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When Jesus first called Simon Peter and his brother Andrew into His service, His command to them was, “Follow me.” In time, those who came behind or followed Jesus became known as His “disciples,” “students,” or “followers.” Throughout His ministry, Jesus made it clear to His listeners that being His disciples was not simply about receiving an education or even adhering to a set of ethical principles or stipulations. To be a disciple of Jesus meant to recognize Him for who He really was—the incarnate Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah—and therefore to reorient one’s life so that it conformed to the standards of His heavenly kingdom.
In John 14:15, Jesus put this truth plainly to His disciples like this: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” That may seem like a simple, even simplistic, statement, but if we look at it closely, we realize that it teaches us much about what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus. The first thing to notice is that the motivation for Christian obedience is and must be love, not fear. As Christians, we want to obey Jesus not because we are afraid that judgment will result if we do not, but rather because we recognize who Jesus is and what He has done for us, and that in turn gives birth in our souls to a deep desire to honor Him with our lives. As John says in his first epistle, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19), and it is that fountain of love that overflows in a desire to obey.
Second, notice that in John 14:21, Jesus puts this truth in the opposite direction: “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.” In other words, our obedience to Jesus is one of the characteristics that marks us out as those who truly love Him. As Jesus says in another place, “The tree is known by its fruit” (Matt. 12:33).
Third, notice that this obedience we render to Jesus is not accomplished through our own power. In the very next verse, Jesus tells us that He will ask the Father to send us another Helper, the Holy Spirit (John 14:16), and Paul later tells us that it is He who gives us the power to put to death the deeds of the flesh and who stands with us in the struggle, crying out that we are children of God (Rom. 8:13–17).
All this makes it clear that any charge against Christianity as being antinomian—that is, “against law”—is false and unfounded. Paul himself asked: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” And he answered, quite rightly, “By no means!” (6:1–2). Our salvation is based, fully and completely, on the righteousness of Christ, both in His life and His death, imputed to us. That righteousness alone is the basis of justification. But there is evident spiritual fruit in those who have been justified—an acknowledgment of Jesus as the King, and a gratitude-filled love for Him that issues in a Spirit-filled desire to follow Him and obey His commandments.