“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
– Romans 5.8
I have been reflecting on American culture and our concepts of love/offense the last few days. American individualism and self-determination elevates and idolizes the concept of unconditional love – and the theme encompasses how we view the world: tolerance, acceptance, post-modernism, etc. The idea of unconditional love, in my opinion, is most commonly associated with the idea of “motherly love”. But a few weeks ago my father said something that struck me. He was reflecting on the “household rules” that we had growing up, and talking about children moving home when they are adults. He said that as adults now, to live under his household we would be required to live by God’s standards. Because he loves God first, and his responsibility is to God first.
My father would not cease to love me, and it would greatly break his heart if I abandoned the faith and lived according to the world, but he has chosen to honor God with his life first. And Scripture has very strict guidelines for how to interact with a believer who is unsubmissive to the mandates of God.
In reflecting on these types of truths I wondered what it was exactly that led us to believe that God’s love is unconditional. The verse that came to mind was Romans 5.8. God chose to send His Son to die for us and to take our punishment while we were yet sinners. In fact, while we were enemies of God (James 4.4).
In this very real sense, God’s love is unconditional. He did not choose to love us because of anything that we have done or because of who we are. He just did. He sacrificed His Son and offers us salvation on the simple ground that He Himself is love (1 John 4.8). But God is also holy (1 Peter 1.16). And he does not tolerate sin.
The weight of sin is directly proportionate to the dignity of the one against whom the sin is committed. For instance: to utterly destroy a brown recluse spider is considered (at least in western, non-Hindu culture) a good deed. If a child pulls off the legs of a daddy long leg spider, we would not question his disposition as that of a severely disturbed psyche. However. To utterly destroy a cat or dog would cause a portion of our population to become enraged, you would have to answer to animal rights organizations and you would be labeled as a disturbed person. If you were to murder a human being, or even kill another person accidentally, our legal system would lock you up, if not kill you. To sin against God, in any way, because of the extent of His holiness, earns us eternal damnation in Hell. Even the sin of eating a piece of fruit when told not to was enough to separate Adam and Eve from God – because His value is so high that even the smallest sin is so grievous that an eternity of suffering could not satisfy the offense.
And His perspective on sin is to not overlook it. In fact, Scripture says that the one who overlooks or justifies sin is an abomination to God (Prov 17.15).
Therefore his love is not unconditional, in the sense that to walk in unity with Him, to be accepted by Him, and to spend eternity in His rest is contingent upon our faith, repentance, transformation and obedience to Him. All sin is punished. The sin of the redeemed was punished on the cross. The sin of the lost will be punished, on the offender, in eternity. God does not love and accept us regardless.
So let us press on to know the Lord (Hos 6.3). Let us put away the things of the world and die to sin (1 Peter 2.24). Let us always remember the glory of the One who has satiated his own wrath in the person of His own Son so that we might live a life that honors Him…not to earn His love, as His love is above anything we can do, but to honor His love that He offers us and not defame the One who died for us.