This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
– John 15:12–17
In the present generation, believers are often heard testifying something to the effect that Christianity is not about following a set of rules, but it is about having a personal relationship with God. There is an important truth contained in that statement—God has not made us automatons, that we would simply do as programmed, but indeed He desires a loving relationship with us as sons and daughters, created in His likeness with free will. And we rightly take warning from the example of the scribes and Pharisees, whose hearts were hardened and whose eyes were blinded through a legalism that led them to hate God Incarnate for healing a disabled person on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1–6).
And yet, there is also a ditch on the other side of the road. To say that the Christian life is about developing a relationship with God is true; to divorce that relationship from the necessity of obeying the rules He has laid down for us is dangerous and false. “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’” Jesus asked, “and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). And again, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven”—the lawless will find themselves turned away (Matt 7:21–23).
Jesus famously declared that to enter the kingdom of heaven we must humble ourselves like little children (Matt 18:3–4). Little children inherently trust their parents and are easily awed by the vast knowledge adults seem to possess. So we should trust our heavenly Father and rejoice in His wisdom. The humility of little children also involves submission to their parents’ rules and discipline; indeed, a child who persisted in disobeying his parents as he grew was to be put to death under the old covenant (Deut 21:18–21). To call God our Father is to situate ourselves in a relationship which is at once intimate and asymmetrical: our Father loves us and cares for us, while we love Him and honor Him with obedience.
So it is in our passage from John, quoted above, that Jesus elevates His servants to the status of “friends” or “loved ones” (philoi) in the context of commanding them to do as He has done. Jesus was and is the Father’s perfectly obedient Son; He was with God in the beginning, He was God by His own nature, all things were created through Him and for Him, and yet He humbled Himself and sacrificed Himself in love for us according to the Father’s will (John 1:1–3, 14; Phil 2:5–11; Col 1:15–20). For us to become like Jesus, as has always been His intent for us, means knowing the Father’s heart and walking boldly in the authority of His children and princes while continuing to honor and obey Him as humble servants. It means that our food is to do the will of Him who has sent us into this world (John 4:34), to make known the great salvation available to all who turn from sin and entrust their lives to Jesus the Messiah.
Father, hallowed be Your Name. Thank You for loving us and reconciling us to Yourself by the incomparable sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus. Thank You for forgiving us and cleansing us of sin by His blood, and thank You for sending Your Holy Spirit to live in us and to continue purifying our hearts by the water of Your word. Thank You for working into us the will to obey You in all things, as Your will is good and pleasing and perfect. Your will be done.
Writer, Christian Union
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