This passage describes to us in unparalleled detail the life that God gives us through the Holy Spirit. It also states very clearly that the one condition required for us to live a life filled with God’s presence through the Holy Spirit is obedience to Christ’s command to love one another as he has loved us. Jesus says this positively in verses 15, 21 and 23 and negatively in verse 24.
The reason why this is the condition is contained in verse 31. We see in Jesus’ free obedience to the Father, God’s very nature revealed: God is not a monad, he is Triune. Existing in three person, God is love. The Son obeying the Father freely and fully, the Father delighting in the Son, the Holy Spirit the love that exists between them. These are mysterious things, hard to express and understand, but Scripture tells us enough so that we know when we obey Christ we are not simply obeying an arbitrary command, we are actually living in God (1 Jn 4:16), we participate in his divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4) and the Holy Spirit delights to dwell in us. This is why marriage, friendship, family-life, church relationships and our treatment of other people are singled out in Scripture as areas of supreme importance for the Christian life, these are the places where we have the clearest opportunities to obey Christ, our obedience in these areas they should be powerhouses for our Christian life.
Despite the clarity of this passage, obedience is not always recognised as the key to the life of the Spirit. For example, sometimes it is said that a focus on God’s grace is the key thing. It is true that God’s grace, As soon as you try to obey Christ you will learn your dependence on God’s grace, that is for certain, but to make grace the focus is like praying for rain before you’ve planted your field: it will lead to a fruitless life or even a sinful one! Sometimes it is taught that religious activities are the secret to the life of the Spirit: spiritual disciplines, ascetism, passion, faith, faithful church attendance, prayer, quiet times, sophisticated doctrine, communion or Bible studies. These things are important and very useful, but for what? They are means of grace by which we are enabled to obey Christ! If they aren’t aimed at that goal they are just like a vast empty temple or meaningless sacrifices. Sometimes it is suggested that the secret to the Spirit-filled life is to pursue “Spiritual things” directly, focusing on miracles, gifts of the Spirit and direct experiences of God in prayer or worship. But again this is a confusion of this very straightforward passage. God promises us the Holy Spirit through obedience, his presence might result in these amazing things, but we can’t put the cart before the horse! We have to focus on obedience to Christ’s command to love and invite the Holy Spirit’s presence that way. The danger when we stop focusing on obedience to Christ’s command is that, while we may sometimes obey him, we are in danger of breaking his command in pursuit of the idols we put in its place.
1) Do you agree? For yourself personally will you make obedience to Christ’s command to love the focus of your discipleship? For our church, do you recognise that our love for one another is the key to our spiritual direction and power?
2) If you agree, do you need to deal with any idols which you have been pursuing as the key to the Christian life?
3) Are you lukewarm about the Spirit-filled life because of distraction now or disappointments in the past? Will you renew your trust in what God clearly says in this passage and pursue fellowship with him afresh through obedience to Christ’s command to love?