Written by Paul J. Bucknell on April, 18, 2019
God’s Unconditional Love
Describing God’s Unfathomable Love
How can we describe God’s unfathomable love? There are various words or descriptions that can be used, but I like to use “unconditional love” to point to the secure and eternal state of God’s love for those forever captured by His love. Other words, persistent, faithful, relentless love also describe the tenacity of God’s love.
The original reason I used unconditional love, however, goes back to my marriage book, Building a Great Marriage, to describe the need for the husband’s ongoing love for his wife no matter how she responds to him. The argument comes from Ephesians 5:21-31 where Christ’s love for the church is presented as the model of love and is to be magnified not only for its sacrifice but also for its ongoing commitment. God’s unconditional commitment to the church sent Christ, His only Son, to sacrifice His life to secure His otherwise unattractive bride (the church) forever. His love and sacrifice was not limited due to the response of the church. The eternality of the relationship between God and His people is the enjoyed security of the church. The promise of “eternal life,” used forty-four times in the New Testament, speaks on how His people cannot lose being the objects of God’s wonderful outpouring of love.
Questioning God’s Unconditional Love
God’s unconditional love is unquestionable, at least from the Lord’s perspective. Even back in Jeremiah 31:3, God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.” His eternal, persevering love, decided upon in eternity past, endures until today and into eternity. As we are loved, so we are to love, giving God’s people a special ability to love those who hate or curse them. The husband’s love and words should by all means covey to his wife, no matter how emotionally distraught or wrinkled she gets, he is devoted to her for life.
Each adjective highlights a special aspect of God’s magnificent love. The root of conditional love, however, relies on the security it provides and doesn’t allow one partner’s failure to uproot the covenant. In the enduring marriage, the constant love secured by the marriage contract provides the bonding of the two into one before God.
It is important to realize that this covenantal love is not for all people. God has His general love by which He cares for everyone by giving them sun and rain (Matthew 5:45), but this is a far different and even shallow picture of God’s specially revealed covenantal love. Here, God creates a devotedly loved group within the larger group of human beings. Though some may contest this selectivity, this particular love of God is one of the theological foundations for the church, who is redeemed through the New Covenant and made secure by her call as Jesus’ bride. The bride is carefully selected, loved, and protected. Marriage is for life. Divorce derives from man (Mark 10:9). The picture of this covenant relationship is seen in its glory in Revelation 21, providing us a continuous view of perfect harmony and beautiful love.
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Rev 21:2-4)
The phrase “unconditional love” does confuse some, though, and this suggests a limitation to the usage of the word, but the limitation is not due to its rich intent but because the larger foundation of covenant love is not well-understood. This unconditional love is for those God has selected and set His heart upon. This choice, as the scriptures repeatedly state, is not because they, the church, was better or more moral, but because of His eternal choice which is seen in the word foreknown (rom 8:29, 11:2). I do not apologize for its selective element, for it is construed entirely in His grace and favor to display the power of His love. God’s eternal prerogative guides His choice and secures Christ’s bride. God’s seemingly conditional treatment of His people all arise within the security of the covenant love, such as the judgment of the household of God and the chastisement of God’s people. These teachings operate within this covenanted love for God is a jealous God (Ex 20:5).
The Certainty of God’s Unconditional Love
Salvation is not conditional on our response but guarantees a sure work within His people as issued by the Holy Spirit (John 3:6-7), foreknown by God (Rom 8:39-40), and included in His eternal redemptive plan (Eph 1:4-7). Salvation is by grace through works—not by works (Eph 2:8-9). Our forgiveness is based not on our behavior, imperfect as it be, but upon Christ bearing our full penalty for us (Is 53:10-12). Yes, we do believe in Jesus, but our belief in Christ is an expression of God’s deeper spiritual birthing work (1 John 4:7) bringing about life in the dead sinner (Eph 2:1-2) and so our faith brings Him glory (Eph 2:9).
The world, however, should be very acquainted with, if not fearful of God’s conditional love. The night is coming and when the day of patience departs. Now is the time to seek refuge in Christ Jesus. Apart from Him, God’s general love will only last as long as the earth’s sun for His mighty judgment will soon fall on the wicked and no longer be shielded by God’s love. But God’s people, secure in His covenant love, will in the Day of Judgment all the more glory in the great love of God found in Christ, remembering how precious His love is for His people for they are safely and delightfully hidden in Christ.