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?
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).
Adoption by John R Gavazzoni
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.