When John writes, ‘whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life’ John3.36 he raises several questions in the modern reader’s mind. Is the reason for obedience just the reward we will receive? How is it possible to know what it is I am meant to do? How am I meant to get the strength to continue to be obedient. I want to be free and isn’t obedience the opposite to freedom? To understand this phrase it is necessary to place it in the context of the developing account in John’s gospel as well as in the wider biblical writings.
Christian obedience to Jesus is a response to both authority and love. John opened his gospel with a declaration that Jesus as the Word of God is eternal, the creator of all and the revelation of God that brings light to our lives. John 1.1-5 His authority is from that he is the awesome God but more than that, he is intimately concerned with us. However, Jesus’ relationship with us is not simply as the all powerful God who made all things and will judge us, he is the one who was lifted up to die for us because of his very great love for us. John 3.15-16 Obedience then is a love response to very great love, love that is almost beyond our comprehension and indeed would be if it were not for God enabling us to understand.
Love for Jesus means we want to be with him and be like him. ‘Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.’ 1 John 3.24 Obedience becomes a pleasure, ‘For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.’ 1 John 5.3
To grasp what obedience is we are helped by the word of God and the Spirit of God both of these are received through Jesus. Immediately prior to John 3.36 we read, ‘For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.’ John3.34 It is the combined words of God and his Spirit that brings us both understanding of God’s will and the capacity to be obedient.
Our understanding of freedom depends upon our world view. The biblical view of freedom is freedom from the slavery of sin. This freedom from the slavery of sin is also expressed in love for others especially love for fellow disciples of Christ. ‘Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.’ 1 John 2.9,10 Love and obedience for Jesus then overflows into love for others around us.
How has God been speaking to you about his love for you?
Is there any next step of obedience that the Spirit has made you aware of?
Be the Centre – Michael Frye