By Peter Amsterdam
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When I think about how to sum up who God is in a single phrase, “unconditional love” comes to mind. Of course, God is many things and cannot be confined to one phrase or term, but as we know from 1 John 4:8, God is love. That is His very nature; it is intrinsic to who He is. It is one of His fundamental character traits. While that doesn’t mean that He loves everything we do—we are sinners—nonetheless, He loves His children unconditionally and forgives us if we are humble enough to ask.
God’s unconditional love for us is worth thinking about regularly. It is easy to get caught up in the fast pace of life and forget some of the fundamental truths that bring us joy, peace, and confidence as Christians. The nature of God’s love, its unconditionality and universality, is truly a wonderful thing.
God’s love is not the kind of love that is expressed by so many in today’s world: a love of convenience, need, or ego. Too often, the love we see in society is predicated on the value that the other person provides, and when that value ceases or is no longer needed, the love fades with it. Not so with God’s love. It is the essence of who He is. His love endures forever. It never fails. God’s love is the source of His compassion for all mankind—believers and unbelievers. He delights in our company and wants to befriend us. God’s deep and abiding love motivates His continual call to each human being He has created, inviting them into relationship with Him, into transformation.
When I reflect on Jesus’ love for me, it takes me to a place of gratefulness, humility, and awe. It makes me want to be more like Jesus. More kindhearted to others. More generous. More thoughtful. More unconditional in my love for others, loving and respecting them as human beings created in His image regardless of their circumstances.1 That is a tall order, as we are fallible humans and unable to show unfailing love to others in the same way God does to us. Yet we are called to be like Christ, and that includes mimicking His nature and doing our best to give the gift of unconditional love to those around us.
Sometimes it is easy to love someone, even fairly easy to provide unconditional love fairly consistently to a person you care deeply about, perhaps your spouse, child, or a close friend. In other situations, however, it can be very difficult to demonstrate unconditional love. We want God to love us unconditionally, in spite of our deficiencies, weaknesses, and sins, yet it can be difficult for us to extend such generous love to others. In considering this, a few thoughts came to mind:
- Unconditional love is more of an action than a feeling. You don’t have to feel love to demonstrate it.
- Unconditional love is a choice. It is also a learned skill, improved through practice.
- Unconditional love does not have a one-size-fits-all application. Different people need different applications of love. If two of your friends are going through a difficult time, one might need you to sit and talk with them, while the other might need some space and your prayers.
- Unconditional love isn’t about protecting people from hurt or difficulty. It is about helping and supporting them through the challenges of life.
- Unconditional love does not mean that you agree with a person’s lifestyle or choices. Every human being is worthy of love. You love them because they are loved by God.
- Unconditional love is not something you choose because it will benefit you or make you happy. Though when you do love unconditionally, happiness is a common side effect.
As Christians, we should be striving to be more like Jesus in every way, which includes strengthening our “unconditional love” muscles. Let’s look at three steps we can take to grow in this area of our spiritual lives.
1. Start with yourself. Knowing how completely the Lord loves each of us despite our faults, flaws, and failings, provides us with the assurance that we are loved, valued, cherished, and forever one of God’s children. From this place of strength, we are better able to love others unconditionally. If you don’t feel that you are loved unconditionally by God, it will be very difficult for you to provide unconditional love and support to someone else.
Action: Accept God’s unconditional love for you. Admit your limitations and weaknesses and rejoice in God’s promise that “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”2
2. The closer we are to Jesus, the more we can avail ourselves of God’s love flowing through us to those around us. Romans 5:5 says that “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Action: Keep close to Jesus through reading His Word, and regularly spending time in prayer and reflection. Ask for a renewed infilling of the Holy Spirit.
3. When we meditate on God’s love, it puts us in a spiritually healthy place. As I mentioned earlier, besides renewing our thankfulness, it is a tremendous motivator. When we dwell on God’s love and the ultimate sacrifice that He made in sending Jesus to die for our sins to reconcile us to Him, we gain motivation to follow Him more closely, to resist sin, and to allow His Spirit to guide us and empower us to serve Him. Romans 8:5 says, “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.”
Action: Spend more time with Jesus so that you think more “according to the Spirit.” This will naturally lead you to behave more like Jesus. I find regularly reading 1 Corinthians 13:4–8 to be very helpful in redirecting my thoughts and reactions to be more Spirit-led and loving.
We who are part of God’s family are so richly blessed. We have been given so much—forgiveness of our sins, eternal life, and God’s help, guidance, and unconditional love. As we grow in love, we can in turn encourage our brethren in the Lord, and help bring those who do not yet know the Lord closer to receiving Him. First John 4:7 has always spurred me to grow in the area of love. It says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” I want to be “born of God.” I truly desire to know God, and God’s Word tells us that loving one another is the path to that aim.
May we all grow in love daily.
Originally published March 2018. Adapted and republished November 2020.
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