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.
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.
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:
- If – and it is true
- If – and I recognize it is NOT true
- If – maybe you will, maybe you won’t, but you probably will
- If it is true, I wish it were, but it is not, you probably won’t
- 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!
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.
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.)
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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