I have often heard preachers pronounce that there is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make God love you less.
In other words, God loves you to the maximum right now, so any good works and sacrifice on your part cannot increase that love since it is maxed out already.
On the other hand, you might fall prey to sin and live in debauchery, but this will not diminish God’s love for you. His love for you is not predicated on your performance. Therefore, failure to live up to His standards does not result in Him loving you any less. You will still receive the full measure of His love.
The Teaching of Scripture
Several passages of Scripture indicate that this is not the case. We read in John 14:21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him.” Here Jesus teaches that loving Him (agape love) entails keeping His commandments. He goes on to say that both He and His Father will love those who manifest love for Christ by keeping His commandments. In other words, this verse very clearly states that God’s love for us is predicated on keeping His commandments.
We find Jesus repeating this truth two verses later with a slight modification but essentially conveying the same message: “Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him.” (John 14:23) In this verse Jesus teaches that love is conditioned on keeping His word, while previously He spoke of keeping His commandments. The implication seems to be essentially the same.
Jesus states the same truth in John 15:10 “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.” Regarding this verse the Ryrie Study Bible offers the following note: “Abiding in His love is conditioned on obedience (as also in 14:23).” Therefore we see that Dr. Ryrie also concludes that these verses are teaching that God’s love is conditioned on obedience.
The Love of the Father for the Son
In John 15:10 above Jesus adds the rather astounding assertion that even His Father’s love for Him is conditioned on His keeping His Father’s commandments.
At the baptism of Jesus we find the voice of God the Father pronouncing, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The Father expresses the same sentiments on the Mount of Transfiguration. I think the translation “beloved” is misleading since the root of this Greek word is agape. In English, especially in our society, the term beloved conjures up warm fuzzy feelings. Though God the Father no doubt had warm feelings toward His Son, that is not what He is expressing in this pronouncement. Rather, the Father was stating the agape type sentiment, that His Son was the object of His favor and blessing.
The Father further added that He was well pleased with His Son.
This raises the question of why Jesus maintained His Father’s favor and pleased Him well. John 15:10 tells us that it was not merely because of their relationship, because Jesus was His Son, but rather because Jesus kept His Father’s commandments. We find Jesus expressing a similar idea in John 8:29: “And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” Here Jesus asserts that His Father stayed with Him, an expression of the Father’s love, because He behaves in a way pleasing to His Father.
If the Father’s love for His Son is conditioned on His keeping His commandments, how much more might we expect that the Fathers love for us is likewise conditioned on our keeping His commandments, obeying His word?
How Bad Is This?
This conditional love is really bad news if we plan to live a life of disobedience. If our program is to do our own thing and still have God’s love poured out on us to the maximum, then the message of Scripture described above will be very disappointing.
However, if our intentions are to keep God’s commandments, live according to His Word, then the teachings of Scripture regarding God’s conditional love will not concern us. Yes, all of us sin, and that should be a concern to us. However, God’s provision of forgiveness as we confess our sin supplies us with a means of getting right back on track where we can enjoy the fullness of God’s love.
How Good Is This?
I just made the point that the scriptural teaching on the conditional nature of God’s love is not bad as long as our intentions are good. But beyond this truth not being bad, it is actually good, which we might expect since it is God’s program.
The conditional nature of God’s love is good in the sense that it provides motivation for us to deal with the sin in our lives. The teaching that we can wallow in a maximum outpouring of God’s love regardless of how we live aids and abets a lifestyle that is not only displeasing to God but also harmful to us and to all those whom our lives touch. Therefore it is a good thing that the Bible does not coddle us while we opt for ungodly behavior.
“There is nothing you can do to make God love you more and nothing you can do to make God love you less” not only constitutes an unbiblical concept, but in addition it has fostered the ungodly behavior prevalent in the contemporary evangelical community.