Unconditional Love and Acceptance?
Biblical Discernment Ministries
Eph. 1:6 — To the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.
Among the stellar emotional needs of humanistic psychology are unconditional acceptance, unconditional self-regard, unconditional self-acceptance, and unconditional love. The usual meaning of the word unconditional is "without conditions or reservations; absolute." The practical extension of the theories of unconditional love is a permissive attitude and a morally nonrestrictive atmosphere. That means no conditions or restrictions in child rearing, counseling, and other human relationships. It must be an absolute love, unrestricted by human feelings or failings, since the very meaning of the word is "absolute."
But, if there is any absolute when it comes to love, it is that human love is limited. It is not what it was originally created to be, even in the best of people and circumstances, except when Jesus Himself is loving in and through a person.
Humanistic psychologists Alfred Adler and Abraham Maslow considered these "unconditionals" to be basic human needs, essential to a person's sense of well-being. They taught that people need to be loved and accepted unconditionally -- without any conditions of performance. Thus, their followers also teach and encourage all people to love and accept themselves unconditionally.
Men such as Adler, Maslow, and Rogers believed that a human being would find answers to his own dilemmas and naturally blossom into his best self in an atmosphere of unconditional love and acceptance (by which they meant a permissive, unstructured atmosphere). Nevertheless, as much as they would like to think that they themselves loved their clients unconditionally, the truth of the matter is this: people are NOT able to love unconditionally.
The Myth of Unconditional Love
Unconditional love is a myth. That is because humans are naturally self-biased and the human heart is so deceitful that one can fool himself into thinking that he is loving unconditionally, when in fact he has all kinds of conditions. For instance, what kind of "unconditional" love is at work when the psychiatrist's client can no longer pay for services and therapy is discontinued?
Unconditional love cannot be based upon performance or it wouldn't be unconditional. Therefore, it must be based on the intrinsic worth of the person. Paul Brownback, in his book The Danger of Self-Love, explains it this way:
"... by unconditional love we are speaking of love on the basis of being rather than doing. One implication of this teaching is the place of grandeur that it gives to the human being. I am lovable just because I am human; therefore being human, in and of itself, regardless of what I do with my humanness, must have some sort of independent value or worth. It is by itself a sufficient claim to respect and esteem" (p. 66).
Thus, according to the self theories, everyone is born with the right to receive unconditional love and unconditional acceptance throughout his entire life, no matter what!
James Dobson, one of the chief proponents of unconditional love, believes that all people need it. Dobson declares: "I'm convinced the human spirit craves this kind of unconditional love and experiences something akin to 'soul hunger' when it cannot be achieved." Then as an extra bonus, Dobson brings God in as the primary person who gives this unconditional love and acceptance -- he says "God's acceptance is unconditional." Dobson is not alone in that conclusion. A host of well-respected professing Christian leaders describe God's love as unconditional.
Pastors should have been alert to the subtleties of deception that would turn a believer's eyes from God to self. But alas, rather than warning the sheep, many of the "shepherds" have joined the psychologists and embrace their teachings of unconditional love and acceptance.
The basis for their eager embrace is a misunderstanding of "the love of Christ which passeth knowledge" (Eph. 3:19). They equate unconditional love and acceptance with the fact that God's love is vast, unfathomable, and unmerited. Then they follow that with the idea that if God loves and accepts people unconditionally, they should also love and accept themselves unconditionally. While this may sound like a logical progression, there are some serious problems with the basic assumptions.
Therefore, we must address the question: Is God's love unconditional? Or are there any conditions that must be met to become a recipient of His love?
Paul prayed that the believers in Ephesus would be able to comprehend the length, width, depth, and height of God's love. He desired that they know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge, so that they would be filled with the fullness of God (Eph. 3:16-19). The wide expanse of God's love has been the theme of the gospel throughout the ages, for to know His love is to know Him. Therefore, any consideration of His love is highly important and must be based upon His revelation of Himself rather than upon the imagination of men.
Love According to Secular Humanism
Ever since the rise of secular humanism in this country, and especially since the establishment of humanistic psychology, the popular, "relevant" term to describe God's love has been unconditional. The thrust of this word in humanistic psychology has been both to give and to expect unconditional love from one another with no strings attached. While unconditional love and acceptance supposedly promote change and growth, they make no requirements. But God, who is love, requires change and enables his children to grow in righteousness.
In humanistic psychology, parents and society are always the culprits. Since they believe that every person is born with intrinsic worth and innate goodness, psychologists contend that one main reason people experience emotional and behavioral problems is because they have not received unconditional love from their parents. Following that thesis, Christians have come to believe that the best kind of love is unconditional love. It is the highest love secular humanists know. It is touted as a love that makes no demands for performance, good behavior, or the like. It has also been associated with a kind of permissiveness, since it makes no demands and has no conditions, even though the promoters of the unconditional love jargon would say that unconditional love does not have to dispense with discipline.
God's Love Revealed through Scripture
Because the concept of unconditional love permeates society and because it is often thought of as the highest form of human love, it is natural for a Christian to mistakenly use this term to describe God. After all, His love is far greater than any human love imaginable. God's love for humanity is so great that "He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Oh, the magnitude of the cost! We cannot even fathom His love even though our very breath depends upon it! His love indeed reaches to the heights and depths. But again, is God's love truly unconditional?
God's love is available to human beings by grace alone. There is nothing that men can do to earn that love. There is no good work that is either demanded or even possible. But does that make God's love unconditional? "That whosoever will" is most certainly not a work, but it is a condition. Otherwise we would end up with universalism (all people saved) rather than salvation by grace received through faith.
God chooses upon whom He will place His love and the benefits of His love. Did Jesus ever imply that God's love is unconditional? He said to His disciples:
"He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him" (John 14:21).
One might argue that the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11ff) proves unconditional love (as Charles Stanley teaches). It indeed illustrates the vastness of God's love, forgiveness, and longsuffering. However, the son repented! If he had a prosperous evil life he may never have repented. And while the father would have waited and hoped, he would not have extended his love. After all, he did not go out searching for him to support his folly.
Up to a point, this seems to indicate unconditional love, and yet, God is not waiting in ignorance, not knowing what those for whom His Son died might be doing. It is difficult enough to understand God's love without adding the term unconditional love which is loaded with secular, humanistic, psychological connotations. The story of the prodigal son teaches grace, forgiveness and mercy -- but unconditional love? No!
While God loves with a greater love than humans can comprehend, His holiness and justice also must be taken into consideration. Therefore, the term unconditional love is inadequate for defining God. It does not account for God's reaction to pompous men who devise plans against Him and His anointed. The psalmist goes so far as to say:
"He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak to them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure" (Psalm 2:4-5).
And what about Lot's wife as she turned to look at the smoldering cities? Or what about Jesus' words to the cities that refused to repent? Does this sound like unconditional love?:
"Woe to thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell ... it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee" (Matthew 11:21-24).
But perhaps one could say that God's love for the Christian is unconditional since the Christian partakes of His love and grace through faith. Wouldn't it be better to say that the conditions have been met? Jesus met the first condition, to wash away the sin that God hates. The believer meets the second condition, but only by God's grace through faith.
Or perhaps it would be better to say that God's love extended to a person is conditioned by His plan to give eternal life to those whom He has enabled to believe on His Son. The conditions of God's love are resident within Himself. As our opening Bible verse says: He hath MADE us accepted!
There is a strong temptation to use vocabulary that is popular in society in order to make Christianity sound relevant. Christians have something far better than what the world offers, but in expressing that good news, they confuse people by using words that are already loaded with humanistic connotations and systems of thought. It would be better not to use the expression unconditional love when describing God's love. There are plenty of other good words (1 John 4:9, 10, 16):
In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. ...
And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
The incomprehensible magnitude of God's love surpasses any concept of love devised by humanistic psychologists. The doctrine of unconditional love is a myth that glorifies man rather than God.
God loves His enemies because of their ignorance and need. Once they hear the truth and reject it, then His love can't reach them anymore. There are many verses in the Psalms which speak of how God hates the wicked. I presume this is applying to those who have rejected the truth, because generally, God does love "the world," but mainly because of their ignorance and need. So if there is a class of people that the Bible says "God hates" then it must be those who have rejected His love.
God's love and hate are two sides of the same coin: He loves righteousness and hates wickedness. Therefore, if His love is unconditional, then His hate must be also...you can quickly see that this cannot be practically applied! How could He love unconditionally and hate unconditionally at the same time?! Impossible.
'You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 'You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
"Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face. "Therefore, you shall keep the commandment and the statutes and the judgments which I am commanding you today, to do them. (According to the Scriptures all those who do not obey Him, hate Him).
"Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, that the LORD your God will keep with you His covenant and His lovingkindness which He swore to your forefathers. "He will love you and bless you and multiply you.
The verses above reveal that God's lovingkindness is shown only to those who love Him and practice His commandments. His love and blessings are conditioned on a covenant keeping people. However, He will destroy all those who hate Him, i.e, those who continue in disobedience.
The LORD keeps all who love Him,
But all the wicked He will destroy.
Again, God's love is conditioned on those who love Him. Those who do not love and obey Him are described as the wicked, according to Scripture, and the wicked will be destroyed. In other words, God will not love them nor have mercy on them.
It is stated again in the New Testament,
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."
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. "He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me.
This "If" is a conditional statement "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him." In other words, only those who love and obey Christ will be loved by God the Father.
1 Cor 16:22
If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed.
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
Only those who, by God's grace, love and obey Christ will be saved. All others are accursed and condemned.
We first define love. Lust and cravings are forms of love. We are not talking about such aspects of love with regards to God. So what sort of love are we talking about? Already, we are asking or putting conditions in the very definition of love. If God's love is a particular kind of love then we must experience that love following those particular rules, regulations i.e conditions.
God's love cannot be detached from his other attributes. God's love is holy, righteous, merciful and gracious. All these attributes are not definitions of words but revelations of the person of God. To abide with God, we must abide with his nature. It is conditional.
Since we cannot meet these conditions by ourselves in our sinful nature, God in Christ makes them availble to us. We are called to now live in the new nature of Christ. Living a Christ-like life is the only condition that remains in our relationship with God and experiencing his love.
Christ is the end of the law and the expression of God's love. To be like Christ is to experience God's love in us. To live like Christ is to experience God's love flowing out of us. Know Christ ... Know Life. No Christ .... No life! Blessings to all in Christ. Amen.
Unconditional love does not have to be permissive. You can never stop loving a person and still expect them to grow. You can encourage a person to be their best and also love them unconditionally. If God did not love those who are in hell they would cease to exist.
I guess people are afraid to call God's love conditional because we think of conditional love in human terms. When I think of conditional love, I think of love that can be taken away if I do something wrong. The problem is fear of manipulation and trust that they really want and or know whats best for you. So we get this notion that conditional love is bad, because most of us have been hurt by it at one time or another. God on the other hand is different. You can trust God because he is true and he is faithful. If he says you will receive his love if you follow his commands then will. I value God's love highly, and hopefully more than anything else. And having it set up where I need to seek Gods love is motivating and inspirational
Of course I could be wrong, but I hope this helps you see the question in a slightly different light. Go with Jesus.
If you are saying that the love of God is NOT unconditional all the way, than we are dealing with a severe case of blasphemy!
This statement describes not only a God whose love is conditional, but also a God whose love is arbitrary and grossly unjust. If God selectively "enables" only certain people to believe, then for him to condemn people who don't believe -- and to punish them with eternal torture in Hell for a failure he denied them the ability to avoid -- is a hideous injustice of incalculable proportions. Under that condition, God would be punishing impoverished souls for being in a state of poverty that God himself decreed and imposed upon them. What a repellent concept! That makes God infinitely worse than the rich man who ignored the poor man covered with sores and who wouldn't share with him the crumbs that fell from his table. A person with any moral awareness at all would be appalled at a parent who rejected a child with birth defects and blamed the child for his condition -- but the God you're describing is immeasurably worse because he's omniscient and omnipotent, while even the best parent is a fallible creature hampered by a fallen nature.
What I'm reading in this article and in many of the comments is callous, smug, self-righteous certitude about one's own "chosen" status and a monstrous indifference to the suffering of others decreed by an unjust deity whom you're pleased to assume loves you more than the people you feel justified in despising. It's apparently such a matter of indifference that it hardly needs to be referred to directly; it's just taken for granted and hardly worth mentioning. What a bunch of Pharisees -- and you're seemingly oblivious to your deep-seated complacency. Blind guides leading the blind: does that sound familiar? Wow. And you have the nerve to talk about love as if you know what it is? You'd best limit your remarks to a discussion of self-love, because you seem to be steeped in that emotion. "I thank you, Lord, that I'm not like other men!" I pity the tormented soul seeking God whose path leads him or her to your door.