It was a muggy humid day with the temperature in the 90’s that day in May. We had arrived on Friday night just in time for dinner. The Young Life camp called Southwind was on a lake on the southern edge of the Ocala National Forest about an hour north of the outskirts of Orlando, FL. It was a gorgeous setting with huge live oak and grandfather pines so frequent in this part of the state.
I slept lightly in the bottom bunk that night in the early 1990’s since we had some world class snorers who made it into our cabin. But I was excited to hear the renowned Christian speaker again the next day for his second major message to this all men’s annual meeting. He had written several books and was on the major speaking circuit.
Right after an early breakfast in the canteen building we made our way again to the conference center just past the pool. It was good to see some of the brothers again since this was my third year for the annual gathering in mid-May.
The speaker was engaging and I can’t honestly remember much of the message. Of course, he was “funny.” That is a requirement for pastors and speakers in our a-muse-ment age in order to solemnly preach the kingdom gospel, isn’t it?
Right from the get go, my ears perked up when he began his litany about God’s unconditional love. He clearly said something along the lines of, “There is nothing you can do to gain anymore of God’s love, and nothing you can do to lose it.”
The Holy Spirit jolted me right then and there. “Marc,” He shouted to my heart, “that’s not what the Word of Jesus says, is it?” No still small voice there. No sirree. It was definitely a shout in my spirit.
If You Really Love Me, Says Jesus, You Will Obey My Commands
Our Lord had been preparing me for this moment for more than a month. And, by His sovereign will, I had been in the gospel of John that week beginning at chapter 14 and heading to the high priestly prayer in chapter 17.
When the speaker made that statement, my mind flooded with all the passages that contradicted his confident declaration. No, my prophet heart screamed, that is not true all the time. I was unable to track the rest of the message for I began to turn to the well-marked pages of my NASB Bible to the very place the Spirit had taught me that previous week.
I first turned to that fourteenth chapter.
John 14:21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.”
John 14:23-24 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him…”
OK, I mused. Again, what happens to the multitude of Christians in the American church who do not keep your commandments, Lord Jesus?
These passages say that if a so-called believer does not keep them, then we don’t really love Jesus. But worse still, he will not be loved by the Father and Jesus! To make matters worse, Jesus will not disclose, or reveal, himself to this person.
Terrible. Just terrible. Or so would think the average Christian. “God would never do that,” they would say.
Since God so loved the world and sent His Son (John 3.16), then we know that God still loves the world in some fashion unconditionally. But not as much as the person who keeps (guards) the Lord’s commandments.
The Obvious Conclusion to the Passages in John’s Gospel
So then, there is a condition on 100% of God’s love. There seemed no way around that. But how can that be when everyone I had heard to that point had taught and believed that all of God’s love was unconditional? All of it, all the time.
I moved on to the next verses of John. Jesus said the same thing again! No typo’s, beloved. But now it got more dicey in that the Lord makes His very abiding presence in the believer is conditional on obedience, or keeping His commands.
My mind went to playing these verses backwards in my mind.
“He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, and not the Father’s who sent Me…If anyone does not love Me, he will not keep My word; and My Father will not love him, and We will not come to him and make Our abode with him…”
Not only that, but Jesus then would not disclose himself, or “hide” Himself from that disobedient person.
But the very worst it seems is that the Father would not love him. At least as much as another who did obey. Again, there were conditions on this love based on keeping the commands.
Instinctively, I then went to chapter fifteen.
John 15:9-10 “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love…”
The same thing again. Total agreement. Now, this is not the only book in the Word that proclaims the same doctrine. Why was I surprised, I silently thought, since so very much of the American gospel is the antithesis to the true truth of our Lord and Savior.
After that weekend in May, I cautiously and timidly began to preach this truth. Some were interested. Many dismissed me. But I persisted, albeit with hat in hand.
Finally, the Lord answered my prayer for full confidence. A brother posted a teaching that solved the apparent dilemma by giving the two types of love a face by giving them terms. Hallelujah!
The love that God showers on the world in John 3.16 with the gracious sacrifice of His only begotten Son is merciful love. This is truly unconditional love, and is given without charge and made available to every soul God has ever created. This is Ephesians 2 love “by grace through faith and not of works.”
But the kind of love taught in that portion of John’s gospel like chapter 14-17 and elsewhere in the Word is approving love. This type is earned by steadfastly obeying our great God. And by far, it is the largest part of the love of God. Therefore, the overwhelming emphasis in the Scripture declares this fact.
So we have the “free” and unconditional merciful love, and the approving love based on our deeds and their motives.
This is the reason the Lord can so confidently say that the eternal rewards awaiting His children are determined by the degree of works, our deeds. Just as there are levels of torment in the lake of fire, there are levels of reward in heaven.
Not convinced? Look no further than Revelation 2-3. In every case, Jesus warns all seven churches in Asia Minor that He knows their deeds (2.2, 2.9, 2.14, 2.19, 3.1, 3.8, 3.15). Why say something so “legalistic” if there is nothing you can do to earn or lose a part of His love, His approval?
Moreover, there are hundreds and hundreds of conditional commands and statements in the entire Bible. These are “if-then” statements. Some are not stated as such but mean the same. Here’s just one example, again from the gospel according to John. I have added some words to fully display the if-then command.
John 15:2,6 “(If any) branch (believer) in Me does not bear fruit, (then the Father) takes (that believer) away; and every branch (believer) that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit… If anyone does not abide in Me, (then) he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they (the angels) gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned (for eternity in the lake of fire)…”
When we begin to see the if-then conditional nature of the Word, and God, it should strike real fear in our heart. And why not, Christian? Jesus was emphatic about this very thing. He is not the baby manger Jesus anymore. This is written to His friends…
Luke 12:4-5 “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of (fear) those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!…”
This is such an unpopular idea in the western church these days, the fear of God, that I had a member of my own family, a leader in their local church, say to me in scoffing derision, “My God is a God of love, I don’t fear Him!” I quoted the following passage below, but, alas, it made no difference.
Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Illustrations of God’s Two Types of Love
With the two types of love, merciful and approving, let me give some illustrations that will hit home.
Many of us have children, and if we’re honest, often we have a favorite. We love them more. Or if you have no children, think of a favorite child or person in church, your family, or work. Now, most will not admit this due to the politically correct atmosphere many of us find ourselves in these days.
God plays favorites all the time. He plucked Israel out of a bunch of nomadic Arabs and made them His favorite for all time. Of course, now the rest of us are grafted in as gentiles. But He has a special love for the Jews, the Judeans of old.
Let me ask you this, then. Does the Father love Hitler as much as Jesus? Saddam Hussein? The mass murderer Pol Pot? The monsters behind worldwide terrorism? It would seem the answer is a resounding no!
Does the Father love the apostle Paul as much as Jesus? You? Me? I think not. Does the Father love me as much as the apostle Paul? No, is my answer to that. And I’m very OK with that. Again, if we’re honest, we’ll admit we have more love for our children than the stranger in a grocery store…or a mass murderer.
Romans 9:12-13 …it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.” Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU (in comparison) I HATED.”
Luke 14:26-27 “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate (in comparison) his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple…”
These two examples above then are a part of both God’s and our own approving love. We need not kid ourselves that we love all people the same. For if Jesus Christ doesn’t, then neither should we.
There are lots of examples like this. But there are also numerous ones that describe this doctrine without mentioning the word “hate” itself. The same is true with the understanding, the difficulty, and the conditions for the love of God.
D.A. Carson, in his outstanding book The Difficult Doctrine of The Love of God admonishes us to be very careful since the Bible employs different ways to describe the love of God. It is wise to remember that the same is true for almost every doctrine, including hate.
I had better warn you that not all of the passages to which I refer actually used the word love. When I speak of the doctrine of the love of God, I include themes and texts that depict God’s love without ever using the word, just as Jesus tells parables that depict grace without using that word.
Another reason why Western Christians have a problem with conditions on the love of God is because they try to make everything equal. In other words, they take the concept of being egalitarian, all the same like the no Jew or no Greek doctrine, and mistakenly apply it also to the love of God. Why? Simply because our identity of God in most cases is skewed and flawed and is downright incorrect. We have a tremendous identity crisis with the God of the universe.
Consequences Of Negating The True Love Of God
We turn to brother D.A. Carson once again as we did in an earlier post dealing with the difficulty of the love of God.
We are dealing with God, and fatuous (silly & pointless) reductionisms are bound to be skewed and dangerous…Some Christians need to be told that they will remain in God’s love only if they do what He says…We are His friends if we do what He commands. This sounds rather like a depiction of a slave.
He continues on this uncomfortable road.
Our culture teaches that the slave obeys, and the friend may or may not; clearly, however, this is not the distinction Jesus has in mind.
What are some works and deeds that God will dis-approve, and thus lessen His approving love? Let us turn to His Word.
Adultery, fornication, homosexuality, idols like a-muse-ment, seeking wealth, irreconcilable stonewalling, emotional or physical abuse of a spouse or children, tattoos (Lev. 19.28), arrogance, etc. to name but a few. The sin list is a long one. Practicing these and others like it render us less approving love from God, and may even get us erased from the book of life.
Galatians 5:19-21 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Galatians 5:22-25 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
Now, we know many of you reading this might very well disagree based on the fact you have been hammered all your saved life with the false doctrine of God’s 100% unconditional love. Some of you have seen this truth right away, albeit perhaps with an unsettled feeling of forcibly letting this lie slip depart from your heart in embracing the new reality.
For those who cling to the stifling and evil status quo, we offer this short video of dealing with a truth that shakes one to their core. And why most people resist the truth their whole lives.
The deepest truths are often the most unsettling and startling to our souls.
In closing, here is a key passage that shows that the full and final approval of God is very conditional. That means also His approving love, which is the same as His overall approval.
2 Timothy 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved (gaining approving love) to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
And be certain to act like Jesus by also dispensing lots of approving love…when the person deserves it based on your approval of their obedient behavior!
This, also, is grace-filled love.
Please comment on this post right below. Feel free to write and proclaim your leadings in the Spirit in an honorable fashion.
Your friend and brother in fighting the good fight,
Saints, we’re one day closer to Home, and Him! Love Him wholeheartedly!
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Please comment on this post right below. Feel free to write and proclaim your leadings in the Spirit in an honorable fashion.
Marc White, Director, Walk Worthy Ministries, www.WalkWorthy.org