That’s a question I ask people from time to time: Are God’s love and God’s salvation the same thing?
It’s always interesting to hear the responses. Most try to err on the side of ‘Yes, they are the same.’ After all, if God loves us, wouldn’t God want to save us? And if God’s love is unconditional, wouldn’t God’s salvation be the same way? It sounds like the logical and compassionate thing to say.
The problem is, it’s not biblical. Mind you, I could be wrong, but if I hear the Bible correctly, there is a distinction between God’s love and God’s salvation.
In the Bible, God’s love is always unconditional, but God’s salvation is not. God’s salvation is always conditional. Salvation always comes with an ‘if.’ If you will follow me, if you will obey me, if you will keep my commandments, then you will experience the blessing of salvation. There is always an ‘if’ preceding God’s salvation.
Love, on the other hand, has no ‘if’ conditioning it. God is love, and God loves everybody. There is no one ever born whom God has not and does not still love. No matter how evil, heinous, or undeserving, God still loves them. Think of the worst person imaginable. God loves that person fully and completely, and wants the best for him.
But, that love isn’t salvation. For us to experience God’s salvation, we have to respond to God’s love and love God back. We have to take that step of faith back toward God. It’s not enough that God loves us. We must act in faith to return that love. And then we have to live in the relationship of that love.
The example I often use is with the love of parent and child. Imagine your child all grown up at age 25. No matter what, as a parent, you will always love your child unconditionally, right? There is nothing your child can ever do to make you stop loving them. You will always love them.
But, once they’re grown (and even before), if they are going to live in your house, there are going to be rules to live by, right? Do you let a 25-year old adult child live in your house unconditionally, with no rules, boundaries or limitations?
No parent I’ve ever met has said they’d let an adult child move in without any rules or conditions. It’s the old adage: “If you’re going to live in my house, you’re going to live by my rules.”
Well, that’s like our relationship with God. God loves us no matter what, but if we’re going to live in God’s house (salvation), we’re going to have to live by God’s rules. Living in God’s house is always conditional. Even something as simple as “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a conditional house rule.
In short, God’s love is unconditional, but God’s salvation is always conditional. We can experience God’s love and yet not know the joy of God’s salvation. To experience God’s salvation we first have to take that step of faith and return home to love God back.
That’s why the Bible teaches that God loves all, but not all are saved. God’s love and God’s salvation are not the same.