God’s love is Conditional

I recently heard a sermon by a man called David Pawson who defied anyone to show him where it says “God’s love is unconditional” in the bible.

Initially it was like being hit on the head when you least expect it. However after the initial shock I listened to what his points were and as far as I can see.
He said the gospel has two parts

The first is justification through Jesus’ sacrifice which allows us to approach God. (by using Jesus’ righteousness – because God can not look on sin).

Now the second part of the gospel is that you are now in a position to made righteous like him. This is the Freedom God gives.

The Freedom God talks about is not the freedom we (society) talk about. The Freedom that God talks about is where we are Free to be Holy. Notice We don’t have to be and not that you should be, but you can be Holy with God’s help.

This is the Freedom that God talks about. The Freedom from sin or the Freedom to be Holy

NOW

Ok this may not be radically new to what you have heard before but notice there is not the word love in this gospel.

The point being made is that God is Righteous and so he does what is right. Jesus did what is Right or Righteous, to save us.

Until you are covered by the righteousness of Jesus you are essentially covered in sin. Now God is righteous and he will judge rightly and bring everything to light.

So Where is the ‘love’ that so many people preach

Well God’s love is for the redeemed. He can not ‘love’ you until you are righteous. So once you have repented and follow the ways of Jesus, then you experience God’s love, but not before.

So my title of this piece is God’s love is conditional, and I think it is conditional on you being righteous.

So you can not come “just as you are” to worship God. First of all you must be righteous and then you may boldly approach His throne.

But if you are not righteous, well God has been described as many things including an all consuming fire.

So this is why in the bible you only hear people say “repent and be baptised” and not “follow God because he loves you”.

Any thoughts?

29 Replies to “God’s love is Conditional”

  1. Hi Wave,

    What do you make of David Pawson? Have you come across him before? I have, and I must say the experience was very negative; my friend read a book by him that almost made him think he (my friend) wasn’t a Christian and should leave his church, both of which weren’t right.

    The question of whether God’s love is unconditional or not is certainly an interesting one, and I’m sure it depends what exactly we’re talking about. If ‘unconditional love’ means ‘he’s happy with you as you are and isn’t going to harm you’, then it’s hard to square this with a God who is going to banish people to hell.

    But if ‘unconditional love’ means God wants to act positively towards people who hate him, and sacrifices everything to rescue them, then that’s certainly a strong theme in the New Testament. That old chestnut, John 3.16, says ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son’ – the ‘world’ in John is typically talking about the sinful, undeserving masses. Or Paul says in Romans, ‘God shows his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’. So God loves us even before we turn to him. That’s what the cross means.

    But you’re right that it’s as Christians that we fully experience God’s love. We become his children, we become inhabited by him, we can enter freely to be with him. But God’s love is shown most powerfully in him dying for us, before we ever loved him or deserved his love.

    The Bible does tell us to repent – it’s the way we turn away from sin and turn to the God who has shown he loves us. But it also says (again Paul in Romans) that it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.

    Perhaps you’re main point is: we’re not acceptable to God as we are. I totally agree – we need this new life that Jesus gives to enter into a loving relationship with him.

    Cheers,
    DavidB

  2. Just want to add my voice to say I think Mr Pawson is completely wrong (unless you’ve misrepresented him ~!).

    Here’s another example: look at the way God treated the Israelites, both individually and as a group – they constantly strayed away from him and he was angry with them, but then he always came back to them and sent a prophet or a sign to turn them back to him.

    God’s love for us, even when we are sinning against him is clear in the sorrow it causes him to be away from him. And no I don’t just mean Christians who sin, I mean when the whole nation of Israel turned against God (i.e. were not “Christians”) God almost sounds like he is crying as he talks about how angry and upset he is about the way they have rejected him. Amos is a huge rant against the people and how immoral and terrible they are. It reads like a jilted lover’s immediate rant before they have time to think about what they’re saying. God even says he hates them, in Amos 5.21-24 (the bit about “away with the noise of your songs” is a superb bit, btw), but at the end of Amos even in his terrible anger he says he will restore them and bring them back to him (Amos 9. 11-15).

    God loved us even before he had sent the way of forgiving us – Jesus. You can tell by how much it hurts him when we turn away.

  3. M,

    I agree completely.

    BUT that is not against what he said and so I must have witten it incorrectly.

    What he was saying was how we present the Gospel.

    I think it is fairly safe to assume he was saying
    God loves everyone
    God is righteous and must punish sin otherwise he would not be right.
    So you can not experience God’s love until you have repented and followed him.

    Using your same book (which is written for believers and not used ‘evangelically’ if I can say that) 1 John 2v3-6 ‘We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says “I know him” but does not do as he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him’

    I’m trying to emphasise the fact that we don’t know God before we repent and so don’t know his love.

    So God always loves us
    but he can never love sin

    ~

  4. Hi David,

    Yes I have heard of him before but only a little and he was ‘unlocking the bible’ on Hosea – intersetingly enough all about God’s love! So I know he believes in God’s love!!

    I think your last line sums up very well and it’s here I really am making his main point. How we present the gospel.

    I think the gospel is being presented as God loves you. This is true but he must punish sin or else he would not be righteous. So we can not recieve his love until we have repented and started to follow God. i.e. Repent and be baptised.

    Also the John 3v16 is mentioned in his talk and he said that the Gospel of John is written for believers and this is why when he writes v16 it is in some tense which (and I checked in my study bible and it does say this) means that it says “who so ever goes on believing” … “shall go on having eternal life”

    So God does love you but you will not know about this love only the punishment of your sin unless covered by Jesus. And how will you know about this love unless you truly repent?

    ~

  5. I’m confused. First you say “notice there is not the word love in this gospel… So where is the ‘love’ that so many people preach?”

    Now you’re saying we can mention God’s love when we talk about the gospel.

    So what point are you making? That it’s OK to mention God’s love but not to make it the main point of the gospel message? I expect most of us would agree with that (even if we wouldn’t agree with other things Pawson says).

    I think it’s dangerous to say “God’s love is conditional” on its own, cos it suggests to me that God’s love for His redeemed children depends on us behaving ourselves and not disappointing him. As I was saying under the article “Loser Syndrome” and on the Life thread and other places, I don’t believe that’s right – the way the world works makes me feel like I need to earn God’s love, but I don’t and can’t.

  6. And as I said under “Seeing God as my Dad” –

    My mum loves me just for being her son, which means she’d still love me (probably) if I decided to burn her house down or I murdered someone. But that doesn’t mean I should feel it’s OK to do it. In the same way God loves me even if I abuse the freedoms He gives me, but that doesn’t make it OK to take advantage of His unconditional love, like some people think.

  7. First question-

    ok, the reason I put the article up in the first place was that I wasn’t exactly sure of what I was saying since it is not what I would have written but it has made me think (especially about how I represent God’s love) and I wanted to hear the thoughts of other people and so my thoughts have changed tack slightly but it’s because of my intial confusion and genearal shock.

    Anyway I was never claiming to be right – I was just arguing from one corner – that’s what guilty expression is about, saying stuff even if it’s wrong!

    Second question
    I’m still saying that God’s love is conditional on us repenting and following him since he must punish sin and so he may well “love us” but he still has to banish sin in his new heaven and earth.

    Third question/statement
    Yep that’s about right.

    Fourth Question
    This is where I hoped my thread would lead – the question of whether or not you are always “saved”.
    We have to pick up our cross daily and I did quote some of 1John which suggests that evidence of your faith should be in your life or else you are lying.

    So is God there when we sin?

    Have you ever read ‘footsteps in the sand’ It talks about God carrying you in your lowest moment but if God can not sin then how can he be with you when you do?

    And last thing – it is dangerous to write God’s love is conditional – that’s why I did it.

    ~

    p.s. sorting out the computer hence anonymous

  8. Ok, I think I’ve established that I may have typped a little heavy handedly but that’s partly because of what it made me feel like.

    Your example I don’t think is the best one since God did promise all those things when Moses spoke to His people as they were about to enter the promised land. He told them what would happen if they turned away from God and how he would deal with that. So that to me is God being righteous and sticking to his word but with underlying love that can not be shown if sin is present.

    One question which I don’t know – is when did God stop referring to restoring of His people (Isreal) to the restoring of the rest of humanity
    ~

  9. By the way – to clear up the confusion thing

    the reason I wrote “So where is the love so many people preach ?” Was a question I asked myself and one he addressed in the sermon. So I gave his answer to that question in my original text.

    (this is what he was saying)
    God’s love is for the redeemed, but not for those who have not yet asked for forgiveness.

    although I have said that God has always loved you but he can not love sin so he therefore can not love you he must first punish sin.
    Hence his love is conditional on you asking for forgiveness.

    Is this wrong?
    ~

  10. Oh right – it’s all a lot clearer now. Sorry, I misunderstood what you were saying before.

    I meant it’s dangerous because it’s ambiguous. I think whether God’s love is conditional on us being saved is quite a different issue from whether it is conditional after we’ve been saved. That’s something Pawson is big on. He wrote a book called “Once saved, always saved?” about it (as opposed to “Once saved, always saved” by R T Kendall – that’s why I added the question mark in my title).

    Just a quick point on a massive topic – what about Romans 8:31-39? It sounds to me like Paul’s being pretty final, that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Someone might try and say “ah – except our own sin”, but that doesn’t seem to fit – Paul’s saying there is no condemnation, no charge against us, because Jesus died for us and speaks on our behalf to the Father.

    Also in John 3:16, I think it’s stretching it too far, and loading the dice, to say it means “who so ever goes on believing” … “shall go on having eternal life”. Basically the Greek verbs refer to a state, as opposed to an action at a point in time. They don’t imply the idea of not giving up. So it means “whoever has faith in Him” as opposed to “whoever has put their faith in Him”. It’s not saying “as long as you keep on believing in Him”.

  11. Another dubious thing David Pawson said (I can’t find it at the moment tho) is that we should remember that the nearest word to salvation in English is not “safe” but “salvage” – which makes it sound like a risky process. But the nearest word (in its shape) to save is “safe”, and anyway, the Bible writers didn’t use English. But he usually says less dubious things than that.

  12. This board is getting quite complex, as I think there are many issues being merged! How about the following as a suggestion as to what the questions are:

    1) When did God start to love us?
    2) When do we experience God’s love?
    3) Does God love all non-Christians now?
    4) Will he love them after the final judgment?
    5) Can God stop loving us Christians?

    I think it’s pretty clear, as we’ve discussed, that the answer to question 1 is ‘well before we became Christians, or were even born’. In this sense, God’s love is not conditional on any response we make.

    The answer to the second seems fairly straightforward, too. God shows aspects of his love to everyone (all blessings come from him) but we particularly enter into experiencing all the benefits of his love when we become Christians. In this sense, you could say ‘God’s love is conditional’, but I think it would be much better to say ‘We experience God’s love much more fully, conditional upon becoming his child’.

    The answer to the third is a puzzle. My gut feeling is ‘yes’, but then I can’t understand why God doesn’t appear to try harder to save them. There are indications both ways in the Bible, but for now I’ll stick to ‘For God so loved the world.’

    The answer to the fourth is also not obvious. Perhaps my gut feeling on this is ‘no’ – it seems to me that what hell is, in part, is being stripped of value. In this sense, perhaps, God’s love is conditional, but it would be better to say ‘There are no indications or implications of God’s love for people in hell; in this sense, experiencing God’s love is conditional on being in heaven’. But how do we get to heaven? By God’s unconditional love for us.

    The answer to the fifth varies between Christians, too, but my answer would be ‘almost always no, God always loves his adopted children, even when they go a long way away from him’. Andy’s example is a brilliant one for this.

    However, we can grieve God very seriously by our sin, and we can lose many of the *benefits* and experiences of his love if we turn away from him for a while. (We can lose them for a while without sinning, too – the long dark night of the soul isn’t God stopping loving us, but it may be him removing the benefits of his love for a while for whatever purpose).

    On the other hand, Hebrews does seem to think people can fall away completely, so I’m not going to be dogmatic about this. It has to be very, very serious though.

    What do others make of all this?

    > God’s love is for the redeemed, but not for those who have not yet asked for forgiveness. although I have said that God has always loved you but he can not love sin so he therefore can not love you he must first punish sin. Hence his love is conditional on you asking for forgiveness. Is this wrong?

    I’d say: God punishes sin through the cross, *because* he loves you and want to relate to you. The love isn’t conditional on asking for forgiveness; but entering into the benefits of that love is.

    Pawson’s take on John 3.16 is typical of his use of the Bible, I think. He uses apparently superior knowledge of the original language to make very idiosyncratic interpretations. What Midge says about the verbs is correct.

    > One question which I don’t know – is when did God stop referring to restoring of His people (Isreal) to the restoring of the rest of humanity

    On the one hand, already in Genesis God says to Abraham that he’ll be a blessing to all nations. But the full implications didn’t hit until Jesus, “Go and make disciples of all nations”, and the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15.

    Good discussion!

  13. Wave said:

    Have you ever read ‘footsteps in the sand’ It talks about God carrying you in your lowest moment but if God can not sin then how can he be with you when you do?

    Because of what Jesus has done.

    God has solved this problem. It wasn’t easy, but he did it.

    Romans 5.8:
    “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

    He can “get himself dirty” with us because Jesus has provided the way for us to be cleaned.

  14. Your example I don’t think is the best one since God did promise all those things when Moses spoke to His people as they were about to enter the promised land. He told them what would happen if they turned away from God and how he would deal with that. So that to me is God being righteous and sticking to his word but with underlying love that can not be shown if sin is present.

    Read Job.

    God does not give good things to the righteous and punish the wicked in this world. Often it’s the opposite.

    As davidb has said, all blessings come from him. Everything good Christians and non-Christians experience comes from him – they are feeling his love.

  15. One question which I don’t know – is when did God stop referring to restoring of His people (Isreal) to the restoring of the rest of humanity

    Right from the beginning Israel was the way God was going to save the whole world:

    Genesis 18:18 (and many others):
    “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. “

    It gives the strong impression that that is why God chose Abraham in the first place (something I believe).

  16. davidb wrote:

    The answer to the fifth varies between Christians, too, but my answer would be ‘almost always no, God always loves his adopted children, even when they go a long way away from him’. Andy’s example is a brilliant one for this.

    I disagree here with you suggesting that the chosenness of a whole nation of Israel is comparable with the chosenness of an individual. I don’t see the evidence for making this connection.

    I see God’s pain when Israel is rebelling as being because the individuals are living as “non-Christians”, not because the nation is some kind of collective “wayward Christian”.

  17. Good questions davidb:

    > 1) When did God start to love us?

    Always, as you said.

    2) When do we experience God’s love?

    Throughout life we experience tastes of God’s love, and of his wrath as a consequence of living in this world. As Christians with God living within us we have an opportunity to have a deeper experience of his love, but, like Jesus, we may also be obliged to have a deeper experience of his wrath for the benefit of ourselves and others. (This last bit is not very well thought out, but I think I think something like this…)

    3) Does God love all non-Christians now?

    Absolutely, yes, and it hurts him. See the final paragraph of What Job Said.

    4) Will he love them after the final judgment?

    I think yes. I think he created knowing that he was condemning himself to suffer eternally for the pain of his loved ones. Any other God seems cruel to me.

    5) Can God stop loving us Christians?

    Never.

    Can we stop being Christians? Not sure – there seems to be an implication that we can if we really try. I would suggest that that “really trying” would have to be for our whole lives, and we could turn back to God if we wanted, but I can’t back that up from the Bible. The references to unforgiveable sins are very difficult to understand, especially in the context of the rest of the Bible.

  18. Fair enough – you’re right, I was merging God’s love for a group with God’s love for an individual in an un-thought-through way.

  19. > As Christians with God living within us we have an opportunity to have a deeper experience of his love, but, like Jesus, we may also be obliged to have a deeper experience of his wrath for the benefit of ourselves and others.

    This is very interesting, and I’d encourage you to develop this further and write an article about it. There’s definitely something like this going on in the NT (eg Paul saying he fills up what’s lacking in Christ’s sufferings) and I tend to politely skirt over it.

    > I think he created knowing that he was condemning himself to suffer eternally for the pain of his loved ones. Any other God seems cruel to me.

    I don’t know what to think of this; on the one hand, it has some attractiveness. On the other hand, I don’t think there’s much ‘hope’ in the Bible that God’s going to find eternity more hellish than those in hell. I too am very concerned about hell seeming cruel – that’s why in recent months I’ve been playing with this idea of it involving really being stripped of value (or even this being its main horror): hell seems inevitably cruel to me if people there are still of great value to God, and if one believes that God is actively punishing them (which strongly seems to be the NT’s position). When we think of hell, we shudder because we’re thinking about people who have great value now. I can’t see how I could ever join in with the chorus in Revelation praising God for hell if those people carry on having that value. I guess this idea is similar to those of CS Lewis’ Great Divorce: the people in hell being mere shades of their former self. Again, if they remain of great value to God, one might wonder why there’s no Robin Williams-esque rescue attempt (What Dreams May Come, which personally I found icky) – these people seem genuinely abandoned. Jesus’ use of ‘Gehenna’ (a rubbish tip) seems evocative.

    Anyway, my main hope is that hell is pretty empty, and most people end up turning to God. In this apirit, I sometimes wonder whether the thief on the cross is not just a random example, but *typical* of our world – people turning to God at the point of death. But this may be a vain hope.

    > Never. Can we stop being Christians? Not sure

    Well noticed that I was wrongly merging these two issues!

  20. Another interesting verse is Isaiah 49:6 –

    “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

  21. Thank you for your comments – I don’t think I say it enough.

    I didn’t look at the context of your last quote but it makes me wonder why the Jewish community are not more evangelistic?

    Can people become Jews if they are not one already?

  22. This is fantastic

    Essentially I agree, and thank both you and Everyone else in getting to the heart of the matter.

    I have to say Andy’s answer to question 2 is brilliant. I just didn’t see it like that but yes. (see below)

    As Christians with God living within us we have an opportunity to have a deeper experience of his love, but, like Jesus, we may also be obliged to have a deeper experience of his wrath for the benefit of ourselves and others.

    >>

    As for other questions in my head on this thread.

    1. What is Hell?
    2. Why do the Jews fear God more than we do and yet it was Jesus who preached about hell?
    3. How can you show Hell as part of the Gospel without trying to fear someone into believing?

  23. In biblical times, there were also the ‘God-fearers’ who are often mentioned in Acts, who were not Jewish by birth but believed in Judaism (I think). Nowadays I don’t know of any evangelistic Jews. I guess the idea of blessing and salvation coming from the Jews is seen either in a more this-worldly light or in terms of a future Messiah?

  24. God’s love is unconditional…it’s essential to his nature and all experience it in some way; it’s fullest manifestation is in the work of salvation, the cross of Chrsit. There are conditions to experience…receive…that.

  25. I read a short book by Don Carson recently called ‘The difficult doctrine of the love of God’ which clarifies a lot of the things people aren’t clear enough about when they talk about God’s love. For a start, he says there are at least 5 different ways the Bible talks about God’s love:

    Love within the Trinity, providential love for all He’s made, His yearning love to save sinners, His particular love in choosing to save people, and His conditional love (e.g. John 15:9-10 – ‘If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love’).

    As usual, it’s easy to take one aspect and run away with it. Don Carson looks particularly at how this can affect our attitude to God’s sovereignty, God’s wrath, and presenting the gospel to non-believers (can we say ‘God loves you’ to them?)

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