Either conditional love or unconditional love is a humanistic psychological term and not actually found in the Bible. God’s love, as revealed in the Bible, is eternal (Psalm 136), perfect (1 John 4:16-18), unfailing (Psalm 33:5, 143:8, Exodus 15:13), and infinite (Ephesians 3:16-19). However, God’s love is often described as unconditional because humans, deep in their hearts, long to be loved and accepted without conditions or reservations. Such love and acceptance can only be given by a self-sufficient being like the deity.
There are four Greek words for love: eros (intimate love), storge (family love), philia (friendship love), and agape (unconditional love). The word agape is used to represent divine love; it is the greatest gift from God to all mankind (1 Corinthians 13 and John 3:16). It is interesting to examine further, however, whether God’s love is truly unconditional, especially when looking to other Scriptural references, even some of those said by Jesus Himself, for example:
- Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him…” (John 14:23).
- He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:18).
- “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine” (Exodus 19:5).
- Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known (Deuteronomy 11:26-28).
- The Lord hates these seven things: eyes that show pride, tongues that tell lies, hands that kill innocent people, hearts that plan evil things to do, feet that run to do evil, witnesses in court who tell lies, and anyone who causes family members to fight (Proverbs 6:16-19).
Many more examples can be found throughout the Bible (e.g., John 3:36, Matthew 6:14-15, Romans 1:18, Psalm 5:5) showing that God’s love can also be conditional. This means that He does not tolerate sins, wickedness, disobedience, and hostility toward Him. And it is rightly so in light of His holiness and sovereignty.
Difference Between Conditional and Unconditional Love
A clear distinction is commonly understood: Conditional love is “earned” on the basis of certain conditions that should be met, while unconditional love is given freely and completely without expecting anything in return. Loving conditionally means to love if the object deserves the love, whereas loving unconditionally means to love despite the object being unworthy of love.
As we have seen earlier the conditionality of God’s love, let us now look further to the other soul-reviving aspect of God’s love.
God's Unconditional Love
God’s love is unconditional, in a sense, that love is His nature (1 John 4:8, Deuteronomy 7:9) hence there is never a moment when God does not love. Everything God does is [done] out of love; even God’s anger is a holy expression of His love (Psalm 30:5, Micah 7:18). God is good and generous to everyone, regardless of their disposition toward Him (Matthew 5:45). The rejection and rebellion of humanity against God can never change the truth that God is love. In other words, God is always a God of love despite our actions and attitudes toward Him. God’s love, as described by Dr. John T. Yates, is “unconditional and unselfish concern of God, in emotion, volition, and action for man’s highest good.”
God has given humanity the best gift fully manifested in the person of Jesus Christ, so that we may know His love and have a personal relationship with Him (Romans 8:31-32). God’s plan since the beginning has been to prosper us, to protect us, and to give us purpose in this life (Jeremiah 29:11). And even more, God, in His extraordinary love, grants those who receive and believe Jesus the permanent status as the [beloved] children of God (John 1:12). What a great blessing and privilege to be compassionately loved by the Heavenly Father with the likeness of a father-child relationship (Psalm 103:13), which lasts forever. (No father or parent can ever call his child, “my ex-child”).
God's Unfailing Love Examples in the Bible
There are many examples of God’s unfailing love in the Bible. In the Old Testament, God, in His sovereignty, has chosen Israel as His treasured people from [and to bless] all the nations on earth. Instead of responding to God’s love by living in trust and obedience, unfortunately, the Israelites rebelled against Him so many times by worshipping other gods and deliberately disobeying Him. But God’s promise never fails: He repeatedly forgives, restores, and glorifies Israel because of His unfailing love (Jeremiah 31:3). Israel’s journey [and struggles] with God could actually represent our spiritual walk by faith in Him who has loved us with an everlasting love. King David, despite his sins, acknowledged the immeasurable love of God toward those who fear Him (Psalm 103:10-12).
God’s love has also been demonstrated in the life of Paul the Apostle, who formerly hated and persecuted Christians, but was unexpectedly visited by Jesus Himself through a divine encounter that radically transformed his life forever. He ended up becoming the author of nearly half of the New Testament books, upon which most doctrines of the Christian faith are laid. Paul believes that the love of God has been revealed through the work of Christ [what Christ has done] for us (Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 8:9, Ephesians 2:4-5). The Bible is very clear on this point: no one or nothing can ever separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:38-39).
Why Does This Matter for Christians Today?
God’s love is unconditional according to His grace and mercy, but also conditional in His holiness and sovereignty. Unconditional love involves total acceptance, while conditional love involves discipline; both are motivated by a sincere desire to bring the greatest good to [and the best out of] the object of love. The Heavenly Father proves his love to us by a divine discipline so that we might share in His holiness (Hebrews 12:6-10).
In contrast to God’s unconditional love, human love (apart from God) is conditional: without the love of God in our hearts, we are not able to love unconditionally. The real meaning of love is clearly described in the Bible (1 Corinthians 13:4-7), however, because of fallen human nature, we struggle to grasp what love is all about because the essence of love contradicts our self-centered nature. In fact, we can love [and know what love means] because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).
Learning how to love like God has loved us is a lifetime process because God’s love is incomprehensible. Thanks be to God, He has revealed His love to humanity by sending His only begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him in the journey of loving God and loving one another (1 John 3:16, 4:7-9). Loving unconditionally starts with living unselfishly; it is a life fully dedicated to Christ (Galatians 2:20) who enables us to truly love God and each other (1 Peter 4:8).
The Biblical description of God’s love:
- Psalm 136 NIV
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever.
- 1 John 4:16-18 ESV
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
- Psalm 33:5 NIV
The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.
- Psalm 143:8 NLT
Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you. Show me where to walk, for I give myself to you.
- Exodus 15:13 NIV
In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
- John 3:16 NKJV
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.
The conditionality of God’s love:
- John 14:23 NKJV
Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.
- John 3:18 NKJV
He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
- John 3:36 NKJV
He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.
- Matthew 6:14-15 NASB
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
- Romans 1:18 NKJV
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
- Exodus 19:5 NKJV
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.
Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known.
- Psalm 5:5 NKJV
The boastful shall not stand in Your sight; You hate all workers of iniquity.
- Proverbs 6:16-19 ERV
The Lord hates these seven things: eyes that show pride, tongues that tell lies, hands that kill innocent people, hearts that plan evil things to do, feet that run to do evil, witnesses in court who tell lies, and anyone who causes family members to fight.
God’s unconditional love:
- 1 John 4:8 NIV
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
- Deuteronomy 7:9 NKJV
Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments.
- Psalm 30:5 NASB
For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning.
- Micah 7:18 ESV
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.
- Matthew 5:45 NASB
So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
- Romans 8:31-32 ESV
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
- Jeremiah 29:11 NIV
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
- John 1:12 NLT
But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.
- Psalm 103:13 NLT
The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
God’s unfailing love examples in the Bible:
- Jeremiah 31:3 NLT
Long ago the Lord said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself...”
- Psalm 103:10-12 ERV
We sinned against him, but he didn’t give us the punishment we deserved. His love for his followers is as high above us as heaven is above the earth. And he has taken our sins as far away from us as the east is from the west.
- Romans 5:8 NLT
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
- 2 Corinthians 8:9 NKJV
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
- Ephesians 2:4-5 NKJV
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).
- Romans 8:38-39 NIV
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Christians Response to God’s Love:
- Hebrews 12:6-10 NLT
“For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness.
- 1 John 4:19 NASB
We love, because He first loved us.
- 1 John 3:16 NLT
We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.
- 1 John 4:7-9 NKJV
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.
- Galatians 2:20 ESV
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
- 1 Peter 4:8 NIV
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
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Philip Wijaya is presently a graduate research student at the University of British Columbia living in Vancouver, Canada with his wife, Sandra. His interest in science and faith in God has encouraged him to write in a blog (philipwijaya.com), with a hope of better understanding the truths in the Bible in relation to scientific views and discoveries. Besides research and study, he also enjoys sports, music, and traveling.