Stuff Jesus Said That We Act Like He Was Joking About But That He Probably Really Meant: Part 3

“If you love me, you’ll obey my commandments.” — Jesus (John 14:15)

The Christian Church today suffers from a paralyzing notion that because nobody’s perfect nobody should try to be. We have ways of saying this that make us and our also-imperfect Christian friends feel better. Here are a few of the most common mantras:

  • “We all make mistakes.”
  • “That’s why there’s grace.”
  • “I’m a work in progress.”

As the great theologian Tim McGraw sings, “I ain’t as good as I’m gonna get, but I’m better than I used to be.”

That makes for a great country song, and it may be true. Sanctification (I admit, arguably) is a process. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about spiritual laziness and ample excuses. The theology of resting on our laurels because we’ll never be who we were made to be is unscriptural and sad.

This idea that we can continue in our imperfection is pervasive, and before I start stomping on too many toes, I want to make sure to include my own. Most of the same temptations I face today are the same I faced when I was in high school. More accurately, most of the same temptations I give into today are ones that ravaged my soul back then.

I’ve been wrestling with all this as I think about things Jesus said that we often assume he must’ve been joking about. He said a lot of these types of things. They seem unrealistic; too hard a goal to obtain, so we just figure he was messing with us. But I think on this one he was dead serious.

“If you love me, you’ll obey my commandments.” 

Most Christians don’t like to associate obedience and love. It sounds too legalistic. We say there’s nothing we can do to earn God’s love. There’s nothing you can do that will make God love you less, and there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more. I agree. As a parent, I know there’s nothing my children could do that would make me stop loving them. No joke. If my son sprouted a third arm, had plastic surgery to make his face look like a giraffe, and ran off and joined the circus, I’d still love him. No question about it.

But I’m not talking about God’s love for us. I’m talking about our love for God.

God loves us no matter what. That’s not in question. What is up for debate is our love for Him.

If my son joined the circus, I’d still love him. But if I had told him, “Son, I don’t want you to  join the circus,” and he did it anyway, I would wonder about his feelings for me.

I wonder if God ever questions our feelings for Him?

This quandary comes up in almost every book of the Bible. Adam & Eve doubt God in Genesis and do their own thing. The rebellious Israelites are self-centered time and time again, grumbling against God’s goodness and provision in favor of paving their own way. Their arrival in the Promised Land doesn’t end the tension. The book of Judges is littered with the cycle of sin, God swooping in to save the day, and then His people repeating the same selfish behavior soon after.

“If you love me, you’ll obey my commandments.”

The message of the Prophets was aimed at this very attitude. We have 17 books of the Old Testament devoted to issuing warnings against it. God calls for obedience instead of religious ritual. Folks alternately cry out against God and then cry out for help after being left to their own demise leads to–well…their own demise.

The early church bears the same testimony. In the Book of Acts the first Christians (at least some of them) believe the lie that they can have it their way. This usually ends with them being attacked by demons, struck dead, or cast out from the body of believers.

The bottom line is this–who do we think we are? Where do we get off doubting God? Who died and made us boss (hint: not Jesus. He died, but not to make us boss)? We can’t even run our own lives well–why do we attempt it again and again?

The Scriptures are clear. I would challenge any notion to the contrary: if we love God, we will obey God.

  • Yes, we all make mistakes. But why not try to make fewer? (1 Peter 1:16)
  • Yes, there’s grace for when we mess up. But grace was not meant to be a crutch for us when we do sin, but rather an empowering force that causes us to sin less. (Romans 6:1-6)
  • Yes, we’re a work in progress. But sometimes we slack on the progress part. (James 1:22)

Jesus said, “If you love me, you’ll obey my commandments.” We can sit around and say we love God all we want. We can sing and testify and (dare I say) write and preach and teach and tweet and carry on about how much we love God.

“Oh! How I love Jesus!”

But sometimes our inactions speak louder than our words.

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