If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. …He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me. John 14: 15, 21
And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it. 2 John 6
[That word "love" in these verses is agape, that unique Greek word that means "unconditional love." I wrote a short post about it here.]
Devotion to God and obedience to God are not the same thing. Devotion has more to do with thoughts and feelings; obedience implies action. It is not mere devotion or fondness that God is seeking; it’s obedience. Surely, obedience must come from a devoted heart and mind, but if there is only sentiment and no truly loving action that follows, then this devotion is only a mental assent, and is meaningless. Say you meet someone who says he loves pizza. He confesses all day long that he just LOOOOVES pizza, yum yum! But, he never eats it! So even though he says he loves pizza, the fact is he never eats it all, and is very busy eating other things. The question begs to be asked: Although he says he love pizza… does he really?
In John Chapter 21, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love Me, Peter?” Jesus is referring to agape, that self-sacrificing unconditional love (from whence obedience comes). But Peter responded that he “phileo” loves Jesus. Phileo is something akin to brotherly love– affection, devotion, emotional and mental sentiment. Agape love by its very nature necessitates activity (and by this I refer to the term “obedience”). In our secular world, obedience conjures up visions of slavery or boot camp; but this is not the case. Obedience is simply acting upon particular direction; according to the scripture, obedience to God is compliance from a heart that is convinced of the goodness of the direction itself but especially that of the director. (By the way, Peter did come to realize agape love– see Acts 2 for more detail on this).
Moreover, obeying God is not a difficult thing, not if He is the source of the power.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:2
Obeying God may seem difficult if we by habitual practice have made ourselves slaves to the passions of the flesh. It is always difficult to break a habit; but obeying God is not difficult in of itself; He has made the way to do it. And what does God want of us? To go to church, to have a Bible in the house, to have fond thoughts of “the Man Upstairs,” to “be a good person”?
Jesus said that the commandments are summed up into two things: Love God with everything you are and have; and love others the way God wants you to. In other words, obey God with what He says to do, and don’t use and abuse other people for your own (selfish) desires. And it’s a lifestyle. And everyone knows that a lifestyle cannot be lived without something first happening in the depths of the heart. We learn very quickly how incapable we are when it comes to this. This shows we are sinners, cut off from holy God, in need of deliverance from a selfish heart. This is what is meant by Christ as our Savior. He gives us a new heart and we are enabled to “keep His commandments” because He does the work through us.
So obeying God is not an impossible thing. Jesus said, “you WILL keep My commandments” (John 14:15). He has given us His power– through His Spirit– that enables us to do so. We cannot obey God by walking in the lusts of our flesh and desires:
For, brothers, you were called to liberty. Only do not use the liberty for an opportunity to fulfill your selfish desires, but by love serve one another. For all the Law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware because you will end up destroying each other. I say, then: Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. And these are contrary to one another; lest whatever you may will, these things you do…
Now the works of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, fightings, jealousies, angers, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkennesses, revelings, and things like these; of which I tell you before, as I also said before, that they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control; against such things there is no law. But those belonging to Christ have crucified the flesh with its selfish ambitions and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Galatians 5:14-25
Also of note is that there is a progression involved with this, too– no one is *POOF* born walking perfectly. This progression is what the Bible calls “sanctification.” It takes time; it also takes effort. Being obedient to God does not consist of stringently following a rigid list of do’s and don’t's to make the mark; it comes from a heart that wants to please Him and is directed by Him, where you are motivated to please Him and to encourage others to walk with Him– and never from evil selfish desires. As you draw closer to Him in your thoughts and desires, He will change you, inside, to do this. It’s a relationship. A good way to think of it is like a parent/child relationship. A child should obey his parent’s command out of love, knowing that the parent has the child’s best interest in mind and because the child appreciates all that the parent does for him. The child’s behavior is a reflection of his parent.
Sometimes obeying God requires great sacrifice on our part. God may be telling us to get rid of an evil habit or cultivate a holy habit that seems unnatural to us. This is a really (khouse.org/articles/2009/831) neat story I read about sanctification:
Some women were having a Bible study and they came across Malachi 3:3: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” This verse puzzled them as to what it really meant about the character and nature of God. One of the women offered to find out about the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible Study. That week the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn’t mention anything about the reason for her interest beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver. As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up.
He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest so as to burn away all the impurities. The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot. She went over and asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to remain in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. He said that if the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.
The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?”
He smiled at her and answered, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s done when I see my own image in it!”
I’ve heard accusations by people against God, saying all He wants are “mind-numbed robots.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. Moreover, those saying such accusations are almost always looking for a justification for their selfish and wicked thoughts and actions; if they were being truthful, the accusation would really be coming out as, “I want to sin and not feel guilty, and God won’t let Me. Therefore, I hate Him.”
No matter what the excuses, God is looking for disciplined followers, not “mind-numbed” devotees. The fact that He is always reaching out to give people chance after chance is proof of that agape love.