Believers in Christ relish the thought of God’s unconditional love as the basis of our salvation. Indeed, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son” speaks of a love undeserved and founded on God’s character alone. Christ died for “sinners” and “enemies” (Romans 5:8, 10), for people “hostile” to God (Colossians 1:21), for those who seek for anything but God (Romans 3:11). His mercy does not give us what we deserve and His grace gives us what we do not deserve. And so we sing “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” God set His love on the unlovable.
God’s love to His people is also conditional, based on our loveliness. At first glance, a love that depends on something in us might appear contrary to God’ unconditional love toward the fallen and undeserving, but it actually stands beside it as the ultimate purpose and result of God’s unconditional love. For God so loved the unlovable to make them lovable. Through the saving work of Christ in fulfilling the perfect obedience required by God’s justice, and through His paying the infinite debt of our sin owed to His justice, Christ purchased for us His perfect righteousness, a righteousness imputed to us as we are united to Him through saving faith. And that righteousness constitutes the beauty of His saints: “He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10 NAS).
When God’s saving purpose of saving unworthy sinners is fully consummated in the new heavens and new earth, God will love us as lovely and loveable. His love to the saints will not be the unconditional love He exercised toward His fallen enemies, or a love of people despite their ungodliness. God’s love to His redeemed in heaven will rest on the beauty of saints covered in the righteousness of Christ. So, “when we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun,” we will forever reflect the beauty of God’s perfect holiness as it shines in and through us. Our loveliness in heaven will consist of the beauty of God’s perfect holiness given to us unconditionally, our permanent possession in Christ. God will forever delight in the excellence of our beauty as He delights in the excellence of the beauty of the Son that covers us and is in us, purchased by our Savior’s sinless life and death on the cross as our substitute.
The heart of the Gospel includes both the unconditional and conditional love of God, the former rooted in the perfect character of God alone, and the latter founded upon our beauty as covered in the righteousness of Christ. God set His love on the lost to secure a bride for His Son, and set out to accomplish His purpose by making the bride suitable for the bridegroom, covering her in the beauty of holiness that she might dwell with Him forever.
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