Charles Stanley - The Unconditional Love of God
If you'll listen to this message very carefully, here's what will happen to your life. You'll be able to exchange your anxiety for a sense of real peace, your depression for genuine joy, and your fear for a great sense of confidence. Now, you may ask the question: Well, how do you think one sermon can make all that much difference in my life? Because I want to tell you not only that God loves you, but I want to explain to you how God loves you. And once you begin to understand how God loves you, things can't ever be the same again. In fact, it could absolutely revolutionize your life. And so, I want to encourage you that if you have a Bible, that you'll find it, give you a moment to find it, and if you have it here with you today, of course, we want you to turn, in just a moment, to a passage of Scripture.
I'm just going to read one verse to begin with, but then I'm gonna read several other verses. But it'd be very good if you had a Bible and maybe a pencil and a piece of paper to jot down a few things that I am sure will be helpful to you if you will listen very carefully. I simply want to answer one question in this message. And what is that question? The question is this: Does God love me unconditionally? Does God love me unconditionally? All of us believe that somehow He loves us either at times and certain ways. Does He love me unconditionally? And I want you to turn, if you will, to begin with, to Romans chapter five, Romans chapter five, which is a great chapter of Paul's description, explanation of how God has justified us and the peace that we have as a result of God declaring us not guilty through the death of Jesus Christ.
And so, he says in verse eight, a wonderful verse of Scripture, a great word of assurance to all of us. Listen to what he says. He says, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us". Not after we got better, not after we improved, not after we were saved, not after we made Him some promises, not after things got a little better, not after we laid down some sins, not after we dropped some habits. God loved us while we were yet sinners, in the most wicked state we could be in, in our most vile position. "God loved us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us," which means that Jesus Christ went to the cross, motivated by His love for you and me, sent by the Father out of His love for us. In our deepest moments of darkness and sin, disobedience and rebellion, Almighty God loved you and me.
Well, throughout all the Scriptures, there's the declaration of God's love. It's found everywhere. And so, I want us to think about some of those verses, if we might. And if you'll recall, and we all know what John three sixteen says, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life". Then you recall in First John, over toward the back of your Bible, the little epistle of First John, in the third chapter, how he begins this third chapter. Listen to what he says. He says, "See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God, and such we are".
Listen to that. See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that He should call us the children of God, and such we are. And then if you'll just turn over to the fourth chapter of that same little book. The fourth chapter, and notice what he says in verse eight. He says, "The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love". And what he's simply saying in this passage is: here is the character of God. The character of God is that He is love. That is the very character of God, that He's a God of love. Now, oftentimes when we think of God's love, we think of God's love the way we sometimes love other people. And so, what happens when we don't understand some things, it's because we don't understand the correct Biblical definition. So, love is not, in the eyes of God, is not some emotion that He has, though there is an emotion in it. But it's more than an emotion. It is a commitment.
Listen, when God says He loves us, He's making a commitment. It is an expression of His commitment to our well-being. So when you say, "Well, does God love me"? You have to ask yourself this question. Does God love me unconditionally? I know that He loves me, but does He love me unconditionally? You say, "Well, now, what do you mean by unconditional"? Well, if something is unconditional, that is, if love is unconditional, it has no restrictions, it has no limitations. That is, unconditional love is unrestricted, non-limited love. There's nothing that limits it, nothing that restricts it. It is absolutely the full flow of Almighty God poured out upon you and me. Limited, for example, if His love is limited, then that means there are restrictions. That means there are certain limitations. And so therefore, when we say that God loves us and His love is unlimited, that means it has no restrictions, you cannot measure it. It is there with all of its fullness, no limitations, no restrictions whatsoever.
Now, there are some reasons people do not believe that God's love, they just can't believe it's unconditional. One of the reasons I think is that somehow in our thinking how we think about His love, we think about how we love other people. Now, I don't know about you, but I'll just be absolutely honest with you. If you ask me do I love people absolutely unconditionally? Here's my answer. As much as I love the Lord and as much as I want to be obedient to Him and as much as I want to grow in Him and I've been a Christian a long time, if I answer you honestly, I'll have to tell you I have not reached that place in my spiritual growth where I can say, "Yes, I love everybody unconditionally, no matter what". I'm not there. And I would like for all of you who are there to stand. Right! We're just honest, aren't we? I mean, I don't know. In fact, I don't know of anybody who loves absolutely unconditional.
Now, I think at times in life, we think we love people and we love them unconditionally, but you see, the truth is we don't really know whether we do or not. Because there may be some people in our lives that will test everything in us and we think, "Well, I'm gonna love them anyway". And yet, we don't know whether we really have the capacity, I mean ultimately, if, under certain conditions, I mean, really bad, evil, vile conditions, if we really have it within us to love them unconditional... I'm not saying no one does. I'm just telling you that if I'm honest with myself, I can't say that I love everybody unconditionally. And sometimes I think, "Lord," sometimes it doesn't take much condition for me not to love some things in life. And because we all have that potential to be disobedient.
Now, so one of the reasons it's hard for us to believe is because we don't.
A second reason is because it's just natural and it's sort of a natural response to say, "Well, it's natural to love some people unconditionally and some not". In other words, it's just natural.
A third reason is because I think sometimes we experience guilt in our life, and that guilt in our life is such that we think, "Well, how in the world could God love me unconditionally when this is true of my life"?
Sometimes it's because we just don't feel worthy of it. We think, "Well, certainly I'm not worthy of God's unconditional love". Sometimes it's because of legalistic teaching that we've heard. And then, of course, I think understanding that oftentimes we don't understand the love of God. That it isn't some mushy, emotional feeling, but it's rather a personal, genuine commitment to our well-being. It is God, listen, it is God unselfishly giving of Himself for our good, goodness toward us and blessing toward us. So sometimes it's a misunderstanding of the whole idea of what it means.
And then of course, I think one of the primary reasons is that there seems to be a conflict in the teaching of Scripture concerning God's unconditional love and such things as divine discipline, which causes pain and hurt, and God's anger and His wrath and such things as hell and judgment. How in the world can you say that God loves us unconditionally and, at the same time, that God would spank us, whip us, discipline us, chastise us? How can you say that God's love is unconditional when the Bible speaks of God's anger and His wrath? How can you say that God's love is unconditional if He provides a judgment and that there's a hell out there for people to die and be lost for all eternity? How can you say that? Well, what I want us to look at for a few moments is to see if we can reconcile those things.
Well, let's take 'em one at a time and think in terms of, first of all, let me say that because they appear to be unloving, they appear to be unloving does not mean they're unloving acts of God. Now, let's take, for example, God's divine discipline. Well, let's distinguish between what discipline is and what it's not. Punishment is God executing His judgment upon the wicked. Discipline, listen, discipline is God's correction of one of His children in order to protect us from further disobedience and to protect us from further harmful consequences in our life. And so, He disciplines or chastens us in order to do what? To get us back into the center of His will for our own good. And we say, "So now that's divine discipline". Is there a contradiction in that and saying that God's love is His unselfish giving of Himself toward us so that He can send blessing and goodness into our life? Is it a contradiction to God's commitment to us for our, listen, for those things that are good for us? Goodwill toward us. No, there's no contradiction.
Now, all right, so that's probably the simplest one. What about this whole idea of the wrath of God? Look at the Gospel of John. Here again, Jesus is talking about believing and trusting in Him, and in the third chapter of the Gospel of John, look at that, if you will. The last verse of this third chapter, the thirty sixth verse, listen to what He says. He says, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life, but he who does not believe," that is, placing their trust in Him as Savior, "does not believe the Son, does not obey the Son," speaking of faith, "shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him". Now listen, friend.
You say, "Well, now, I'm not a Christian. You mean to tell me that I'm under the threat of God's judgment? I'm under the threat of God's wrath". Well, let's read it again. Here's what he says. "He who believes in the Son," which means believing in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of Almighty God. He says, "That person has eternal life. But he who does not obey the Son," which is, what he's saying is, is obeying Him by placing their trust in Him and His death at Calvary for the forgiveness of our sin, "shall not see life," that is, eternal life, "but the wrath of God abides on him". He didn't say I was coming and going. If you have rejected the Lord Jesus Christ, if you have refused Him as your Savior, here's what he says. He says, "My friend, that you are living under, you are abiding under, you are living under the threat of the wrath and the judgment of God. And if you die without the Lord Jesus Christ, you will experience, listen, you will experience the wrath of God". You say, "Now, wait a minute. How can God have this wrath over me if He loves me"? Well, there's no contradiction in God's eyes.
Now, watch this. Because, you see, love in order to be true, genuine, godly love, is, listen, you have to have love and justice mixed. God isn't just a God of love and no justice. If there is no justice, then there's no love. You see, while God says, "All sin must be punished". That's the will and listen, that is the law of Almighty God. All sin will be punished. On the other hand, you have the love of God. And what has God said? Because man has sinned against Me, and because he's lost and he's hopeless, in My love I'm going to send My only begotten Son. He's gonna die on the cross. All of man's sin will be placed upon Him. He has the awesome privilege of being forgiven of every single solitary sin. So, listen, in God's justice, sin has to be punished. In God's love, He Himself provides what? He provides that punishment in the death of His Son.
Now, here's the issue. Watch this. Because God loves us unconditionally and because He's a God of justice and you cannot separate those two. They go hand-in-hand. You see, for love to be, listen, for love to be genuine godly love, there's gotta be a right and wrong. Just dishing out anything I want anytime I want it is not God loving me. I may not like His restrictions. I may not like what He withholds, but if, in His wisdom and love, He does it, He does it for our good. We say, "Oh yes, I believe in Romans eight twenty-eight. 'For God is working all things together for good.' Does that mean my pain"? Yes. Restrictions? Yes. Limitations? Yes. You see, on the one hand, we can take one Scripture and we love that one. But then when we say, "He says, 'Ask and it shall be given you, seek and you shall find.' Well, God, here's what I asked for and You didn't give it. If You loved me, You'd give it". No. If He withheld it, it's because He's loving us, because He's loving us. That's the reason He withholds some things for us that we think, "Well, God, if You loved me, then here's what You would do".
Well, when I think about that and think about the fact that He's going to withhold some things, you think about this. If God overlooked sin in your life and mine, let's be honest. If He just overlooked it, that wouldn't be loving us. Okay, let's go one step further. What about this whole idea of hell? How in the world could God love anybody unconditionally and allow them to die and go to hell? Because the Bible says it is an eternal separation from God. It is the eternal separation from everything that is good.
And so, when a person dies without Christ. Somebody says, "Well, I don't believe in hell". You know what? That has nothing to do with it. Whether you believe in it or not, my friend, I warn you with all of my heart in love. Whether you believe in it or not is not going to change the truth, the awful, horrible truth that God created hell for the, listen, for the devil and his angels. He did not create hell to send people there. He created it for the devil and his angels, the fallen angels. Those who reject the Lord Jesus Christ, those who rebel against God, those who play God, those who act like God. He says they'll be eternally separated from God. Well, how could God love people and allow that to happen? Because you cannot, listen, you cannot separate His justice from His, listen, from His love.
Now, watch this. We have the idea that because somebody is separated from God for eternity or stands at that judgment, all of a sudden, they want to repent, they want to get right with God. There's not a verse in the Scripture that proves it, not a one. Turn, if you will, to Revelation chapter six. Here's a good example. Revelation chapter six is an example of what is going to happen in the tribulation period, those seven years after God has taken away His church. In those seven years, there will be, the latter part of those seven years, an awful, horrible judgment of God when the wrath of God comes upon man, not just one time but in different ways. And you can read the Revelation from that fourth chapter on and see it. But listen to what he says now, beginning in verse twelve.
This is John's... he sees what God's doing, "And I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. And the sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and every free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, 'Fall on us, hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?'"
Not one verse, not one plea. God, forgive us. We repent of our sin. We confess our sin. Rescue us, God; forgive us; have mercy upon us. None of that. Why? Because, my friend, when a person dies, their character is fixed. Listen, God, in His love, has offered redemption to mankind. God will never say to someone, "Well, I want to be saved". He's not gonna say, "Nope". There's no evidence that anybody's crying out for salvation. What are they doing? They want to hide from their judgment because, you see, when a person dies without Christ, they stand in the presence of Almighty God, they see what God sees. Now, think about this. Is it not true that even those of us who are believers, do we not say sometimes, and don't we feel like... what do we think? We think, "God, I feel so unworthy of being saved. I feel so unworthy of Your forgiveness".
And listen, we haven't even come to the judgment. Even we know, even we understand we don't deserve His grace and deserve His goodness. Think about how many times God has forgiven you of your sin. Think about how many times He has wiped away the penalty. How many times in His grace and mercy and goodness, how many times He's come to you and poured out goodness to you to get you to understand God's love for you, to bring you to repentance so you'll get back in the will of God. Is it not true that even we feel unworthy of the grace and the goodness and the love and the mercy of God and heaven? Surely we do. And we're still here living in it. The unbeliever will know he and she deserve eternal separation from God.
Does God cease to love them the moment of judgment or the moment of hell? No, He does not. You know what? When a person dies and is eternally separated from God, there's not a verse in the Bible that says that God stops loving them. Let me tell you why. Listen, when I think about this, it's almost more than I can understand. When I think about the fact that one sin on my part grieves the Spirit of God, doesn't make Him stop loving me. It grieves His heart that I would choose to sin against Him. When I think about the fact that God loves us to that degree, here's what happens. When a person dies without Christ and they're eternally lost, you know what happens? You know why God still loves 'em? You know why God doesn't cease loving them? Because they are eternally lost to the purpose of God. Every single one of us, when we stand in the presence of God for all eternity and heaven, you know what we're going to be?
He says in Ephesians chapter two. He says we're gonna be like eternal living trophies of what? God's grace, God's goodness, God's love, God's mercy toward us, so that every single person who dies without Christ, God loses a trophy that glorifies Him and honors Him and lifts Him and exalts Him. All the angels in heaven, they will magnify and glorify and praise the Father. As they look upon a whole, listen, world of saints, every single one of us got there by the same way, by the goodness and love and mercy and grace and the kindness and the forgiveness of Almighty God. Does it say that He's gonna stop loving them? No, it does not. Listen, neither chastisement because of our sin, neither the wrath of God, neither the judgment of God, nor even hell causes God's love to be limited or restricted. Friend, think about this. God loves you and me so much, absolutely totally unconditional. It does not give me license to sin. It motivates me to want to walk holy obediently before my God, that He would love me enough to love me no matter what.