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To tell most Canadians that you should not love unconditionally would be to shock them. They would probably think you are clueless or wicked or both. The same is true of Canadian Christians. If I say that God does not love you unconditionally, most Christians will think I do not know what Christianity teaches at a deep and fundamental level. So, just to be clear, the Bible does not teach that God loves unconditionally or that you should love unconditionally and that is good news, a sign that the Bible is wise.

Love and moral judgments

I do not know who first coined the term “unconditional love”, but I do know who popularized it—Carl Rogers (1902-1987). He was a therapist/counsellor and his approach is often referred to as Rogerian counselling/therapy. It was immensely influential. Rogers developed the idea of unconditional love to separate “love” from “moral judgements”. In other words, to truly love, you need to separate love from “the good,” our beliefs about what is right and wrong. We need to show unconditional love, with no moral judgement. To make any moral judgment means you are not loving unconditionally.

Thinking and living are not completely imprisoned and determined by language, but the words we use and the ideas we believe are very important as to how we think and live. One of the reasons modern Christians, including evangelicals, have problems thinking through many contemporary moral issues is because we believe that God loves the person unconditionally, so we should love them unconditionally.

But this is very untrue. To give but one of countless examples, sit down and read Ephesians 5:1-6. We have a clear command to imitate God and walk in love. But then, in the very next sentence, it tells us to forsake all sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness/avarice. You cannot love apart from seeking the true good. To turn your back on the good, is to turn your back on love, to stop imitating God. There has to be a better way to phrase the real love of God.

Unfailing love

A better expression is “unfailing love”. Think about God; He is pure, unfailing love. But He is also pure, unfailing goodness, justice, truth, mercy. There is no tension in God in this. He never has to choose between love and goodness. He is always only love; always only good; always only just. His love is unfailing, nothing can stop God from being love and loving, but His love it is not separate from His goodness, so His love is not unconditional.

if you go back and read the end of Ephesians 4 and the beginning of Ephesians 5, you will see that it is because the triune God loves us unfailingly (not unconditionally) that Jesus came to save us. The Lord saw that my mind was darkened; my will was bound; I did much wrong and habitually failed to do what is right; my sexuality and identity were bent; I gave myself to idols; and I could not help or save myself. God did not say, “Oh well, who cares about justice and the wrong he has done, I love George unconditionally.“ No. “In love He came and sought me”. “In my place condemned He stood”. Perfect love. Perfect justice. Perfect mercy. The Gospel.

To love someone has to involve a selfless concern for their flourishing in true good. So, “love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, ESV). Be gripped by the Gospel and seek to imitate God, who is unfailingly good, unfailingly true, unfailingly just, unfailingly merciful – and with no tension, loves unfailingly.