Unconditional Love: It Might Not Be What You Think

Unconditional love. It sounds so good. And yet many people reject the idea that God loves us unconditionally. To be honest, I don’t blame them, because I have seen many people misuse this concept.

However, as we saw before, God really does love us unconditionally. It is true that as we draw near to Him, He draws near to us, and our relationship deepens. But even when we run away from Him, God still loves us and longs to reunite with us.

But we need to understand that God’s unconditional love is not His unconditional approval. There is plenty of evidence in Scripture that God does not approve of sin; that He desires to cleanse us from sin; that when we walk in sin, it disrupts our fellowship with God. Paul sternly rebuked the Corinthians for allowing an immoral man to remain part of the church and commanded them to excommunicate him to help bring him to repentance (1 Cor. 5). Later, it seems, this man repented, and Paul instructed them to bring him back in (2 Cor. 2:6-8).

God loves us too much to allow us to remain in sin and messed-up living. God tells us how we should live because it’s the best way to live, not because He just wants to make us do things for no good reason. So, when we disobey Him and do the wrong thing, God wants to see us change and live in righteousnessbecause He loves us!

The Brennan Manning Error

Brennan Manning was a former priest who wrote and spoke about the love of God. He pointed people back to the truth that God loves them, no matter what. He spoke eloquently of the incredible vastness of God’s love and was a big influence in the life of singer Rich Mullins.

Yet, as shown in the movie Brennan, Manning was also a deeply flawed man. He could be angry and unkind. He was an alcoholic; he lied so much that his friends lost trust in him; and his wife left him because she couldn’t take his drinking and deception any longer.

Near the end of the movie, Manning preaches a message in a church. He explains that recently, he had awoken in an alley, coming out of a drunken stupor. “God loved me just as much then as He does now,” he said.

Which was true. But he missed something huge. Jesus’ unconditional love didn’t excuse Manning’s sin and leave him in it. Because of His love, Jesus wanted to cleanse Manning from his sins of drunkenness and lying, and make him an honest, sober man:

[Jesus Christ] gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good works. (Titus 2:14)

A Bigger Picture of God’s Unconditional Love

We can fall in the ditch of the Pharisees and ignore the love of God or assume that He only loves those who are good (Luke 11:42). Or we can fall into the ditch where we wallow in the mud of sin while remembering God’s unconditional love for us.

But I suggest to you that we don’t want to be in either ditch. Neither one is a very comfortable place to be. Let’s recognize all the truth:

  • God loved us before we ever loved Him.
  • Even when we walk in sin, God still loves us and longs to be reconciled.
  • Because He loves us, God offers us the power to overcome sin and walk in righteousness.
  • When we love Jesus, we will keep His commands and love our brothers and sisters in Christ.


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3 Replies to “Unconditional Love: It Might Not Be What You Think”

  1. How is it unconditional love for God to kill two people in the church because they lied to Him (Acts 5:1-10)? God did not give them the opportunity to change. Or the thousands upon thousands that God killed or had killed in the Old Testament, who were part of His church in that era, because they did not follow His instructions?

    1. Dad, your comment illustrates the basic premise of this post: that God’s love, though unconditional, does not mean that He always approves of everyone that He loves.

      It’s interesting to me that the Bible says that God is just, but not justice; merciful, but not mercy; gracious, but not grace. But when it comes to love, the Bible doesn’t just say that God is loving; it says that He IS love. In other words, love is simply part of who God is. If I understand that correctly, it means that there is no way for God to act apart from love.

      A related question that people ask all the time is “How can a loving God send people to Hell?” Or, “How could a loving God drown the whole world?” And I confess that I don’t have the answers. But we have a choice: we can either believe that when God says that He is love, that He really is; or we can call Him a liar. We can choose to believe that He sent His Son because He loved us, even when we were sinners; or we can choose to believe that He is a narcissistic psychopath who only wants power and lies through his teeth to get it.

      And I have found that, when we get to know God as our Heavenly Father and truly experience His love, the questions fade away. I KNOW that God loves me, and that He IS love. I don’t understand why He has made some of the choices and judgments that He has shown, but I trust that since He is God, He knows best.

      Nowhere does Scripture tell us that God stops loving those who disobey Him. The Old Testament prophets give us a glimpse of what’s really going on. For example, in Zephaniah 3, God laments His people’s disobedience and talks about how He is judging them for it. But then He goes on to explain His plan to redeem and purify them, and make them righteous. The chapter ends up with Him rejoicing over His people!

      In short, just because God killed Ananias and Sapphira, it doesn’t mean that He stopped loving them. Instead, it’s a sober reminder that God’s love is not a license to sin.

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