Loving Obedience

Biblical Truth: Those who love Jesus do what He tells them to do and produce fruit that lasts.

Love One Another: John 13:34-35.

[34]  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. [35]  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”   [NASU]

The new commandment is simple enough for a young child to memorize and appreciate, profound enough that the most mature believers are repeatedly embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice. The standard of comparison is Jesus’ love [cf. 13:1], just exemplified in the footwashing [12-17]. But since the footwashing points to His death [6-10], these same disciples but a few days later would begin to appreciate a standard of love they would explore throughout their pilgrimage. The more we recognize the depth of our own sin, the more we recognize the love of the Savior; the more we appreciate the love of the Savior, the higher His standard appears; the higher His standard appears, the more we recognize in our selfishness, our innate self-centeredness, the depth of our own sin. With a standard like this, no thoughtful believer can ever say, this side of the parousia, “I am perfectly keeping the basic stipulation of the new covenant.”

What makes this commandment new since the command to love is found elsewhere in Scripture? Its newness is bound up not only with the new standard (even as I have loved you) but with the new order it both mandates and exemplifies. This commandment is presented as the marching order for the newly gathering messianic community, brought into existence by the redemption long purposed by God Himself. It is not just that the standard is Christ and His love; more, it is a command designed to reflect the relationship of love that exists between the Father and the Son, designed to bring about among the members of the new messianic community the kind of unity that characterizes Jesus and His Father. The new command is therefore not only the obligation of the new covenant community to respond to the God who has loved them and redeemed them by the offering of His Son, and their response to His gracious election which constituted them His people, it is a privilege which, right lived out, proclaims the true God before a watching world. That is why Jesus ends His injunction with the words in verse 35. Orthodoxy without obedience to this characteristic command of the new covenant is merely a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal [1 Cor. 13:1].

Keep God’s Commands: John 14:15,21-24.

[15]  “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. [21]  He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him.” [22]  Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us, and not to the world?” [23]  Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him. [24]  He who does not love me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.”    [NASU]

[15]  Two links tie this verse to what precedes. First, the prospect of doing greater works anticipates the need for enabling power, the manifestation of God Himself by His Spirit. This verse is moving the discussion towards verses 16-17. Second, the obedience theme connects to the instruction to ask for things in Jesus’ name [13-14]. None of the promised fruitfulness will come to those who think they can manipulate the exalted Christ, or use Him for their own ends. If you love Me controls the grammar of verses 15-17a, and the thought of verses 15-21. Jesus has demonstrated His love for His own, declared His love for them and commanded them to love one another; now for the first time in the Fourth Gospel He speaks of their love for Him. The uncompromising connection between love for Christ and obedience to Christ repeatedly recurs in John’s writings. The linkage approaches the level of definition: For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments [1 John 5:3]. But what are His commandments? The parallels that tie together my commandments [14:15], commandments [14:21], and My Word [14:23] and My Words [14:24] suggest that more is at stake then just the ethical commands of Jesus. Also included would be the entire revelation Jesus gave concerning His Father which consists of doctrinal instruction. Love for Jesus is shown not only by our actions but also by our beliefs; not only by correct behavior but also by a commitment to true teaching.

[21] Still focusing on the conditions that will prevail in that day [20] Jesus again emphasizes the truth of verse 15: love for Jesus is evidenced in having and obeying Jesus’ commands. Has in this context does not mean simply “to be in receipt of or to possess” but, as elsewhere in Greek literature, “to grasp with the mind.” So united are Jesus and the Father that according to Jesus the one who loves Him will be loved by My Father, and I will love him. The idea is not that the believer initiates this relation of love by demonstrating obedience, and that Jesus and His Father simply respond. After all, John repeatedly makes it clear that the initiative in the relationship between Jesus and His followers finally lies with Jesus or with the Father. The idea, rather, is that the ongoing relationship between Jesus and His disciples is characterized by obedience on their part, and thus is logically conditioned by it. They love and obey Jesus, and He loves them, in exactly the same way that He loves and obeys His Father, and the Father loves Him. Moreover, as the Father as a result of His love for the Son shows Him all things, so the Son as a result of His love for His disciples says He will disclose Himself to His disciples. The groundwork is being laid for the oneness between Jesus and His disciples that mirrors the oneness between Jesus and His heavenly Father, a theme developed in chapter 17. With the connection between obedience and love so explicit, it should be self-evident that the circle of love in view embraces all of Jesus’ true disciples, but not the “world”, which falls within a rather different circle of love, consisting of compassion and common grace but not saving grace.

[22]  This Judas is probably the one identified as Judas the son of James in Luke 6:16. His question is not so much “why” but rather “how” is this to happen. In view of the fact that none of the disciples entertained very clear notions of the resurrection of Christ before the fact, it is unlikely that Judas is specifically asking how it is Jesus will show Himself, in His resurrection body, to the disciples and not to the world. Rather, Judas hears these distinctions between what the world will perceive or be given, and what the disciples will enjoy, and in his mind he cannot square this distinction with his belief that the kingdom must arrive in undeniable and irresistible splendor. If Jesus is the messianic king, then He must startle the world with apocalyptic self-disclosure.

[23-24]  Jesus does not deny that there will be an apocalyptic revelation at the end [John 5:28-29; 6:39-40; 14:1-3], but He insists that the theophany of which He has been speaking occurs within the circle of love that displays itself in obedience to the Son’s Word (logos; the singular suggests the Son’s revelation as a whole). Of the person who so loves and obeys Jesus, He Himself promises, My Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. Presumably this manifestation of the Father and the Son in the life of the believer is through the Spirit, although the text does not explicitly say so. The negative side of the same thing receives expression in verse 24. The person who does not love Christ does not keep His teaching. Love is not regarded in this Gospel as an abstract emotion. It is something intensely practical. It involves obedience. The seriousness of this is brought out with the reminder that the word Jesus preaches is not His own but that of the Father. There can be no higher authority. Characteristically the Father is spoken of as the one who sent the Son. The mission of Christ is never far from view in this Gospel. And it points to the permanence of God’s purpose of love.

Produce Fruit That Lasts: John 15:9-16.

[9]  “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. [10]  If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love. [11]  These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. [12]  This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. [13]  Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. [14]  You are My friends, if you do what I command you. [15]  No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. [16]  You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you.”    [NASU]

[9-10]  Abiding in the vine [4] has already been tied to obedience to Jesus’ words [7]; now the same point is made a different way. The aorist tense in as the Father has loved Me probably signals the perfection, the completeness of the Father’s love for His Son, including His love for Him before time began. Again the aorist is used, I have also loved you, by Jesus to depict his love for His own as a completed thing, so imminently does the cross stand in view. Of course the Father Himself loves the disciples [16:27], but there is a peculiar sense in which Jesus is the mediator of that love, a love whose only adequate analogy is the love of the Father for the Son. The command to abide in Jesus’ love presupposes that, however much God’s love for us is gracious and undeserved, continued enjoyment of that love turns, at least in part, on our response to it. If we are recipients of Jesus’ love in a way analogous to His own reception of the Father’s love, we must remain in Jesus’ love by exactly the same means by which He has always remained in His Father’s love: obedience, that total obedience which finds Jesus testifying, I always do the things that are pleasing to Him [8:29]. These two verses do not impose on the believer an absolute alternative, perfect obedience or utter apostasy; rather, they set up the only ultimate standard, the standard of Jesus Himself. The practical tensions between this supreme standard and the faulty steps of obedience practiced by Jesus’ followers are more fully explored in 1 John.

[11]  Jesus has promised My peace [14:27] and insisted that His followers remain in My love [15:10]; now he promises them My joy. Jesus insists that His own obedience to the Father is the ground of His joy. And He promises that those who obey Him will share the same joy. Indeed, His very purpose in laying down such demands is that their joy may be made full. What is presupposed is that human joy in a fallen world will at best be shallow and incomplete until human existence is overtaken by an experience of the love of God in Christ Jesus, the love for which we were created, a mutual love that issues in obedience without reserve.

[12]  The individual commands that must be obeyed if a disciple of Jesus is to remain in His love [10] are now subsumed under one command: love one another, just as I have loved you. Love for God or for Jesus Himself is presupposed. Jesus’ point is not that love for fellow believers exempts one from the call to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength, but that genuine love for God ensures genuine love for His Son, who is the focal point of divine revelation. Genuine love for the Son ensures obedience to Him and obedience to Him is especially tested by obedience to the new commandment, the command to love [13:34-35; 15:12]. By an unbreakable chain, love for God is tied to and verified by love for other believers [cf. 1 John 4:11-21].

[13]  At one level, this axiom lays out the standard of love Jesus’ disciples are to show to one another; at another, it refers to Jesus’ death on behalf of His friends. The eternal divine love reached its complete and unsurpassable expression in the death of Christ, which was at the same time the death of a man for his friends. The saying thus becomes one of the things of which the Holy Spirit will remind them in due course. As the Lamb of God, Jesus is supremely the one who gives His life for His friends.

[14-15]  Although there is a sense in which Jesus gives His life for the world [1:29; 3:16], there is another in which He dies for His friends. Who then are His friends? You are my friends if you do what I command you. This obedience is not what makes them friends; it is what characterizes His friends. Clearly, then, this friendship is not strictly reciprocal: these friends of Jesus cannot turn around and say that Jesus will be their friend if He does what they say. Jesus’ friends, then, are the objects of His love [13], and are obedient to Him [14]. If obedience is a necessary criterion, what distinguishes them from servants? Jesus makes revelation the distinguishing feature. An absolute potentate demands obedience in all his subjects. His slaves, however, are simply told what to do, while his friends are informed of his thinking, enjoy his confidence and learn to obey with a sense of privilege and with full understanding of their master’s heart. So also here: Jesus’ absolute right to command is in no way diminished, but He takes pains to inform His friends of His motives, plans, and purposes. The words no longer inject a salvation-historical note. In times past God’s covenant people were not informed of God’s saving plan in the full measure now accorded Jesus’ disciples. Although there is much they cannot grasp [16:12], within that constraint Jesus has told them everything He has learned from His Father. The Paraclete whom Jesus sends will in the wake of the cross and resurrection complete the revelation bound up with the person and work of Christ [14:26; 16:12-15], thereby making Jesus’ disciples more informed, more privileged, more comprehending than any believers who ever came before.

[16]  As so often in this Gospel, where there is the slightest danger that the disciples will puff themselves up because of the privileges they enjoy, Jesus immediately forestalls any pretensions they might have. In the final analysis, His followers are privy to such revelations not because they are wiser or better and consequently made the right choices, but because Christ chose them. Jesus chose them and appointed them that they might go and bear fruit. The emphasis on going and bearing fruit suggests that the fruit primarily in view in this verse is the fruit that emerges from mission, from specific ministry to which the disciples have been sent. The fruit, in short, is new converts. One purpose of election, then, is that the disciples who have been so blessed with revelation and understanding, should win others to the faith; fruit that would remain. With these references to fruit and to its enduring quality, it becomes clear that these closing allusions to the vine imagery ensure that, however comprehensive the nature of the fruit that Christians bear, the focus on evangelism and mission is truly central. The union of love that joins believers with Jesus can never become a comfortable, exclusivistic huddle that only they can share. Doubtless it is a unique union, an extension of the union of the Godhead; but by its very nature, it is a union, an intimacy, which seeks to bring others into its fellowship. The final purpose clause in this verse again reminds us that the means of the fruitfulness for which we have been chosen is prayer in Jesus’ name.

Questions for Discussion:

1.      Why do you think actively loving other Christians is such an effective way to evangelize non-Christians [13:35]?

2.      Why must love for Christ and obedience to Christ always be connected and never separated? What happens in your spiritual life when you claim to have love but do not have obedience; when you seek to have obedience but do not have love?

3.      How is abiding or remaining in God related to love and obedience? Why is this relationship the means whereby our joy is made full?


The Gospel According to John, D. A. Carson, Eerdmans.

The Gospel According to John, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

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