Bad Teaching: Unconditional Love

I’m writing about bad Church teaching, and this week, I want to discuss a popular teaching about God: His Unconditional Love. I truly believe that when the Church starts taking its teachings, doctrines and beliefs from pop songs rather than the Bible, it has lost its way. The problem with today’s teaching about the Love of God is that it has its roots more in the sappy lyrics of Billy Joel than the Bible.

Here are the first and last couplets of Just The Way You Are, by Billy Joel:

Don’t go changing to try and please me
You never let me down before

I could not love you any better
I love you just the way you are

“Just The Way You Are”

I realize that the Church is trying to get the message out that God is Love, and that God loves them. After all, “God SO loved the world,…” right? But somehow, whether it be  through sloppiness or sappiness, the fact is that our teaching about God’s love has lost the reason for Christ’s sacrifice, to save the world.

I know that it is urgent that people hear the gospel, but is it the gospel if we leave out the why of the matter? Robert Schuller to the contrary, the problem with the world is NOT lack of self-esteem, the problem is rebellion against God; in a word, SIN. I believe that well-meaning Christians, in an attempt to present the gospel in as positive light as possible, are basically communicating self-esteem building, assuring folks that God does love them.

“God loves you.” Yes. Thankfully, yes! This is a message that even your neighborhood Curmudgeon needs to hear, and often. But, unlike Billy Joel’s sappy version, God loves you DESPITE the way you are.

God’s Conditional Love

Let’s face it. If you are a Christian reading this blog, you should have no problems with my statement that mankind is lost and separated from God. If you do disagree with this, then please leave. You have to deny the divinity of Jesus and the place of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross to disagree with that statement, and according to my understandings of the teachings of the Church (see my writings on the Creed, on my God Stuff page), the redemption of the Cross is the central message of the Gospel.

Yes, God loves everyone; everybody, everywhere. BUT He loves us despite ourselves, not because of ourselves. He loves the rapist, not because he’s a rapist, but despite the fact that he violates women. He loves adulterers; not because they cheat on their spouses, but despite the fact that they violate their marriage vows. God loves alcoholics, not because they are alcoholics, but despite the fact that they get falling-down drunk. Yes, God loves. It’s inexplicable, but He does. But He hates sin.

Sin is so offensive to God that, despite His love for us, He will judge people for that sin and send them into eternal darkness and separation from Him. God is not some doting grandfather who winks at His grandchildren’s cute little peccadilloes, chuckling at the little rapscallions. Jesus taught that He will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you!” I know that it’s considered gauche to talk about this, but, hey, what are you gonna do? After all, Christianity is named after Jesus Christ, right?

Is God A Bad Christian?

Yes, as I stated above, God loves everyone, and desires that all may come to salvation. But the fact is that Jesus, Paul, and the Old and New Testament writers taught that there would be a day of judgment, and that God would judge sin. Our desire to be loved makes us obscure that teaching, to the detriment of our gospel, and to the detriment of our lives.

We have people basically teaching that we have to be better than God. Preachers, writers and counselors tell us that we have to extend unconditional love to others, because God’s love is unconditional. When I’ve disagreed with this, people try to steer me to 1 Cor. 13, the Love Chapter of the Bible, and tell me all the things that Love does and how unconditional it is. But the problem is that God Himself doesn’t measure up as a Christian if you pervert 1 Cor. to support the idea of Unconditional Love.

Let’s look at some examples:

Shot – “Love is not envious” – v.4
Chaser – You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a JEALOUS God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, (Ex. 20:5)

Someone attempted to challenge me, saying that “envy” and “jealousy” are not the same thing. The only problem with that is that four translations have this phrase in v.4 as “Love is not jealous.” (New Living, Weymouth, God’s Word, and the New American Standard.)

Shot – “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” – v. 5
Chaser – And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as RECORDED in the books. (Rev. 20:12)

Sounds to me like God keeps records.

Shot – “Love always protects” – v. 7
Chaser – Otherwise I will strip her naked and make her as bare as on the day she was born; I will make her like a desert, turn her into a parched land, and slay her with thirst. I will not show my love to her children, because they are the children of adultery. (Hosea. 2:3-4)

Of course there are many other examples in the prophets, both major and minor, that demonstrate that God doesn’t ALWAYS protect, but lets the consequences of actions flow.

Shot – “Love does not insist on its own way” v. 5
Chaser – Aw, come on! Really?

Do I even need a chaser here? Hello. Decalogue, anybody?

Shot – “Love is not provoked” .v5 (NASB)
Chaser – [They are] a people who continually PROVOKE me to my very face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on altars of brick Isa. 65:3

Read Psalm 78 in different translations, and see how many  speak of Israel “provoking” God in the wilderness.

Shot – “Love is not rude.” v. 5
Chaser – What would Miss Manners say to such language as, “”You snakes! You brood of vipers!” Not very Emily Post, is it?

If God can’t be Christian enough for these people who push “Unconditional Love”, then something’s wrong with what they’re selling.

Bottom Line

The reason that God does not extend “unconditional” love is because it is a contradiction of His nature. God is love, and God is holy. In fact, God shows love AND righteousness by not accepting the sin of the sinner. Unconditional Love would basically confirm us in our ways and make us unfit for society, (as we see in the world around us), and unfit for Heaven and fellowship with God.



Filed under Christian Beliefs, Theology Stuff

9 responses to “Bad Teaching: Unconditional Love

  1. Finally someone else who agrees!

    Is that why mine is the only comment?


  2. An inconvenient truth, like so many others in the Bible. There are those who teach there is no hell though Jesus, Himself, referred repeatedly to the agony of that place. As you say, it is only when we recognize the magnitude of our fault that the magnitude of His sacrifice becomes clear.


  3. sandi

    I don’t believe His love is conditional. He loves us even while we’re sinning. What is conditional are His blessings on our lives. His love is such that He doesn’t reward our sin. His unconditional love doesn’t prevent Him from allowing us to throw ourselves into the pit. He loves us enough to let us suffer the consequences of our choices, and there are always consequences whether we perceive then or not.

    I do agree that His love is not always soft and fuzzy. His love is sometimes quite fierce and painful.


  4. SomeoneElsesBigGuy

    I think that this quote from the article hits the nail on the head:

    “Yes, God loves everyone; everybody, everywhere. BUT He loves us despite ourselves, not because of ourselves. ”

    Love is a verb, an action word….if we stop our own action, our own growth, why would be expect any more action from God (i.e. blessings as mentioned above).

    Too many people assume “unconditional love” means you are loved for exactly who you are, right now and if you never bother to better yourself or grow, that you will always be loved BECAUSE OF WHO YOU ARE rather than in spite of who you are. It is used as an EXCUSE to continue bad behavior or DEMAND that others accept you (and your ongoing sinful actions) as you are because that is “unconditional love”….which is inaccurate.

    The love God feels for us, and what we should feel for one another is the love of who we CAN become, not necessarily who we are at this moment….if we are using love as a verb, then I do think God’s love is unconditional. But if we are using “unconditional love” as a shield or cave to hide in, to avoid facing ourselves, that isn’t really love we are trying to grab on to, it is selfish excuses.


    • I like this comment a lot. Well said!

      Though I disagree with the notion that God loves everyone everywhere. This is in contrast to scripture. “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” God loves His chosen people; He does not love those who are condemned. They are “objects of wrath,” created for destruction. He desires them to come to salvation, but He hates those who do not.

      I am confused by the second half of what is quoted. “He loves us despite ourselves, not because of ourselves.” Is that not the very definition of unconditional love? Loving when it is not deserved? Saving one who ought to be condemned? Loving us by dying to save us in spite of our sin, while we were still sinners? Saving love is not based on anything we have done but solely on the sacrifice of Jesus, making it completely unconditional on our part because we will always fall short of His glory. As the Casting Crowns song says: Not because of who I am
      But because of what You’ve done.
      Not because of what I’ve done
      But because of who You are.

      It is true that we are loved just as we are, however, as the cliche goes, we are loved too much for God to let us stay that way. We are unconditionally loved SO THAT we can become more like Jesus. That is the purpose of unconditional love. To be made into His likeness and to glorify Him forever. If you are loved by God, He will discipline you when you sin, for God disciplines those He loves as sons. Paul is pretty clear that this Unconditional Love is never a license to sin. “God is Love, so I can do whatever I want” flies in the face of all that is Unconditional Love. We are saved by an Unconditional Love that calls us to do good works, never to continue in our sin. Go and sin no more.

      In the end, I suspect we all may be saying the same things but coming at it from different angles and then getting bogged down by semantics. Agree or disagree?


  5. MO_Dufus

    And, through out the OT, God told the Israel to “Utterly destroy (fill in the blank) because I despise them for (fill in another blank).”

    And, through out the OT, God sent judgement upon Israel because they
    had turned away from Him.

    God’s rules about love:

    1. God knows that through free will, we sin.
    2. God hates sin.
    3, God judges sin.
    4. God disciplines the sin out of agape love and to reconcile us to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ and what He did while on earth (the only Way).
    5. If you reject the Son (the only Way), you reject God.
    6. Start over with rule 1 until the end of your physical life.
    7..If you accepted His Son as your Savior (and all that means in your physical life), your sins are forgiven, welcome to Heaven (a real place), otherwise, you placed yourself in eternal judgement (Hell, a real place).

    As a reminder, Jesus was humanly born to Mary (a human being) who was a virgin (had not had sexual relations with a man). he is fully God and fully man, he lived a human life, was crucified, bearing the sins of the world (past, present and future), rose the third day, ascended into Heaven (a real place) and sits as the right hand of God the Father.

    ICMI, (especially Roman Catholics), the reason Mary asked Jesus to turn water into wine at the wedding in Caana, was SHE, as parent to either the bride or groom (it’s not clear which), was responsible for providing the wine to all the guests. The ramification of this (and other NT passages) is that Jesus had 1/2 brothers and sisters so Mary was not a perpetual virgin (Roman Catholic doctrine and, one of Martin Luther’s points).


  6. Object of Contempt

    I found a post on another blogger’s site about this topic, and it has been on my mind a few days. It is difficult in my home to gain respect, and “unconditional love” is so ingrained in Christian culture… but I still try to teach my kids that God’s love and forgiveness are not automatic. Then at church this week, the pastor gave a mesage that reaffirmed unconditional love. He told us we should love and forgive as Christ loved and forgave us… insinuating that it should be free and without any condition. I am overwhelmed trying to teach my kids to discern and reject the postmodern reliance on emotions that is saturating the church.

    As I was considering this challenge, something occured to me. Maybe there is some communication that could be clarified. I think certain concepts become so familiar we conflate related ideas. In this case, I’ve been telling the kids that God’s love is not unconditional… which is true. But… His love /is/ unearned! I suspect that people in general mistakenly think that teaching conditional love means I’m teaching that love should always be earned — how miserable would that be!?

    So I’m doing a little thinking now about how to teach my kids to see the beauty of love that is conditional but that is generously and readily supplied, not earned.


  7. Pingback: Bad Teaching: “Unconditional Love” Marries LYWACLTC | The Curmudgeonly Librarian

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