, there is the unavoidable issue of moral integrity. In the sphere of God’s love, evil is neither condoned, nor tolerated. Note carefully the remainder of Apostle Paul’s statement (Romans 12:9b), “Abhor (i.e., intensely hate in the original Greek text) that which is evil; cling to that which is good.” So, genuine love, God’s love, exists within a framework of moral good and evil. Those who assert that morality is relative or unimportant, have no conception, nor connection with real love. Beware! Their pontification about “love” may be nothing short of a ruse to divert attention away from their lack of virtue and integrity.
[Have you seen this frequently? I have and it is becoming even more and more frequent, even among faithful church goers. This is alarming to me.]
Typically, Christians who speak of unconditional love have apprehended, to a degree, the biblical concept of God’s favor (election and grace). These divine realities are truly unconditional in their nature. Many wrongly transfer the “unconditional” aspects of election and grace to the subject of relational love. This is both unbiblical and inappropriate. What mature Christians come to discover is that God’s love is set within the framework of moral integrity–there are conditions (e.g., 1 John 1:6,7). Whether we wish to admit it or not, the same should hold true in human relationships as well.
The Apostle Paul, in his same treatise on love, exhorts believers to “overcome evil with good.” But, never should these admonishments be interpreted in such a way as to rationalize that we should condone or tolerate evil. Genuine love will never excuse the inexcusable, tolerate the intolerable, nor sweep things under the proverbial carpet to avoid conflict. Neither Jesus or any Apostle held such an understanding or interpretation regarding “love.”
In Romans 12:20, Paul quotes from Proverbs saying, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” The phrase “heap burning coals on his head” is an ancient Middle East idiom. Just as live embers on a person’s physical head will likely awaken them from a deep slumber, so good works shown toward those undeserving of them may awaken their hardened conscience—and thus lead to repentance—a change of heart and mind. “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness should lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). Note carefully, that the expression of real love is design to bring about a change in attitude or thinking–a moral realignment–the core meaning of repentance. Those who know nothing of repentance, either toward God or man, know nothing of genuine love. They may speak loudly regarding their so-called “love,” but it is only a humanistic counterfeit of the genuine thing.
Consequently, we are to love our enemies in the conditional context, with the expectation that they will change course and depart from their evil and pride-filled ways. Both Jesus and the Apostles exposed and condemned evil and their exhortation to action was always designed to motivate those engaged in evil toward an attitude of repentance. This is genuine love—biblical love in action—love with ‘strings’ attached.
Ahh…but you say, “What about Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (e.g., Luke 6:32-35)?”
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinner’ love those who love them. And if you go good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.”
Didn’t he teach unconditional love there? Partially yes, but not in the sense we think of it. Note carefully that Jesus’ primary point was to encourage loving, doing good, and even lending, with a motive beyond basic self-interest.
[That is teaching conditions about how to love–BT].
This He did in contrast to the self-righteousness and external complacency created by the requirements of the Mosaic code. His simple appeal[s] to a higher, altruistic motive doesn’t rule out any and all conditions. An additional word from Dr. Lewis S. Chafer may be most helpful at this point.
There is an entirely baseless sentiment abroad which assumes that every teaching of the Lord Jesus must be binding upon the believer during this age simply because He said it. The fact is forgotten that He, while living under, keeping, and applying the Law of Moses, also taught the principles of His future [Millennial] earthly kingdom, and, at the end of His ministry and in relation to His Cross, He also anticipated the teachings of grace. If this threefold division of His teachings is not recognized and maintained, there can be nothing but confusion of mind and consequent contradiction of truth.
There are those who consider the Sermon on the Mount a blueprint for Christian living today. To use it this way would require de-literalizing much of what is taught in order to be able to obey it in this unrighteous world. [PS. We wish to discuss the possibility of obtaining a large loan from any reader who claims faithful adherence to the Sermon. J]
The Bible requires to be “rightly divided.” If you take up parts of Scripture and misapply them, one way or the other, you will surely be a workman that needs to be ashamed.
Alas! how men pervert the Sermon on the Mount. They see certain words laid down by our Lord for His disciples; they find Him insisting that they were not to resist evil, not to return a blow for a blow, nor to use any earthly means for asserting their claims or vindicating them against personal violence, spoliation of their property, etc; the very thing men resent as an infringement of their rights.
Were a Christian to make out of this a code for all men now, what could be more contrary to the mind of God? It would be to attempt governing the world on principles of grace. If you experiment thus on men as they are, it would become a far more dreadful bear-garden* then even in the times of the great rebellion, when they tried to act out the retribution of the Psalmist.
There, Christians were put under the spirit and principle of the law; but the attempt to put the world under that which was intended for the guidance of God’s children would be still worse confusion. The knave and the rogue would be pardoned and caressed, the thief allowed to help himself to as much as he liked. Evidently such principles never would do for the world, neither were they intended for it. The uninstructed may cry out that this is to take away the Bible, or much of it, but it is a totally false alarm. It is only an effort to lead them to understand the Bible; to teach them the real meaning of its various parts. Systematic Theology, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1948.
* “any place where riotous conduct is common or permitted.”
Further, bear in mind that NT Scriptures also calls for a different response toward the unrepentant individual. The day of love and mercy does pass—and then judgment—both by God and men. Surely this was Israel’s history and the ethic by which the early Church lived as well.
- Did not the Holy Spirit slay (kill) Ananias and his wife Sapphira for the sin of lying (Acts 5:1-11)? Can you hear the screams and protests of liberals and liberal churchmen everywhere?
- Did not Peter hold the Jews of Jerusalem culpable for having conspired against and for murdering the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 3:15,19; 4:10,27)? Would not the Apostle Peter today be ironically accused of being an “anti-Semite”?
- Did not the Apostle Paul bring accountability and judgment upon the Corinthians for having harbored and left unconfronted the sexually immoral (1 Cor. 5 & 6)? Have today’s sexually immoral (adulterers, homosexuals, pedophiles, etc.) actually found the church a safe haven?
- And are not Christians warned about the fact that “Evil company corrupts good habits (i.e., character)”? And exhorted, “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.” Does not the moral imperative of biblical separation run afoul of today’s inclusivistic standard?
Where’s the “love”, you ask? Mankind has perverted and turned biblical truth on its head–i.e., upside down. Contrary to the testimony of Scripture, moderns seek to annul God’s unconditional election and grace (based on Christ’s work) by making redemption contingent upon men possessing so-called “free will” and meeting certain conditions. Then they wrongly apply the attribute of unconditional to their thinking about both love and forgiveness.
Over the past several decades, religious liberalism and its stepchild postmodernism have spawned a literal cult of unconditional love and forgiveness. Consequently, nearly every manner of evil is tolerated in the name of this hypocritical “love” or excused on the basis of a false form of forgiveness.
Anyone reading the Bible for themselves will truly find thise truths to be true. I hope that person is you.
One of today’s most prominent advocates of “unconditional love” is Dr. Gregory Boyd. Dr. Boyd, an Emergent postmodern and Open Theist, has written as entire book on the subject entitled: Repenting of Religion: Turning from Judgment to the Love of God. I have posted a review of the book by Australian Bill Muehlenberg here.
Also see Biblical Love: In Relation To Doctrinal Error And Those Who Hold It and The True vs. False Teacher