What did Jesus mean by “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15)?
If God loves us unconditionally, how do we account for those scriptures that link His love with our obedience, like this one:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
A legalist reads this backwards: “You will keep my commandments if you love me.” In other words, we must prove our love for God by doing what He commands. Commandment-keeping is our duty, a condition we must meet if we are to enjoy His love. But someone who is walking in grace reads it just as Jesus said it. He understands that keeping His commands is a by-product of love. Paul explains this in Romans 8:3-4, but let me give you an everyday example inspired by something I read from Steve McVey.
Here in New Zealand we have a big problem with domestic violence. Consequently, there are many laws governing the responsibilities of fathers. Break any of these laws and you might go to jail or have your kids taken away. It’s a serious business. But to be honest, I couldn’t tell you what these laws are. I’ve never read them. Yet I can confidently declare that I am keeping every one of these laws. How do I know? Because I love my kids. I don’t keep the laws to show the authorities that I love my kids and I don’t relate to my children on the basis of these laws. I relate to them on the basis of love and keeping the laws of the land flows naturally from that love relationship. I know the laws serve a good purpose, but they weren’t written for me. They were written for fathers who don’t love their kids.
Similarly, the laws found in the Bible were not written for those who love Jesus (1 Timothy 1:9). Contrary to what the legalist may tell you, keeping the laws to earn what He freely offers is a surefire sign that you don’t know the love of God. A legalist reads the words of Jesus above and sees a threat. Do the commandments or else! But love makes no threats. Jesus is returning for a bride and it won’t be a shotgun wedding.
What are the commands of Jesus?
The next time someone tells you that you must keep the commands of Jesus to prove your love, ask them, “what are the commands of Jesus?” They will probably respond with the greatest commandment which is, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul” (Mt 22:38). This is fine, I guess. But if you insert that command into the phrase above it becomes, “If you love me, you will love me with all your heart, mind and soul,” which is kind of redundant.
If you read John 14:15 in context, you will see that on this occasion Jesus is referring to two specific commands. Here’s the first:
“A new command I give you: Love one another….” (Jihn 13:34)
And here’s the second:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me… Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves” (John 14:1,11)
How can we be certain that these are His commandments? Because John – who was there when Jesus spoke these words – says so in one of his letters:
“And this is His command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us.” (1 John 3:23)
What does it mean to keep His commands?
Lest we dilute His commandments to accommodate our experience, Jesus outlines His expectations of obedience for both. Here’s what He expects from the first:
“As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)
How did Jesus love us? By laying down His life for us (John 15:3). That’s a high standard of love! Indeed, there is no greater love. And what are His expectations regarding the second commandment:
“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these…” (John 14:12)
Believe in Jesus and you will do the works of Jesus. Put it altogether and Jesus is saying this:
“If you love me, you will love one another as I have loved you and your faith in me will lead to miracles like I have been doing and greater miracles still.”
If you’ve been in any church for at least five years, you will know that Jesus’ first commandment is pretty much humanly impossible to keep, while the second commandment is definitely impossible. So the next time someone tries to lay a heavy burden on you by telling you that you must keep Jesus’ commandments to earn God’s love, just ask them how many people they’ve raised from the dead! When they look puzzled, tell them that Jesus commanded us to believe in Him and He said that those who did would do the same works He did and greater works besides!
Now that we begin to understand what Jesus wasn’t saying – He wasn’t saying that we need to keep His commandments to prove our love – we’re ready to dig deeper into what He was saying. That’s the subject of the next post. You won’t want to miss it. When you see what Jesus was promising His disciples and you, it’s going to blow you away! Maybe you’ve been intimidated by John 14:15 and the other new covenant laws. If so, prepare to be set free. When you get a hold of the words of Jesus you’re going to be so pumped that you’ll want to frame them and hang them on your wall.