You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
I spoke this morning at a pastor’s gathering about God’s unconditional love. The question we were trying to resolve was, “is unconditional love biblical?” What does it really mean to love and accept others?
My framework begins with John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. If I defined love on this text it would be – love (God’s) is willing to sacrifice what is most precious to itself to meet the deepest needs of another. God sacrificed His one and only Son (precious to God) to respond to the deepest needs of another (Christ died for our deepest need – sinners).
God does not love and accept any of us the way we are. I grew up with the Christian mantra “God loves you just the way you are, you just need to believe in Jesus.” God loves the world, but that does not mean God accepts any of us the way we are. There is a huge difference here. If God loves us the way we are, there would be no need for a redeemer. If God accepted us the way we are, there would be no reason for Christ to die on a cross. So, the directive that we are to love the sinner but hate the sin is a difficult crucible.
God loves us despite who we are. Romans 5 is pretty clear that we are powerless, ungodly, sinners, and His enemies yet God loves us despite our sinfulness and ungodliness. Christ’s death was the greatest expression of love that God made toward humanity. God loves the world. Christ died for the world. Christ commanded his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. The responsibility of Christians is to love God and love others.
There is a difference between loving others and accepting others. The command to love everyone without exception does not mean we automatically accept them or their evil actions. We are to keep on showing God’s love to people despite who they are even when they do not deserve it. This does not mean we accept them. There is nothing in us that provoke his love towards us. We cannot do anything to merit his love. We are to love others with the same love that God has shown to us.
We should accept people on the same basis that God accepts us. Only when we fully surrender to God through faith in Christ does God accept us. We are justified by a law of faith: God forgives us from the guilt of sin, removes us from His wrath, gives us the righteousness of Christ and adopts us into the family of God. THIS is when God accepts us because He only accepts us when we are in Christ.
When people are genuine believers we love and accept them because they are children of God. Acceptance means that we are part of God’s family and God disciplines those whom are his children (Heb. 13:3-11). Parents do not discipline kids that do not belong to them because they do not have the right to do this (Heb. 13:8). If we think of acceptance as belonging or being under authority rather than a warm feeling towards someone, we understand the nature of acceptance. We might argue that we love AND accept other people’s kids, but I believe there is a distinction. Acceptance means that a person belongs to someone and is under the authority and protection of that person. When that is true, we can discipline them. There is a difference between love and acceptance. We love everyone but acceptance is being under a parent’s authority – the same is true for us and God.