It is not just the teaching of unconditional eternal security that deceives people into thinking holiness is not essential for ultimate salvation. The love of God is often presented in a way that neutralizes disciple making. Preachers can often be heard saying to their audiences, “God loves you unconditionally.” People interpret that to mean, “God accepts and approves of me regardless of whether I obey or disobey Him.” That, however, is simply not true.
Many of those same preachers believe that God casts into hell people who are not born again, and they are certainly correct in their belief. Now let us think about that. Obviously, God doesn’t approve of people whom He casts into hell. So how can it be said that He loves them? Are people who are thrown into hell to suffer their just punishment, who will never experience eternal life, loved by God? Do you think they would tell you that God loves them as they are being cast into hell? Of course not. Would God say that He loves them? Certainly not. They are abhorrent to Him. He doesn’t approve of or love them.
This being so, God’s love for earthly sinners is clearly a merciful love that is only temporary, not an approving love. He has mercy on them, stalling His judgment and giving them an opportunity to repent. Jesus died for them, providing a way for them to be forgiven. To that degree and in that way, it could be said that God loves them. But He never approves of them. He never feels a love for them like a father feels for his child. Rather, Scripture declares, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him” (Ps. 103:13; emphasis added). Thus it can be said that God does not have the same compassion on those who don’t fear Him. God’s love for sinners is more akin to the mercy a judge has on a convicted killer who receives a life sentence rather than the death penalty.
There is not a single case in the book of Acts where anyone preaching the gospel said to an unsaved audience that God loved them. Rather, the biblical preachers often warned their audiences about God’s wrath and called them to repent, letting them know that God did not approve of them, that they were in danger, and that they needed to make dramatic changes in their lives. Had they only told their audiences that God loved them (as do so many modern ministers), they may have misled their audiences into thinking that they were in no danger, that they were not storing up wrath for themselves, and that they had no need to repent.