What a great and keen question your friend has asked you, Diorella. And what a wonderful opportunity to tell her about the lavish love of God. I think I might begin by asking your friend, When you think of the word “unconditional”, what comes to mind? And, with regard to salvation, what condition do you have in mind?
I’ll have to assume some things here and one of them is that, by “condition for salvation”, she’s referring to whatever it is that divides those who are saved from those who are not saved - namely, faith.
Regarding the word “unconditional”, my hope would be to show her that God’s love is far better than unconditional. Rather, I like what David Powlison in his short but illumining book titled God’s Love: Better Than Unconditional calls it: contraconditional.
I agree with Carson in that, in one sense, God’s love is unconditional insofar as he welcomes, or receives, us just as we are: sinful, suffering, lost.
Yet, in another sense, I think that God’s saving love - his unmerited mercy and grace - is conditional; indeed, highly conditional. It demands such a great condition that it’s impossible for me to meet. A condition so great that it took the death of the Son of God to accomplish it. And, without such a condition, the cross would have been superfluous. But, that condition is what makes the cross so glorious. Christ fulfilled that condition for us in his death on the cross.
But, I tend to agree with Powlison that it gets better than this. The reason why I’d be interested to hear what comes to your friend’s mind when she thinks of unconditional love is because I think the phrase “unconditional love” often carries with it cultural baggage that is not true of God’s love. It’s sometimes thought of as “You’re OK just as you are. I love you just as you are and I don’t judge you nor seek to change you nor expect anything from you.” And I receive unconditional love as if I deserve it.
But, God’s love isn’t like this. It’s far better! His love, in this sense, isn’t unconditional, it’s contraconditional. God doesn’t give me what I deserve. He gives me the opposite! God loves me in spite of me. He loves me just as Jesus is. And his love for me seeks to change me all day, every day. His love for me seeks to enthrall me with the all-satisfying beauty of his Son. God’s love, I think, is better than unconditional.