Love, in our culture, is often reduced to sentimental feeling. Love is seen not primarily as an action but as an emotion that comes and goes. When the feeling of love goes, the culture tells us, we can end relationships and go our own way.
Certainly, we do not deny that love has an emotional component. However, the biblical authors do not define love as a mere feeling. Love, in Scripture, consists also in purposeful action. We see that very clearly in today’s passage. Jesus instructs us to abide in His love, but the primary way that we do that, He tells us, is by keeping His commandments (John 15:9–10). Abiding in the love of Christ is not a passive thing or something that consists only in a feeling of affection toward Jesus. Instead, we abide in the love of Christ by doing something, namely, by following His commands.
This makes good sense in light of our doctrine of God. We distinguish God’s attributes, but we cannot ever separate them or treat them as independent entities. God is holy and God is love, but properly speaking, God’s holiness is His love and His love is His holiness (Isa. 6:3; 1 John 4:8). His love is a holy love, so if we are to abide in His love we must strive after holiness. John Calvin comments: “Christ does not reconcile believers to the Father, that they may indulge in wickedness without reserve, and without punishment; but that, governing them by his Spirit, he may keep them under the authority and dominion of his Father. Hence it follows, that the love of Christ is rejected by those who do not prove, by true obedience, that they are his disciples.”
We must note that although our obedience to Christ is necessary for abiding in His love, His love for us is not ultimately grounded in our obedience. After all, “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God loves us, and the fruit of that love in the outworking of our salvation is obedience to Him, by which we abide in His love. Calvin comments that “the obedience which believers render to him is not the cause why he continues his love toward us, but is rather the effect of his love.” We persevere in faith, but we persevere because of God’s sustaining love and power.
In today’s passage, Christ is not talking about our justification—our being declared righteous in God’s sight—so keeping His commandments (John 15:9–11) does not mean sinless perfectionism. It means a sincere effort to obey Him, repentance when we sin, and a refusal to trust in our own merit for redemption (see 1 John).