Last week, I included the verse, John 14:23. “Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (NIV)
Some of you may be more familiar with the verse that came a little earlier in the chapter, “If you love me, keep my commands.” John 14:15 (NIV) This is the kind of short, easy verse some of us may have memorized in Sunday School when we were young.
I have trouble with this verse because it sounds conditional. I’ve always been under the impression God’s love is unconditional, so why the ‘if . . . then’ statement? “If you love me” has always struck me as a manipulative phrase. I would never have trusted that coming from anyone without suspecting an ulterior motive was at its core or the person didn’t trust my love for its own sake. Is God trying to manipulate me? Do I have to prove my love to Him? Doesn’t He already know my heart? This just doesn’t seem right. I already know trying to be good doesn’t work.
Remember, if we don’t study scripture in context, we won’t understand it properly. What we have here is the record of a conversation between Jesus Christ and His disciples shortly before his crucifixion. Read the following with a little more context:
15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[a] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
Jesus is explaining to His followers that once He has died, been resurrected, and ascended to heaven, He will send His Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to remain with them. He will not leave them alone in this world. Rather than a manipulative statement, John 14:15 is actually a cause and effect statement. If the love of Christ is in us, we will keep His commands – because we love Him. Each part of the trinity is at work for the unity of love. Keeping His commands is a direct result of the love of God alive in us. Here’s one more verse, again, just a little bit earlier:
11Believe 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 works themselves.
In this verse, Jesus says at the very least, His good work is evidence of the Father in Him. By comparison, our keeping the command to love God first, and loving others, is evidence of our knowledge and belief in Jesus Christ. Our obedience comes from the love God Himself gives us and empowers through the Holy Spirit.
There are some conditional statements by God throughout the Bible. Mostly, those have to do with promises. Even the covenant between Abraham and God was dependent on the Israelites keeping their side of the agreement.
5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” Exodus 19:5 – 6 (NIV)
Much of God’s promises depend on our being faithful or obedient. We make choices. In the Old Testament times, they had the prophets, laws, and sacrifices. Today, we still have the law, which let’s us know of our need for redemption, we have salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and we have the Holy Spirit to help guide us into truth.
God does not need to manipulate us. Manipulation occurs when someone needs to cause another to do something that serves a selfish purpose. God doesn’t need anything from us, and He certainly isn’t selfish. Think about this:
12if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He will also deny us; 13if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.14Remind the believers of these things, charging them before God to avoid quarreling over words; this is in no way profitable, and leads its listeners to ruin. 2 Timothy 2:13 (NLT)
Let me encourage you. I write about this because I want you to trust God’s love for you. I want you to understand the truth. The truth is God is love. Love is patient. So, God is patient. He does know you, and He wants a relationship with you. God is not dependent on any of us. He’s trustworthy. He’s also forgiving. That’s the whole point of the cross. Our obedience is derived out of our love for Him. Living things grow. The more our love grows, the deeper relationship we have with Him, and the stronger our desire is to obey Him. It takes time. Let it grow!