It’s a common question: If Jesus is all about love, do I still have to follow rules?
Spoiler alert: Here comes the answer:
“All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me.” (John 14:23–24 NLT)
The short answer is yes!
But just because Jesus said it doesn’t mean I understand it. Sometimes I find it helpful during Bible study to take the opposite approach: what is the text NOT saying? Once I’m clear on that, it helps me to see what the text IS saying. Let’s give that a shot.
WHAT THE TEXT IS NOT SAYING
It doesn’t say, “Obey and Love.” Notice the order of the words… that’s important. If it said obey and love, it would put the priority on the law and on rule following.
We would focus on our obedience in order to win God’s love. But God’s love does NOT depend on our obedience.
We aren’t more lovable because of our obedience. In fact, God can’t love us any more that God already loves us. God loved us enough to send His Son while we were not obedient to the law. And God’s Son loved us enough to die for us, even while we were rebelling against the law.
“Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (Rom 5:7–8 NLT)
God is not waiting for us to clean up our act so we’ll be lovable. I want you to hear this loud and clear:
GOD LOVES YOU… RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE… AND JUST AS YOU ARE!
But God also loves us enough to not leave us where we are. God wants more for us. And that’s where obedience comes in.
WHAT THE TEXT IS SAYING
The text does say, “If you love me, you will obey me.” In short, our obedience is a response to God’s love for us. At it’s best, we obey because we want to, not because we have to. And even in the midst of obedience, we still find God’s love.
Think like a parent for a moment:
– Do you expect your children to obey you?
– Do you hate… or love your children?
My guess is you love them and you want them to obey you. Why?
Here are two possible scenarios:
1. “Hey Mom… can I touch that hot stove?” My guess is the answer will be no. And you will expect your children to obey. Why?
Because you love them and you don’t want them to get hurt. There is simply never a time when touching a hot stove is a good idea. The answer will always be no. Obedience keeps them from harm.2. “Hey Dad, can I cross the street to play?” Unless you live on a four lane highway, at some point your kids will be old enough to cross the street. But do we just turn them loose?
No… we teach them ways to cross safely. Stop… look both ways…wait for the light. And they get in trouble when they don’t obey! Why? Because we LOVE them!
Here’s the interesting thing to me: in this case, the answer is yes! But obedience makes sure the yes keeps them safe. It’s a teaching process to say, “Yes, but here’s how… we have some rules.”
We started with this question, “If Jesus is all about love, do I still have to follow rules?” Frankly, you don’t have to follow rules… you can enjoy burns and traffic accidents.
But don’t you think it’s a good idea to listen to someone who knows a lot more than we do, and who loved us enough to die for us… even when we weren’t lovable?
What’s your understanding of love and obedience in the New Testament? Where do you struggle with these two concepts?
Some additional resources on topic:
Chart: Tim Keller on the difference between gospel and religion?
Audio Sermon, “Revealing Jesus” (30 mins).