“As the Father has loved me, I have also loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commands you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We hate hypocrisy and people who take up contradictory positions. And this is not without good reason. Seeing someone claim one thing to be true – and in such a way that they are actively seeking to force others to live up to these standards – and then to see them live in such a way as to betray a belief that it isn’t really true is to witness a lie. It is to see someone creating a fantasy world into which they are trying to force others, but in which they won’t live themselves. It’s disgusting. Because this so bothers us, critics of the Scriptures are always on the lookout for hypocrisy and contradictions in the them. As people who would uphold the integrity of the Scriptures, we need to be ready to explain why places like this aren’t examples of it.
Let me say something here that might seem a bit radical: If the Scriptures are not true, you should reject them and go searching for what is true. There is nothing to be gained by giving your life to a lie. And if the Scriptures are hypocritical or contradictory at any point, the argument that they are not true gains a ton of steam. That being said, I am convinced they are completely true at every point, and that there are no hypocrisies or contradictions in them.
But what about what we see right here? It seems like all we ever hear about when talking about the love of God in the context of the church is how it is unconditional. There are no limits or requirements to it. God loves us because it is in His nature to love. We don’t deserve it, nor can we earn it. But we have it anyway because of who He is. That all sounds very good and encouraging, but then we see Jesus here seeming to put a condition of obedience on it. What gives?
“If” is a conditional word. There’s not really any getting around that. And right here, while talking about love with the disciples, Jesus uses the word ‘if.’ Specifically, He says, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love.” That’s conditional love, isn’t it? And don’t bother trying to wiggle out from under this by saying Jesus is talking about His love and not God’s love. Then you’ll be trying to argue they somehow aren’t one and the same which is itself a departure from orthodoxy. How is it that God’s love can be unconditional and yet at the same time depend in some way on our obedience?
Given what I said a moment ago, and the position I’ve rather clearly staked out on the Scriptures over the years I’ve been writing this blog it should come as no surprise that I do not think this is a contradiction. Let’s explore why. We’ll start with an understanding of what love is. I have said many times (and will say many more times until you are repeating this definition in your sleep) that love is an intentional decision to see someone else become more fully who God designed them to be. If the commitment you have made to another person falls short of this, it may be chock full of strong emotions, but it isn’t love.
That’s true in every context of human love. It is true in the context of God’s love for us. He is intentionally committed to seeing us become more fully who He designed us to be. But when we start talking about our love for God, we have to adjust the definition just a little bit. The heart of it is still firmly in place, but because God isn’t becoming anything, we have to adjust things just a bit. When we’re talking about our love for God, love is an intentional decision to see Him fully acknowledged for who is He. When we love God, what we are saying is that we are committing our lives to making sure everyone around us can know Him in all of His glory. As a part of that, of course, we are committed to knowing Him ourselves as fully as possible.
Stay with me here, because we’re going to do a bit of critical thinking. If we are committing ourselves to knowing who God is, then we are aware of His basic identity and characteristics. Well, one of the most critical points of who God is, is the fact that He is indeed God, and we are not. He is sovereign. He has all the authority there is in the universe. We are His creations and not the other way around. Because of all of this, it is right and proper for us to do what He says. In fact, anything other than that is a refusal to recognize Him for who He is. Disobedience to God’s commands is actually a sin, not merely in whatever the specific violation happens to be, but in the larger sense of our rebelling against His authority as God. In other words, to truly love God means doing what He says. Our obedience, then, is not a condition of His love, it is a reflection that we have accepted it and are returning the commitment.
When Jesus said, “If you keep my commands you will remain in my love,” He was not being hypocritical or contradictory in any way, shape, or form. He was simply describing reality to the disciples. Because Jesus, God the Son, and God the Father are one and the same person, remaining in Jesus’ love works the exact same way as remaining in God’s love. Keeping His commands is absolutely necessary to remaining in His love because if we aren’t living lives of obedience, then we don’t really understand who He is. And, if we don’t really understand who He is, then when we say we love Him, we may have someone in mind, but it isn’t really Him, because to love God necessarily means keeping His commands. What this means is that sin, separate and apart from anything else it might mean, is a failure of love. Let us, then, commit to loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and neighbor as ourselves. And let us live out this commitment by seeking to eagerly and actively keep His commands. Anything less won’t cut it.