Love and Obedience

By: Dr. Rob Roy McGregor, Jr

John 14:15–31

In this passage, Jesus is encouraging his disciples as he is about to leave them. He tells them he will not leave them alone but will give them another Helper, the Spirit of truth, to be with them forever (v. 16). He identifies this Helper as the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in his name to teach them all things and bring to their remembrance all that he has said to them (v. 26). That will be possible because he will be in them (v. 17). This indwelling of the Holy Spirit will make it possible for them to know that he is in his Father and they are in him and he is in them (v. 20). It is because of this indwelling, this union which will occur following his departure, that Jesus is able to assure his immediate and future disciples that if they love him, they will keep his commandments (v. 15).

It is this rigorous connection between loving Jesus and keeping his commandments that occurs again in verses 21 and 23 through 24 that is arresting. The point is made three times as a positive statement and once in the negative. Four times within ten verses Jesus insists upon the connection between loving him and obeying him! There you have it. Love for Jesus is impossible without obedience to his commandments! The long and short of it is that without obedience there is no salvation!

The question then is “What do believers love when they love Jesus?” If we can answer that, we have a good understanding of what obedience involves.

We know from experience, however brief, that to love something is to want it. If we hunger and thirst for something, we want it very badly. Jesus reminds us that if we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we will receive what we want (Matt. 5:6). Then — continuing in the Sermon on the Mount — after clarifying certain sins more fully and recommending certain worthy behavior, he identifies the righteousness we should hunger for when he tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. It is to be the first thing we need to seek, for everything else will fall into place after that (Matt. 6:33).

Let us note that the phrasing “the kingdom of God and his righteousness” does not identify two separate things. “His righteousness” identifies the character and nature of God’s kingdom. That means God, being righteous and a doer of what is right, requires all those who would be like him to participate in his kingdom by doing whatever is right, for doing what is right provides justice and doing justice is the work of righteousness, which makes righteousness and justice identical functions under different names.

A quick look at the ethical laws in the Old Testament, including the “thou shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments, can be reduced to the lowest common denominator of dealing rightly, fairly, justly with our fellow citizens in all circumstances as well as with the stranger in the land — and the stranger is everyone else. In short, the law demands all of God’s people to grant equal rights to all. Such is the character and nature of God’s righteousness that Jesus is and promotes and that become a part of the believer’s character and nature upon receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit and membership in God’s kingdom of righteousness, for when the Holy Spirit is given, we will know that Jesus is in his Father, that we are in him and he is in us (v. 20). In this new spiritual condition, whoever has the Son’s commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves him (v. 21). That is the inverse of the statement as it is given in verse 15: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” So, what we have in the final analysis is this statement: “If you love me, you keep my commandments, and if you keep my commandments, you love me.” That means there is no difference between loving Jesus and keeping his commands. The believer is doing both at the same time. It is all one! And that condition is to exist in the believer when the Helper, the Holy Spirit, is given. Then what Jesus said will be true: “Because I live, you also will live” (v. 19). There is no life in Jesus without love. There is no life in Jesus without obedience. Loving Jesus and obeying Jesus are the same thing. That is because the very character and nature of the life of the kingdom has been given to us so that we will be able to live out the very character and nature of the kingdom as we grow spiritually by doing what is right and just.

That explanation casts light on Jesus’ stringent demand: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37). We may now read, “Whoever loves father or mother or son or daughter more than what is right, what is just, what is fair, what is honorable, whatever is of good report is not worthy of me.” So, if, for one example, a member of one’s family is guilty of doing wrong or causing injury to a person or a property and places the blame on another, the member who knows the truth must not allow the injustice to stand, but must at least do what he can to correct it, even at the expense of a broken family relationship. If, for another example, a Christian is aware of fraud or extortion or lying or cheating and does not do what he can to see that justice is done is guilty of participating in injustice.

Now that we’ve begun to take note of specific actions Christians might take when we face decisions in our daily lives, let us consider the decades-old query: “What Would Jesus Do?” We have seen it abbreviated on pendants and T-shirts: WWJD? But rather than pose the question as “What would Jesus do,” let us, for the sake of convenience, state it as a command, as Jesus did during his ministry: “Do not commit adultery. Don’t even think about it” (Matt. 5:28). “Do not divorce your wife, except for sexual immorality, and cause her to commit adultery if she marries another” (Matt. 5:32; 19:9). And he would say, with John the Baptist, to the scribe-Pharisee-and-Sadducee types — those who sit in Moses’ seat, the lawmakers — and to other movers and shakers as well as to everyone else, “Do not extort money from anyone, but protect their rights, and do not accuse anyone falsely, but seek the truth and tell it. Likewise, do not be greedy, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:12–14). And he would also say, “Be self-effacing, compassionate, kind and gentle, merciful and forgiving. Above all, be righteous and do what is right, all the while being a peacemaker and living a clean life” (Matt. 5:3–9).

All of those personal characteristics and dispositions are involved in doing what Jesus would do! All of those personal characteristics and dispositions are required for doing what Jesus would do! Without them it is impossible to please God! They are the indispensable consequence of life in Jesus! In short, there is no worship of the eternal God without them! They must be and must form the foundation of all Christian behavior, which is then, in itself, the substance of true worship!

Whatever else may follow in our private and public worship as a consequence of being in Jesus and living as he would live in us, there is this! In the picture that Jesus draws of the final judgment in Matthew 25:31–40, when the Son of Man comes in his glory and separates all the nations from one another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, he praises those who fed him when he was hungry and gave him drink when he was thirsty, those who clothed him when he was naked and visited him when he was sick, those who went to him when he was suffering persecution and imprisonment. Here Jesus spells out the severest demands of the Christian life in some of the severest of circumstances of human existence. At this juncture, those who follow Jesus are almost at the point of the ultimate worship of God. Almost. If in that last day we who aspire to the kingdom of God and his righteousness are surprised and say in astonishment, “When did we see you this way and minister to you,” and hear the response, “When you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me,” we, with no consciousness of having ministered to Jesus, will have then truly lived as Jesus lived to the utmost! And our fitting reward will be to inherit the kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world!

There is no act of public or private worship superior to or even equal to this service unawares which fulfills and perfects our faith as personal conviction and confession of faith and our faith as the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Here we see that Jesus’ fundamental vision for his people is that, in their character and nature, being and doing in his likeness are the unsurpassable ideal, the ultimate in Christian living.

May God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit bring us to that state of exalted worship wherein we will be in fullest and total harmony with divine likeness, beyond which there is nothing in this life or in eternity. Amen.

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