Yes, you read the title correctly.

Last time, I wrote about “unconditional” love and grace.

I want to look at the other side of the coin today, mainly to make clear what that article was not insinuating. It was *not* promoting universalism (the idea that no matter what, everyone is okay in the end). To move on with even a chance of leaving that impression would be a dire mistake.

God’s love is unconditional. At no point do I want to reverse or undermine that idea. It is a core truth, and our freedom depends on knowing and believing it.

Let me say it again. His love is unconditional!

But our relationship with Him is not.

Let me explain.

First, Jesus was very clear when He said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

Entering into a relationship with God is certainly conditional … conditional on only one thing – the need to trust that Jesus Christ was God and He died for us. But conditional nonetheless.

Second, the quality of our relationship with Him is conditional.

Jesus: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21).

Paul: “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).

So apparently, our actions and attitudes influence not only the existence, but also the closeness of our relationship.

We tend to want to sometimes paint with a broad brush.  Either (1) obedience is key, so everything is conditional – God absolutely won’t bless you unless you have everything in order, or (2) God’s love is completely unconditional, so everything is okay, and God will love and automatically rescue you in the end.

The truth is actually somewhere in the middle.

So…from the top, just to make sure we’ve got it:

Nothing is beyond the reach of God’s love and grace.  We can never mess up so bad that He won’t rescue us (unconditional).

But we have to ask for that rescue (conditional).

And the more we obey, the more precious is our relationship with Him (conditional).

I’m not saying God will bless or withhold blessings based on our actions. Sometimes it works that way, but not as a rule. We can point to lots of biblical examples where God blessed or didn’t bless based on people’s actions. But I can also point to plenty of examples where blessings fell on the dishonest (scheming Jacob, socially deviant Samson) and curses fell on the obedient (righteous Job, humble Ruth). Jesus Himself said that God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:45).

What I am saying is we will feel more connected to Him, recognize His activity around us, and hear His voice more clearly as we live the way He desires for us to live.

Allow me one more example: Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

A sheep that is standing at the other end of the field and refusing to pay attention doesn’t hear very well. The Shepherd is not deserting him. The Shepherd is not punishing him. But the quality of the relationship is definitely affected.

We have to get away from this image of God as some sadistic bully hovering over us waiting for an opportunity to punish us. We must also not allow ourselves to go to the other extreme of thinking of Him as some washed up pacifist who indiscriminately doles out passes to Heaven.

God is an uncompromisingly just Judge, who loves extravagantly.

He is a pure unconditionally loving Father, who does not abandon His perfect standards.

We can never allow one to cancel out the other. Both coexist, because Jesus reconciled them.

He came to open the door to that one condition that would make the unconditional accessible to all of us.



So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;  and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever.  So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:31-36)

Jesus and a group of Jewish believers had a pretty deep conversation here concerning freedom.  The dialog culminated in one of the foundational verses of this ministry: “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

But sometimes we can focus in on one aspect of the truth so keenly that other vital elements get lost.  It’s good to re-center ourselves on the big picture once in a while.

Recent blog entries here have been about openness from both sides – the need to approach someone and be open, and the need to be approachable in order to facilitate openness and healing.  

It’s important to remember, though, that just talking about it isn’t the entire solution.  If we’re not leaning on Jesus and living obedient lives, all the talk in the world isn’t doing any good.  Openness without action doesn’t free anyone – on one extreme it essentially turns us into habitually sinning conversationalists (which amounts to empty religion), on the other it promotes wallowing and self-pity (keeping us in chains).   

Jesus said “whoever commits sin is a slave to sin.”  So even if freedom is recognized, we can still find ourselves enslaved to sin when we don’t reside in Christ.

Compare also Galatians 5:1 (“It was for freedom that Christ set us free”) and 5:13 (“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh”).

You see, freedom is core to the gospel message, but it is not spoken of without the counter-balance of obedience.

If we’re not doing something about it, we’re not taking it seriously.  

Now here I will differ from some who say that if you are still struggling and stumbling with a certain sin you haven’t truly repented of it.  I think that inaccurate at best, destructive and disheartening at worst.

True, Paul did write to the Romans “our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” (6:6-7).  

But just a few paragraphs later Paul wrote “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” (7:19-20).

So, if Paul was teaching in Romans 6 that truly repentant people are completely over the sin they repented of, then he obviously wasn’t truly repentant himself based on his admissions in Romans 7.  

The distinction here is not the scorecard, but where your heart-focus is.  Maybe you still slip once in a while. Maybe the same old weakness creeps in and pulls you into sin that you turned away from.  But it’s the overall battle that’s our true indicator.  

Don’t dwell on a moment of failure, and fear that you’ve lost when you’ve had a thousand moments of victory.  But  also don’t dwell on a momentary confession and repentance and take pride that you’ve won when you’re not fighting the day-to-day fight.

Perspective is key – a perspective that sees things from eternity’s view.  In Christ we are freed from the chains of sin and death.  But in Christ, we also are motivated to live a life of obedience and victory.  

That’s what eternal life is all about.  And eternity starts today!