A Need for a New Identity:
Conversionism, Transformed Theology, and a New Tulip
Part 2: An Argument for Unconditional Love
If there’s anything that’s unconditional where God is concerned, it would have to be His love for man. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32). Here is the real story. God did not spare His own Son but allowed Him to be sacrificed on the cross to pay the penalty for an unholy and ungodly world. In analyzing this, the apostle Paul makes the following statement:
7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Romans 5:7-10).
The Apostle John makes the following declaration in 1 John 4,
9 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. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:9-10).
In 1 John 2 he writes,
1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world (1 John 2:1-2).
What did John mean when he said that God sent His Son to be “the propitiation for our sins?” Wayne Grudem defines propitiation as “a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in doing so changes God’s wrath toward us into favor.” God sent His Son to be an atoning sacrifice that would change God’s wrath toward man to one of favor. In Hebrews 2 Paul explains that it was necessary for Jesus to come to the earth and “be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17b).
Jesus did more than “offer” an atoning sacrifice that would change God’s wrath to favor; Jesus became that atoning sacrifice. So the question shifts from what is propitiation to how did Christ become the propitiation for man’s sin? Paul answers this question in Romans 3: “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22a). Once again Paul makes it abundantly clear that God’s righteousness is made available to sinful men “through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.” In verse 23 Paul qualifies the “all who believe”:
22b For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:22b-26).
In Romans 6:23 Paul warns that the wages of sin is death. Sin separates man from God; God is both creator and sustainer of life. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6b). In this sense, sin causes separation from God and death is separation from life. In order to restore this relationship with God and to bridge this separation that sin has caused, God sent His Son who is The Light of the World and The Life for the World and The Way to God “to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).
What is “redemption?” Once again looking to Grudem’s Systematic Theology, he defines redemption as “Christ’s saving work viewed as an act of buying back sinners out of their bondage to sin and to Satan through the payment of a ransom.” A ransom is the price paid to secure someone’s freedom. Jesus gave his life on the cross as a ransom to satisfy God’s justice and wrath concerning the penalty of sin that must be paid (Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45). The Apostle Paul tells young Timothy,
1 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, 7 for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth (1 Timothy 2:1-7).
Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice satisfied God’s Law of justice and retribution set in place because of man’s sin. Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross was “payment in full” for the sin of the world. Paul notes that this sacrifice that Christ gave was different than any other sacrifice ever offered to God:
12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15 And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:12-15).
Jesus Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the world. All men have sinned and because of that sin they are condemned to die. But God loved the world so much that He sent his Son to pay the penalty for that sin. Christ redeemed us by His blood. He bore our sins in and on His body on the cross. He paid the price for man’s sin so that God could forgive men without violating His own righteousness. A ransom was paid to set sinful men free from this awful penalty for sin. At one’s conversion, through faith, repentance and confession, an individual passes from death unto life as he is redeemed by the blood of The Lamb. His sins are washed away (Acts 22:16); and he has the promise that he will be reconciled to God (Romans 5:10).
God indeed so loved the world that He gave the life of His only begotten Son to die on the cross to pay a penalty He did not owe for a penalty men could not pay. In speaking of the children of Israel following a long period of disobedience and captivity, the Lord spoke through Jeremiah saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3b). Israel has had a long history of being on the mountaintop with God and then being in the Valley without Him. They have been disobedient to Him and then in repentance they have come back to Him. Israel’s history has been a long cycle of God’s blessings, their disobedience, God’s delivering them to their enemies, their cry for forgiveness and deliverance and God’s mercy and His grace as He redeems them and brings them back into fellowship with Him. God loved Israel then and He still loves His people today. While it is easy to see God’s Unconditional Love, it is difficult to see evidences of unconditional election in the nation of Israel’s rocky history.
Some have argued that God’s choice of election can be seen in God’s special relationship with Israel. However, if God’s special love for Israel is a means that will allow Him to establish His love and a relationship with the whole world, then it may be argued that His love for Israel is not specific at all, but rather a demonstration of His love so that all the world could come to Him and worship Him in spirit and in truth. There is no picture of unconditional election in the life of Israel but God’s Unconditional Love can be seen on every page not only in the Old Testament but the New as well.
Perhaps one of the greatest demonstrations of God’s Unconditional Love can be seen in Revelation 2, where Jesus is speaking to the church in Thyatira. He mentions a wicked woman who calls herself a prophetess who was either teaching in the church or the city and was responsible for seducing some of the church members to commit sexual immorality and eat foods that have been offered to idols. Listen to what Jesus said about this woman, “And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. 22 Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds” (Revelation 2:21-22). Two things are obvious here. First of all, Jesus gave this woman time to repent. He also gave those who committed adultery with her time to repent as well. The second thing that’s equally obvious is the fact that Jesus expected them to repent. This wicked prophetess did not repent and no doubt there were some who committed adultery with her who did not repent as well. There are eternal consequences to the choices men make. Jesus is addressing those consequences when He says that He will cast those who do not repent into great tribulation. He goes on to say, “I will kill her children with death” (v. 23a), which is an obvious reference to the second death.
Did God love this wicked prophetess who had this spirit of Jezebel? His willingness for her not to perish and His patience for her to repent certainly lends credibility to an affirmative answer to this question. Extend this question one step further. Since God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life, and since Jesus expected this woman to repent, He must have died on the cross to pay the penalty for her sin just as He did for everyone else. The provisions for her repentance had already been met at Calvary. Those who are cast into the great tribulation are those who did not repent of their evil deeds (Revelation 2:21–23). Even in one of the most extreme examples of human depravity in the Bible, God’s unconditional love is demonstrated and His forgiveness is offered and repentance is expected, even though it was refused.
A good illustration of this can be seen in the following illustration. Suppose a father loved his four children who had gone out into the world and wasted their lives and had gone deeply into debt. The debt was about to destroy each of the four children. The father unbeknown to his children wrote a check out to each of his four children that would pay their debts in full and leave them with enough money to live the rest of their lives very comfortably. The father placed the checks in cards that were addressed to each child and placed them on a mantle in his den. He called each child and asked them one by one to come see him and share a meal together. They never came. He called them a number of times asking them to come but each time they made excuses and never came. Now, the love of the father was evident in the gift he prepared for each of his four children. Each gift was more than adequate to supply their need, which was substantial. His invitation was for them to come and sit down with him for a simple meal together. The only thing the father wanted was for his children to come and dine with him. Now, did the fact that his children did not come have anything to do with this father’s love for his children? No. In the same way, men’s refusal to come and dine with the Lord has nothing to do with God’s love and desire to meet their great need in the provisions that are already set aside for everyone who will simply come to Jesus. This love can also be seen in the wedding feast of Matthew 22.
In going back to God’s statement to Israel in Jeremiah 31:3b, God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love. With loving kindness I have drawn you.” In looking at this question of unconditional love and unconditional election, what did He mean in the second part of this verse, when He said, “with loving kindness I have drawn you”? Once again the question must be asked, does everyone that God draws with His loving kindness respond as God wants them to respond? Since Israel’s history was up and down and they were in and out of captivity because of their disobedience to His word, both before and after this statement was made, it can be argued that the answer to this question is a resounding “no.” Add to this the overriding fact that no one fully responds to God’s drawing as He would have them respond, for all men, saved and unsaved, continue to sin and come short of the glory of God:
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us (1 John 1:8-10).
It is clear that God’s unconditional love supersedes any Biblical concept of unconditional election.
Consider Paul’s comments to Titus in chapter 3. Here Paul instructs Titus to remind those that he will minister to:
1 Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. 3 For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:1-7).
Does this passage speak to the issue of God’s Unconditional Love or does it speak to the issue of unconditional election? Obviously Paul attributes their salvation to God’s love and His kindness toward them, even though their hearts were wicked and their lives were completely out of control. Paul acknowledges that it is God’s mercy that saved them and not works of righteousness that they had done themselves. Had Paul stopped here, one could argue that God’s love is unconditional, and one could even argue the validity of regeneration and unconditional election in God’s salvific process. However, Paul did not stop there. He goes on to remind everyone how God saved them when “the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared to man;” he said, “This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men” (Titus 3:8). Once again Paul is clear; it is God’s unconditional love demonstrated by Christ at Calvary that compels men to “believe in Him,” and that by believing in Him they “shall not perish but have everlasting life.” For those who do not believe in Christ are already condemned because they have not believed in the Name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:16-17).
Consider one of the more tender scenes in Scripture painting a picture of Christ’s love for the world He created. Listen to His heart as He laments over Jerusalem before turning His eyes to the cross.
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 38 See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’” (Matthew 23:37-39).
Jesus’ love for the world is seen here as well as in every scene and heard in every syllable and demonstrated in every situation that He found Himself. He is still seeking to save them that are lost. He is still reaching out to gather His children together so that His house is not left desolate. Blessed indeed are all who come in the Name of the Lord. Praise God, man’s Total Lostness is overshadowed by God’s Unconditional Love.