“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”
John 15:9-10 (NIV)
Every promise of God in the Bible is conditional. I know that idea freaks some people out, but it’s true. God’s LOVE for us is unconditional, but His promises all require that we do or don’t do something in order to receive them. Often these requirements are preceded by the word “if”, but often they are just listed in a cause-and-effect relationship.
John 15 has many blessings for Jesus’ disciples, both for those that were with Him when He was here on earth and for us today. And these blessings also include conditions as well. The blessing in this section is that we can remain in Jesus’ love. The condition for remaining in His love is to keep His commands.
I often hear people decry the very idea that God or Jesus would set a condition for remaining in His love. “If God’s love is unconditional, why would He put conditions on it?” The fact is, God’s love for us is agape love, which is most clearly defined as sacrificial love. It is the kind of love that always seeks the very best for the beloved (us), even if it costs the lover (God) everything. It is unconditional in the sense that we don’t have to earn God’s love for us (nor can we), and in the fact that God loves every person on the earth with this amazing, self-sacrificing love, even those who won’t give Him the time of day; even those who use His name as a curse; even those who hate both Him and His children. He went to the cross to save us all, even while we were still at war with Him. But the sad reality is that most of the people in the world will never accept the conditions for receiving God’s unconditional love, and will end up cutting themselves off from God forever, consigning themselves to the lake of fire for all eternity. As much as God loves them, and as badly as He would like to save them, and as much as He sacrificed to enable that to happen, His holiness and justice require that certain conditions (repenting and receiving Jesus as their Lord and Savior), be met to receive that love.
In the same way, once a person receives Jesus, there is a condition for remaining in Jesus’ love: obedience to Jesus’ commands. If we are unwilling to obey, we cut ourselves off from Jesus’ love, making ourselves unable to receive it. This disobedience is sin, just as much as it was sin when we disobeyed before we knew Jesus. And if we cut ourselves off from His love, we will end up just as lost as we were back then.
So what does it take to obey Jesus’ commands and remain in His love? First of all, it requires an acknowledgement that Jesus is actually or Lord as well as our Savior. That means that we have laid down our right to ourselves and have given ourselves to Him as a bond slave. We have been purchased at the price of His own blood, and from the moment we accept that reality, we lay aside our own agendas, plans, and dreams, and take up His agenda and His plans for us.
Second, we must know what Jesus’ commands are. And there are many. And that requires that we continually read the Bible with an eye to learning His commands and obeying them. In verse 12 of John 15, Jesus commands us to love one another with the same self-sacrificing agape love that He loves us with. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus tells us to go and make disciples of all nations. In Luke 18:18-22, Jesus also brings the 10 commandments under the umbrella of His commands. And, as He speaks through the writers of the New Testament, He adds still more. (Some may object that this leans too heavily toward legalism. But what I am suggesting is that when Jesus Himself says that we must obey His commands to remain in His love, that’s what He actually meant!)
The third requirement to keep Jesus’ commands is the will to obey. Without the positive intent to actually OBEY Jesus’ commands, not only avoiding what He says to avoid, but actively pursuing those things He says to do, learning those commands become mere trivia. But if we intend to obey immediately with all our hearts any command we receive, Jesus will empower us to obey, and we will remain in His love.
All of this is in the context of the branch needing to remain connected to the vine if it is going to bear fruit. Any branch that doesn’t remain attached quickly dries up and is thrown into the fire. In the same way, if we don’t remain in Jesus’ love through our total obedience, we will end up spiritually dry and fruitless, worth nothing but to be thrown away.