Unconditional Love and Our Universal Parent

ILLUSTRATION: Big family

Christians like to say that God loves unconditionally. But do they really mean it?

Do you really believe it?

Let’s see how this plays out in the concept of God’s family.

In God’s family, God is the Father.

God being our “Father” is a figure of speech. It does not mean, like it does in our natural families, that he is our biological parent. Rather, it is simply an expression that points to his love for us.

As a byproduct of God’s unconditional love, I believe God has what I like to call an “unconditional family.” Everyone is accepted into this family. No condition can be placed on an individual’s inclusion.

God loves all, and is therefore the Father of all. 

I understand that the idea of the inclusion of all of humanity into God’s family is stretching for some. I’m willing to bet that most of my readers grew up being taught some form of exclusion, that people are not accepted into God’s family until some condition is fulfilled (confess, repent, believe, etc.).

But is exclusion really compatible with unconditional love?

Let’s say that he is only the Father of some and that only some are his sons and daughters. Then God only loves some, or if we want to make it sound not as bad we could say that he has a special love for some that he doesn’t have for all people.

But this is performance-based love. It’s not unconditional love because the “love” increases when you do certain things; he treats you differently according to what you do.

If we try to avoid this problem by saying that he loves all people equally but simply does not adopt some, how can that be said to be love? If you truly love a kid, why wouldn’t you adopt them (especially when you have infinite resources)? Clearly, some condition is blocking you from adopting them, thereby making the “love” conditional.

Many people, and particularly atheists, have long recognized this inconsistency in the so-called God of unconditional love.

So, once again, do you really believe that God’s love is unconditional?

001-Unconditional-Love-With-ConditionsAt this point, some may be wondering what the scriptures have to say about this.

To be sure, it’s not difficult to find verses that seem to say that some people are not included in God’s family. For example, Romans 9:8 makes a distinction between the “children of the flesh” and the “children of the promise,” saying that only the latter are “children of God.” In John 8:42 and 44 Jesus says to some Pharisees, “If God were your Father, you would love me…You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” The test for whether someone is a child of God or of the devil is whether they continue in sin or practice righteousness and love their brother (1 John 3:7-10). “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). (Note: For those who are interested, I deal with what perhaps might be considered the most difficult passage on this topic, namely John 1:12, at the bottom of this post.)

However, there is a distinction to be made between being a child of God and acting like a child of God.

I generally contend that when the scriptures say that some are not his children, they are referring to behavior and not identity. Sure, there are people who continue in their evil ways and thus do not act like the child of God that they are, but that’s only because they don’t know their true identity. People act out what they believe they are, so if they believe that they are something other than a beloved child of God, they will naturally act that that.

One reason I believe is is because we can also find passages that seem to say that God is everybody’s Father, or equivalently that everyone is his child.

Malachi 2:10 says, “Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us?” Here we see the fatherhood of God tied to his being our creator. Since he is the creator of all, he is also the Father of all.

In Matthew 7:11 Jesus, speaking to a multitude that included those whom he called “hypocrites” (vs. 5), refers to God as “your Father” (emphasis mine).

Paul writes in Ephesians, “one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (4:6, emphasis mine), and “the Father, from whom every family in heaven and earth is named” (3:14-15, emphasis mine).

On the basis of the eternal will of God we have to think of every human being, even the oddest, most villainous or miserable, as one to whom Jesus Christ is Brother and God is Father; and we have to deal with him on this assumption. – Karl Barth

What about adoption? The scriptures say we are adopted. Doesn’t that imply that there was a point at which we were not God’s children, and therefore that some are still not?

It’s important to understand that the concept of adoption in biblical times was different than that which we have today. In most cultures nowadays, adoption is the process by which a child legally becomes a member of a family. This process also existed back in biblical times, but adoption also carried another sense.

The Romans had a practice of natural fathers “setting goals” for their sons, who could then reach those goals at certain ages and be “placed as an adult son” into manhood. The Jews also had a tradition where sons were publicly acknowledged to be mature, responsible sons who had come of age and from that time on could conduct business in their fathers’ names and in some measure speak and act with their fathers’ authority.

In this sense, adoption is not the making of a son but the placing of a son.

“Becoming” a child of God is not a legal matter but a paternal matter. Everyone is already a child of God; the question is whether they have matured, “conforming to the image of the Son” (Romans 8:29), knowing who they are and giving expression to the one who lives in them.

Further, adoption is a corporate concept; God adopted humanity through Christ, its substitute, and it thereby shares in his sonship.

“He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” (Ephesians 1:5).

Did he predestine only some? Were only those who would believe predestined, so that it’s all up to our ability to believe the right things? No. God did the predestining, not our choice to believe, and God chose to predestine everyone. The only difference is whether each person chooses to acknowledge their acceptance.

(Interestingly, Romans 8:23 even talks about adoption as future event for believers.)

Who you are is not determined by what you do but where you originated from, who lives in you, and what he did to and for you.

Some will say God is everyone’s creator but not necessarily everyone’s Father. That’s like a dad who intentionally plans to have a baby but also intentionally plans to not consider it as his child.  Some would respond, “They were originally God’s children, but when they sinned they ceased to be.” That’s like a dad who throws his kid on the streets for doing just one naughty thing.

How could you create someone, love them, but refuse to be a Father to them? How could a good Father decide whether someone is his child or not based on whether they live up to a certain standard (and that standard is to not allow any mistakes whatsoever)? Most human fathers are more gracious than that!

If you read this post and realized that you don’t believe in unconditional love, that’s fine – just don’t go around telling people that the God you believe in loves them unconditionally. Tell them of the conditional love that you actually believe in. “You are currently excluded from God’s family, but if you do such and such, God will accept you.” Let them know about the God who supposedly wants to be their Father but can’t until they jump through some religious hoops. And don’t forget to tell them that they are children of the devil!

As for me, I’ll be sharing the good news that God will not love or treat people differently according to their performance, and that everyone has already been included in the unconditional family of God.

I consider everyone to be my brother or sister regardless of whether they believe it or not or even act like it or not.

It only depends on the true reality of who they are in Christ.

“For you are all children of God by the faith of Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26).

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Also see:

Adoption by John R Gavazzoni
http://greater-emmanuel.org/jg/2006/jg_06_18.html

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John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (NIV).

Yet another translation seems to say something quite different: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (NASB).

Considering that the Reformation’s emphasis on your own faith (as opposed to Jesus’ faith) has dominated the West for centuries, it’s not surprising that many have favored the former rendering.

Anyhow, in the latter translation, who the children of God are depends on the answer to the question, “who has received Him?” We can’t answer “those who believe in Him,” because that doesn’t fit with the subsequent part of the verse, “even to those who believe.”

At this point I note that the Greek word translated “receive” is the same word commonly used throughout Acts in the phrase “receive the Holy Spirit” (different than the word also translated “receive” in the previous verse in John, which speak of conscious acceptance).  How does one receive Holy Spirit? Does something actually take place where you previously did not “have” Holy Spirit, but when you “receive” him you do? I don’t think so.

In Acts 2:17 Peter quotes Joel’s prophecy – “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” He says this to show people that the disciples were not drunk but rather were filled with Holy Spirit. Basically, Peter is saying that the prophecy has been fulfilled.

But look carefully at what the prophecy says. The Spirit was poured out on all flesh. Not just on the disciples. Not just on those who believe. Everyone. Nor was the Spirit poured out potentially (i.e. if you believe, then it will be poured out on you). The text simply says that God will pour out, and because the prophecy was fulfilled, we can say that the Spirit indeed was poured out.

Yet we know that it is not the case that everyone consciously received Holy Spirit by their own choice and action (it didn’t even seem like the disciples did). This is because the Spirit was poured out. In other words, God did it of his own initiative.

(This is the same idea as 1 Corinthians 1:30, which says, “By His doing [not ours] you are in Christ Jesus” (emphasis and commentary mine), i.e. all humanity is in Christ, and 1 Peter 1:3, which says the Father “caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” i.e. the Father caused us to be born again through the resurrection, not through our choice or action, thus all have been born again; the cosmos is a new creation)

“Well, what about all the talk of receiving Holy Spirit in the subsequent chapters of Acts?” This was people entering an awareness of the Spirit who already dwelt within them. You have to know that God dwells in you for it to be of any benefit, because only then can you truly begin to relate with him.

Again, this goes back to the idea that God doesn’t treat us differently based on our performance. He generously poured out his Spirit because he loved us, not because we got our act together and did whatever thing we need to do to receive Holy Spirit (whatever that is lol).

Back to John 1:12, I understand the receiving to be a passive reception whereby God caused all people to “receive” him (like when Jesus breathed on his disciples in John20:22 saying, “receive the Holy Spirit”).

Further, the word translated “right” in both translations I gave is much more commonly translated as “power” or “authority.” Its first definition in Strong’s Concordance is, “power of choice, liberty of doing as one pleases.”

Thus, I believe John is speaking of our freedom to act as and to “become,” in action and in manifestation, the children of God that we are.

In conclusion, I don’t see John expressing in this verse the idea that some people are not God’s children.

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The Substitute for Humanity

In Punished For Us? I wrote about how Jesus was not substitutionally punished on our behalf by the Father, yet that the theme of substitution is frequently seen in the writings of the early church fathers and is clear within the scriptures as well.

In Who Are the Elect? I explained how Jesus is the person elected on behalf of humanity as the representative (substitute) for all.

In this post I want to elaborate on what is means for Jesus to be the substitute for humanity. Summed up, it is the following:

Jesus took on everything that is human and thereby redeemed it.

This is why the concept of Jesus being fully, 100% human is significant. The early church father Gregory of Nazianzus wrote, “For that which [Jesus] has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved.” (Also see the quotes at the end by Irenaeus of Lyon and Athanasius of Alexandria.)

Jesus became the substitute for all humanity on the cross, taking our curse, sin, corruption, condemnation, death, etc. upon himself in order to destroy them.

For example, let’s take a look at what the scriptures say about substitution as it relates to death.

Paul wrote that, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Although here the experience of death is personalized to an individual (“I”), Paul knew that its effects reached further.

In Romans 6:6 he writes, “Knowing this, that 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.” Notice it says our old self, not our old selves. Paul is speaking of humanity’s corporate old existence. We all had the same old self. And it was destroyed.

In the preceding chapter, Jesus is paralleled with Adam: “Just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people” (Romans 5:18). Just as Adam affected all of humanity, so did Christ. Redemption is not about a select group of individuals but the whole of humanity.

The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! – Pope Francis

Back to the theme of death, Paul elsewhere states it plainly: “One died for all, therefore all died” (2 Corinthians 5:14). Hebrews 2:9 also testifies to this reality: “Jesus suffered death so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”

In essence, what is being communicated is that what happened to Jesus happened to us also. Thus could John write, “as he is so also are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).

In our Western culture, which I’m guessing most of my readers have grown up in, we’ve been conditioned to think of the work of the cross in terms of individuals. Of course, there is a personal element in which we enter into an experience of relationship with God. But it’s important that we don’t lose sight of its universal scope.

Jesus is the savior of all people and of the whole cosmos (1 Timothy 4:10, 1 John 4:14).

I’m not keen on including a bunch of long quotes, but these are so good that I didn’t feel justified in shortening or excluding them.

[Jesus] caused humanity to cleave to and to become, one with God. For unless a human had overcome the enemy of humanity, the enemy would not have been legitimately vanquished. And again: unless it had been God who had freely given salvation, we could never have possessed it securely. And unless humanity had been joined to God, we could never have become partakers of incorruptibility. – Irenaeus of Lyon

Naturally also, through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all people were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. For the solidarity of humanity is such that, by virtue of the Word’s indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all. You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so is it with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against humanity have been foiled and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Savior of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death. – Athanasius of Alexandria

God became man in the fullest sense possible – He embraced humanity in this act of incarnation to such an extent that all of humanity would be represented in His person. The extent to which He became man, is the extent to which this salvation is reality to us. We were in His life, His death, His resurrection and His ascension. He took humanity upon Himself within Himself, with such intensity that God would consider His every act as the act of man. His accomplishments would be credited to the account of mankind. He represents man more completely, truly and fully than any other man. – Andre Rabe

You were represented in Him. He embraced your humanity. His death was your death; His judgment was your judgment; His resurrection was your resurrection; His glorification is yours; His blameless innocence is yours. His faith is a gift to you so that you no longer have to live by your own convictions, but by his convictions, but by the faith of the son of God – live from His point of view! His life is now your life – you no longer have to live yourself, live Him! (Galatians 2:20, 2 Corinthians 5:15)…He is both God’s act of salvation and man’s response of perfect faith…Jesus Christ is simultaneously God’s invitation, and man’s acceptance; He is God’s call and man’s answer; He is God’s revelation and man’s response of faith…Jesus is so fully man that what He does, man does, and what happens to Him, happens to man. – Andre Rabe

Christ was on the one hand so one with God that what he did, God did, for he was none other than God himself acting thus in our humanity. And therefore there is no other god for us than this God, and no other action of God toward us than this action in which he stood in our place and acted on our behalf. On the other hand, he was so one with us that when he died we died, for he did not die for himself but for us, and he did not died alone, but we died in him as those whom he had bound to himself inseparably by his incarnation. Therefore when he rose again, we rose in him and with him, and when he presented himself before the  face of the Father, he presented us also before God, so that we are already accepted of God in him one and for all. – Thomas F. Torrance

Christ as Man represents all mankind… all who belong to human nature are involved and represented – all human beings without exception. – Thomas F. Torrance

Jesus is the one in whom all the fullness of the Trinity exists (Col. 2:9), and He is also the one in whom all humanity exists (Col. 1:16-17). Jesus is the meeting place between God and man. When Jesus took on flesh, He united all of the Trinity with all of humanity. Because both are in Christ (the Trinity and Humanity) both are in union together in Jesus. Jesus did not just come as His own. And what I mean by that is because all humanity exists in Him, Jesus didn’t just live His own life and die His own death and resurrect His own existence. Jesus lived our lives and died our death and resurrected us. He didn’t just live and die for us, He lived and died as us! This is why Romans 6 is all about how we died with Jesus! This is why Paul says in Galatians 2 that he had been crucified with Christ! Jesus was not just 100% God and in union with 100% of God; He was also 100% man and in union with 100% of humanity. When Jesus became man, He became all men! When Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected, all humanity was involved in some mystical way! This is why 2nd Corinthians 5 speaks of “all” humanity dying with Christ! What happened to Jesus happened to humanity! It happened to all humanity because all humanity is included in Him! Colossians 1 speaks of all things being created in Him and all things being held together in Him. Paul told Pagans in Acts 17 that in Christ they lived and moved and had their being. Because Jesus became man, all humanity became included “in Him.” When Jesus took on flesh, He swept up the whole of mankind into Himself. And because all mankind was and is in Him, whatever happened to Jesus happened to us. Jesus is what connected humanity to the Trinity. He was the meeting place of God and man. Through His incarnation, all of the Trinity was connected to all of humanity, and all of humanity was adopted into the life of the great dance. This is why Jesus is called the mediator between us and God. That is also why the great early church father Athanasius said, “The Son of God became man so that man might become God.” He didn’t mean that when Jesus became man that we were literally made God, but rather that because of the incarnation of Christ we were included into the relationship of the Trinity—that we’d be in union with God Himself! The Apostle Peter says something similar in one of his writings. Peter says that we have become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1, NASB). Truly when Christ became man, man came into union with God. But do not think that man was not already in union with God even before the revealing of Christ. For in a great mystery Christ is also the lamb “slain before the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13), and in Him all things were created and have always existed (Col. 1). So in a mystical way, because Christ is outside of time and in eternity, Christ has always been united with man. If it was any other way then man would not be alive. He is the very thing that holds us together and gives us life. As God, He has also been omnipresent within all things since they were created. When Jesus came onto the scene 2000 years ago, He was simply manifesting the truth that had been there all along—the truth that all things are in union with Him. Though this is a great paradox and mystery and is as easy to understand as eternity itself, so there is no need to try to figure out such things for it is impossible for our finite minds to comprehend. It’s best to just enjoy the mystery of it, and to hold these two paradoxical truths in tension. Christ has always been united to man, and when Christ became man He united Himself with man. They are both true. – Christian Erickson

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Also see:

The Vicarious Man – John Crowder
http://www.thenewmystics.com/Articles/1000129597/Home_Page_of/Articles/The_Vicarious_Man.aspx

 

Do You Have Enough Pride?

If it’s true that the value of something is measured by what someone else will pay, then we need to rethink our worth. – Bill Johnson

There’s an abundance of self-deprecating talk among those who call themselves christians. But putdowns, even if directed at yourself, do not exemplify humility. In fact, it is merely egotistical, as the self is the focus of the person’s own attention. It amounts to nothing more than navel-gazing and self-absorption.

True humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less and instead choosing God-consciousness. It isn’t bringing yourself down but exalting Jesus in you. True humility acknowledges and accepts who God has said you are.

God isn’t self-absored; the nature of love is to be other-focused. Contrary to popular opinion, putting ourselves down does not glorify our maker. Comparing ourselves to him and talking about how much better he is than us doesn’t make him feel any better.

Whenever you think badly about yourself, you’re insulting your creator…Demeaning the painting does not glorify the painter. We are the painting, and further, Jesus is the model! – Kris Vallotton

Acknowledging how awesome God has said we are largely stems out of a fear of pride. Yet false humility is no better than pride. What really takes humility is accepting who God has said we are even when we don’t feel or look like it.

He has said that you are holy, righteous, perfect, pure, sanctified, beautiful, and lovely.

Try believing it.

pride

Pride gets a bad rap worldwide these days, especially by people who call themselves christians. Some even call it the root of all sin.

Today I’m making a proposal: a greater problem than being prideful is lacking pride.

What are you prideful about?

I think lots of people don’t have enough pride, and I don’t think pride itself is a problem. It’s where it’s put that can cause problems.

If you are proud of your self, independent of God, then you have a problem. We really are nothing without him. The good news of the gospel, however, is that we are never without God. So it’s silly to even talk about our “self” apart from God. The independent self is an illusion. Never try to separate your identity from God’s.

If pride is thinking of yourself more highly than you ought to, then it is impossible to be prideful when you think of yourself in terms of your union with Christ. Your identity in Christ is something to be proud of – not because you achieved it in anyway, but because of what Jesus did to achieve it. It’s an awesome identity to have!

Some people may feel uncomfortable with what they’re reading because it seems to be taking glory away from God. But God is not looking for you to give him all the glory. In the Old Covenant, God wouldn’t give his glory to anybody. “I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images” (Isaiah 42:8). In the New Covenant, however, he gives it to us. “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one” (John 17:22).

You don’t need to keep making sure all your Christian friends hear you say “all the glory is God’s alone.” That statement is, according to Jesus, not true. You can safely stop playing hot potato with the glory of God. He gave it to you. – Ryan Rhoades

Ever heard the phrase, “It’s all about God”? I see the heart behind that phrase and in a sense – the sense that it’s all about who he is and what he’s done for us as opposed to who we were and what we do – it is all about God. But in another sense it’s not all about God. If it were all about God he wouldn’t have come to save us. But God declared us as priceless and therefore came to save us. God is not all that matters; we are also significant, because God made us significant. He is so other-focused that he’s made it all about humanity. This is the story of redemption – God’s taking on of humanity and humanity’s taking on of divinity in Jesus Christ.

So boast – in who God is, what he’s done, and who he’s made you to be in him. “So that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the LORD” (1 Corinthians 1:31). “Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God” (Romans 15:17).

We have a hope that is worthy of boasting. “But Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end” (Hebrews 3:6).

Be proud of your relationship with God that Jesus purchased for you. “Thus says the LORD, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

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Also see:
http://jmarjoram.blogspot.jp/2012/11/pride-and-humility.html