I find it ironic and troubling that so many who wave the gospel-centered flag too often carelessly let it touch the ground in their writing, tweets, and conversations. Far from being semantics, this issue communicates a fundamental misunderstanding of the gospel and its implications for holiness.
It is common today to hear people say, “God loves us unconditionally.” It is also common to watch people bristle when people say, “God elects us unconditionally.”
When people say that God loves us unconditionally they usually mean something like, “After conversion God loves you no matter what. Isn't that great?”
In one sense this is true, God's love for his people is not based upon what they do or do not do. But this does not mean that God loves us unconditionally. If God loves anyone he loves them conditionally.
What is the condition? It is the condition of what Christ has done for them. The basis for God's love for anyone is the doing and dying of Christ for them.
Now, on the other hand, if the person means, “God set his love upon me by electing (choosing) me without any conditions in me…” Then this is true. In other words, it is absolutely true to say that God's election (or act of love) is unconditional as far as they go.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:36)
Most people don't mean this however. When we talk about unconditional love it rarely has much to do with Christ or election. Instead we reduce God's love to a triumphant presumption that often is pregnant with license.
I think I'm onto something here. The people who carelessly speak of God's unconditional love for them are also the same ones who bark you down if you so much as begin to speak of imperatives, law, or other personal requirements for sanctification. There is a connection here: when you minimize the covenant requirements for justification (obedience of Christ) then you will minimize the covenant requirements for sanctification (obedience of the Christian). I am fully convinced that the obedience of Christ, culminating in his offering of himself upon the cross, procured full salvation (including justification & sanctification cf. Heb. 10.10). It is this powerful, condition-fulfilling work of Christ that empowers and necessitates our obedience (Heb. 12.14; Phil. 2.12-13).
On the other hand, if we are truly humbled that God has elected rebels, sinners, unholy people like you and me to adoption as sonsbased upon the covenant keeping of Christ for usthen we will be captured by a vision of holiness (God) and the liberating power of grace! Instead of reclining into licentiousness we are pressing forward into holiness.
We are loved conditionally. The condition is the doing and dying of Christ for us.
My dear gospel-centered brothers and sisters, lets mortify the careless references to unconditional love from our vocabulary. You may think you are hoisting the gospel flag high with your pithy tweets, blogs, sermons, and booksbut you are actually letting the flag touch the ground.
If God has saved you then he loves you apart from anything you could or would ever do. But, this does not mean that he loves you unconditionally. He loves you based upon the condition of Christ's covenant keeping for you.