God’s (Un)Conditional Love

Is there really such a thing as “unconditional” love? Is it possible to enter into marriage with another person “without conditions?” Pop singer Katy Perry is well-known for her song “Unconditionally,” which is an anthem proclaiming the love that one person feels for another. In the first verse, she describes a person running away from a relationship for fear of rejection:

Oh, no, did I get too close?
Oh, did I almost see what’s really on the inside?
All your insecurities
All the dirty laundry
Never made me blink one time

Although this song is presented in the context of human relationships, we can see similarities in our desire to experience unconditional love from God, too. Perry was actually raised in a Christian home, so when we look at this song as one that God sings to us, we can see how the lessons Perry’s parents implanted within her as a child may have found expression in her music:

There is no fear now
Let go and just be free
I will love you unconditionally
So open up your heart and just let it begin

Most Christians would probably agree with the words of Perry’s song when they are viewed from the perspective of God’s attitude toward mankind. After all, the Bible says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV). Also, Jesus told Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 NKJV).

However, there is one problem in our thinking that God’s love is unconditional. The word conditional is based upon the Latin term, condicio, which refers to an agreement, contract, stipulation, promise, or covenant. Thus, to say that God loves us “unconditionally” is to say that God has not placed himself in a covenant to love us. In other words, if we say that God’s love is unconditional, we are saying that God is not bound by any agreement to love us.

I first considered this problem when I viewed a testimony of a man who claimed to have been visited by a spirit guide named Drake during a near-death experience. The man spoke of an “unconditional love” that he experienced in the afterlife, love that he said emanated from a pink being of light whose skin glistened. This spirit guide denied that he was either God or Jesus, and he told the man that he was going to be sent back to earth because there were ten rules he needed to implement in his life in order to reach the highest level of heaven in the afterlife.

Immediately, I found this to be troubling. This spiritual being said nothing about the man needing to place his faith in Jesus, or that the way to enter the throneroom of heaven was through the grace of his blood. Instead, the messenger with glimmering skin told the man that he needed to work harder to experience greater love. Paul warns us of this directly when he writes, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be under a curse!” (Galatians 1:8). So, I looked up the meaning of name the spirit being had given for himself, Drake. I was amazed to learn that the name means “dragon, sea monster, huge serpent” and is used as a nickname for Satan.

It was obvious to me that this man had not met one of God’s angels, but instead, he had encountered the “Angel of Light” described in 2 Corinthians 11:14. This caused me to wonder, though, why the man who had this near-death experience described feeling “unconditional love” from the Devil himself. This is when the Holy Spirit led me to investigate the definition of “unconditional,” which means “without covenant.”

You see, Satan wants to tempt us into a relationship with him, a relationship that is based upon no conditions, for if Satan can tempt you into a relationship without conditions, he has no obligation to you, and you have no obligation to him. An unconditional marriage is a marriage without vows. This is why it is absolutely crucial that God has established a conditional love for us — a love that is based upon mutual obligations. The love that God gives us is not free, nor is it without cost. It is a love that our Heavenly Father purchased for us in the blood of his son, Jesus. However, we also have skin in the game. We do not receive this love unless we pay something, too. The love of God is a contractual exchange. He gives us everything of himself, but we give him everything of ourselves in return.

Most of the time, when people speak of God’s unconditional love, they say this innocently. It is true that God’s love for us does not depend upon any preconditions, for God himself is love, and it is within his nature to love us. God was the first to step toward us in sending his son to die for our sins. I think that this is what people mean when they say that God’s love is “unconditional.” They simply mean that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor, which is absolutely true.

However, the loving relationship that God offers all people is entirely conditional. When we enter into a relationship with God through the covenantal love expressed in the blood of Jesus, we enter into God’s promise that he will love us on the condition of our acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. When we agree to our part of the covenant, God will agree to his part. If we accept the free gift of his offer, a sacred marriage relationship with Jesus Christ, our God promises that he will never leave us, nor will he forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:8).

Likewise, when we enter into a marriage with another person, we should not do this with the fantasy of experiencing a relationship of “unconditional love.” Rather, God uses marriage between a man and woman as a way to illustrate to us the pattern of his love for humanity. Like a woman who has captured the attention of a suitor, we have done nothing to earn God’s affection for us, and it may be true that God pursues us in courtship like a lovesick, teenage boy. However, a man cannot force a woman into marriage without her consent. When a man and a woman stand at the altar together, they make promises to each other — conditional promises. The man vows to give himself entirely to the woman, and the woman vows to give herself entirely to the man. In the same way, we enter into a covenant with God when he enters into a relationship with us.

[Do you have questions about how to experience God’s covenantal love? Do you and your spouse need help letting go of fantasies of unconditional love so that you can begin to love each correctly other in the covenant of marriage? If so, click here to set up an appointment with a Christian counselor].

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