At its foundation the Bible is, essentially, a love story. From Genesis to Revelation we learn of God’s deep love for humanity and desire for sinful mankind to be reconciled with Him. Embedded in every passage, every anecdote, every historical account is the message of God’s love.
And while secondary themes exist, they always reinforce the overarching idea that God loves people. The apostle John articulated this simple truth with three simple words: “God is love.” (1 John 4:8, 16; NKJV).
Fortunately, His love is not something we must earn. The apostle Paul tells us “God demonstrated His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NKJV). God does not condition His love on our becoming good people first. Instead, He extends His love to us while we are slaves to sin.
Experiencing that love only requires we place our trust in Jesus Christ and surrender our lives to Him. That simple yet comprehensive act of faith yields eternal life with God. But it also produces the responsibility to follow God’s example of love.
When asked to identify the most important commandment in all of Scripture, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31, NKJV).
Jesus’ response should not surprise us. God expects us to love Him and those around us even as He loves us and every other person in the world. And we are to imitate God and Jesus in our expression of love.
What does that mean in substantive terms? Well first of all, we must understand that God’s love is demonstrated in action not verbalized in words. God doesn’t tell us about His love, He reveals it to us on a daily basis. Likewise, we demonstrate our love for God and others by our behavior and deeds, each and every day.
Second, Jesus takes great care to explain one critical piece of evidence exhibited in the lives of those who love Him:
“If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15, NKJV).
“He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me” (John 14:21a, NKJV).
“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word” (John 14:23a, NKJV).
Jesus’ words are unmistakable. If you love Him you will obey His commandments. Not just those that are easy to follow, or those that do not disrupt your lifestyle, or those with which you agree. You will follow ALL his commands.
If that sounds like a herculean task, well it is. In fact, it’s impossible. But under the leadership of the Holy Spirit we can begin to live a life of increased obedience. And while we will never live perfect lives on this side of heaven, God does expect us to cultivate a lifestyle of holiness and more closely resemble Jesus as our faith matures.
However, our obedience does more than just evidence our love for God; it reveals genuine faith. The apostle John emphasizes this correlation in his first epistle. “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4, NKJV). To eliminate any confusion or misunderstanding, John reiterates this point to his audience. “He who keeps God’s commandments abides in Him, and God in him” (1 John 3:24a, NKJV).
John connects obedience with knowing God in a real and meaningful way. Remember that at its core the Christian faith involves an intimate and personal relationship between believer and Jesus Christ. He abides in us as we abide in Him. So in that sense it is unlike any religion in the world – because it is no religion at all. It is a relationship.
John, then, is not suggesting that obedience precedes salvation. Rather, he is saying that faith produces obedience; that the call of Christ demands the passionate pursuit of holiness from would-be followers.
The above verses clearly establish a linkage between our love for and faith in Jesus with our obedience to God and Christ. An absence of obedience exposes an absence of faith and love.
Now, one might wonder, ‘What commands must I obey?’ And the simple answer is, ‘All of them.’ Every commandment captured in Scripture, from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of the New Testament.
If that doesn’t sound daunting enough, consider this statement from John. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3, NKJV). In other words, we are not just to obey God’s commands, we are to do so joyfully and with gratitude, not begrudgingly or with resentment.
Many readers will protest at this point and claim that all this sounds a little too legalistic. They will insist that God’s love does not require obedience nor is our salvation preconditioned on it. And they’re correct. That’s true.
But these verses aren’t about God’s love for us, which exists regardless of whether we obey Him. They are about our love for Him and our faith in Christ. And if those are real, we will desire to obey God’s commands and thirst for His will, even when His commands and plans require we relinquish control of our lives and put to death our self-interests.
All of which would be difficult enough if God’s commands were few and easy. But they’re not. They are abundant in number and often quite demanding. Consider those below, for example.
1) “Study the [Bible] continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything in it” (Joshua 1:8, NLT).
2) “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV).
3) “What does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, NKJV).
4) “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33a, NKJV).
5) “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39b, NKJV).
6) “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28, 19-20a, NKJV).
7) “Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant” (Mark 10:43, NKJV).
8) “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24, NKJV).
9) “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciples” (Luke 14:33, NKJV).
10) “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2, NKJV).
11) “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Prove yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5a, NKJV).
12) “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16, NKJV).
13) “Seek those things which are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3, NKJV).
14) “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17, NKJV).
15) “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11, NKJV).
16) “Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2, NKJV).
17) “Encourage one another daily, while it is called today, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13, NKJV).
18) “Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8, NKJV).
19) “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15, NKJV).
20) “Keep yourself in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 1:21, NKJV).
Only when we love God, pursue His presence regularly, and submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit can we hope to partially fulfill these commands. But for those in a genuine relationship with Christ, that hope can transform into reality over time.
And as we obey God’s commands we begin to reflect Him more clearly in our lives and in our treatment of others. And we begin to understand what John means when he says, “By this we know love, because Jesus laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16, NKJV).
We realize that Christ sacrificed His life for us, as an expression of love. And He calls us to do surrender our lives to Him as an expression of love. And when we do, we experience Him and His love in a far more meaningful and powerful way than we ever imagined.