“Unconditional love is not the same as unconditional approval of my behavior.” – Christopher Yuan, Adjunct Instructor (Moody Bible Institute)
It is a common thought today that to “love” someone is to “approve” someone’s behavior in totality. Understanding how God can have unconditional love toward us without having unconditional approval of our actions is significant.
Why is this important in the first place?
Well, if we can better understand who God is then we can better understand what love is because “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
God is love; not love is God. God, by His very nature, defines what love is. Therefore, what we perceive as love must be measured next to God’s revelation of Himself and His character to determine if it really is love or not. In other words, not all things we accept or tolerate are what God accepts or tolerates.
Here is a helpful illustration to demonstrate the basic logic behind the difference between love and acceptance. Imagine this scenario in a conversation with practically any mother:
Do you love your child unconditionally?
“Yes.” She would say.
Do you approve of everything your child does? (For example, pushing another child on the ground.)
“No,” would be the answer the best aligns with common sense.
But you still love your child?
“Yes, of course!”
See the difference? Love for your child would not cease due to his or her poor behavior but you might lovingly discipline your child so that he or she does not think that a certain action or behavior is acceptable. In fact, it would be an unloving move of the parent to chose not to teach the child what is good and acceptable.
To say that love approves of all actions is to say that love is passive (i.e. uninvolved), and even, apathetic (i.e indifferent).
That is not how we should think of love. Love, according to God, is proactive and seeks the highest good of the object of that love, like a parent to a child. God loves us by seeking our highest good. If we have any habits, vices, or lifestyle choices that deter us from that highest good then God is loving by expressing his disapproval of it. Sin is destructive because it counters God’s design and glory, and it opposes our goodness and joy in Him.
A God who tolerates everything stands for nothing.
A world ran by an “anything goes” policy will inevitably end up in chaos and turmoil. The world never heals if it is never given an antidote. But God, as He truly is, and as He is revealed in the Bible, does take a stand. He is not like us, who may take a stand on an issue but live in contradiction to our conviction. God’s ethical system stems directly from God’s character. That means that goodness is intrinsic to His being; it is an attribute of Him. As a by-product, that which He endorses as good is also what is best for true human flourishing. And we, as people living under His rule, get to lead the way in showing how the way of Jesus is the most beautiful way to live.
With all of this talk of love and acceptance know this: God loves you just the way you are. And yet, He loves you too much to allow you to stay this way. His acceptance of you is genuine, but it isn’t stative. In other words, His acceptance is dynamic and transformative. He won’t always approve of your actions, but that is a good thing! Because He has you on a journey of spiritual transformation. He is working all things out for our good (Romans 8:28), and that ultimate good is to make His sons and daughters into the beautiful image of the eternal Son, Jesus (Romans 8:29).
This is a journey that tolerance, as a supreme virtue, would never be able to produce.
But true, God-like love, always will.