Love Does Not Equal Acceptance of Who You Are

Love Does Not Equal Acceptance of Who You Are October 17, 2017

Contrary to popular belief, love does not mean acceptance of who you are.

Perhaps this is precisely where we haven’t spent due time considering the implications of the gospel. Due to websites like The Gospel Coalition and Desiring God (not to knock them), it seems we have a gospel-centered everything. In the midst of this gospel-saturated application of nearly everything, some have neglected to have a gospel-saturated gospel. Sadly, people still seem to believe that the love of God accepts them as they are. Period. End of story.

We’ve all said it. All of us have given the impression, at least to some (rightful) degree that people ought to come as they are to the cross. They don’t need to clean up their lives prior to professing faith; they don’t need to stop the swearing, smoking, getting tattoos, etc., in order to come to church. That’s not an entirely bad thing. However, somewhere in the midst of this, the broader church has believed this is an acceptable place to remain. I’m not talking about smoking, etc., as if they are necessarily sinful – but the necessity of repentance from sins actually called out in Scripture.

Two Competing Theories of Love

It is often said that God loves us just as we are, yet the reality is that this statement is simply not true. God does not love any person on this planet just as they are, He loves people on the basis of His good pleasure (Ephesians 1:5). There is a world of difference between these two statements – and the implications are colossal. Not only is the basis of this love different, but its ramifications are principally different on nearly every level. It determines how we think of God, yet also, how we live with an outworking of that knowledge.

The first predicates God’s love on the object of sinful, finite men, whom Scripture explicitly says He hates apart from Christ (Psalm 11:5; Proverbs 15:8-9). It likewise constrains the love of God by making this love unconditional. In this view of love, the Lord is constrained by something intrinsically lovely in mankind. The outpouring of this love is because of man rather an exhibition of His eternal love. Effectively, this view determines God’s love is unconditional to all, yet it is constrained to criteria outside of God’s eternal decree. The crucifixion of Christ, in this view, becomes an after-thought.

The second demonstrates God’s love through the eternal Son, whom the Father and Spirit have maintained complete fellowship with in perfect love since eternity past (John 17:23). In this, God’s love is conditional, yet unconstrained by any criteria outside of His eternal decree (1 John 4:9-10). What makes this love uniquely wonderful and awe-inspiring is the fact that the Father has always and will always love us. The crucifixion of Christ, in this view, was foreordained.

God Does Not Love Us As We Are – He Loves Us As Christ Is

In all of this, we must come to see God’s love does not necessitate acceptance of who we are. God has not looked down upon mankind and dictated they are pleasing in His sight. Rather, He saw that every intention of man was continually evil and He called some out from among them to demonstrate His glory (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 7:21-22). Rather than destroy all of mankind, the Lord fulfilled His demand for justice in the death of Christ. Christ did not die on our behalf because we were intrinsically worthy or good (Romans 5:6-8). Christ did not die because the Father accepted us for who we were – He died because we were not accepted. Jesus Christ died to redeem and restore mankind and bring them into fellowship with the Godhead.

What is more than this is the notion that the second person of the Trinity bestowed the eternal love of God upon the elect. The saints of old looked forward with great anticipation to the Christ who would, once and for all, satisfy and appease the Lord. We stand looking back, having received the fullness of God’s revelation in Christ. All at once – an incredibly complex theological concept becomes inherently practical and devotional.

This is precisely what Paul speaks to in Romans 8. At the close of chapter 7, Paul highlights the tension in every genuine believer’s life. They desire holiness and to serve the Lord with all of their being, but find another law at work in their body, which wages war against them. They cry, “What a wretched man am I! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” The answer is as clear as ever: God will deliver us through the person of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

We now live in the Spirit of power, are heirs with Christ, await a future glorification, trust in God who works in all things, and shall conquer sin and death in the end. All of this comes to us through Christ. There is no other means for this particular love to be displayed, for God has ordained it. God’s eternal decree of particular love upon the church is conditional, but it is unrestrained. He freely loves us through His Son (Ephesians 1:3-5).

Love Reveals Sin – And Nails It to the Cross

One of the foremost things this particular love does is demonstrate sin (1 John 2:2). It demonstrates the reality of a broken, fallen world in need of a Savior. This particular love also demonstrates God sets the standard for not only the means of redemption, but the definition of sin. Mankind doesn’t have the liberty to set the standard or the means of redemption; we don’t have the ability to tell God how He must love. Who are you, oh man, to speak back to God? The one who does this does the work of his father, Satan.

In any era, the consistent work of Satan shines through as he sets about blinding unbelievers. Whatever the Sin du Jour is, you can be sure to find our adversary hard at work. He seeks to redefine the terms, set new boundaries, and expand his territory – all under the guise of unconditional love. This “unconditional love” has no basis in God’s eternal decree, yet it is constrained to finite, sinful man. This “love” exchanges the truth for the lie, true love for deceitful hatred masquerading as love, and eternality for finality. This is the same, old heresy asked of Eve, “Did God really say..?”

Most importantly, this love is man-centered. As a result, judgment is not one’s primary problem, sin and evil are not realities, and love is love is love. However, genuine love in truth has a positional authority over the “unconditional love” offered by Satan. Genuine love reveals sin – and nails it to the cross. For this reason, genuine love is, well – genuine.

This same love is displayed through Christ, simultaneously confronting one with their sin before a holy and just Lord, yet effectively pointing to a conditional, unrestrained love. The cross declares you and I are the murderers of Christ, yet His spilled blood points to the remission of sins and our justification before the Father (Hebrews 9:22-28). In one fell swoop, mankind is faced with the reality that they are vile, wicked, and desperately in need of help from the One they’ve scorned, mocked, and crucified. However, mankind is also faced with the reality that God ordained this terrible event to redeem us.

This flies in the face of a culture pleading for tolerance and acceptance for who they are. It is a stinging blade in the abdomen, which disembowels and renders us helpless. It is a point of offense for the unbeliever – for it explicitly teaches that even at your best, you are damned before God, you are not accepted for who you are, and you have no idea what genuine love looks like. Beautifully though, this conundrum is also a point of encouragement for those in Christ – for it reveals that even at your worst, Christ is at His best, you are accepted for who He is, and God shines forth genuine, eternal love upon His children.

Love ≠ acceptance unless it is through the person of Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Ephesians 2:18). That acceptance produces a righteousness in us, in living according to the Scripture’s revealed standard so that we may be pleasing in His sight (1 John 3:21-24).

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  • Iain Lovejoy

    What, in the above, do you mean by the word “love”? If someone finds nothing whatsoever desirable, intrinsically valuable or attractive in a thing, in what sense can they be said to “love” it?
    If I save someone despite my hate for them because of abstract moral duty, or to make me look good, that would not normally be described as loving them: is that nevertheless what you are referring to as “love” above?
    I also don’t follow how you describe unconditional love as “constrained”. You seem to be saying that love is “constrained” if it is in any sense prompted by or connected to the object of that love. This may be repeating the above question, but I don’t follow what this means. “Love” is by definition love of some object or other, isn’t it, so how is it “constrained” by being prompted by the object loved?

    • Gilsongraybert

      By saying God unconditionally loves mankind, that love is constrained to what is inherently lovely about mankind – not what is inherently lovely about God (that He has shown His love to the unlovable through the giving of His Son). Literally, what makes it lovely is that He loves His bride because it pleases Him – not because they have pleased Him, as only Christ lived a life pleasing to Him.

      • Iain Lovejoy

        You seem to be using the word “love” for something that would not normally be recognised as “love” within the conventional sense of the word. If I understand you rightly what you are saying is that where the Bible says God “loves” us, what it really means is he “behaves in a loving fashion” to us (or at least towards his elect) and (sticking with the more conventional meaning of “love”) he does so because of love for Jesus, not love of us. Have I got this right?

        • Gilsongraybert

          Yup – that is precisely what I am doing. Essentially, I am arguing that the love of God is not love as is conventionally understood. I still hold that God’s love is an affection – like a genuine love we also feel and experience in part – but that His love is effectual and conditional. It is born out of what pleases Him though, so it isn’t because of a love He has for Jesus, but it is demonstrated through Jesus. The expression of love within the Trinity is complete and perfect; God is pleased to let that love flow unto mankind through the death of His Son – not because we deserve it or we’re worthy of His love, but simply because He chose to love us. If this love were unconditional, God would be reactionary (meaning something within man would cause His love to shine upon them), whereas if it is conditional, God is simply acting consistent to His character (God is love, therefore, He freely gives of Himself despite mankind’s unworthiness). He made the conditions through what He has determined is sinful and how mankind is able to be redeemed through Christ. All that means is simply that God’s love is freely given as He desires to give it.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            In this scheme of things, is the “bad cop” wrath / hatred etc (whatever you want to call it) behaviour of God to the unelect likewise not “reactionary” and unrelated to any quality in mankind, or does this by contrast reflect a (or the) real attitude / feeling / opinion towards mankind on the part of God?

          • Gilsongraybert

            First, let’s not be pejorative toward God’s character by referring to Him as if he has some sort of split-psychosis… Secondly, His wrath is contingent upon His unchanging character inasmuch as His love is, in that they both flow from His eternal being and decree. They both reflect a real attitude/feeling/opinion of mankind – but the basis of this is a reflection of His good pleasure. I hold to double predestination, in that the object of God’s love or His wrath is contingent upon His character, especially His sovereign right over Creation – if that is where you’re heading toward here.

          • Bill Scudder

            I take it you are a Calvinist

          • Gilsongraybert

            Yes sir

          • Iain Lovejoy

            “the object of God’s love or His wrath is contingent upon His character”
            I thought that’s what you meant, with our profound disagreement being in whether there ought or ought not to be a capital “H” on that last “His”.
            Whether you are right or wrong, reading the Bible this way requires a serious amount of redefining of words outside their normal meaning. You have done this, expressly, with the word “love” above, justifiably or unjustifiably, but I have read you castigating liberal Christians as disregarding or re-writing the Bible for doing exactly the same thing with other passages that don’t fit their views.
            What criteria do you use for deciding when the Bible does mean what it literally says it means, and when it doesn’t?

          • Gilsongraybert

            I follow the historical-grammatical hermeneutic. Secondly, I don’t redefine love at all – I have done nothing but actually define it the way Scripture does, which is contrary to 21st century-modern American sentiments. All I’ve seen you do since I’ve been on this platform has been to bring everything back to justify your outlook on the sexual ethic. Try as you might, you really don’t have a leg to stand on in any sense. My Arminian brothers would have no problems agreeing to that – and we disagree plenty on what extent the sovereignty of God plays in salvation. And I don’t claim liberal Christians re-write the Bible at all – I simply say they don’t take it at its word. You’ve been a prime example of an individual who has done nothing but reject Scripture over and over again without trying to rewrite it…

          • Iain Lovejoy

            I have no interest at all in discussing the sexual ethic with you further because I have already established your views and the reasons for them on this and find them both unconvincing and entirely unoriginal.
            I was interested in working out what you thought the “love of God” meant, given your theology effectively denies its existence as commonly understood, and you were helpful in this, thanks.
            I was hoping to get a bit more insight into how your mind worked in terms of reading into the Bible a systematic theology that requires major reinterpretation of the ordinary plain meaning of a lot of the text while still claiming to be “literal”, but either you just don’t notice you are doing it or won’t admit it, and now you’ve thrown your toys out of the pram, I’ll leave it.

          • Gilsongraybert

            Unoriginal – I like that, and thank you for that. I’ll gladly accept.

            Secondly, I already told you the hermeneutic model I believe is correct in studying the Scriptures. You’ll find much better sources for understanding it outside of comment sections on a blog.

  • Tianzhu

    Great article. Our culture is infatuated with the term “unconditional love,” but it is assuredly not a Christian concept. Essentially it means “no matter how rotten my behavior is, you’re still supposed to love me.”

    • Iain Lovejoy

      Unconditional love is not only a “Christian concept” it is the fundamental Christian calling. If you don’t aspire to live in selfless, self-giving, self-surrendering unconditional love of and with God and neighbour in imitation of Christ, I can’t see the point in being a Christian at all.
      Ephesians 2:4-5:
      God, being rich in kindness, because of his great love with which he loved us, *even being dead in sin*
      Romans 5:8:
      God shows his love to us, that, *while we were still sinners*, Christ died for us.
      Matthew 5:43-48:
      You have heard said: You shall love your neighbour, and hate your enemy;
      but I say to you, love your enemies, bless those that curse you, do good to those that hate you, and pray for those accusing you falsely, and persecuting you, that you may be sons of your father in heaven, because he makes his sun rise on evil and good, and sends rain on righteous and unrighteous.
      For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? do tax-collectors not do the same?
      And if you only greet your brothers, what do you do that is special? Do tax-collectors not do so too?
      Then you shall be perfect, as your father in heaven is perfect.
      1 John 4:16:
      God is love, and he who lives in love, lives in God, and God in him.

      • Gilsongraybert

        This is why a distinction between biblical love and the “love” mankind thinks is correct, is actually needed. The love of God, simply stated, does not allow unrepentance.

        • Iain Lovejoy

          You have already stated that the “love” of God is unrelated to any quality in man (which would therefore include whether or not we repented) but entirely according to his sovereign will. No backtracking please.
          Now I, as I don’t redefine “love”, can agree God’s love does not allow unrepentance: because God loves us while still sinners he will not leave us to suffer and die of the sickness of sin but sent Jesus to bring us to repentance and cure us of it.

          • Gilsongraybert

            You aren’t tracking with what I’ve said – and that’s ok. To your second point, with a functional redefinition of sin, you’ve both redefined love and repentance.

          • Iain Lovejoy

            You’ve been very helpful explaining your unique definition of “love”. I’m wondering what “repentance” means in your scheme of things that apparently I’m “redefining” it?