If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15).
Lutherans rightly get upset when people say that Christianity consists of a new set of rules to obey. In line with Scripture we Lutherans magnify the gospel. The gospel in its narrow sense is not at all about laws, rules and regulations. The gospel is about God’s gracious salvation to mankind in the saving life and works of Jesus Christ. Yet in John 14 Jesus apparently layers one law upon another, making it appear that this is what the faith is about. In verse 15 He first states a law in the protasis of His conditional sentence: “If you love me.” Loving Jesus; that’s something we do; that’s law. In the apodosis Jesus concludes: “…you will keep my commandments.” To keep commandments is undeniably a law concept. We thus observe law layered upon law.
In Jesus conditional statement, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” He emphasizes our love of Him. In verse 21 Jesus echoes the importance of loving Him: “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.” Again in verse 23 Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my Word.” In the next verse Jesus sets forth the negative counterpart: “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words…” As a final example within our text the Lord Jesus asserts, “If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father…” Throughout the Gospel of John love towards Jesus is magnified. Indeed we must love Jesus, but this is not the foundation of the Christian faith. So how do we resolve this seeming emphasis of law over gospel?
Loving Jesus is not what gives us salvation, nor is loving Him a condition by which we obtain His favor; rather loving Jesus is the result of being saved, it is the result of Him loving us. Thus the gospel-writer explains in his first epistle: In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (4:10). God’s love to us is recognized in the Father sending His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. This atoning payment (propitiation) for sins is observed at the cross, for there we see God’s love for mankind shining with unfiltered rays. The cross is where love finds its ultimate expression, its power and its source. We do not really know love by anything we do or accomplish, but, as St. John also writes,… by this we know love, that he laid down his life for us (1 Jn 3:16). Then in verse 19 the Apostle was inspired to wonderfully summarize: We love because he first loved us. We thus extend love to both God and our neighbor because He first loved us.
The chain of events then begins with God loving us, love flowing uniquely from the cross. Then, empowered through the Word of the cross, we love Jesus. Upon loving Jesus we then, as He states in our text, keep His commandments. Although He may be speaking of keeping the Ten Commandments, it seems apparent that Jesus is referencing His unique commandments. The Lord Jesus would give gospel-related commandments, such as “Continue in my word,” and “Do this in remembrance of me,” and “Make disciples of all nations.” However, unique among His commandments is the one He gave on that night in the upper room. Shortly before He declared, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” Jesus gave a primary new commandment: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another (13:34).” What makes this a new commandment? God had already commanded love of our neighbor in the Old Testament. Now such love of our neighbor is a new commandment inasmuch as its meaning and power flow from the cross. If we love Jesus we will love our neighbor, for loving our neighbor is not only primary in His commandments, but it is actually one of the ways that we love Him: “…inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me (1 Jn 4:20,21).” Indeed in Jesus we have love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be (LSB 430, 1).