As the Father has loved me, so I have 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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. – John 15:9-11.
It seems to me that the word “commandment” earns a bad rap in many evangelical circles today. For some, it sounds too much like legalism. What we often forget is that obedience should not be equated with legalism. Neither does adherence to God’s laws and commandments mean that we are trying to earn our salvation. Recall that Jesus Himself amplified the Law in the Sermon on the Mount. Consider the following:
- He has called us not to be angry (Matt 5:21-26).
- He has called us not to lust (Matt 5:27-30).
- He has called us not to lay up treasures on earth (Matt 6:19-24).
These are just a few of the things that Jesus has called us to in this life. Not that we earn salvation by doing these things; rather, having saved us by grace, Jesus invites us to begin participating in the new life that we have in Him. He doesn’t just save us and leave us to figure out the rest of our lives on our own. He calls us to a new life – a better way of living, here and now.
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 says that as we keep the commandments of Christ, we abide in Him and His love. In the church today, there is much talk about having the love of Christ. There is comparatively little talk about obedience to Him. As evidence of that, consider the high rate of divorce and the increase of premarital sex in the evangelical church at large (see here). We say we love Jesus; there is hardly a contemporary worship song that doesn’t have the words “love” and “Jesus” in the same line. And yet, after Sunday service, we return to our own way of doing things, deliberately engaging in ways of life that Jesus forbids.
Perhaps one reason this happens is that we impose our own notions of love against Jesus’ command to Love. We think that love means that God affirms us no matter how we behave. God is there for our sake. True obedience, well, that’s for those who are super-super spiritual. For us regular folk, as long as we try, as long as we “love” Jesus (whatever that means), we’re okay.
The Bible is clear that we cannot love and follow Jesus on our own terms. Recall that Jesus believed that the commands to love God and love others “sums up” all the Law and the Prophets. This “summing up” means that the command to Love is grounded in God’s Law. Thus, true love and discipleship occur only within the limits of God’s commandments. Anything less than that is a distortion of what God has intended for our good. If we are to be followers of Jesus, we must follow Him, not as we wish but as He leads, according to His Lordship.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
Let’s not be discouraged by our high calling. Jesus promises that in abiding in his commandments, we also abide in his love. When we keep his commandments and abide in his love, His joy dwells in our hearts. If we are reluctant to be obedient, it’s often because we forget that God’s commandments are for our good. His way is better. When we follow Jesus rather than ourselves, our joy is made full and perfected. Let us, then, set aside our own ways and cast ourselves into the way of Jesus.