Love and faith
Published: 14 March 2020 (GMT+10)
Alex B., Australia, asked in response to The Incarnate Word:
Is God’s love conditional, or is it unconditional?
Lita Sanders, CMI-US, responds:
The answer, in a way that might seem counterintuitive, is that it’s both conditional and unconditional. Personally, I like Don Carson’s take on the subject in his book The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. But from a creation perspective, we can see how it must be both conditional and unconditional.
First, if there were any conditions to God’s love, we couldn’t fulfill those conditions because we’re sinful (Romans 3:23). So God’s providence in giving us the things we need to live like food and shelter and all the good things of life on earth, even though we’ve done nothing to deserve them, is a manifestation of God’s unconditional love toward His creation.
But there is a sense in which the specific love He shows to His people is conditional. All of us deserve eternal judgment in Hell because we’ve sinned. But Jesus, in the Incarnation, lived the perfect sinless life we couldn’t live, and then died the death that we deserved, and rose on the third day. This means that when we trust in Him, our sin is covered by His death (Isaiah 53:6), and His perfect righteousness is credited to us (2 Corinthians 5:21), so that God sees us with the righteousness of Christ. So the condition for this element of God’s specific love for His people who will enjoy eternal life in the resurrection on the restored Earth is that they trust in Christ alone.
So God’s love is both conditional and unconditional, but He even fulfilled the conditions through the obedient life and sacrificial death of God the Son.
CMI’s new podcast, Creation.com Talk, is drawing a lot of new people with questions. “Ste Hir” asked in the comment section of How to deal with hostile skeptics:
“Abraham believed God, and it was counted (imputed) to him as righteousness.” What did Abraham believe? I know Abraham believed God for his future but who did Abraham believe God was other than the only God, creator, sustainer and sovereign of the universe as his foundation for belief.
Lita Sanders responds:
People often ask how Old Testament people before the coming of Christ were saved, and the Bible is clear. They were saved by faith through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, just as we are, even though that sacrifice was in the future. In fact, Paul sets up the salvation of Old Testament saints as a theodicy problem in exactly the opposite way we would expect today. In Paul’s thinking, God was just for judging the Amalekites or the entire world in Noah’s day. The problem was that He didn’t judge Noah’s sin, or Abraham’s, or the entire nation of Israel. How could God justify sinners? Through the sacrifice of Christ, which cleansed the people of God; both those before and after crucifixion.
We know Abraham had some revelation of who God is, but this revelation was not as complete as an Israelite in Moses’ day would have had, which would have been still less than in Isaiah’s day. God did not reveal everything He intended to tell us about Himself until the Incarnation of Christ, who is the ultimate revelation as God in the flesh. The New Testament was written in light of this revelation so that we who have not seen Christ can nevertheless believe the entirety of what His coming showed us.
The simple answer is that people have always been saved by believing what they knew about God and trusting in Him for salvation. Today, for us, that means believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.