“Unconditional” is a term you’re likely to hear if you hang out with evangelicals often enough. Specifically in reference to God’s unconditional love for us. And thank God for this. If his love were conditional, we’d all be in big trouble. At the end of the day, we’ve all turned away from God in countless ways both big and small. If God would have waited for us to get things right (and made his love conditional), history would never have seen Jesus come to alleviate our debt of sin, selfishness, and rebellion on the cross. We wouldn’t have the invitation, through Jesus, to recover our true identities and purpose before God and to ultimately see death overturned and all of creation renewed.
In light of God’s unconditional love, there are some common responses that people fall in to depending on your personality and religious background. Lots of people are quite nonchalant about the whole thing. After all, it’s unconditional, right? We don’t need to make a big fuss. We just receive and enjoy. In fact, many branches of the Christian family tree even discourage any real response to what God has done thinking that a genuine response somehow negates the unconditional-ness.
Others of us respond with a steady dose of good ole religion. Church every Sunday. Obligatory prayers before dinner and bedtime. Programming the Christian radio station into the presets of our vehicles.
Finally, there are those of us that are the grand gesture types. In response to God’s love, we instinctively want to offer something big in response. We attend Bible school. We look to go into ministry. We seek out an opportunity for overseas missions.
At any given moment, any of these responses may be just right and perfectly appropriate. There’s a time to rest in what God has done. There’s a time to reorder our daily and weekly way of life as followers of Christ. And there’s a time to take the big steps of faith that potentially turn our lives upside down. And at any given moment, any of these responses might be all wrong. Following Jesus is extremely dynamic. There’s some truth to the overused cliche that Christianity is about relationship more than religion.
Fortunately, there’s a way to sort out what’s appropriate and when. There’s a simple response to God’s unconditional love that is affirmed over and over again through the scriptures. The way God would have us respond to his unconditional love is unconditional surrender and obedience. In other words, we embrace Jesus as our Lord and King. We unconditionally embrace his reign and thereby become fit and active in his kingdom.
Lack of our own unconditional embrace of his lordship inevitably leads to trouble. We’re at risk of being the rich ruler who turned away (Luke 18). Our own agendas and desires may disqualify us even after pursuing Jesus with a declared interest to follow (Luke 9). We might be baffled when Jesus sends us in an unexpected direction (Mark 5).
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. – Jesus (Luke 9:23-24)
“Taking us our cross” is Jesus’ way of describing our unconditional response to him. These are some of his most often quoted words. If we can embrace them, we’ll find ourselves surprisingly free. We’ll find ourselves free to embrace everything he has done for us. We’ll find ourselves taking pleasure in a regular lifestyle of church, prayer, study, and devotion. And we’ll readily take the big steps of faith as he prompts us and gives us opportunity.