Your life is made up of a series of questions which have been answered by you and those around you. “Should I turn left or should I turn right?” “Do I work here or there?” “Can I see myself spending the rest of my life with this person?” “What is all of this really about?” Our journey of faith began with two questions, and at some point in our lives each one of us must answer two key and monumental questions.
Do you love God, if so how can you prove it? Jesus laid out for us a simple yet profound formula on how to demonstrate our love for God. But what is it and how can that truth reshape our hearts and lives?
WHEN IT COMES TO UNDERSTANDING WHO GOD IS we tend to be comfortable in the identities of Jesus and the Father. Yet when it comes to the Holy Spirit He feel less like a familiar neighbor and more like some hermit in that creepy house at the end of town…
Do you love God, if so how can you prove it? Chapters fourteen through sixteen of the Gospel of John represents a remarkable section of the Bible where Jesus is laying out what is about to happen next to Him and His followers. Here He lays out how expects His followers to live without Him and the plan for the coming of the Holy Spirit. More often than not it is the part about the Holy Spirit that gets the most amount of attention when people read these chapters but today I want to talk about the concept of love. What does it have to do with us, our relationship with God and our relationships with others.
One of the hallmarks about the life of Jesus that even people outside of the church are not shy to talk about is how Jesus preached and demonstrated the concept of love. Often He is called the preacher of love by others and while that may be true it is only a small glimmer of the total picture. Usually when we think of love we either look at it as being physical love between two people or we see it as family love between parents and a child. When it comes to God and His concept of love it supersedes any and all expressions that we are used to seeing among people.
When it comes to God and His concept of love it supersedes any and all expressions that we are used to seeing among people.
Which is why the Greek word agape is used repeatedly by Jesus rather than the other Greek words for love. Agape (which is theologically connected to the Hebrew word chesed) speaks of selfless, covenant bound, unbreakable, respectful, committed love. Not the kind of love that fizzles out after a couple of years, or the type of love which is conditional on happiness, it is true love from its true source.
The Great Command
In John 14:21 Jesus says something truly astounding, and I will include it here in multiple versions so we don’t miss what is being said.
ESV “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.”
NLT “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”
TPT “Those who truly love me are those who obey my commands. Whoever passionately loves me will be passionately loved by my Father. And I will passionately love you in return and will manifest my life within you.”
AMPC “The person who has My commands and keeps them is the one who [really] loves Me; and whoever [really] loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I [too] will love him and will show (reveal, manifest) Myself to him. [I will let Myself be clearly seen by him and make Myself real to him.]”
NKJV “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
What Jesus is saying here is that those who claim to love Him are those who have listened and applied His words to their own lives. This love is reciprocated by the Father who will ensure that those people will have Jesus be living and active in their lives. Here we see a love being demonstrated that goes beyond our usual cultural understanding of love. Jesus is not speaking about a love based on meeting someone’s needs/wants, or being attractive enough, or even the type of love which is feigned when one settles for less than they originally hoped for.
No, Jesus is telling us about a love based on faith, assurance, expectation and respect. Think about it how do those who you love treat you? Do your children/siblings have any respect for you or do they see you as a walking shopping mall? Is there an expectation that the other person loves you back and do they do things which confirm that? Do you have an assurance that you spouse equally loves you in return, or are you carrying the entire burden and hoping they don’t run off like a bird that has had their wing repaired? Do you have faith that those people who claim to love you will be there in an hour of need, crisis or pain?
Jesus is telling us about a love based on faith, assurance, expectation and respect.
Think back over these questions and then ask yourself how do these questions describe my own relationship with God?
Do You Love Me?
In John 21:15-17 Jesus challenges Peter three times on whether or not Peter still loved Him despite the multiple denials the morning of the crucifixion. Each one of us needs to read this account and instead of shaking our heads at Peter we really need to ask ourselves the same question. Peter was asked three times if He loved Jesus and Jesus replied to Peter’s confession by telling him to feed (watch over while grazing) and tend (take care of, shepherd, oversee) his fellow believers.
In the English versions of the New Testament this is as far as the story goes, “Peter do you love me,” “yes Jesus I love you” the end. But there is something great and grand hidden in the Greek versions of this encounter. In Greek Jesus is asking “Peter do you agapo me” to which Peter replies three times “yes Lord you know that I phileo you.” It isn’t the same word, Jesus is asking one thing and Peter is replying with something else. What is happening here?
Jesus is asking Peter whether he loves Him with the same power and capacity that He and the Father do. That is how this word agape/agapo is used in the New Testament. It is a way to highlight the exceeding love of God towards us and it provides a blueprint on how we are to love not only God but each other. Peter’s reply to Jesus’s question is that he phileo Jesus, which is his way of saying that he loved Jesus at the highest capacity that was available to him as a human. Agape is God’s standard and phileo is our standard, which is why phileo is also defined as brotherly love and the kind which lays down its life for another.
Now lets look at that verse again Jesus asks Peter three times “do you love me the way I love you” to which Peter replies “I love you will all I have, but it’s not as much as you love me.” Now doesn’t that sound like Peter, despite his denials he still loved Jesus to the fullest capacity that he had at the time, a capacity which increased weeks later at Pentecost.
Love Demands Action
This brings us back to the Gospel of John, in John 14:15 Jesus declares “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (NASB). The love Jesus is speaking of here is based on faith, assurance, expectation and respect but we demonstrate that love through obedience/action. This isn’t blind obedience where we just jump up and do whatever someone who sounds spiritual says. I am talking about obedience where the simple commands of Jesus are concerned.
The love Jesus is speaking of here is based on faith, assurance, expectation and respect but we demonstrate that love through obedience/action.
Think about it this way, is it enough to tell your spouse you love them? Is there anything else you need to do to prove it, how are your actions, intentions and attitude involved here? Does it mean anything if you say you love someone but act in a way which says otherwise, either through avoidance, arguments, adultery, lying, hatred, apathy and so on? Our relationship with God is no different our actions must line up with our confession, if we say we love Him then the least we can do is follow God’s instructions on how to live. Because those instructions in themselves are revelations of God’s love towards us. Without those instructions God would be encouraging anarchy, selfishness and host of other evils to become the plumb-line of our lives.
God demonstrated His love through the words spoken of by Jesus, God is not looking for people that are marked by hatred, violence, unforgiveness, bitterness or religious obligation. God is looking for people to love Him and He is looking for people who will in turn love others according to His own standards so more people can come into relationship with Him.
Take Matthew 5:43-46 along with the entire Beatitudes for example:
Matthew 5:43-46 “43 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (NASB)
Later in the gospels Jesus is asked about the greatest commandments and the answers given were to love God with all of their heart, mind and soul and to love one’s neighbor as themselves. These commands are the totality of the Old Covenant, but we live under the New Covenant and those two commandments have been changed to love God with all of your heart, mind and soul and to love others as Jesus has loved them. In John 13:34-35 Jesus raises the bar and tells the disciples that they are to love (agape) according to His standard and not their own. Not only that but that love/agape would also act as a witness of their faith and convict people that they are followers of Jesus.
Jesus raises the bar and tells the disciples that they are to love (agape) according to His standard
This is why we cannot just have a lip service love towards God and each other, because Jesus commanded us to go much further than that, and the thermometer of our love is marked by our obedience to this command.
God Loves Us
A key part of what Jesus is saying in John 14:21 is that those who follow Jesus’s commands to love are not just loved back by Him or other people, but they are loved back by God the Father. I believe this is something many people take for granted, as most see God as being angry, judgmental and ready to smite at a moments notice. Very few accept that God Himself loves us and rather see that God tolerates us because of the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus.
One week I asked the question to a group of people I was teaching, “if you could ask God a question and were guaranteed an answer what would it be.” The people responded with questions such as “why do bad things happen,” “why is there evil in the world,” “why did this disaster happen” and so on. Then a couple of weeks later I asked the same question but replaced God with Jesus and the peoples instead asked “why do you love me so much,” “why did you die for me” and so on. Theologically speaking there is no separation between God’s nature and Jesus’s, if we see Jesus as being good and loving that means we have to see God as being that way. Conversely if we see God as being angry, vindictive and judgmental then we have to see Jesus in the same way.
Jesus took great effort to explain to the people of His day that God loved them we have verses such as John 8:42 and John 16:27 that declare this love to God’s people. We cannot forget what it says in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” We quote this verse more than any other but it feels as if we are not registering the first six words. When we combine those six words along with Romans 5:8 and 1 John 4:8-12 we begin to realize that God actually does love us.
He loves us with a love which is bound to the New Covenant and our obedience to it, not that we can break that covenant but our blessings from it are grounded in our faith and daily application of it (1 John 3:1).
Love Is The Key To The House
According to our key verse our obedience to Jesus’s commandments to love and follow Him transforms into a living witness of our relationship with Him. A relationship which is reciprocated by first Jesus and then God the Father who loves us because we loved His son the one true King and the means of deliverance and atonement. I argue that no one can actually love Jesus outside of atonement, because our atonement begins with our faith and confession that He is who He is and that allows us to be loved and adopted by Him. What choice is there after that but to love Him and to do as He has shown us.
This is what we see in John 14:23-24 “23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. 24 He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” (NKJV)
God creates this abode in us through the Holy Spirit who is the manifest presence of God in not only ourselves but in the world. Love becomes the access point by which God literally comes into our lives. God loved us so He sent Jesus, then we in turn accept and believe in Him and come into a loving relationship with Him. This is not a works based love or salvation, the work has already been done and our responsibility is to accept, believe, confess and live a life that reflects that choice.
God loved us so He sent Jesus, then we in turn accept and believe in Him and come into a loving relationship with Him.
This isn’t a one-way street as God continually looks out for us and trains us like a loving parent (Revelation 3:19) and is not seeking our suffering but our fulfillment of our calling and living a Christlike life.
Love Has No Plan B
One of the true hallmarks of love (agape and phileo) is that the person who loves doesn’t have a plan B or an escape contingency. A husband who loves his wife does not keep one eye open for someone better, the same goes for the wife who does not give mental real-estate to other potential suitors to better meet her needs (or wants in disguise of needs). When we love with an expectation of failure we are never truly able to love another person. If we sit beside someone we love we cannot think of “what if” scenarios if the other person runs off or a better offer comes up.
This is how Israel lived in most of the Old Testament they looked to the Baal’s, Moloch, Ashtaroth and other idols as Plan B if YHWH didn’t show up or if the harvest wasn’t looking too good. It is no wonder why God compared Israel prophetically (Ezekiel 16:33, Hosea 9:1) to a wife who wandered the streets looking for lovers to pay off and enjoy. It isn’t much different today except we’ve replaced the Canaanite Pantheon with self-sufficiency, humanism, technology, feelings and pride.
How can we truly love God if we follow up each prayer with a plan B on how to get what we want ourselves. We cannot say we trust and love God in one breath and in the next talk about what if God doesn’t care or isn’t actually listening. We have made it popular to hedge our bets just in case God isn’t exactly how the preacher makes Him out to be. So we keep Him in our back pocket for when we run into a wall we cannot climb over.
You cannot live a life where you proclaim the teachings of Jesus but go on acting contrary to them. This is why Jesus amalgamated the ideas of love and obedience, not because He is a dictator but because our following of His Great Commandment tells all those around us that we love God because He first loved us and wants everyone to come to that place of love, acceptance and forgiveness.
John 15:12-15 “12 This is My commandment, that you love (agapo) one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love (agape) has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”
1 John 3:23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love (agape) one another, just as he has commanded us.
WHEN IT COMES TO UNDERSTANDING WHO GOD IS we tend to be comfortable in the identities of Jesus and the Father. Yet when it comes to the Holy Spirit He feel less like a familiar neighbor and more like some hermit in that creepy house at the end of town. Throughout the Old Testament we hear of God moving through the prophets and the nation of Israel. While in the New Testament we are focused on the works and words of Jesus, however what we usually don’t realize is that the Holy Spirit is working right there along side them.
On a technical level the Holy Spirit is the third member of the trinity and is an equal part of the godhead along with Jesus and the Father. The Holy Spirit is the part of God in which we can interact with on a daily basis. He is the personal part of God which we have not only living inside of us but is a part of the world around us, as the tangible presence of God on the Earth (2 Corinthians 13:14, John 5:6-8).
The Holy Spirit is Closer Than Your Trusty Smartphone
Some people tend to see God as being far off in Heaven and Jesus is right there beside Him, while the Holy Spirit is here on the earth and is never far away. Through salvation and baptisms the Holy Spirit not only becomes part of our lives but comes to live inside of us. We can’t just reduce that truth to a Christian phrase or a theological topic, but we must come to a living reality of that truth in our own lives.
The Holy Spirit wants to be known by us and we must be just as willing to know Him. That is the purpose of this first section to better know the Holy Spirit and develop a living relationship with Him here and now. To take away any walls of separation between us and the trinity. To live in the fullest possible measure of God’s presence and purpose for our lives.
We see The Holy Spirit at work in many ways throughout the Bible all the way back at creation in Genesis 1:2, 26 we see the spirit hovering, waiting to create, waiting to bring life to the natural realm we live in. Fast forward to the baptism of Jesus and we see Him at work again as the one who empowers Jesus to fulfill His mission to redeem mankind (Matthew 3:16-17).
After the death and resurrection of Jesus we see the power of the Holy Spirit at work through the apostles and the early church in the book of Acts.
The Holy Spirit was moving in the same way He was during Jesus’s ministry because we have been given the same authority to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and the do the same. The Holy Spirit isn’t a type of magic to be invoked He is the power and presence of the living God who is looking for those willing to not only have a relationship but be willing to do was the Father calls them to do with their lives.
One With Jesus And One With Us
The Holy Spirit’s role can be seen clearest through Jesus’ words about His unity with the Father. (John 5:36-40, John 8:28-29). The same relationship that Jesus lays out concerning His relationship with the Father should be the same for us and the Father today. The Holy Spirit, aka God’s presence on the earth should be just as open and vivid to us as it was to Jesus during His earthly ministry. The Holy Spirit does not glorify Himself, but the Son. This does not speak of an inferiority in His standing in the Trinity but reveals the role of the Holy Spirit in the plan of redemption. That is why we must never forget that the Holy Spirit came to make real the things of Jesus, that through Him the same power that was at work through Jesus is available to us today (John 16:13-15).
Unlike in the Old Testament where people were kept a safe distance from the Spirit of God, in the Gospels, Jesus signaled a change in how the Holy Spirit would relate to men and women. No longer would there be a separation where only the high priest on one day a year could experience the presence of God but all people at all times could be that near to God. Before the people would fear and quake at the presence of the Father, now under the New Covenant the barrier of sin is gone and God through Holy Spirit has deposited His presence into us. No longer are just the prophets and patriarchs privy to a special relationship with the Creator but everyone who have called Jesus their Messiah and Savior.
The Holy Spirit Reveals The Father
Another key role of the Holy Spirit is that He takes the all of the things we associate with the Father and reveals them to us (John 16:12-16). We see this modeled over and over with Jesus as He only said and did what He heard from the Father. That same relationship is available to us today, and not just for a select few such as prophets or leaders of large churches. All who are willing to listen and obey can hear the voice of the Father.
This leads to another one of the Holy Spirit’s roles, the one who would empower His church to do what God called it to do. He helps the church be an authentic witness to the world just as we saw in Acts 1:8.
Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The Holy Spirit wasn’t just sent to help the church metaphorically or emotionally, but He is here to help the church move in power. Be it power over sin, hopelessness, or the fallen state of the world. He also brings to us gifts of wisdom, knowledge and even (at times the most needed manifestation) miraculous power which sees the dead raised, people healed and testimonies which cannot be denied come to pass. You see as believers we are nothing more than living lightbulbs and the Holy Spirit is the electricity which generates light for people to see Jesus.
Starting with the apostles and carrying on to today we are all called to be proclaimers of the gospel. From the beginning God knew that Jesus’ physical presence would leave but He would send the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ place to work through and with believers (John 16:7).
The Holy Spirit came in this “new way” when Jesus’ physical presence left the earth and now uses everyday believers such as you and me to continue the ministry of Jesus and to expand the Kingdom. Everyday people who are willing to follow the Holy Spirit and not just the elite few. We all have our own places of influence and people we can reach that others will never be able to. If we give Holy Spirit room to move in those areas imagine what could happen, with Jesus’s resurrection and ascension the promise of John 7:39 is NOW in effect.
John 7:38-39 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
Living As If The Kingdom Is Already In Effect
When we begin to accept that the Holy Spirit is the living and active presence of God that lives within us then and only then can we have a true impact on this world. When we no longer look at Him as being some type of mystery or some genie certain denominations talk about we begin to understand. The God we read about in the Old Testament and the Christ we preach about from the New Testament lives inside of us and is looking to continue the work He began so long ago.
The same compassion and power Jesus walked in is available to us today, but with that the same standard of holiness spoken of by the Father in the Old Testament remains. The Holy Spirit has been unleashed to bring people to the cross, to work in power and to ensure that Christians live according to the standards which have been lovingly set by the Father.
John 16: 7-11 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
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