A careful reading of the Old Testament (OT) may lead us to ask a disturbing question, “Is God’s love conditional or unconditional?” This week in the bible reading plan, we read a particular portion of Leviticus where we heard God warn his people that “if you walk contrary to me then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you.” This certainly seems like a conditional love, and we’d be hard-pressed to convince anyone otherwise.
Many of us have had a difficult time understanding comments like this made by God throughout the OT and such confusion has led many of us to actually assume that God was different in the OT than he is in the New Testament (NT). We say things like, "The God of the OT was a God of Law, but the God of the NT is a God of Grace." This kind of confusion has also led many of us to assume that those in the OT were saved by their faithfulness (continued obedience) rather than simply through their faith (continued trust).
Have you ever made the assumption that people in the OT were saved by obeying God’s Law while people in the NT are saved by faith in Christ?
These kinds of assumptions are made because of the conditional love statements made by God throughout the OT that seem to declare, “If you will obey me then I will bless you.” However, we need to be very careful with such assumptions. God is unchanging and his love is the same today as it was yesterday and as it will be forever. God’s love was the same in the OT as it is in the NT. And surprising to many, God’s salvation was offered in the OT in the same way that it is offered in the NT.
So again, the disturbing question,
“Is God’s love conditional or in fact unconditional?”
And herein lies the beauty of the gospel. As we carefully work our way throughout the OT, we do in fact find ourselves in the midst of this awful tension of whether or not God’s love is conditional or unconditional. We hear God promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” and then in the next breath we hear him declare, “If you walk contrary to me then I also will walk contrary to you.”
All the way through to the end of the OT, the tension of this question concerning God's love increases. But then all of a sudden after four hundred years of silence, an Answer is finally revealed.
The mystery of how God will resolve this tension is finally manifested in the cross of Christ.
It is only in the cross of Christ that we come to understand that God’s love is in fact conditional and unconditional. It is conditional in the fact that his love is so pure that it demands punishment for our disobedience. It is unconditional in the fact that he took on that punishment himself.
Only in the cross of Christ do we come to understand how God can actually forsake the sinner while at the same time prove his faithfulness to love the sinner at the same time. The tension of God’s love and faithfulness towards his people which thickens throughout the OT finds its ultimate revelation and rest in the cross of Christ.
So is God’s love conditional or unconditional?
God’s unconditional love has come with a conditional cost - a cost paid for by God himself through Christ.