by Jeannette Haley
Last month in my article “Contentment,” while quoting 2 Peter 1:4-8, I inserted in parenthesis the term “unconditional love.” Fortunately, Brother Bernie Koerselman caught this error and was kind enough to write with the following explanation:
Jeannette, I have a question for you. In your article you chose to define charity as unconditional love (in parentheses as you quoted 2 Peter 1:4-8). Where do you get that definition? I checked my Bible program and found each of the translations EXCEPT the King James translates “charity” as “love.” Then I checked my friend Spiros Zodhiates’ Hebrews Greek Key Study Bible and found he translates the word for charity as “love, i.e. affection or benevolence; spec. (plur.) a love feast;–(feast of) charity ([ably]), dear, love.” That question is important to me because I have not found the concept of unconditional love anywhere in Scripture. I began to hear this term from the pulpit, found it foreign to my ears, so specifically researched it. It is a very popular concept, tied in (I suspect) with the doctrine of unconditional eternal security. Do you have Scriptures that show/prove unconditional love? If so, I’d surely like to see them and be corrected. Please accept my kudos for another newsletter well done and doubtless most helpful in the building of the Lord’s kingdom here on earth among his people.
This got me to rethinking the subject of God’s love, and the different concepts people have concerning His love, along with God’s character as revealed in Scripture (including my own conclusions) and how I arrived at them. After all, what we believe is based, 1) on our conclusions to information (whether true or false) that we have been exposed to, 2) on what we experience, 3) on what the Holy Spirit reveals to us through the Word of God, or 4) on what we want to believe, in order to appease our flesh.
Of course, the latter response originates out of a rebellious heart that does not love the truth, and desires to live in an unrealistic fantasy. On the other hand, those who build their belief system based solely on what they hear preachers preach and teachers teach, or their experiences alone, will be held just as accountable as those who deliberately choose error for their own self-serving purposes.
Christians who find themselves, for the most part, in the first group start out trustingly exposing themselves to the plethora of preachers and teachers available today in our Westernized culture. Through the institutionalized church system, television, radio, books, tapes, and so forth, they can feed on information for a lifetime. The danger in this is that very few compare what they read or hear with what the Word of God says on any given subject, including God’s love. This means that however sincere the person may be, unverified conclusions may become erroneous beliefs. We call them assumed beliefs. (The teaching that God’s love is unconditional is an assumed belief.)
People with assumed beliefs, unless they love the truth, can be quite proud of their conclusions, and even though they are information seekers, they can unknowingly develop an appetite for only that information which fits into their frame of reference or agenda. Granted, they may be sincere, but eventually they will fall prey to pride because of their mountain of man-made knowledge which fortifies them from the humility it takes to be corrected on any level by the truth.
At this point, I want to touch briefly on the subject of the so-called “discernment ministries” that many of the “information gatherers” gullibly follow. Many of the “discernment ministries” themselves fall into the above category. We have some genuine concerns about these ministries because, while they have accumulated a wealth of valuable information concerning heresy in the church today, many have exalted themselves to the position of “experts” and “the final authority” over the Body of Christ. Like those who feed on information alone, they have become spiritually dull in the area where true discernment originates, with the end result that they are unable to test the spirit behind anything.
Like the legalistic Pharisees of Jesus’ day, many of these fact collectors not only lack true spiritual discernment, but the fruit of the Spirit as well. Are they sincere? We believe they started out very sincere, but even truth carried to extremes becomes an untruth, because the spirit behind it is wrong. When there is a wrong spirit involved, there will always be pride, hardness of heart, unbelief, and a refusal to be corrected.
The bottom line is, if a Christian who does love and serve the Lord doesn’t agree with them on some point, then in their book, you are wrong, period. This is not discernment, but arrogance, false accusation and judging at its worst. Such attitudes and conclusions have no place in the Body of Christ, and God will judge them for it. It is possible to be doctrinally wrong in some areas and have the right spirit, and it is also possible to have the right doctrine, but be spiritually wrong. The former is teachable, and the latter is not, because they refuse to be wrong to be made right. (See Philippians 1:15-17.)
God looks at the heart, not at a man’s doctrine. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that, Ye shall know them by their doctrine, but by their fruits. This is a warning to those who see themselves as the final authority in all matters concerning doctrine and theology, as well as to those who hang on their every word without going to God in prayer to make certain that they are in the right spirit. After all, Satan quotes Scripture—he knows it well: demonsbelieve and tremble. (See James 2:19.)
Concerning people who base their beliefs on experience alone, such people live in extremes that have no foundation in truth and reality. These are the people who often refuse truth as being “negative” and who always seem to be “floating in God’s love boat.” While Christians do have legitimate experiences in their walk with Christ, experiences cannot be the sole basis for a person’s faith walk, and often serve as an escape from reality, on the one hand, and as an excuse to avoid studying the Word of God, on the other.
People who “mountain top hop” from one experience to the other may be sincere, but the results are devastating when reality collides with their experiential belief system. There are grave dangers in seeking experiences for experience sake alone, as Satan is always ready to give people incredible supernatural experiences that can open a person up to the wrong spirit. Some of the most sincere people we have ever met fit into this “super spiritual” category, and they are the most difficult to deal with because of religious spirits and pride.
Today in this age of ecumenism, humanism and easy-believism, along with all the other “isms,” people can pick and choose the religious system that best suits their philosophy of life. These people are sincere about having “religion” in their life as long as it doesn’t interfere with their lifestyles. They have a “live and let live, I’m okay and you’re okay” liberal philosophy. Their reasoning is, if “God is love” then why be concerned about what you believe? Many sincere, but deluded, people in this group are flocking to the “seeker-friendly” (friend-of-the-world-enemy-of-God) churches. After all, since “God is love” and “Jesus died for all” doesn’t He want His children to lighten up, have fun, be happy, and enjoy church? (If you think so, you haven’t read your Bible lately.)
Sometimes, people have a mixture of all four areas. This means they have some beliefs based on their conclusions to information, some beliefs based on experiences, some based on a limited understanding of the Word of God, while at the same time obstinately holding on to certain conclusions that appeal to the flesh. Obviously, this manifests in their lives as double-mindedness, confusion and instability, and is an open door for a religious spirit, because it is all based on pride. Nevertheless, they maintain that they are sincere in their quest to find God.
Finally, there is the remnant. These are those who have made Jesus Lord of their lives in obedience to the Scriptures. The remnant believes that Jesus meant everything He said, even the hard sayings such as, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:24-26.They also believe: Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it, Matthew 7:13-14.
The remnant is more than sincere. They are sold-out bond slaves of Jesus Christ. They are not seeking a religious experience, but they are seeking a greater (or on-going) revelation of Jesus. They, with Paul, proclaim,That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead, Philippians 3:10-11.
The remnant knows that salvation involves more than an accumulation of knowledge derived from man that can lead to assumed beliefs; that it involves more than supernatural experiences to know God; that it takes much more than church attendance or religious appearances to live a life pleasing to God. They know and believe that;Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God, Matthew 4:4.
Are you part of the remnant? If so, you want to know the truth, regardless of how it may rock your religious boat of preconceived or assumed beliefs. With that in mind, let’s go back to the subject of unconditional love and examine what the Scriptures say. It’s very simple if you have a Concordance. The word translated as love(agape) in most of the New Testament (including 1 John 4:16…God is love) means affection or benevolence; a love-feast or feast of charity, dear. The teaching that God’s love is unconditional, or that we are to love unconditionally, is nowhere to be found in Scripture. However, as you study the Bible, you will find that every promise of God is conditional. This means that God fulfills His promises to us based on our meeting the conditions that are set forth. (A study of this subject could prove to be a real eye-opener to many.)
If God’s love is unconditional, then God is obligated by His immutable character to honor that unconditional love, regardless of whether we walk in obedience to His Word or not. In other words, once we decide to “receive Jesus” (which is misinterpreted also), then we can live any way we wish and still be saved because of God’s unconditional love. The result of this thinking is that it alters who God is in His Holiness and justness.
Allow me to quote Rayola’s explanation of God’s love: There is only one place that a person can experience the love of God—at the cross of Christ. This is where the love of God is manifested to the world. God’s love is available to all, but it must be received and applied by faith. However, this love cannot be experienced outside the cross, and it can only be perfected in a living relationship with God.
Today, many people are trying to hide behind the concept of God’s love, rather than embrace it. Perhaps this is why God’s love is simply a sentimental notion to many, rather than a life-changing reality that allows them insight into one of God’s incredible attributes.
God’s love does not stand alone. It can be observed in His other characteristics. For example, God’s love is shown through chastisement. His holiness demanded judgment on sin, but love provided the means to suffice His judgment and uphold His holiness.
It is important to ensure that all assumed beliefs are replaced by the Word of God. We also must not leave our beliefs in the hands of others. As long as we have the Word of God, we are responsible for what we believe and practice as Christians.
In conclusion, may we ponder these sobering words of Jesus, Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven, Matthew 7:21.(Emphasis mine.)