God’s Love is Conditional
Yes. You read that right … I’m saying that God’s love is conditional. Please let me explain before you write me off as a heretic. God’s love is clearly unconditional in that His love is not dependent upon any condition in us. He loves us based upon who He is and nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:31ff make that so beautifully clear).
However, when we use the word unconditional, there can be a tendency to view God’s love as a general principle that has little to do with the specifics of our lives. In the same way we might say, “Well, my parents have to love me, it’s their job.” We might, without realizing it, be saying the same thing about God. “He has to love me. It’s His character, but there is so much that is unlovable about me.”
When we understand God’s love as a general principle, we don’t experience Him loving and redeeming the specific dark parts of who we are. We might even label parts of who we are as unlovable which can lead to hiding those parts of ourselves or even repressing those things.
The reality is that God’s love is conditional in the sense that He loves us in our present condition. He loves the real us … even the dark, sinful parts. Those unsanctified, unredeemed places are not unlovable at all. Romans 5:8 says that “God demonstrates His loves for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The demonstrated love of God is conditional because He loves us right where we are.
Many are fond of saying, “God loves me in spite of my sin.” No! The reality is that He loves us in light of our sin. He loves the unredeemed, broken places and only when we begin to talk to Him about those places and bring them to His light and love will we experience the spiritual healing that only love and acceptance can bring. We are loved not in spite of but in light of our sin.
1 John 1:9 encourages us to “confess our sin.” Confession is a word in the original Greek text that means to “say the same thing as.” The idea is that we are encouraged to say that same thing about our sin that God does. In the past, I have often understood that to mean that when I become aware of sin in my life, I promptly confess it as sin to God and move on. However, simply calling something sin in God’s presence doesn’t mean that I have confessed it. I realize that my previous understanding that God loves “in spite” of my sin meant that I thought I needed to move on quickly and get past that sin. Like an eraser that quickly cleans a pencil mark. Confession was a magic eraser and simply saying “I confess ________ as sin” erased things. To be clear, this is appropriate but really only the beginning of a conversation.
To “say the same thing as” means that I need to have a conversation about this area of sin in my life. What does God have to say about it, not generally but specifically? Am I allowing Him to love me and show me what’s really going on in my life? Am I allowing Him to search me and know me in a way that allows to me let go of those independent patterns that lead me to act in my own power, according to my own strength, by my own wisdom? Confession seems to imply a conversation … a conversation that it is rooted in love.
Clearly, God’s love is unconditional but only in understanding that it is also conditional (specific to the realities of my life) will I experience cleansing from unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Consider that the emphasis of 1 John 1 to “walk in the light” means not that we walk in perfection but that we allow light (in other words, “the truth”) to shed light on the dark parts of us. When light exposes us, we can then have a conversation with God where we allow Him to love us.