I get this one sometimes:
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Jn 14:15 – This is proof that the commandments matter!
To which I say… “Yes the commandments do matter. I never said they didn’t. But it’s definitely not the way you think…”
I still find it funny how when we preach grace, others automatically conclude that we are against the law. I am not against the law, I am only against living by them as a means to attain righteousness. That was not even the reason God gave it, in fact it is the complete opposite reason. God gave it to show us that we can never be righteous on our own. That no matter how much of the knowledge of Good and Evil you acquire, that knowledge in and of itself gives you no power or ability to be righteous, in fact it is counter-productive because it makes it now your job, your responsibility, you and you alone – to follow everything perfectly. And this is why the law only strengthens sin, this is why that was the wrong tree Adam chose from, and why Jesus came – as not just “the true alternative”, but the “original intention”. And as the other tree in the garden, he came to give us life and life to the full.
It’s nice to start with that, even if maybe most of you reading this are already into the grace message. I just want to say that I am not threatened by the notion of the law or the commandments. There’s nothing wrong with them. They are good. They did come from God. The only thing wrong is putting the cart before the horse. The only thing wrong is misunderstanding the heart of God, who is all about giving Grace, imparting righteousness, and not demanding it from people. And the gospel preached in most places is like this. It is where his grace is mixed with your obedience to make it all work, and in the end this is no gospel at all.
So… “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Right? Lets’ not stop at that verse. Let’s also add:
- Jn 14:21 He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me
- 1 Jn 2:3 And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments
- 1 Jn 5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.
- 2 Jn 6 And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.
…that’s probably the exhaustive list of this love and obedience thing. Read them again. Don’t be scared. Let’s start.
Effect vs Cause
First thing I want to point out to you- is that if you read closely enough you will find that all these verses are saying is that keeping Jesus’ commandments is an effect of love, and not the cause of it. When you love Jesus, you keep his commands. Love is the cause. Obedience is the effect. It does not say “obey my commandments, and if I see that you obey them well enough, I will officially declare that you love me”. God does not need the proof. The verses say “we know”, not “he knows”. God already knows the situation with our love. We don’t have our own source of love!
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
1 John 4:10
Love is about his loving us first! Our love is merely a response.
We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:19
Man is bankrupt from love. God had to supply it first. So he sent us love and love died on the cross. Now we love him back with The Love he first gave us. (The law also demanded love as the greatest command. Further proof that God sent it to show us our need of him and not to produce what it asked for in and of ourselves).
More on love later. Cause vs effect. I hope you know the difference. The verses are only declarative- saying we will see obedience to Jesus’ commands in our lives and when we see it, take heart because you know for sure there is love in your heart for him because it is impossible to obey otherwise. They are not normative, saying that “you should obey”. They are saying “you will see yourselves obeying because that’s what this grace thing does”.
“The” vs “My”
Second thing you need to see in the verses- and this maybe should’ve been the first because it is also super important- is that they don’t say obey “THE” commandments. They always say it is Jesus’ (“HIS” or “MY”) commandments you should obey. There’s a clear distinction, you see as to whose commandments they are, and it is pretty consistent with the rest of the bible. Let’s start with:
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
“THE” commandments were a very very big deal for a Jewish guy. They were everything. That’s why it’s the definite article “THE”. Because they know which commandments they were talking about- the ones which came by Moses. You will never see a verse that says: “obey all the commandments and that is proof that you love Jesus”. Now Jesus would challenge and cajole the (prideful) law-keeping Jews in his day- but he did it for the very same reason that God sent the law- to show them that they can’t. He did it with the rich young ruler, he did it with the Pharisees and scribes. He never told a sinner, an outcast, a tax collector anything about keeping the law. And for his disciples he always said “my commands” making it very clear that his laws are different from the commandments/law.
So the love and obedience verses not only say that obedience is a fruit, an effect of our love (which is an effect of his love!), but that this obedience is for the things that Jesus commanded, and not the commandments of Moses.
So what did Jesus Command?
The work of God is to believe in the one he sent (John 6). This is the “one thing” necessary. This is the only thing, the only “work” we ever need to produce, and the bible still says “this is not of yourselves, it is a gift from God so that no one can boast”. We’re talking about Faith. Faith in what? The gospel. Jesus’ gospel. The only gospel, the gospel of grace. The gospel which says we are made righteous by grace and grace alone, and that if we add works to the equation it is no longer by grace because we tried to earn it. The gift becomes a wage, and we are never paid the wage because we didn’t and couldn’t produce the work. But Jesus already did, and believing this is the work of Faith. We are to receive this gospel. We are to remain in it, grow in it, understand it more, be rock solid in it- so that no one- not the devil, not some erroneous Christian teaching, not even a pastor or churchmate can ever make you feel that you are only as righteous as the works you produce. No- your standing is in the Son. And he stands perfectly holy and righteous just as you now are in him. This is why there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That is a promise many Christians don’t claim. They still get condemned. Why? Because they don’t really get the “in Christ Jesus” part. Believe this gospel, my friends- and believe it to the very end. That’s how you reign in life.
The only other clear command of Jesus is to love.
John 13:34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you.”
Again please look at the cause and effect part. This can be misinterpreted as a horrible guilt trip: “Wow after all Jesus has done for you, you still can’t love your neighbor?”. That is the exact opposite way to understand the verse and if you hear this, run! It is The Accuser trying to quote scripture to you after twisting it with his lies. No. What it means is:
We only love one another to the extent that we have been loved by Jesus. Now because of the cross we all know that we’ve been loved to the fullest extent!! So imagine that, fueling your love.
But do we really know it know it? Do we understand it, live it, realize it? I’m asking you:
Do you experience this love enough?
My friends, this is all that “Christianity” is about. It’s about his love and how much of it you know. Not head knowledge. Know it the way you know your favorite movie, or song, or thing to order at your favorite restaurant. Know it like the hug of your spouse or the way their kiss feels. It is experiential. That’s all Chrsitianity is- it is experiencing God’s love. This is the starting point. NOT YOUR OBEDIENCE. But the church today has made it about our obedience, our faithfulness, our Christian virtues and values. No it is about him first. Everything else is an effect which to a certain extent we cannot truly control or produce. If we do, we’ve fallen back to the old covenant. The only way to control the fruit is via the root. Be rooted and established in his love. (Eph 3:17)
When you are filled with his love, loving one another is much easier.
I only bothered to mention what Jesus commanded to show you what to expect, not what to produce. If you love him, you will believe more and you will love more. But you only love him because he loved you first. Your only order of the day is to make sure that you experience as much of that love in the 24 hours God gave you. And if anyone can call something as lovely and wonderful as that- a command- they’ve totally missed the point.
I pray you rest in his love more and more. (I pray this for me too, Lord!)