In the experience of many, church is like a country club. It’s an exclusive club whose members have earned their place through the keeping of rules. This model of church is entirely opposed in the New Testament. The picture of church Jesus gave us was not a country club for the righteous, but a hospital for the broken and sinful.
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
You do not have to prove your health to enter a hospital, nor should we have to put on a face of having-it-all-together righteousness to enter a church.
At the same time, no one goes to see a physician because they are happy with their current state. The New Testament church is a place where the sinful and flawed are welcome and also a place where they can grow towards righteousness and wholeness. How does this work in practice?
We see the dynamic of the transforming power of grace in John 15:9-10.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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.
Let’s breakdown the 3 sentences in the text:
1. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.
This is a statement of what is true about us in Jesus. We are loved.
2. Abide in my love.
This is a statement of what we should do in light of what is true about us in Jesus. We should abide, or remain, in that love.
3. 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.
This is a statement which clarifies what it looks like to abide in the love of Jesus – abiding in love looks like obedience.
Let’s talk about the love with which we are loved. How did the Father love the Son? Probably the best picture of that love comes early in the gospels, at the baptism of Jesus.
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
First of all, we see that God loves Jesus as a Father.
- Presentation. As a devoted Dad, God is proud to present his Son to the world.
- Proclamation. As a loving Dad, God is happy to proclaim His love for His Son to the world.
- Pleasure. As a happy Dad, God delights in his child.
- Priority. All of this comes before Jesus enters into his work.
This kind of love can be seen in any good, earthly father. We can look at these human dads to get a small hint of the love of the divine Father for the Son.
That hint is incomplete, however. One great difference in the divine relationship of the Father and Son is the eternal quality of their relationship. The Scriptural revelation of the trinity shows us that the Father and Son exist in eternal, relational love. God’s love for Christ did not have a beginning point. That love exists in the very nature of God. To be God the Father is to love the Son. To be the Son is to be loved.
This shows us what kind of love we are loved with. It is an eternal, unconditional love, rising out of the inherent nature of Christ.
You might say, “all of this talk is great if you want to be spiritual or religious, but does it mean anything?” Friend, it means more than you can begin to imagine.
It means that the fundamental nature of our universe is personal, relational, love. It means all of our millennia of human striving for love that outlasts time, billions of hearts aching for a true experience of intimate and unconditional love is not a hopeless longing, a grotesque accident of our genetic programming. But it is a revelation of the true nature of things. It means that you matter. It means that you are known and loved and are surrounded by love.
What does all of this teach us about grace and spiritual growth?
1. It’s the heart, not the behavior that is the central thing in authentic Christianity.
How many of us have experienced the opposite? In the home or at church? How many of you grew up in an environment that majored on your behavior?
What you need to see in John 15:9 this morning is that God is after something much greater than your behavior. He wants your heart. He loves you and desires a relationship of love with you.
2. It takes constant work to keep the heart in the right place.
To abide is to remain. You can think of the work of abiding like a sumo wrestler who is fighting to remain within a ring. He faces external pressures trying to drive him out. In the same way, we experience pressures trying to move us out of the love of Christ.
We face pressure to doubt our position as beloved. We hear voices of criticism and condemnation: You’re not attractive enough to be loved. You’re not successful enough to be loved. You’re not good enough to be loved. We hear the voices so often in so much of our lives we tend to believe them. To abide in the love of Christ is to ignore those voices and push through to the voice of Jesus – as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.
We also face pressure to doubt the supremacy of the love of Christ. We feel the temptation to give our hearts to other things. We are prone to look to the love of another human as supreme. Or the love of wealth or comfort or security or adventure.
To abide in Jesus is to daily rest in His unfailing, gracious love in the midst of a world that demands perfection. To abide in Jesus is to daily disentangle our hearts from the allure of other things which challenge the supremacy of Christ in our lives.
3. The ultimate expression of love is obedience.
To abide in love is to remain obedient to the commands of Jesus. He said something similar earlier in John.
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.
To claim the name of Jesus, while walking in disobedience to his commands is hypocrisy. You cannot love Jesus, you cannot abide in His love, while disobedient.
What are the commandments of Jesus? Here are a few from the gospels:
- Seek his kingdom first.
- Love your enemies.
- Pray for those who persecute you.
- Forgive those who sin against you.
- Do not judge others.
- Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.
- Do not lay up treasures on earth, but in heaven.
- Do not be anxious about tomorrow.
- Whatever you wish others would do to you, do for them.
- Go and make disciples of all nations.
These may be very different than the rules you have in mind from prior experiences. The commandments of Jesus are almost exclusively relational. In fact the one commandment Jesus emphasized far more than the others was this: love each other.
The ultimate expression of love is obedience.
The ultimate expression of obedience is love.
Notice where this all begins.
Not with you, but with God.
The Bible is not ultimately about what you must do for God, it is about what God has done, is doing and will do for you.
As the father has loved me, I have loved you.
I have obeyed the fathers commands.
This is the source of all of our obedience and love.
We love because he first loved us.
We obey because he first obeyed for us.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown