John 14:15 reads, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
It is true that the object of our love can always be detected in our behavior. If errant children love their mother, they will seek to help her. In like manner, our lifestyle does prove the sincerity of our claim of love for God. If love for God isn’t present in our heart, then Godward obedience will be absent in our life. Jesus recognized the indissoluble connection between love and obedience. In the passage above he is teaching us about obedience, but not the way we teach our children. He isn’t piling on the guilt or hoping we’ll feel sorry for him and clean up our act. No, instead he knows that love for him is the only incentive that will stand up during trial and temptation, so he teaches us this vital relationship between love and obedience.
Jesus is lovingly stating a fact, but he’s also making a precious promise: love will motivate behavior. He completely knows us. He knows of our desire to obey and our shame and sadness because of our failures. But he also knows this: as our love for him grows, our obedience will grow, too.
Jesus is lovingly stating a fact, but he’s also making a precious promise: love will motivate behavior.
Let me explain how the truth that love motivates obedience usually plays out in my heart. I think, Okay, I’ve got the “love God” part down, so now I need to concentrate on being more and more obedient to prove it. It’s right there that I fail to get the emphasis right. I gloss over the motivating role that love plays and focus in on what I need to do instead. I mistakenly assume that my love for him is what it should be. But this verse isn’t primarily meant as a correction to lazy believers. It is meant to tell us what the key to obedience is.
The key to a godly life is not more and more self-generated effort. Instead, Jesus is saying, “Love me and your obedience will flow naturally from that love.” The secret to obedience isn’t formulaic steps found in a self-help book. It is a relentless pursuit of love for him. How then do I cultivate the sincerity of love that motivates obedience? By focusing more intently on his love for me than on my love for him, more on his obedience than mine, more on his faithfulness than mine, more on his strengths than mine.
The apostle John knew that the only way love for God could be created in us was through a grasp of God’s prior love to us. He simply stated, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The plain truth is that my love for God (and hence, my obedience) will grow as I cultivate my comprehension of his vast love for me. This is the wonderful promise of our Savior and the only sure method for true growth in godliness. If we neglect this key by focusing too narrowly on ourselves, our success or failure, then we’ll become mired down in guilt or pride, neither of which will stimulate loving obedience.
If, on the other hand, we intently focus on how we’ve been loved, irrevocably, eternally, freely, and without merit, if we contemplate how our obedience (or lack of it) doesn’t faze his love one whit, then we’ll find within our hearts a growing desire to obey. Why? Because love like that changes people.
Does this key to obedience guarantee that we’ll never struggle with sin? No. We’ll continue to struggle because our love will remain imperfect. It is weak and wavering because we can’t see him as he is. We’re still vulnerable to Satan’s lies. We can be deceived into thinking that our Savior is cruel, unfaithful, unloving, foolish. His beauty is distorted by our sin-skewed myopia, so we leave him and chase after what sparkles before us. Other gods whisper promises of love and happiness. We disobey. But our Redeemer doesn’t leave us there. He patiently and gently draws us back into his loving arms and reassures us of his overwhelming compassion, mercy, and grace.
Your Savior isn’t like your mother. He isn’t trying to motivate you through guilt or pity. His love is fervent, eternal, uncompromising. Rest there, drink there, luxuriate in the warm sunshine of his smile; grow strong in his everlasting embrace. Confront your own sinfulness, yes, but only after you’ve remembered his love for you. Then love him and obey.
This article is adapted from Comforts from the Cross by Elyse Fitzpatrick.