What does this struggle look like? Consider 1 John 2:3: “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” Many read this, look at their lives and say, “Ah…I’m not keeping his commandments. That must mean I don’t really have a relationship with him. I must be the liar mentioned in verse 4.” Knowing him, our relationship with God, seems conditional on keeping his commandments. So if that’s not happening, you must be wrong about even the existence of the relationship.
But what if the passage was read the other way around? Keeping his commandments is conditional on knowing him. In other words, when you know him, you obey. You actually want to obey because you enjoy the closeness that comes from walking with him. It is the growing relationship that drives the obedience. When that relationship is rooted deeply in your heart, keeping his commandments is the natural outflow. What if you heard that passage as an invitation to a deeper relationship, rather than condemnation that it must not exist?
According to God, if you confess Jesus as Lord and believe in the resurrection, you are saved. The Bible makes clear that this realization only happens because he is already at work, opening your eyes, enabling you to understand your need of him. You embraced Christ only because he was already wooing you. The relationship is a given because he says it is. The enemy loves to keep you chasing your tail, wondering if you could truly be a Christian and still struggle with sin, because he knows his ability to manipulate and deceive you is finished as soon as you take your focus off your ability and fix your eyes on the relationship God says already exists.
In this light, hear the following passage as an invitation: “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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:10-11). Jesus invites us to abide in his love. He’s communicating the importance of obedience flowing from relationship because he is for you. He wants your joy to be full. He wants what is best for you. His commandments reflect his love, and they are not burdensome (1 John 5:3).
Commandments are easy when they hold the promise of blessing. God’s desire is to protect you from your destructive desires in order to give you himself. This reality was brought home to me in a really sweet way this summer. After losing my wife almost three years ago from complications due to breast cancer, God brought a wonderful woman into my life this past year, and we were married on July 7. (And I actually have Harvest to thank for this!) Now I’m living under a “command”; I have covenanted with this woman to forsake all others for her. But here’s the thing: I get her! It is a joy to forsake all others because I have a wife who is absolutely amazing in every way. I couldn’t be more thrilled to obey that command because it is actually the foundation of a glorious relationship. A fitting illustration because, after all, God gives us the gift of marriage and sexuality so we can have a tiny glimpse of the wonder of his relationship to us (Ephesians 5:31-32)! We see in a mirror darkly Jesus’ joy and delight as he eagerly anticipates sitting down to feast with his bride at the wedding, arranged from the foundation of the world by his Father.
When have you walked away from reading the Bible feeling condemned? How does that passage point to God’s love in Christ and invite you to deeper relationship with him?