Like Katie, I’ve been on the receiving end of this type of unconditional love. As a teenager, I never questioned that my parents loved me unconditionally. I was secure in their love and support. I knew they’d be there for me in whatever way I needed them.
Unfortunately, I made choices and did things that hurt and disappointed my parents. I cavalierly dismissed my parents’ love, hopes, and dreams for me. I never considered that they might be hurt by my actions. I was selfish and self-centered. Because I knew, deep down inside, that they’d love me no matter what, I took advantage of our relationship.
I abused their love.
Since I’ve become a parent myself, I understand what if feels like to love someone unconditionally. My husband and I thought we loved each other this way—until our children came along. As strong as our love is, we've come to realize that parental love is the pinnacle of selflessness. To be willing to sacrifice for, protect, and even die for a child is a powerful thing.
Our frail human version of unconditional love, however, pales in comparison to our heavenly Father’s love. Sacrificial to the point of death on a cross for us, he proved forever that he is 100 percent committed to his children.
And we abuse his love.
Like Katie, and my teenaged self, we make decisions we know won’t please him and expect him to love us anyway. We neglect our relationship with him and know he’ll be waiting for us when we turn back. We come to him when we need something, but ignore him when things are going well. We selfishly pursue what we think will make us happy and fail to ask him what he thinks would be best. We embrace sins, habits, and vices that shame him and harm his (and our) testimony because we know he’ll forgive us.
But we miss something crucial.
As Miles McPherson says, “Having God’s unconditional love does not mean you have God’s unconditional approval.”
We cannot willfully and selfishly abuse God’s unconditional love and thrive. When we drink abundantly of God’s unconditional love and accept his salvation, God promises that nothing will ever separate us from his love. Our eternal destiny is settled. But for most of us, there’s a whole lot more living that happens between the two events.
How we continue to respond to God’s unconditional love determines the quality of our lives.
“Shall we sin because we are not under Law, but under grace?” Paul asked in Romans 6. “May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (15-16).
When we pursue our own way instead of seeking God’s will and way, we always miss God’s best for our lives. We fail to acknowledge that the God who created us knows what’s best for us. He knows best how to fill the empty spaces in our lives.
As the recipient of the unconditional love of her parents, Katie the college student should have wanted to honor her parents, not break their hearts. Making wise choices, spending her time and money in worthwhile ways, communicating often and honestly, and eagerly desiring to live the kind of life that would make them proud should have been her goals.
As the recipient of the unconditional love of God, we should want to honor him, not break his heart. Making godly choices, investing our time and money in kingdom work, spending time in his Word and prayer, and living the kind of life that would make him proud should be our goals.
And in the mystery of God’s plan, when we put him and his will first, we fully experience the riches of God’s grace in our lives. Love, joy , and peace. Patience, kindness, and goodness. Faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Power, direction, and provision. Purpose, inspiration, and significance—everything we seek when we go our own way. Instead of regret and failed attempts, however, there’s only joy.
“The blessing of the LORD makes one rich, And He adds no sorrow with it” (Pro. 10:22 NJKV).
Now it’s time for an honest assessment. Are you abusing God’s unconditional love by being cavalier about sin? If you are, confess and forsake whatever sinful action or attitude God brings to your mind. If you’re genuinely repentant and honest with God, he will forgive you (1 John 1:9). After you’ve done this, commit to honor him in all you do. God will empower and enable you today.
“Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence to God” (2 Cor. 7:1).