Is God's Love Unconditional?

People think it's an insult to say God's love isn't unconditional. But it's actually an insult to say it is. Scripture never uses that description.
 
False ideas about God's love are more widespread than ever. It's essential that we accurately understand God's love based on what Scripture teaches us. 

💙 God’s eternal, unfailing love offers us salvation. 
 ⮚ But there’s a condition: only believers receive it (John 3:36).  
 ⮚ Calling God’s love unconditional has led some to believe in universal salvation.
 
💙 His love is merciful and undeserved. 
 ⮚ But there are conditions for maintaining a healthy relationship with God (John 15:10).  
 ⮚ Calling God’s love unconditional has made some believe in cheap grace

💙 God’s love is forgiving. 
 ⮚ But there’s a condition: we must believe and repent (1 John 1:9-10). 
 ⮚ Calling God’s love unconditional has led some to reject repentance and downplay sin.

Even though the Bible never uses the word unconditional to describe God's love, it might be loosely applied in these areas: God blesses everyone with benefits of His creation (Matthew 5:45), and He offers salvation to those who don’t deserve it (Romans 5:8).(1)

But there are many aspects of God’s love that contain conditions. Furthermore, the term unconditional love originated in secular psychology.(2) 

We can’t earn God’s love, we don’t deserve it, it’s perfect, unfailing, eternal, merciful, and kind—but "unconditional" is a misleading description.

Let me give you an example to clarify:

Jesus says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline” (Revelation 3:19). Based on this element of God's love, shall we call it "rebuking love"? No. That's misleading. And "unconditional love" is also misleading.

Let’s not be taken captive by popular misunderstandings that misrepresent God’s character and depend on human wisdom rather than on Christ (Colossians 2:8).

💙Beyond 1-minute for those who want more:

(1) These elements of God's love which might be called unconditional (the blessing of creation and the offer of salvation) are not legitimately unconditional because God's love is eternal, whereas these benefits are limited to earth. They won't be offered indefinitely, and something with limitations cannot legitimately be called unconditional. Perhaps that is why we don't find the word unconditional in Scripture. 

(2) Origin of the term “unconditional love”:

There are several possible origins. Some believe it came from the Hindu/Buddhism word Bhakti in the Sanskrit. Some believe it originated with psychologist Carl Rogers who rejected the idea of fidelity in marriage and favored a love without conditions. But the most likely source for the origin of the term is Erich Fromm, an atheistic psychologist who is known to have used the term in 1934 and further explained it in his book The Art of Loving. (source

Since the term originated in atheism, it's fitting to use a secular source to describe it: "At its best, it's a plea for tolerance. But, at its worst, it articulates a modern narcissism that demands perpetual approval and regards criticism as assault." (source)

The Greek and Hebrew manuscripts never use a word meaning “unconditional” to describe God’s love. Nor is it found in any translation of the Bible. 

In reality, unconditional love is an oxymoron. Unconditional means without any conditions, values, or expectations. For example, if a husband has unconditional love for his wife, he will feel exactly the same about her if she is faithful or has regular adulterous affairs. If a parent has unconditional love for their child, they will never set rules for his behavior, nor will they punish him even when it is for his best good. Neither of these attitudes could legitimately be called "love."

If God had unconditional love, He wouldn’t care about right and wrong, He’d never give us commands, and He’d send no one to Hell. And that's exactly what many popular false teachers are claiming. But unconditional love is neither biblical, nor is it loving.

Does this mean a pastor or teacher is spreading heresy using the term? Not usually. 

It has become such a normal part of Christian language in the last 75 years, that most people use the term without thinking it through. Some people use the term to mean "once saved always saved." Others simply want to praise God's love, and they use unconditional to mean faithful, eternal, undeserved, or perfect. But none of these meanings are synonymous with unconditional

Nothing can separate genuine believers from God's love (Romans 8:31-39), but the unbelievers will be permanently separated from it in Hell (2 Thessalonians 1:9). That's the most important condition of all. 

The Bible offers many wonderful adjectives for describing God’s love. There's no reason that the description of an atheistic psychologist should be more popular than God's descriptions. 

Scriptures that explain that God's love has conditions for believers and unbelievers: 

Some people admit that salvation is conditional, but they insist God’s love is unconditional. This is like saying God loves me without conditions unless I want to be saved. First, we can't separate aspects of God’s character, plans, and purposes from His love. Everything God does flows from His love. In fact, God is love (1 John 4:8). 

Second, as the Scriptures below explain, God's love has conditions for both saved and unsaved people. God's love isn't fragile. His love gives us confidence in our salvation. But that does not make it unconditional. 

God's love is better than unconditional love, far better!

I encourage you to renew your mind (Romans 12:2) with these passages that clearly show the conditional aspects of God’s love. 

The condition for salvation:

See Grace and Works, Faith and Obedience.

Romans 10:9: "If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

John 3:36: "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them."  

People think it's an insult to say God's love isn't unconditional. But it's actually an insult to say it is. Scripture never uses that description.

The condition for remaining in God’s love: 

See God's Commands Empower Us.

These verses don't mean we lose our salvation if we disobey a command. They explain that our well-being, our fruitfulness, and our wholeness is dependent on these conditions. 

John 15:10: "If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love."

John 14:21: "Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them." 

John 14:23: "Jesus replied, 'Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.'"

John 15:9-10: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love."

John 15:4: "Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me." 

The conditions for forgiveness: 

See 4 Things That Happen When We Fail to Repent.

If Christians die before confessing a sin, they will be forgiven based on their faith in Christ. But we are commanded to regularly examine ourselves and repent of known sin. Failing to do this distances us from God. 

1 John 1:9-10: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us." 

Matthew 6:15: "If you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." 

The condition for gaining wisdom: 

See 3 Steps for Seeking God's Wisdom.

James 1:5-7: "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord." 

The condition for rewards: 

See 6 Ways God Rewards Faithfulness and Earthly or Eternal Rewards.

1 Corinthians 3:12-15: "If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames."  

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 Additional Bible Love Notes that can further clarify this subject:

A Misleading Description about God's Love

Scripture Never Calls God's Love Unconditional

Q&A About Unconditional Love

God's Love is Better than Unconditional

Additional articles explaining that God's love is not unconditional:

Unconditional Love and Acceptance

Does God Love Everyone the Same?  

Good News! God Does Not Love You Unconditionally

Bob Russell on the Myth of Unconditional Love

Berean Publishers on Unconditional Love

R.C. Sproul on Unconditional Love

Gospel Coalition - Why God's Love Is Better Than Unconditional

You might also read John Piper's view of unconditional love. He explains God as having both unconditional and conditional love. I don't see Scripture defining God's love in this way, but his explanations still offer some understanding. See Hope for More Than Unconditional Love.

Bible Love Notes

6 comments:

  1. Why is this called one minute Bible notes because it is very misleading ! I am not complaining because you have some great material but if you want to be honest you should rename it to 10 minute Bible notes !

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    1. Hi Humble Man,
      You are correct. If you read everything in this post, it will take the average reader 6-8 minutes because most folks read between 200-250 words per minute. So I totally get your question, especially if you're a new reader.

      Typically, the 1-minute devotion is above the dotted line. Then on some devotions, I add additional notes below the dotted line when a subject requires additional notes to be fully understood. And this subject definitely requires additional notes because most people think "unconditional love" is a biblical term and they think you are doubting God's goodness to explain it is not.

      In fact, I believe the "above the line" devotion on this one is also a bit longer than usual.

      When Bible Love Notes began, there were no notes below the dotted line, but now you will find them more and more. Sometimes they are the text for the Scriptures linked in the devotion, sometimes additional thoughts or resources.

      I'm becoming increasingly aware of the importance of having people examine the Scriptures carefully, and sometimes people won't click a link but they'll read the text if it's supplied.

      Perhaps I should consider changing the name. Your question is certainly food for thought.

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    2. I like that it's thorough and it helps to study scripture; no matter if it's one minute or 30 minutes; any time spent in God's word is well worth it.

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  2. Maybe 1 minute ,sometimes more cab be you new name..lol..I love whatever you have to say..Sometimes I need so much more..but when you do as God leads you ,then that's all that matters..

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    1. Yes, I definitely think that's a better idea. After the previous comment, I decided I will add "💙Beyond 1-minute for those who want more" on the longer devotions. God bless you!

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  3. Thank you for this! I'm going to upset people today and I don't care. They create their lives to fit in sins and then smile at me as if I'm stupid and say "But God loves me unconditionally!" And I say "nooo not quite" and this is just what I needed to give my reply a boost. Thank you.

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