“Some of God‘s love is unconditional. Some is not. This love is not: ‘He who loves me will be loved by my Father.’ John 14:21” ~John Piper
After reading the above tweet this morning, I was reminded yet again of another illuminating portion of the Desiring God pastors’ conference entitled, “Sanctification by Faith Alone.” We had transcribed a portion of it before, but I think the section from the panel discussion below helpfully fleshes out the meaning and intention of Piper’s tweet. This is by no means intended as a “Gotchya!” quote, but there are nevertheless some disturbing, strange, and even TMI elements. (And to be fair, some very good points re: Michael Card.) I especially like the supposed transition from unconditional love to conditional love after Regeneration.
The following is in answer to the question (paraphrased), “Is God’s love conditional?”
I think the reason I’m upset about the contemporary use of the word “unconditional” in solving most psychological problems and trying to settle disputes, is that we’re just not making utterly crucial Biblical distinctions. I would answer your question, “yes”; God loves you less when you disobey. The same way if your wife hit you in the face. Something profoundly is damaged in your affections, and you ought to call it love. There is a form of love—a form, a kind of love, that is ruined by disobedience and by alienation. But there, there’s one—try John 14:21: He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me, and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. And if you don’t, I won’t. It’s in the Bible, you know. There’s one answer.
Here’s my main concern. Michael Card, Church of the Open Door, concert—never been to a concert like that in my life. It was a great thing, I like almost all of his songs. But when he started theology, he said this—this is what he said. (We talked about it in the car all the way home.) He said, God loves you all tonight, and I want you to feel it. In fact, He loves you so much, He could not love you more than he loves you right now. I thought, “the heresy.” And then he went so far as to say, believer or unbeliever, nothing you are or could do tonight could in any way increase or decrease the love that God has for you tonight. That’s the end of the Bible. That’s the end of the Bible, because what it says is, the covenant life that God has for his bride is no different than what he has for people who burn in hell. And if that’s the only way he loves, then I’m gone—it’s over. If there is no covenant love by which he overcomes my sin and draws me to Himself—that kind of talk which is just everywhere today, and is an absolute denial of New Covenant love. It’s an absolute denial of the sovereign love of God. It puts people in hell and people in heaven all in the same plane, and we all are, I guess, looked at from a distance by a helpless God who has affections for every person; and if we are to experience anything, it is all on us, and He has no special affection for his bride.
When I preach this on Sunday morning, I just go to Ephesians 5, and I say, if Christ loved the church on the analogy of the way I’m to love Noel, and I say to Noel, “I’ve got no special affection for you. I don’t love you any way differently than I love Shelley or Ruth Fuller,” she’d be deeply wounded. And I’d be a lousy husband. And so would God be a lousy God if what Michael Card said of Him is true. It calls into question—I’m tempted to say—the fundamental structure of Covenant Theology. But what I mean by that, is the way I understand the Covenant. Namely, there is a New Covenant without which I am a goner, and that New Covenant is: God will cause me to walk in His statutes; God will work in my mind to plant His law within there; God will call me out of darkness into light; God will choose me.
My answer to your first question, “is the love of God unconditional?”, is—I think it can be made very simple: Electing love is unconditional, regenerating love is unconditional, and all other loves are conditional. Everything after regeneration that you benefit from is conditional, including glorification, salvation, sanctification, and everything else. It’s conditional, one, on faith, and second, upon the evidences of faith in obedience. Anybody in my church can understand that. Electing love is unconditional. The act of setting that election upon a given person in regeneration or calling, has to be unconditional. What comes out of that is faith, and everything in the Bible is promised to that faith from then on. And you shouldn’t call it unconditional.
And this talk today about unconditionality, and then the way we love—you tell me to love Noel unconditionally? You just gotta make some conditions. If she rejects me and won’t give me her body, which she never has and I pray never will; she is a gloriously satisfying wife. But if she said to me, “I’m not going to give you sex anymore,” and you say to me, “love her unconditionally,” I would say, I will love her in that I will stay married to her. I will keep providing for her. And I will cry over what is gone between us, then and the rest of my life. But that kind of love—intimate, warm, precious, covenant love of affection—gone! It’s conditional, it’s conditional! A successful marriage has to have the fulfillment of conditions in it. (“Sanctification by Faith Alone,” 1994; 00:56:05-01:02:20 [Transcribed by yours truly])