Love and obedience are inextricably linked. During the last supper, Jesus states the importance of obeying His commands quite clearly. This passage once intimidated me, but now it comforts me.
- “If you love me, you will keep my commands.” John 14:15
- “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he is the one who loves.” John 14:21
- “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word.” John 14:23
- “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” John 14:24
I counted those sentences when I was 15. I knew Jesus meant what he said and I planned on living up to his standard. Unfortunately, I overlooked two important points Jesus made and spent a decade overcoming my confusion. First, I failed to noticed that nowhere in this passage does Jesus say “I will love you if you obey me.” No, He loves us regardless of our activity. Second, I missed the truth Jesus explained in the very next chapter: He is the vine and I am a mere branch completely dependent on that vine, therefore I am incapable of obeying apart from him. I misread these verses and saw only what I needed to do for Jesus. I saw them as the way to prove to Jesus that I am a person worth loving.
I found over time that I could not obey all his words at once, so I would shift my focus from one theme in his commands to another: First, it was morality- if I was moral, Jesus would know that I loved him. Then it was the fruits of the spirit- if I couldn’t keep from stumbling morally, maybe I could be extra kind and patient and joyful and so on. Last, it was good deeds- if I did lots of good works for people in need, then Jesus would know that I loved him and I would become more lovable.
One day when I was 28, I read Zechariah 4:6 about Zerubbabel accomplishing a feat. There, the Lord says, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord.” I stared at it. I highlighted it. I wrote in my journal and I wrote it on my kitchen chalkboard. All these things I had been striving to do, none of it was ever meant to be done by my own might- I am powerless. All of it was to be done by His Spirit. I realized that my eyes had been closed to the identity, purpose and power of the Holy Spirit. I had been unaware of the Spirit’s ability and eagerness to help me obey all these commands.
In the following months, I started noticing all those little phrases Paul tagged onto instructional verses: “by the Holy Spirit” “through the Spirit” “from the Spirit.” I had always skimmed those tidbits moving onto the next verse. In my journal, I had often used an ellipses to make room on my page for the meatier part of a passage. Suddenly I saw that those words I had been disregarding were of equal or greater importance than the instructions itself. Paul uses these phrases often because we need to be reminded often of our utter inability to do these good things without the Spirit’s mighty help. Our works are not just for God, they are by Him and from Him and through Him. Roman 11:36 puts it straightforwardly, “For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen”
I realized that all of God’s commands are promises (2 Peter 1:3-4). Jesus would not give us a command that He would not also help us obey. Rather, He has promised to help us obey every command He gives through the Spirit. Therefore, every time we read a command we can read it, not as another thing to fail at, but as a great and precious promise that He will help us follow it!
My eyes had been closed not only to the identity of the Spirit, but also to my own real identity in the Spirit. I saw that my activity does not determine my identity, but that my identity should determine my activity. I do not mean that the Christian life is not hard work, it is far from easy. But my identity is predetermined not by my work, but by God who made me and chose me and redeemed me for Himself. Apart from my own efforts, regardless of my success or failure, God says in His unchangeable Word that I am: His, His delight, His daughter, His workmanship, His bride, His temple, a sheep worth searching for. I am worth more than many sparrows. I am spotless and not condemned, imperishable and eternal, rescued, ransomed, righteous, royal, reborn, refined, reconciled and robed in salvation. I am protected, sustained, emboldened, not abandoned, armed and more than a conqueror, I am strong. I am loved, known, understood, forgiven, atoned, justified, grafted in, healed, and free indeed. I am crucified with Christ and am alive in Christ. I am a new creation. I am being transformed. I am salt and light, a lamp and a star, a letter and a messenger, a branch, a citizen, a friend and an heir. I am blessed. I am holy. And I am filled with the Spirit.
Jesus doesn’t love me because I obey, He just loves me. Yes, I should obey, but my obedience does not come from my own might and my worth does not hinge on my obedience. Love and obedience are inextricably linked. Because Jesus loves us, He promises that the Spirit to help us obey His good commands.
For a scripture reference, ask in the comments.