Friday, March 24, 2006

Is God’s Love & Forgiveness Unconditional? COMMENTARY
By Ed Nicholson

This morning, I was awaken again, I was reminded afresh, to the realities of God’s unconditional love. Sadly, I was also reminded how a lot of people in the world and in the church have the mistaken notion that the unconditional love of God means that our standing before Him is not dependent on our actions. But is this right?

First, we must recognize God’s love is unconditional in that the act was initiated by Him. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Even though we were bad, and doing bad, He loved us. Despite our rebellion, His love was still magnificently and sufficiently initiated towards us from the cross of Calvary by Jesus. Ephesians 2:5 qualifies our state of being at that time when Paul says, “even when we were dead in transgressions.” God loving us was not predicated in any way by our actions. One thing we should all understand, is that dead people don’t contribute to anything. It is by His actions on the cross that God offers us unconditional love.

Secondly, we must recognize His unconditional love is not predicated by the type of people we are. God offers His love to all people – both pretty good people, and pretty bad people; and people of all races, nations, genders, and even “sexual orientations.” You can safely say that in this way, God is inclusive. The Bible says God offered His love to the whole world. (See: 2 Cor. 5:14-15; 1 Tim. 2:6; Heb. 7:27; 9:12-10:2; 1 Pet. 3:18.)

But now that He offers the unconditional love, our experience to that love is conditional based on our response. We need to do something with it; we choose to either receive it or reject it. And it is in this response to that unconditional offer of love which makes our experience to that love conditional.

Think about the words “if” and “then.” These words are transitional devices that imply condition. We find them throughout the Old and New Testaments in description to how God relates to people. If people received His unconditional love, then they would be blessed by Him and through Him. And if people rejected His unconditional love, then they would be cursed as they deservedly receive His wrath.

If you reject this unconditional offer of love to all, your relationship is on a particular footing. In this case, you can keep running your life, doing what you want, and you will eventually stand on that Day – left to your own resources – in your attempts at fulfilling God’s standards of acceptability. Your attempts will be futile as you take the brunt of His perfect judgment.

On the other hand, you can individually choose to accept His love by receiving His provision for your sin. By allowing Jesus’ righteousness to be put to your account, you will stand acceptable before the Judge on that Great Day. And Christ – the only perfect and good Person – will be honored as your Great Deliverer and Savior. If you receive this unconditional offer, you will enter into a right relationship with Him.

But notice another important point: something is required of you if you respond in acceptance to God’s unconditional act of love. And that requirement is your very life. Jesus says, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35). This act of offering ourselves to Him is a continuous, moment-by-moment act of surrender, repentance, confession, and obedience. It is a response of gratitude for what He has already done. (2 Cor. 5:13-14). And it is our spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1-2).

Do you see the distinction between God’s unconditional love and God’s conditional love? The unconditional nature of God’s love to us is found in God’s actions, not ours. The conditional aspect of God’s love comes into play in regards to our actions – namely, our response to His actions. We are doing something about His unconditional act of love. We are either choosing it or we are rejecting it.

Our love towards others has similar unconditional and conditional elements to it.

Our love of others should be unconditional in that it should not be conditional on their response. This, I believe, is what Jesus meant when He said love your enemies. Do your enemies love you or hate you? Of course they hate you. That’s why they are your enemy. But Jesus says to offer your love to them anyway. He is speaking here about unconditional love.

But even this unconditional love towards both friends and foes, in a sense – in a real sense – contains a conditional aspect, especially in regards to its origin. God first initiates this love in us, and through us, and to us. It is therefore dependent on God. Then, and only then, as this love pours out of us towards others through our life and through our lips, is it available to others without favoritism or discrimination. We don’t love others because they love us. We love others because God loves us. We find in 1 John Chapter 4: “We love because he first loved us.” (v. 19) In verses 10 and 11, it says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Now what people do as you extend your – or should I say His – unconditional love is up to them. That’s their choice. You can’t force it on them. They may choose to reject it. If so, then there is no loving relationship between the two of you. As the saying goes, “It takes two to tango.”

This love phenomena dealing with the unconditional act that originates from God and the conditional response-relationship is also true in regards to the phenomena of forgiveness. We are called to forgive those that offend us. Why? For the same reason we love people. God loves us, therefore, we ought to love others. Similarly, God forgave us, therefore, we ought to forgive others:

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:13-14)
But just like love, forgiveness only takes place in the relationship if the offer is accepted by the other. This is why Jesus said don’t forgive those who are unrepentant. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” (Luke 17:3) He is speaking of forgiveness here in regards to the relationship. In other words, don’t be fooled into thinking the relationship is OK when the other person refuses to accept your unconditional offer of forgiveness. If they are not repentant, then they will not receive what you are willing to give. That’s why the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah each said to God concerning unrepentant men: “do not forgive them” (Isaiah 2:9); “Do not forgive their crimes or blot out their sins from your sight” (Jeremiah 18:23). Basically, what’s true with love is true with forgiveness: “it takes two to tango.”

In closing, know that God’s Love and Forgiveness both operate in the same way here: the act by the initiator is unconditional whereas the relationship is conditional. On the one hand, understand they are unconditional first in that they don’t originate from us but from God. It originates from His actions, not ours. Furthermore, it’s unconditional in that He freely offers it to us all. On the other hand, realize that this doesn’t mean that His love and forgiveness function unconditionally in every way, and at all times, and to all people. How one relates to this unconditional love and forgiveness is conditional, or is based on the response of the respective recipient or rejecter – both initially as well as continually. At any time we accept it, in that way we enter into a right-standing relationship to Him. At any time we reject it, in that way we are in a wrong-standing relationship to Him.

God offers all of His love and forgiveness to you today. I hope and pray your response will be to accept it.

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