A half-truth that has gained traction in recent times is: “God could not love you any more; nor could He love you any less.”
Now, I delight in the precious truth which assures me of Christ’s personal and intimate love for me, i.e. that, “the Son of God… loved me and gave Himself for me.” Gal 2:20 I would not have endured in my Christian life, let alone in the ministry, had I not been “persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom 8:38-39
But to say that: “God could not love me any more; nor could He love me any less” is misleading – because the Bible plainly says that how we conduct ourselves in this life does (in some way) affect the way God loves us. Eg. Jesus told us, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21). Again: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (John 14:23 – I love this last part). And again, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10). Also Jude tells us to “keep yourselves in the love of God” especially by: “building ourselves up on our most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, and looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”
Those who teach, “God could not love you any more; nor could He love you any less” miss the point of verses like this. For the most part they are well-meaning. There has been renewed interest in the doctrines of grace in recent years, and many have been zealous to insist that we must maintain that salvation is all of God alone, and nothing of us. But some have deduced from this that God’s love for us must be all of Him alone; it must have nothing to do with our works.
The danger here is that we fall into the error of Antinomianism. This was an error that emerged when the church rediscovered the doctrines of grace at the time of the Reformation. Antinomianism was not, as the name might suggest (anti nomos = “against law”), an outright rejection of God’s Law (none but the most extreme Antinomians taught this), so much as a rejection of the Law as being any longer binding on the Christian, or that our keeping the law has any effect on our relationship with God. It was argued that, if we are justified by grace, apart from the deeds of the law, we are no longer under any obligation to keep God’s law. And since as Christians, our works (it is supposed) cannot please God anyway, He cannot love us any more when we obey His law, than when we don’t.
The most dangerous errors are the most subtle, especially when we take God’s truth and push it to an extreme. We are like Christian walking a narrow path through the Valley of the Shadow of Death where “there was on the right hand a very DEEP DITCH: that ditch is it into which the blind have led the blind in all ages, and have both there miserably perished. Again, behold, on the left hand, there was a very DANGEROUS QUAG [quagmire, bog], into which, if even a good man falls, he can find no bottom for his foot to stand on.” Andronicus, in his commentary on Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, warns: “Reflect that the path which the gospel marks out, is the middle line between [Legalism] and Antinomianism: in other words, in ascribing to the Law too much, or too little.” The path we tread is a narrow one, and no sooner do we take care to avoid the ditch of Legalism on one side, than we are in danger of falling into the bottomless bog of Antinomianism on the other.
Today, as at the Reformation, the emergence of (the New) Calvinism has also seen the rise of the New Antinomianism. Once again there are those who are teaching that Christians, saved by grace, are not under obligation to keep God’s Law. They reject that: “The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof… Neither doth Christ in the gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.” And that, “Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly…” (Westminster Confession ch 19.5,6) But when we truly understand the place of the Law in the Christian’s sanctification, we are able genuinely to rejoice to know that God does love us more when we obey His law (and, yes, love us less when we disobey).
But how does this work, if ultimately our salvation depends on the electing love of God, and the sacrifice of Christ – both of which have nothing to do with us? Doesn’t the Bible say,“God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8)? Here, we need to keep in view the distinction, in Scripture, between the electing love of God that chose us to salvation; and the delighting love of God that takes delight in His children as they obey Him.
1) When it comes to the “electing love” of God, this never varies: that love could never be more and never less. In the end it is God’s electing love alone, that ultimately determines that we are saved (i.e. justified), and that sent Christ to die for us. This in no way depends upon our works; justification is all of God alone. It is like the underlying love of a father, or mother, for their children: that is a love that will never cease, however much the child might rebel; the father is still the father and the child is always his child.
2) But when it comes to how God “delights in” His children, that certainly varies according to how we walk pleasing before Him. Sanctification is a work of co-operation between God and the believer, as the believer responds to God’s Spirit. By the help of God’s Spirit, we really are able to do good works that God, “looking upon them in His Son, is pleased to accept and reward [as] that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.” (Westminster Confession 16.6) God really is “well pleased” with us when we do good works (see eg. Rom 12:1-2, 14:18, 2 Cor 5:9, Eph 5:10, Phil 4:18, Col 3:20, Heb 13:21). It is like a parent who takes a warmer delight in his love for his child when the child is willing, cheerful and obedient.
“The Lord takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation.” Psa 149:4 How great to know that God does take pleasure in us and in our good works – even though we, and they, are imperfect.
For an excellent discussion of this get hold of Mark Jones’ “Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest”. In that book he deals thoughtfully with other issues like: Law and Gospel, Good Works and Rewards, The Basis of Assurance” etc Highly Recommended.