Posted: Jan 27 2016
In my previous post, I ended with a discussion on “unconditional love” and stated that despite the fact the phrase is widely used today in the Christian world, it is NOT Biblical. Which freaks people out:
“You mean God does not love us?!”
Oh, he loves us. It’s just not “unconditional.” Let me explain…
You see, God does not love you just the way you are, He loves you DESPITE the way you are. Mere semantics? Hardly. The phrase “God loves you just the way you are” implies there is no need for you to change and He expects nothing from you. Yet change is absolutely central to the message of Jesus.
“Unless you repent [change] you will all perish.” (Luke 13:3)
Does God love us in our sin and wretchedness? Without question. That means while we were separated from Him in our unbelief and sin, He still loved us.
"WHILE we were still sinners, Christ died for us ..." (Romans 5:8)
In fact, it is that very love that reaches into our darkness and veniality to rescue and redeem us. What it does not mean is that we are free to act and behave in ways contrary to His standards. It’s not a license to conduct our lives carelessly or wantonly, thinking it doesn’t matter because “Jesus loves me unconditionally.”
The Bible is replete with the language of transformation. That’s why we see words like repent, transformed, new creation, new birth, forsake, change, and forgive. If God didn’t expect change in us, we would find no such words; but they’re everywhere.
Even after we become believers, the unsurpassed love of God doesn’t change one iota when we stumble, sin or screw up. The love He lavishes upon us is not contingent upon whether or not we “check the boxes” and do everything to perfection. Not one of us can pull that off anyway. We need to understand that God does love us in any state we are in and at all times. What we have to avoid is the idea that God’s love affords us the luxury of carelessness or nonchalance or that there are no rules. You see, it’s precisely because of His love for us that He gives us His conditions or rules; because without conditions love is not possible.
What Does the Bible Teach About Rules and Conditions?
I believe that God loves us with a love that is beyond comprehension, but it still must have conditions. Yes, we can say God’s love is unequivocal, unmitigated, unquestionable, unending, unfathomable, un-ANYthing, but why corrupt it with the word unconditional, especially when the word is never found in the Bible? Without conditions or rules, love is not possible.
“This is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” (I John 5:3)
The Bible contains very clear conditions for knowing God. In His Word, God expressly lays out the promises, the rules and the consequences, both good and bad.
“You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed.” (Psalms 119:4)
Remove the conditions, and you remove the bulk of the teachings of the Bible. In almost every chapter we find instructions, commands, deadlines, laws, consequences, ordinances, controls, rules, limitations, CONDITIONS, all required for human beings to live peaceful, joy-filled lives. If we were capable of living without the conditions, there would have been no need for them to be written.
“Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors.” (Psalms 119:24)
To say that God has no conditions is to propose a version of faith that empowers narcissism and selfishness; it is to promote a faith where people only serve God when it pleases them, where people never really commit to anything. A kind of faith where people never tithe or give any serious amount of money to further the Kingdom of God, who never volunteer or serve in any meaningful capacity.
But doesn’t grace remove the conditions?
Of course not! Example:
Should you kill someone? No.
Will God forgive you if you kill someone? Yes.
Then I can kill someone!
Grace, while forgiving the transgression, never removes the rule.
“Do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh.” (Galatians 5:13)
In the posts that follow, let's walk through the scriptures in order to dispel the wrong thinking that has confused so many. This isn't exhaustive, but it does underscore some major points.
First, allow me to make one thing very clear: In no way am I attempting to promote legalism or the condemnation that goes along with it. This is a discussion of the basic conditions required for love to exist. That is much different than legalism. Legalism is when people add their own rules to God’s original rule. That is what the Pharisees of Jesus' day did. They took God’s basic commands and then added all kinds of oppressive rules to help support the command. God said, “Don’t work on the Sabbath.” The Pharisees then added rules for exactly what one could or could not do on the Sabbath, rules that turned the command into a burden instead of a blessing.
For example: Let’s say we have a rule that says, “Do not let your children play in the street.” Certainly, a reasonable request considering that no one wants their child to get hurt. Well, a legalist would come along and say, “Since our children should not play in the street, let’s make sure they don’t play in the yard. That way they won’t be tempted to play in the street.” Then someone ups the ante by saying, “Let’s make sure the children play inside with the curtains closed so that they won’t feel tempted to want to go outside which, of course, could lead to playing in the street.” Then another well-intended legalist says, “Children should only play in the basement, because if they play upstairs they will be tempted to look out the curtain, feel compelled to play in the yard and then eventually end up in the street!!”
So the legalist takes the rule of “Don’t play in the street” and turns it into “Children should only play in the basement of a house where the curtains are always drawn.” He takes a sensible rule and turns it into something that was never intended and certainly something that is not necessary. In the end, what was intended for good becomes oppressive.
Many Evangelicals play this game when it comes to serving communion. Even though Jesus clearly served wine (real, honest-to-God, fermented grape liquid), most Evangelical churches refuse to do the Biblically accurate thing during communion and serve grape juice instead. Their logic? If you serve a tiny thimble of wine, it could cause some guy to stumble, run out to the store, buy a bottle of Jack Daniels, get drunk out of his mind and then beat his wife. So, they help God out by taking the rule of “Do not get drunk” and decide to forbid anyone to touch any alcohol at all. Legalism.
I am not a legalist. I am not adding to what God said, I am merely pointing out what He said.
Check out my next blog post for a look at the scriptures that clearly point to God’s rules and conditions for us.
*From my book “The Battle Over Rules” available at: www.markgungor.com