Obedience is a Gospel Word
John 15:1-11 (ESV): 15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I 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 full.
The gospel is a (or more accurately, the) story. The central character of the story is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to set sinners, you and me that is, back into a right relationship with God based on His perfect life, obedient death and victorious resurrection. In John 14 & 15, with Jesus getting ready to leave the Earth, in His last moments with His disciples all together, there is a central concept that He brings up over and over again.
From John 14 . . .
12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
21 “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me . . .”
23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word . . .”
24 “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. . . ”
In Chapter 14 above, the connection between love for Christ and obedience to His commands is stated as certain as a law of nature. A heart transformed to love Christ has a new inclination to obey Christ. There is a new affection for the Savior of the world that results in a life marked by a growth in obedience. The cause-and-effect nature of Jesus’ description can almost tempt me to switch into autopilot mode, telling myself that Christ will take care of the whole obedience thing. But, then I read the beginning of the next chapter. Chapter 15 is all about me staying in the love of Christ through obedience.
John 15:9-10: 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I 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.
I think the tension that is present is a good tension. True believers are transformed, kept and, ultimately, resurrected by God. It is His power, grace and sovereignty that completes the work in us and only He deserves the glory. After all, all of the nutrients come from the vine. A branch is nothing on its own. And, yet, these branches, His disciples, need to be reminded to stay connected to the vine. As the Son of God was about to head to the cross, He thought it best to heavily dwell on the concept of obedience. I think the passage below from Jude amazingly captures the complementary nature of Him keeping us and our remaining in Him.
Jude 20-25 (ESV): 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Obedience has a rightful place in the gospel story. It can’t save us. That would completely conflict with the teachings of Christ and the rest of the Bible. But, we can’t let that dilute Christ’s emphasis on it in His last discussions with His disciples. We abide in Christ through our obedience to Him. It proves our discipleship and glorifies God the Father, making our joy full.
- Author Michael Green
- Date March 16, 2016