Stop and ask yourself this question: “Which kind of love would I rather people have for me—merciful love or approving love?” I’m sure you would prefer that people love you “because of,” not “in spite of.”
Would you rather hear your spouse say, “I have no reason to love you, and there is nothing about you that motivates me to show you my favor” or, “I love you for so many reasons, because there are so many things about you that I admire”? Of course, we would rather that our spouses love us with an approving love, and that is the primary kind of love that draws couples together and keeps them together. When there is nothing that a person admires in his or her spouse, when all approving love has ceased to exist, few marriages last. If they do last, the credit goes to merciful love, which stems from the godly character of the giver of that love.
All this being so, we see that approving, or conditional love, is not an inferior love at all. While merciful love is the most praiseworthy love to give, approving love is the most praiseworthy love to gain. Moreover, the fact that approving love is the only kind of love that the Father has ever had for Jesus elevates it to its rightful place of respect. God the Father has never possessed even a drop of merciful love for Jesus, because there was never anything unlovely in Christ. Jesus testified:
For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again (John 10:17; emphasis added).
Thus we see that the Father loved Jesus because of Jesus’ obedience to die. There must be nothing wrong and everything right about approving love. Jesus earned and deserved His Father’s love.
Jesus also declared that he abided in His Father’s love by keeping His Father’s commandments:
Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 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 15:9-10; emphasis added).
Moreover, as this scripture indicates, we are to follow Jesus’ example, and abide in His love by keeping His commandments. He is clearly speaking of approving love in this passage, telling us that we can and should earn His love, and that we may take ourselves out of His love through disobedience to His commandments. We abide in His love only if we keep His commandments. Such a thing is rarely taught today, but should be, because it is what Jesus said.
Jesus only affirmed God’s approving love for those who keep His commandments:
For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father (John 16:27; emphasis added).
He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him….If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him (John 14:21, 23; emphasis added).
Note in the second quotation, Jesus was not making a promise to uncommitted believers that if they started keeping His words, He would draw closer to them in a special way. No, Jesus was promising that if anyone would start loving Him and keeping His word, then His Father would love that person, and both He and His Father would come to live in that person, a clear reference to being born again. Everyone who is born again has both the Father and Son living in him by the indwelling Holy Spirit (see Rom. 8:9). So we again see that those who are truly born again are those who repent and begin to obey Jesus, and they are the only ones who thus gain the approving love of the Father.
Of course, Jesus still reserves merciful love for those who believe in Him. When they disobey, He is ready to forgive them if they will confess their sin and forgive others.