John 14.15 says “if you love me, keep my commandments”. I believe this is the single most misunderstood and misused Scripture in the New Covenant.
It sounds strange to ears of grace, and has lead to some of the most harsh, legalistic teaching I have ever heard. When I was a new Christian in the Baptist church, this verse was used as a weapon to double beat all us new Christians with. It was like boxing – the old one, two. It was used in terms of any kind of sin as well as any external behaviour such as hair length or Sabbath keeping.
Beat One: you have sinned and broken God’s law. Beat Two – and this is the sucker punch that really hurt – the reason you sinned is because you don’t actually love God.
This kind of thinking is behind the Amplified’s horrific translation of this verse: if you really love me, obey my commands. In other words, whenever you sin it is because you don’t REALLY love God.
I deal with so many people who have been beat with this verse to the point of doubting if they are even a Christian because they have sinned, so how can they REALLY love Jesus!
Because this verse is used in such a harsh way, some people have tried to explain it away. Some people read it backwards “if you love me, then you will (naturally) obey my commands” or replace the “if” with “since” to lessen the blow. But to be honest, the Greek simply does not allow this at all. The verse is simply this: “If you love me, obey my commands”.
So what does it mean? Well, there are two keys that help us understand this verse and find out what it means.
Firstly, Jesus here is not talking about hair length or the Old Covenant. He says “If you love me, keep MY COMMANDS”. What are Jesus’ commands? They are what He has just been talking about in John 14.1-14: do not let your heart be troubled, believe in Me, ask in My Name, Do Greater Works.
Secondly, the verse must be understood in context. This verse immediately follows the section that says that we can do the miracles Jesus did and get all our prayers answered, and immediately precedes the section that says that Jesus is giving us the Holy Spirit freely.
The problem is that whenever we talk about answered prayer, working miracles and the Holy Spirit, people automatically get into legalism. They think they have to do something to get their prayers answered. They think there is a minimum holiness rating for working miracles. They tell you the Holy Spirit won’t inhabit a dirty vessel.
By saying “If you love me, obey my commands” Jesus is saying there is no other motivation or reason to do what He says than simple love for Him. If you love Jesus, then do what He says. But don’t obey to get your prayers answered – God will answer your prayers anyway. Don’t obey to be a miracle worker, you already are a miracle worker. Don’t try and clean yourself up so the Holy Spirit can fill you. The Holy Spirit is so gracious, gentle and pure that He can easily fill a dirty vessel! If He can converse with Cain immediately after he stabbed and murdered his own brother, the Holy Spirit can speak to you just the way you are.
What Jesus is doing in this verse is saying there is only one reason to obey Him: simple love. Anyone who tells you that you should obey Jesus to get filled with the Spirit, to get power, to get your prayers answered is a LIAR.
There is only one reason to obey Jesus: simple love. He loves you so much that even when you don’t obey He still answers your prayers, you can still work miracles and you can still relate to and fellowship with the Holy Spirit.
This verse was never given to stir up legalism but to eliminate it. By fellowshipping with us and allowing us to operate in His power whether we are living right or not, then there genuinely is only one reason left to follow Him: because we love Him.