For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
We are always so quick to use ‘unconditional’ to describe the love of God, yet this is fundamentally incorrect. His love is not unconditional. It’s so much more than that. We limit him with this adjective – it sounds goods, but it actually creates a perception about the very nature of God that is not only erroneous but which reduces the power of the cross in the most tragic way.
Before we look at God’s love itself, let’s look at ‘unconditional’ and explore its actual nature. Essentially, unconditional means ‘without conditions’ or ‘not subject to conditions.’ So what, you ask, is the point? Surely God’s love is absolute, without conditions? Before answering this, let’s first look at ourselves, the subjects of God’s love.
Over and over and over, the Bible reminds us that we are sinners – for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) – and that we are utterly dependent on Christ to restore us to the Father. Psalm 51: 5 says: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. These are but two examples, and I encourage you to look up as many as you can so that you get a full understanding of the true sinfulness of human nature.
While little children are, quite rightly, regarded as being ‘innocent,’ this innocence is not ‘innocent of the sinful nature’ but rather innocence in the context that the fallen nature is not yet fully developed in them. It is, however, already there. For those who would argue this, think about something – how many of us had to teach our children to lie, to pilfer the biscuit tin, to resent having to do chores and to avoid having to share things? The tendency to sin is in us from birth. This is critical to our understanding of the love of God. Without first recognising and acknowledging that we are sinners, through and through, we cannot comprehend the full meaning of the cross, which is the physical, emotional and spiritual manifestation of his love.
Now let’s ask ourselves this: If God’s love is unconditional, if there are no conditions attached, why does the Bible tell us to put on the new man, to strive against sin, to trust in him for forgiveness, to turn from the flesh…? By using ‘unconditional’ we’re essentially saying that God loves us the way we are. If he did, why spend the rest of our lives transforming us from glory to glory? Why, we must ask, did Jesus have to die? If God loves us unconditionally, just the way we are, what was the point of Jesus’ sacrifice to provide the power, the means and the ability to change us from sinfulness into righteousness. Unconditional love reduces the cross to a meaningless pageant, a drama with no relevance at all.
The fact is, we’re ‘mixing our metaphors,’ as it were. Somehow, in desiring to make God ‘sound good,’ we’re actually achieving exactly the opposite. Today’s verse is absolute – nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even ourselves, because Jesus made sure of that. The way is there, we just need to take it, but we need to do so with a proper understanding of what it really means.
God doesn’t love us ‘just the way we are.’ He wants us to come to him ‘just the way we are’ – as sinners needing all that the cross has purchased for us. The real power of God’s love and the cross is that he loves us despite the way we are. Now that is grace. That is mercy incarnate. When we look at what we really are, and we understand that God’s love transcends that and remains perfect, in spite of what we are, we begin to grasp the magnitude of who he is and what he has done for us.
Lord, forgive me for placing restrictions on your amazing love through my incorrect perceptions. Help me to remember, daily, that you love me despite the way I am. Help me rather to come to you just as I am, so that your empowering love can work the miracle of change in my life and draw me deeper into your grace.