I have spent much of my Christian life believing the false hyperbole of God’s unconditional love. Why? Because this notion has been promoted by many well-meaning icons of the faith, and repeated by many well-meaning pastors and teachers. And frankly, it just sounds good to me.

The problem is, neither the sound of a truth claim, nor the well-meaning behind its proclamation, makes a truth claim true.

At this point, I suspect more than a few of you are disturbed by this counter claim. That is what happens when our more comfortable paradigms are challenged. It may help you to know that other icons of the faith have also refuted this notion, most notably John MacArthur and R. C. Sproul.

I know what you are thinking: Perhaps MacArthur and Sproul are wrong. So, let’s see what the Bible has to say about the subject. We will do it quickly, because I am actually trying to get to another matter.

It seems to me that John 14:21 puts the matter quickly to rest.

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.

The love of the Father and His Son is conditional to our love for Jesus, which is expressed in our having (to hold fast) and keeping (to attend to carefully) His commandments. Some have tried to reinterpret this by exchanging the two phrases in the first sentence – something like, “he who loves Me will be empowered to keep My commandments”. None of the translations provided by BlueLetterBible.org support this understanding.

Others use John 3:16 and Romans 5:8 to argue God’s unconditional love. After refuting this argument, I will use the same verse to assert something very different and very critical to our relationships with God and the brethren.

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

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

In John 3:16, we see that the love of God expressed in His offer of salvation is reserved for those that believe in Him (a condition). Furthermore, those that believe are the “us” of Romans 5:8. Our belief is another condition of God’s love toward us (along with the loving obedience of John 14:21). As difficult as it may be on our paradigms, we must either accept the conditionality of God’s love or remove these passages from our religious vernacular.

Before moving on, I must strongly encourage you to search out this matter for yourself. You will find that the “unconditional love of God” deception has created more damage than one might imagine. Raising those concerns is not my objective here; I have another matter to share.

God’s Love is Sacrificial

One of the dangers of a false label is that label hiding the true and deeper meaning of the matter being considered. The potential for this is particularly high when the label being hidden is one we would rather not think too much about. Let me explain.

What John 3:16 and Romans 5:8 tell us most about God’s love is that it is sacrificial. Read them again and you will see what I mean. The greatest demonstration of God’s love for His children is the sacrifice of His Son. We did not sacrifice His Son, He did!! Our sins did not put Jesus Christ on the cross; His Father did!! The Father and Son love us sacrificially.

Now add to this Christ’s command to “love each other as I have loved you” (John15:12), and we begin to see why our subconscious mind resists the hidden label; loving someone unconditionally is easier than loving them sacrificially. Sacrificially loving someone requires something of us – something precious. It may be time. It may be an investment of resources we are not likely to get back. It may be rejection by others, or even by the one we are trying to love. Who is capable of such love?

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant… 2Corinthians 3:5-6

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2Corinthians 12:9

The love of God is beyond us; it is supernatural. So how do we love others in such a supernatural and sacrificial way? Romans 12:1 holds the key.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.

I once thought this verse was instructing us to present our bodies as pure sacrifices to God – sacrifices that He would accept. It didn’t make complete sense to me, but if God wanted it, I was determined to give it to him. It seems I was coming at it from the wrong angle.

The presentation of our bodies as living sacrifices is for the expression of God’s sacrificial love to others. To be used in this way, we must be sanctified for His use (i.e., holy). We are acceptable to Him when we become surrendered instruments of His sacrificial love.

I hope you can see that this perspective and approach embraces our insufficiency and our total dependence on God’s grace for loving our neighbor. Our sole responsibility is to “present” ourselves as willing participants in His work. If we will simply lean into His love, He will make us instruments of His sacrificial love.

So, my brethren, I pray God’s grace for us all; that we would become instruments of His sacrificial love to those He has placed in our spheres of influence.

Humbly yours and forever His,