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).