The Love of God and Your Behavior John 15:10 - Is access to His love contingent upon your obedience?

John 15:10 - the love of God and your behavior

The Love of God and Your Behavior

Many believers have been taught that the love of God toward them is conditional upon their behavior. Mix in psychological issues of shame, guilt, and unworthiness, the combination becomes a debilitating paralysis that can lead to despair, depression, and even suicide. Jesus’s words in John 15:10 are often used as a proof text by preachers to propagate this point of view. Let’s look at John 15:10 closely, paying attention to three important considerations: context, grammar, and culture. I will be covering some basic Greek, but I will try to keep it non-technical.

Context

Proof-texting (pulling a verse out of context and applying it erroneously) is a curse in the body of Christ. It is done by the ignorant well meaning as well as the agendized malicious–all the time. The context of John 15:10 is critical. John 15:9 is the lead-in, the set-up for John 15:10. It is the foundation upon which 15:10 stands.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.

The Greek tense is a simple fact of reality. There are no time qualifiers, no behavioral qualifiers, no conditions, and no commands. The Father loves Jesus. You and I are loved in the same degree and way. Period.

If could put a sign up that says: “Halt, bridge out ahead if you do not understand this,” I would!

Verse 10 should never be quoted without the foundation of verse 9. John 15:10 is predicated on verse 9. Verse 10, at first glance, seems to contradict the simple fact of being in God’s love. It seems conditional.

If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.

What is this saying? That if I do not keep Father’s commands I am outside of His love? How can that be? His love found me when I was 100% outside of His commands. What hope do I have if access to His love is dependent on my obedience? Was the Father’s love toward Christ conditioned on Christ’s obedience? Hold on. Let’s unpack some grammar.

Grammar

It is unfortunate that in English there is only one word for “if” and it always connotes uncertainty or conditionality. In Greek there are two words and five different possible meanings! What a huge difference a small word can make! Here are the different possibilities for “if” in Greek:

  1. If – and it is true
  2. If – and I recognize it is NOT true
  3. If – maybe you will, maybe you won’t, but you probably will
  4. If it is true, I wish it were, but it is not, you probably won’t
  5. The “debaters if” – I assume this is true so I can then prove it is false.

In John 15:10 Jesus is using #3 above. He is expressing the reality that unlike Himself (He always obeys) we may not. However, He is stating it favorably toward us, not in an indicting way of: “You better or else!” He is encouraging: “It’s likely you will obey, but you may not.” He is a realist, but an optimist where we are concerned! This makes a big difference!

Verb Tenses

Greek is a far more precise language regarding action in time than English. Greek verb tenses are often critical to understanding. Below is an expanded rendering of John 15:10, paying attention to the Greek verb tenses:

In the future you may or may not keep my directives, but I think you will. Anytime that you do, you will be remaining in my love, just like I have always obeyed my Father’s directives and am still obeying them now, there is no uncertainty about it in me, and I am always remaining in His love.

Abiding in love and obedience are a singular, inseparable, ongoing, present reality for our Lord. If in the future His followers obey, they will know subjectively, just like He does, that they are remaining in His love. This is about evidencing a reality (15:9), not establishing a reality or earning a reality. In effect Jesus saying: This is how I know, this is how you will know,” that John 15:9 is true in you.

This is much better than how this verse is normally taught, but there is more.

Culture

When we read the word “love” we need to think of it the way Jesus, Paul, and the apostles thought of it as Jewish Mid-easterners. In our world, we think of love solely as an individual’s emotional affection. In their world it was not so. For them it meant attachment to the group (family, clan, tribe, nation, etc.), and hate was “dis-attachment” from, or diminishment of the group.

At a simple level, think of their custom of arranged marriages. Before you are an adolescent, the family would select a spouse for you. Your feelings and will had no bearing in the matter. In our world, we love and then marry. In their world, they married and learned to love. This is almost impossible for us to get our heads around, but we must read the scriptures with this understanding.

Love for Jesus or Paul, or any one from the Mideast, meant an attachment that resulted in a increase of the status or honor of the group and the purpose of that group going forward or seeing “increase.” By joining two families through the marriage of individuals a greater group with greater assets and status was created by the union, and that is “love.”

In John 15:9 the love that we are loved with has to do with God’s own predetermination to do us good as members of the family. God’s purpose for family was going forth in Jesus (He is loved), and because of faith in Him, it is going forth in those who are His (we are loved) . . . stay in that purpose (abide in His love).

John 15:10 explains how believers will know subjectively that they are in alignment with that purpose: we keep his commandments. (A strong case can be made that the commandments–tas entolas– is not referring to Torah, but rather to the upper room new commandment of love and ethics regarding the poor, the oppressed, the widow, etc., which I cannot get into here.)

Conclusion

John 15:10 has nothing to do with God’s affective disposition toward us in an emotive sense. God does love us emotionally, in the sense of liking us personally and having affection for us. His Fatherly affection is always toward us. But in this passage it has to do with His good will in purpose. The notion that we can somehow “shut off” or “cut off” God’s love toward us by our behavior is philosophically absurd, as if an attribute of who He is can be conditioned by our behavior!

However, when we disobey we are temporarily neutralizing our participation in His “love” (goodwill in purpose) for the increase of His family in the earth. We are not “remaining” or abiding” in His love, understood the way Jesus understood it. His purpose for the increase of the honor and testimony of His Son in the earth through a family is “short-circuited” in us subjectively. The fact of His love (John 15:9) remains unchanged. The accrual of the benefit of His love in purpose in the earth (John 15:10) is diminished, because we are not remaining in it.

The flow of His love toward us does not cease because of our disobedience. We have just stepped out from under His waterfall. It is always there. Step back in. How will you know you are back in? The same way Jesus did: “I remain in compliance with His commandments, and I remain in his love. Go and do the same!” It’s a package deal.

Obedience doesn’t qualify me for God’s love. It proves I am in it. It is a root and fruit issue. In the new covenant, obedience is the fruit, not the root of my new life.

I hope this has helped you.

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9 comments on “The Love of God and Your Behavior John 15:10 - Is access to His love contingent upon your obedience?

    • Hi Katie, to me, a completely different topic. Even if my prayers are “hindered” because of by jerky behavior toward my wife, that does not cut me off from the love of God. Having access to the love of God is the power that enables transformed behavior. So if I am a jerky husband, I would be a jerky husband without any hope if cut off from the flow of god’s love.

  1. Here, here! I was raised Roman Catholic which took its toll on me even after I was saved at 30yrs. While I taught your position on this, albeit not with the same depth of understanding, I always struggled with the ingrained propensity to earn God’s favor in my everyday experience, and suffering disfavor and a lack of acceptance when I disobeyed. Knowing this intellectually is still a far cry from experiencing this truth. It took the first ten years of my walk, even as believer in sovereign grace, to finally accept, in my experience, that God loves me unconditionally. It was only after experiencing His indefatigable love, forgiveness and acceptance year in and year out that no matter what I did He stilled loved me from the foundation of the world and that in His omniscience there wasn’t a sin I would ever commit that He did not see the day that I first knew He called me His own. Jesus loves me this I know.

  2. This is such a crucial truth for the body of Christ to understand. It is unfortunate that this verse has been used in a wrong way for so long. How important it is to not pull a scripture from it’s context and then read into it our preconceived ideas about what God is like. This verse makes so much more sense when interpreted correctly.

  3. The bottom line is that God’s love doesn’t have anything to do with us. If God’s was loving us on the basis of what we’ve done, we would have never been able to receive His unconditional love in the first place. His love for us is all about Him. God’s love is truly something that extends far beyond our disobedience. Having said that, the question is how do we draw the line with respect to our responsibility? You make an excellent point in your post by saying that we have to abide in that love. While we’re dealing with a loving God, but He’s expecting us to love Him back.

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