The Good News of the Father’s Conditional Love for the Son
I assume it’s a foregone conclusion among many—maybe most?—evangelical Christians that the greatest love in all the universe is God’s unconditional love.
And it’s not just evangelicals, but Americans generally. Just last Sunday the preacher pulled out these Katy Perry lyrics:
I will love you unconditionally,
There is no fear now,
Come just as you are to me.
Don’t need apologies,
Know that you are worthy,
Let go and just be free.
Acceptance is the key to be truly free
Will you do the same for me?
Love is acceptance without conditions. To put conditions on a person is not loving. It’s imposing yourself, which is selfishness, the opposite of love. So if you love someone, you set them free. Or so said another rock star of an older era.
Hopefully it’s obvious to most readers that Perry’s not exalting the Christian life here, but something very different.
Which leads me to my main point: at the very center of the universe, and the greatest love in the universe, is the divine Father’s conditional love for the divine Son. And that should give us hope.
Does that sound crazy? Listen to the divine Father: “This is my beloved Son. With him I am well pleased” (Matt. 17:5).
The Father was pleased with the Son, and so he loved him. The Father looked down at the Son, and he saw someone who was not like Adam, or Israel, or any human who ever lived. He was perfect in every way. He was utterly, ineffably, divinely pleasing. He was altogether lovely.
John Piper put it like this: the Father “beheld the panorama of his own perfections in the face of his Son” (Pleasures of God, 28-29).
You may have beheld a woman’s face or a man’s face and thought it exquisite. But beholding the Son’s face, the Creator of all beautiful faces found himself beholding the very standard of beauty, righteousness, justice, goodness, and perfection. For he found himself beholding himself. And so he was attracted to such perfection. He loved it because it was perfect. His love was conditioned on this perfection.
Therefore the Father exalted the Son above his companions. He didn’t exalt the Son indiscriminately, randomly, unconditionally. He exalted him because he was altogether lovely.
“You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions” (Heb. 1:9; citing Ps. 45:7).
Did you catch the therefore? The Son loved righteousness. Therefore the Father exalted him.
I wonder if all this sounds vain and horrible and backwards to you.
Well, stop and think. If it turns out that everything the Bible says is true about God’s mercy and goodness and generosity, the fact that the Father conditionally loves the Son because the Son is perfect means he will want others to share the Son’s perfection. He will want to remake the universe for the display of the glory of his Son. He will want to fashion billions of creatures to image the Son. He will, that is to say, want to make us perfect and just and righteous and good like his most good Son.
The fact that the Father conditionally loves the Son means there will be an end to injustice and unrighteousness in the universe. It means there is a glorious standard toward which this universe is careening and will be conformed.
It means Christians should stop preaching Easy Believism and Jesus-as-Savior-but-Not-Lord.
Rather, Christians should preach that God loves us contra-conditionally, as David Powlison has put it. He loves us contrary to what we deserve because he’s gracious and merciful. And then he loves us by calling us to repent. To be born again. To follow the Son by putting on the image of the Son.
And so my own church’s statement of faith teaches, “Justification includes the pardon of sin, and the promise of eternal life on principles of righteousness.”
What principles of righteousness are those? They’re the principles that say I need to be righteous for God to love me. But I’ve not been righteous. The good news is, Jesus was perfectly righteous. And through faith his righteousness is granted to me. Now, the Father loves sinners like you and me, Christian—get this!—as if our faces shone forth with all the beauty, righteousness, justice, goodness, and perfection of the Son.
And so the Father says to us, “With you I am well pleased.”