The Messenger

Orangethorpe Christian Church

(Disciples of Christ)

Dr. Robert L. Case Pastor

"The Small Church with the Big Heart, Everyone Welcome"

2200 W. Orangethorpe Ave.

Fullerton CA 92833

(714) 871-3400

September, 2017

~~~~~ From Pastor Bob ~~~~~

Conditional or Unconditional Love

There are two ways that people interpret the scriptures when it comes to God’s love. They either see God’s love as unconditional or conditional. Now, both would say that God loves everyone. The difference is that those who emphasize conditional point out that God has put conditions on how we are to receive salvation. They would say that if one wants to receive salvation that they first have to repent. They point to scriptures like “repent and believe the Good News” (Mark 1:15). Or “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Those who emphasize unconditional love would also agree on the need for repentance but they interpret the idea of repentance differently. They point to scriptures like “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Or, Paul’s struggle with sin in the book of Romans: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not…Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:18, 24). Thus repentance is a recognition that we are all sinners; always have been and always will be. The Good News is that God has come to us in the midst of our sins and loves us for who we are and where we are at.

There is a problem, however, with both approaches. Those who emphasize unconditional love have a tendency to minimize sin and run the risk of thinking that they are free to do whatever they want. Those who emphasize conditional love run into two problems. First, is that they have a tendency to want to make a list of the sins that they believe keep people from God’s love. But, in so doing they seem to emphasize certain sins and ignore others. Secondly, when they do sin, this approach can lead to a feeling of unbearable guilt and self-loathing. When that happens they often feel a need to punish themselves in order to prove that they are truly repented and that they are worthy of God’s love. So, what is the answer?

I choose to interpret the Scriptures in terms of unconditional love. I look at Jesus and see Jesus reaching out to sinners, like me, without any preconditions. For example, when the Canaanite woman asked Jesus to heal her daughter, Jesus did not put any conditions before her. Now, you need to remember that this woman, being a Gentile, would have been considered a sinner, outside the mercy of God and, as Paul put it, “one without hope”. But yet Jesus did not ask her to become a Jew first, or become obedient to the Law, nor did he ask her to repent. Jesus simply responded to her faith and healed her daughter. This is unconditional love.

So, if God’s love is unconditional are we saying that people do not have to repent? Not at all. One does need to repent but we need to remember that repentance is simply a recognition that we are all sinners; always have been and always will be. You might think that I am drawing a fine line between the two but I believe how we approach God’s love has tremendous consequences in terms of how we see God and others. When we see God’s love as unconditional (i.e. God loves us even in the midst of our sins and shortcomings) we set ourselves free from self-condemnation and, at the same, are able to accept others for who they are and where they are at. There is no longer any need to come up with a list of sins which we use to judge who is worthy and who is not. We simply realize that we are all sinners and no one sin is greater than any other. To me this is important in that when I realize that I am a sinner and that God loves me even in the midst of my sin and shortcomings then I can accept the fact that God also loves others for who they are and where they are at. All my judgmental attitudes are brushed aside and I can accept everyone—just as God has accepted me. We are all in the same boat; we are all sinners.

So, what does God expect from us? The Jews asked this very question when they turned to Jesus and asked “what is the greatest commandment?” In other words, ‘just let us know what the greatest sin is and we will refrain from doing it.’ Jesus didn’t give them a list of sins but rather turned it into a positive by saying “‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” In other words, if we love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, we will, in fact, be fulfilling all that God expects from us. What is interesting here is that anyone can do this. Anyone can have faith and everyone can choose to love their neighbors as ourselves—even sinners like me and like you.

It might seem to some to be a fine line. But to me, it can all be summed up with this comparison: conditional love has a tendency to lead to legalism (i.e. trying to save yourself through your own attempts to be perfect) and worse of all to a judgmental attitude toward those whom you think are not measuring up, like you. While unconditional love sets us free from self-condemnation which, in turn, allows us to experience God’s unconditional love and accept others just as God has loved and accepted us.

See you in Church this Sunday and may God Bless, Pastor Bob