Speaking of Christ’s sacrifice for us, Charles Wesley wrote in his hymn And Can It Be the rich words “amazing love.” Truly God’s love is amazing. It is undeserved. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). This love of God is unconditional in the scope of its provision, but conditional in its benefit. John 3:16 reveals both truths.
God’s love for the world is unconditional, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son;” but the benefit of that love is conditional, “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If someone does not receive God’s gift of love by believing in Jesus, they miss out on His wonderful gift of salvation.
This same dynamic is true for God’s children. God loves us unconditionally—as much on our worst day as on our best—but this love must be accepted for us to fully benefit from it.
In John 14-17, Jesus taught and prayed for His disciples just a few hours before the cross. In that precious discourse, Jesus makes some amazing statements about the Father’s love toward His disciples and His own love for them. Speaking of unity in Him, Jesus prayed, “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:23). Notice Jesus affirms the Father loves His disciples as the Father loved Jesus. Amazing love. But earlier, Jesus also pointed out that He loves His disciples as the Father loved Him. “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you” (John 15:9).
We are loved. But if we don’t accept that love we miss out on the full benefit. After Jesus affirms His love for His disciples, He gives a command: “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue [lit. abide] ye in my love” (John 15:9). We are loved, but we are commanded to abide in/depend on that love. Without receiving that love by depending on it, we live feeling ashamed and insecure. But when we abide in His love, we experience the freedom that it brings.
Both in salvation and in discipleship, God’s love is unconditional, but the benefit is conditional on receiving God’s love by faith. In this Christmas season it is conceivable that gifts may be given with the motivation of unconditional love. The recipients, however, must still receive those gifts lest they miss out.
God loves us. Jesus loves us. May we ever abide in this divine love.
John Van Gelderen