Introduction

Several of us were in a meeting with prisoners near Christchurch, New Zealand. A woman who played the piano for our praise and worship time afterward gave a short talk to the prisoners. She assured them that God loved them and that there was nothing they could do to make God love them more and nothing they could do to make God love them less.

I was horrified. Though I could imagine her good intentions in trying to make the prisoners feel they could experience God’s love, what she said was totally false.

More and more often I have heard pastors and Bible teachers talk about the unconditional love of God. The latest was speaking of Jesus’ unconditional love.

Very recently I watched as another pastor waxed eloquent about the love of God as equal for all of us. He said our sins didn’t matter, God loved us all equally.

Is that true? If so, there seems little reason to live to please such a God who would love the person who would spurn his love as much as the person who lives to please him.

We’ll look at what Scripture says about God’s love and try to understand various aspects of his love. But, perhaps as importantly, we’ll look at God’s wrath that emanates from his perfect justice.

We’ll also look at what and who God hates. God hates? Yes, the very opposite of love is hate and Scripture says there are people and things God hates.

God’s Love

Friend David Servant, in his new book The Disciple Making Minister, writes of the love of God and distinguishes between what he calls God’s merciful love and God’s approving love.

God’s Merciful Love

God’s merciful love can be seen in scriptures that say that the Lord is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance[1] (2 Peter 3:9) and God wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4). Those scriptures have to do with salvation itself. God wants all men to come to repentance and be saved.

His merciful love also extends to his day-to-day behavior toward mankind. Jesus said your Father in heaven “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). The psalmist said, “The Lord is good to all” (Psalm 145:9).

The gift of his Son is also part of his merciful love:

“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.”

God created this world and loves it so much that he was willing to sacrifice himself, through his Son, so that the people he created in his image could be redeemed from the penalty for sin. His Son was given for all, not just the redeemed. God made available the gift of salvation by grace through the sacrifice of his Son, once for all (see Hebrews 9:12, 26; 10:10, and 1 Peter 3:18). God’s merciful love extends to all mankind.

God’s Conditional Love

What David Servant calls God’s approving love, I will call God’s conditional love, because in each case God’s conditional love is attached to a condition that must be satisfied. People are not saved because they are the object of God’s merciful love. But when they are the objects of God’s conditional love, they are being saved.

At John 14:15, Jesus states, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” Then Jesus gave an example of God’s conditional love:

“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him” (John 14:21).

What is the condition? It is loving Jesus. What shows our love for Jesus? It is having his commands and obeying them. God the Father and our Lord Jesus love those who have and obey the commands of our Lord Jesus because they are the ones who love him. This is a specific, conditional love reserved for those who qualify by satisfying the condition.

Jesus extended the condition to include his teaching when he said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching” (John 14:23).

This time the condition of loving Jesus is to obey his teaching. Some may wonder what obedience to his teaching has to do with loving Jesus. Jesus said if anyone loves him he will obey his teaching. He goes on to make sure we understand by saying the opposite: “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” Jesus made sure we know we are hearing what God the Father is saying, not claiming this came from himself: “These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (1 John 14:24).

Loving Jesus and obeying his teaching result in being loved by God. This time Jesus added that God the Father and Jesus himself will come to those who love and obey him and they will make their home with them – they will be indwelled with the Holy Spirit (born again) (see also John 14:15-16).

Jesus reinforced his teaching about God’s (and his) conditional love when he taught about remaining in him:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (John 15:9-10).

If we obey his commands, we will remain in his love. By implication, if we do not obey his commands we will not remain in his love. Again we see that God loves those who obey the teachings and commands of the Lord Jesus and they will remain in God’s love as they obey his commands, just as Jesus did.

Our concern, if we would be saved, is with God’s conditional love. Jesus said “The Father loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from the Father (John 16:27). That is the reason for God’s conditional love – the same as we have seen above in the other scriptures – because we love the Lord Jesus. Those who love him are the ones who obey his teachings and commands. Jesus added one more condition in John 16:27 – that we believe he came from the Father. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God and warned, “If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:24). Those God loves believe this.

Does God Love Everyone?

The answer to this question is best illustrated by an example from Scripture. Paul told the Roman believers,

Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:10-13. See Malachi 1:3).

Obviously God does not love everyone, notwithstanding the claims of some pastors and teachers. God said he hated Esau, though he loved Jacob. Hate is an antonym of love – the opposite.

Lest you gain the wrong impression from the verses quoted above, God’s hate for Esau did not emanate from his predestination of their fate, as Calvinists would have us believe. The key to understanding that issue is found in 1 Peter 1:1-2:

To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.

God alone can know through his foreknowledge how any person will react when confronted with the Gospel and whether a person will persevere in his faith. In Esau’s case, God knew that he would despise his birthright by selling it for a bowl of stew. Because of what Esau would do, God hated him.

Is that conclusion consistent with other Scripture? Indeed it is. Let’s look at other examples where Scripture says that God hates certain people.

People God Hates

David wrote, “You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors” (Psalm 5:4-6).

Note David did not say God hated just the wrong. No, God hates all who do wrong, just as Esau did wrong and was hated by God. David wrote, “The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates” (Psalm 11:5). Hosea wrote, “Because of all their wickedness in Gilgal, I hated them there. Because of their sinful deeds, I will drive them out of my house (Hosea 9:15. See also Jeremiah 12:8).

Jesus warned, “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Revelation 21:8). Note these are people Jesus is describing by their sins – cowardly people, unbelieving people, vile people, etc. They will all be thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.

God hates those who do wrong, those who are wicked, violent, and do evil. There is nothing in Scripture that says God loves these people with anything other than his merciful love that is extended to all whether wicked or righteous. Teaching unrepentant people that God loves them with anything other than a temporary merciful love gives them a false assurance. The teaching of Scripture is that unless you repent, you too will all perish (Luke 13:3, 5). The wicked must turn from their sin and turn to God through repentance. Only then can they be reconciled to God as they avail themselves of Jesus’ blood shed for their sins when they repent of their sins and receive Jesus as their Lord.

Sins God Hates

What is it that God considers wicked such that he would hate those who do those things? In the Old Testament, God said, “I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech” (Proverbs 8:13); “I hate robbery and iniquity” (Isaiah 61:8). “Do not plot evil against your neighbor, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this,” declares the LORD (Zechariah 8:17). “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the LORD Almighty (Malachi 2:16. See also Deuteronomy 12:31, 16:21-22. See those that God detests: Deuteronomy 22:5, Deuteronomy 25:16, Leviticus 26:29-30, and Psalm 5:5-6). There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers (Proverbs 6:16-19).

In the New Testament, Paul reviews sins God hates so much that those who practice them will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11. See also Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:3-7, Colossians 3:5, and Revelation 21:8).

Scripture contrasts God’s attitude toward the righteous with his attitude toward the unrighteous: For the devious are an abomination to the Lord; but He is intimate with the upright (Proverbs 3:32); the perverse in heart are an abomination to the Lord, but the blameless in their walk are His delight (Proverbs 11:20). You love righteousness and hate wickedness (Psalm 45:6-7).

God’s Wrath

Though God is love (1 John 4:8), he can become very angry and display his wrath. Likely nothing angers God as much as the rejection of his Son by sinful man. Imagine giving up your child to die so others could be saved, only to find that those for whom you gave up your child were not grateful and refused to believe that you gave your child to die for them.

Though we saw God’s great love described in John 3:16, a mere twenty verses later we read about God’s wrath: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36). This verse tells us that everyone who has not believed in the Son, the Lord Jesus, remains under God’s wrath. Notice the word “remains.” Paul taught, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23); all are deserving of God’s wrath.

Because of God’s justice his wrath burns against all mankind because of their sin from the time they are accountable for their actions unless and until they receive Jesus as their Lord, repent of their sins, and receive God’s forgiveness through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and are thereby reconciled to God.

God’s Response To Those Who Hate Him

Who hates God? Perhaps most of the world hates God. They reject him, they reject him as creator, they reject his Son, and they reject his commands. Tragically, there are many in churches today who claim to have accepted the Son as their Savior, yet they are God’s enemies because they rebel against Jesus as their Lord and in turn disregard and disobey the Lord Jesus’ teachings and commands.

Moses contrasted those who love God from those who hate him and showed God’s very different treatment for each:

Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him (Deuteronomy 7:9-10).

Again we see the connection between God’s love and obedience. God keeps his covenant of love to those who love him and keep his commands. But God emphasized how he would deal with those who hate him: “As surely as I live forever, when I sharpen my flashing sword and my hand grasps it in judgment, I will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me” (Deuteronomy 32:40-41. See also Luke 19:12-27).

God’s Love is Conditional

While we should all be grateful for God’s merciful love extended to all mankind, our concern and focus should be on God’s love for those who are being saved. We wish to be objects of God’s love, not objects of wrath who will be condemned for having rejected the Lord Jesus and his teachings and commands.

Exactly opposite to what is now frequently taught in our churches, we have seen that God’s love is conditional, not unconditional. Whether we are loved by God is dependent upon whether we love his Son and have received him as our Lord. Those who love him and receive him as Lord obey his teachings and commands.

In many scriptures cited above we see that the wicked are hated by God. If we claim that Jesus is our Lord but live wickedly, we lie and the truth is not in us. Instead of being loved by God we are hated by him, not only because of our wickedness but also because of our hypocrisy in claiming Jesus as Lord while living in disobedience to his commands. When Jesus is our Lord, our lives are to be characterized by love, righteousness, and holiness.

Why the seeming connection between love for Jesus and obedience to his commands? Because in Scripture the definition of love for God is, “This is love for God: to obey his commands” (1 John 5:3). The note on Exodus 20:6 in the NIV study Bible defines love in the treaty language of the ancient Near East: The “love” owed to the great King was a conventional term for total allegiance and implicit trust expressing itself in obedient service.

Is there a difference between the commands of God and the commands of Jesus? There is not. Jesus said that everything he said and did is just what his Father told him to do and say (John 8:28, 12:49-50, 14:10, 14:24, and 14:31). Jesus revealed to us the will of God when he told us what the Father told him to say.

What is the result for those who disregard Jesus’ commands and are disobedient to him? Paul warned: “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).

Salvation is Conditional

As one might expect, if God’s love is conditional, so is salvation. Many verses in Scripture testify that salvation is conditional. John 3:16 itself says “God so loves the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” Did the verse say that God gave his only son so everyone would have everlasting life? No. Salvation is limited to “whoever believes in him.” Those who do not believe do not have salvation. God made sure we understood this by setting up the contrast for us: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36).

Paul also made clear that salvation is conditional when he wrote to the Corinthian church: “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). Note how explicit this explanation is. Paul assures them they are saved because they received the gospel he preached to them and they took their stand on it. But then he warns them that they must continue to hold firmly to it or they will have believed in vain.

Likewise Paul emphasized conditional salvation to the Colossians:

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he [God] has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation — if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant (Colossians 1:21-23).

Paul reviewed the good news of the gospel, but then emphasized it was conditional, dependent upon continuing in the faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. Lest anyone think this is uncharacteristic of Paul, he concluded by saying this is the gospel of which he, Paul, has become a servant. In both of the above passages taught by Paul, he had a two-fold emphasis. They must continue – persist, persevere – in the faith. They must not be moved from the truth of the gospel.

Jesus taught additional, conditional requirements for salvation. A person who would be saved must satisfy these or he will not be saved. He taught, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 7:21). What group of people will enter the kingdom of heaven? Only those who do the will of God. What is the will of God? Everything taught and commanded by the Lord Jesus.

The leaders of the Jews held themselves out as exemplary in their righteousness. But Jesus said, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). By this Jesus taught that the righteousness of hypocritical Pharisees was not sufficient; the righteousness that satisfies God must be of the heart. Will everyone enter the kingdom of heaven? No, indeed. Only those will be saved who have a true righteousness of the heart as well as deed.

There are many other conditions Jesus taught that must be satisfied in order to gain salvation. Those who will be saved must be born again (John 3:3), they must believe Jesus is who he said he is (John 8:24), they must repent (Luke 13:3,5), love Jesus more than all others (Luke 14:26), they must carry their cross and follow Jesus (Luke 14:27), and they must give up everything they have (Luke 14:33). Paul taught they may not continue in sin and enumerated many sins that will prevent salvation (Galatians 5:19-21. See also 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:3-7, and Colossians 3:5) and that they must be holy if they would see God (Hebrews 12:14).

For a more complete discussion of these conditions, see the article “The Many Facets of a Saving Faith” under Salvation Issues at www.bereanpublishers.com/the-many-facets-of-a-saving-faith/.

I recognize that what I have stated above may be new to you. It may sound almost heretical compared to the statements you may have heard in your church. I do not ask you to believe me, but I do ask you to believe Scripture. Everything I have said is cited to Scripture. Look these passages up in your Bible. Verify that everything I have said is true according to Scripture (Acts 17:11). There is no salvation other than that described in Scripture. Salvation is only obtained as is revealed in Scripture.

Promises and Relationships Are Conditional

The little word “if” makes a conditional statement true upon satisfying the condition that follows. This little word is found frequently in both the Old and New Testaments.

In the well-known passage where Jesus likened himself to a vine and his followers to branches, he spoke of many conditions:

“If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (John 15:5-6).

What is the condition? It is to remain in Jesus and Jesus to remain in us. On the one hand, if we do remain in him we will bear much fruit. If we do not remain in him we are condemned, thrown into the fire and burned.

Likewise Jesus made a conditional promise: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7).

The condition is the same, that we must remain in Jesus, but with an addition, “my words remain in you.” If we do, we can ask whatever we wish and it will be given to us. Lest you think that is an open checkbook please remember again the condition that we remain in Jesus. If we remain in him and he in us, we will have the mind of Christ. What we ask for will be according to God’s will and will be that which Jesus would ask for.

Jesus commanded us to remain in his love (John 15:9). Then he stated a condition: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (John 15:10). As we have seen earlier, once again Jesus’ love and remaining in Jesus’ love is conditional; it is conditioned upon obeying his commands (review John 14:21, 23).

Origin of Error

By now, hopefully you agree it is gross error to claim that God’s love is always unconditional. It misrepresents the character of God and his righteousness and holiness and perfect justice.

Oftentimes when such an error appears, it is wise to look behind it to the false doctrine that created it. In this case, it is the false doctrine of Unconditional Eternal Security (UES), sometimes referred to as “Once Saved, Always Saved,” that claims that once a person has made a sincere confession of faith he has salvation that can never thereafter be lost.

There are certain false doctrines that are necessary to support the false Once Saved, Always Saved doctrine. One such false doctrine is that whatever sins are committed after a sincere confession of faith cannot deprive the person of salvation (but see 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:3-7, Colossians 3:5, and Revelations 21:8 that say otherwise). We have seen from earlier scriptures that God hates those who are wicked, violent, and do evil and that there are numerous sins listed that if practiced will prevent a person from entering the kingdom of heaven. This issue is discussed in much greater detail in the article “Can Sinning Cost Salvation” at www.bereanpublishers.com/can-sinning-cost-salvation/.

Another false doctrine evolved from Unconditional Eternal Security is that when a person once repented of their sins, both their past and future sins were forgiven (but see 2 Peter 1:9). That concept is taught nowhere in Scripture. But it follows naturally and necessarily from the false doctrine of Once Saved, Always Saved. This is discussed in greater detail in “When Are Christians Forgiven?” at www.bereanpublishers.com/when-are-christians-forgiven/.

And so it is with the notion of Unconditional Love of God. Did you notice the similarity of the words – Unconditional Love of God and Unconditional Eternal Security? Both falsely use the term Unconditional. The word “unconditional” does not appear even once in Scripture.

Conclusion

We are dealing here with a false doctrine arising out of the false premise that there is unconditional eternal security. The false doctrine of the unconditional love of God perpetuates a false view of God and takes away the fear of God. Yet Scripture teaches us that the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). But why would anyone fear God if God’s love is unconditional, if one can sin and his sin will not be counted against him? Moses told the Israelites that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning” (Exodus 20:20).

Scripture often speaks of “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (see Romans 3:18, Psalm 36:1), and those who have no fear of God (Genesis 20:11, Psalm 55:19, and Deuteronomy 25:18). Those references always refer to the wicked – those who will suffer the judgment of God.

The fear of God is based on the realization that though God so loved the world and gave his only Son so there could be redemption and reconciliation for those who will believe on him, God is also holy, righteous, and just. His wrath burns against those who have rejected his Son and he hates those who are wicked.

God’s love is conditional, but those who seek to be faithful bond-servants of the Lord Jesus can have confidence that as they seek to obey the teachings and commands of their Lord they are pleasing to God their Father who loves them and dwells in them through his Holy Spirit. These are the ones who remain in Jesus and who are loved by Jesus who indwells them through the Holy Spirit. They are the ones Jesus calls friends because they obey his commands and do the will of his Father who is in heaven.

Footnotes

[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Jn 3:16). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.