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June 05, 2007

“DO YOU LOVE JESUS?”

by Professor Robert J. Barth

The well-known hymn And Can It Be written by Charles Wesley has the following chorus: “Amazing love! How can it be That Thou, my God, shouldest die for me!” When you consider what Jesus did for us, the promises He has made to us, and His continuing presence with us, words cannot really describe the “love of Christ which passeth knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19). This love is beyond mere intellectual understanding and it must be spiritually perceived and believed. That is why the Apostle Paul prayed that the Ephesians might be able “to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height” of Christ’s love (Ephesians 3:18).  

What would it have been like to walk with Jesus as His disciples did?  Would we have comprehended what Jesus was doing and the love He manifested?  Probably not. Even Peter, who walked on the water with Jesus (Matthew 14:22-30), was with Jesus when He was transfigured into His glory (Matthew 17:1-13), and boldly proclaimed that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), denied Jesus three times (Matthew 26:69-75) before Jesus was crucified.

 It is interesting to note that during his time on earth after His resurrection, Jesus asked Peter three times “Lovest thou me?” (as if to nullify the three times Peter denied Jesus). Each time Peter responded with “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.” Jesus replied by giving Peter a command to “Feed my sheep” or “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15-17). Jesus was not saying to Peter, “If you feed my sheep, I will love you,” as if Peter had to do something to earn Jesus’ love. No, Jesus already proved His love for Peter, and Peter could do nothing to earn Jesus’ love and forgiveness. Instead, Jesus was asking for a response to His love. 

“Do you love me?” is a question that Jesus asks each of us who claim to be born of the Spirit of God. God’s love and the forgiveness of our sins is a free gift appropriated through faith. We cannot earn it, beg for it, or pay for it, but once we are made aware of it, we must respond to it. The response will either be passive and disappointing to the Lord (but He still loves us), or active and pleasing to the Lord. How can we show Jesus that we love Him? He told us how.

Jesus asks all who want to be His disciples to “continue in my word” (John 8:31), “abide in me” (John 15:4-7), and “keep my commandments” (John 15:10). The word “keep” means to observe, to keep before one’s eyes, or to be always thinking about. In other words, to meditate upon so that the incorruptible seed of God’s Word (I Peter 1:23) changes our hearts and bears fruit in our lives. In Christ, a believer has fulfilled the law and is empowered to return love to God by keeping (meditating upon and believing) His commands and promises. This is not to earn God’s love, favor, or forgiveness, but it is a love response to express loyalty, surrender, and appreciation to Jesus.  Consider what Jesus said: 

If ye love me, keep my commandments. (John 14:15)

He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. (John 14:21)

If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. (John 15:10) 

And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: [house upon a rock]. (Luke 6:46-48)

Again, Jesus was not saying, “If you do … I will love you.” His love is complete and proven, and available to all who believe. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). But our love for Him is perfected as we demonstrate our desire to please Him by keeping His instructions (commands) on our mind and doing them by His grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle John emphasized the importance of keeping the commands of Christ.

And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (I John 2:3-4)

And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us. (I John 3:22-24)

Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? (I John 5:1-5)

Keeping Christ promises, commands, and instruction before our eyes demonstrates that our faith is not just intellectual assent, but that it is followed by action. James tells us that faith produces works, that faith is perfected through works, and that faith without works is dead (James 2:22, 26), but works do not necessarily mean that there is faith. Apart from the love relationship with Jesus, keeping the commands of Jesus could be perceived as laws that must be obeyed to earn salvation and righteousness. We need to be careful not to misinterpret Christ’s commands as a new system of laws apart from the grace of God in Christ Jesus, which is the only means of salvation. We are not justified or saved by keeping Christ’s commands. It is because we are justified and redeemed by His grace through faith that we respond in love by keeping His commands. Believers are under grace and the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. It is a standard based upon a relationship, not a written code.    This week, study these and other Scriptures related to keeping the commands of Christ and consider whether you are motivated to do the “good works” you do out of a love response to Jesus, or are you doing them in an effort to earn God’s favor?

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About the Author

Professor Robert J. Barth
A graduate of the University of Illinois (B.S. 1976), Professor Robert J. Barth received his Juris Doctor from Southern Illinois University School of Law in 1979. He received his Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Regent University in 1986. From 1986 to 1995, Professor Barth was associated with Regent University School of Law in several capacities, including assistant dean for academic and student affairs, and editor of the Journal of Christian Jurisprudence. He has written several articles, and as the director for academic programs, he has authored Oak Brook College’s book, Renewing Your Mind as You Study Law.

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