If you have kids… or siblings… or have spent any amount of time with kids of any ages, one thing tends to be clear: they wear their hearts on their sleeves.
Spend five minutes with a child, ask them a handful of questions, and you’ll get a pretty clear picture of their understanding and beliefs. They believe what they believe and it impacts everything in their lives, whether they like it or not and whether they want it to or not.
Just look at a kid at Christmas time, and you’ll see this written all over their faces. Santa is such a powerful parenting tool because many children are absolutely convinced (and from some parents, continually reminded) that if they aren’t good, Santa won’t bring them any presents. But if they BEHAVE, then Santa will come with much generosity! That’s the deal. They believe it. That settles it.
The thing about most children is that they haven’t discovered the concept of believing something and having it not impact their lives.
If you’ve ever believed there’s a monster in your closet or under your bed, you remember the impact that had on your life. If you were like most kids, this terrifying reality significantly impacted your nighttime rituals. When you believe that you’re in danger from a monster that comes out at night, you tend to need to keep a light on. You have your parent (or parents) check all of the possible hiding spots for monsters before sleeping. Maybe you have a stuffed animal… or even a real animal… that stays with you as protection.
There’s really no such thing as a child who believes there’s a monster under their bed who goes around pretending like that’s not their prevailing thought every time they enter their room. That’s not a thing.
Because when a child believes something, it changes them.
The strange reality of adults is that we’ve developed this strange ability to declare belief in something but somehow have it not impact our lives.
Unlike children, we have developed the ability to believe something in our heads, but not in our hearts. It’s this kind of thinking that caused James to use extreme language when he said, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”
The reality, according to James, is that you can claim to believe whatever you want for as long as you want, but in the end, you show what you truly believe by your actions.
I think this is why Jesus talked about the need to have a child-like faith in Matthew 18. Children believe with no pretenses, even when it doesn’t seem to make any sense. They believe so entirely that they will attempt to restructure their lives around that belief.
In John 15, when Jesus is instructing his disciples about the critical way that they must stay connected to him is by abiding in his love, by remaining firmly rooted in the love that Jesus demonstrated not only on the cross but throughout his life and ministry. The defining characteristic of Jesus was his care and compassion, both for his disciples and for those who needed it the most.
So Jesus tells his followers, if you want to bear fruit, if you want to receive the nourishment that only God can give, then abide in my love, forcefully reorient your life around receiving my blessings.
But it seems like he does a quick pivot in verse 10 of John 15 when he defines what it means to abide in his love: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
Jesus even goes on to say, in verse 14: “You are my friends if you do what I command.”
This kind of seems like an odd juke when Jesus has been talking about embracing and abiding in his love. How can Jesus say that he no longer calls us servants, but friends, but then also tell us that to be his friends we have to do what he says?
That doesn’t sound very friend-like, does it?
But while to our ears, this feels a little bit strange, Jesus is really just having a DTR discussion- he’s defining the relationship and setting boundaries and expectations.
When I got married, back in 2007, there was a lot of this, really. We had to have a lot of DTR's. Not to define the overarching nature of relationships, but we had to decide what our lives would look like in this new phase. We created new boundaries. We set new expectations.
Now sure, Jennifer and I never used the WORD, but if we were to go back and codify some of the transactions that happened in those first 6-12 months, you could really argue that we gave one another commands.
It’s part of the mutual submission within of a loving relationship.
Within my abilities, I defer to her as often as I can. And within her abilities, Jennifer does the same.
Because the thing about love is that it’s not just something you feel. It’s not just something that happens in your head. It’s not just the warm, fuzzies, or date nights, or romantic getaways.
If you’ve ever been in a dysfunctional relationship, you know what it’s like to have somebody claim to love you but not show it in the way that they live their lives. Abusive relationships take this to an extreme level.
At some point, relationships that don’t have a mutual deferment, that don’t commit to loving their partner practically, and that frankly are unwilling to operate in reciprocated obedience to one other, at some point that relationship will fracture. At some point, that relationship will cease to be.
That relationship has a shelf life.
And so when Jesus says that the way to abide in his love is to keep his commands, it’s operating by the same kind of principle as any other relationship. It just so happens that one of the members of that relationship is the God of the universe, who gave up everything to pursue us.
So while he challenges us to reorient ourselves around him, to make him our true north, so to speak, he does it as part of a profound, abiding, sacrificial, never-ending love for you.
He never asks FROM us what he was not willing to do FOR us.
Read throughout Jesus’ teachings. Read the entire teach of the New Testament, for that matter, and you’ll find that the commands of Jesus pale in comparison to the promises of Jesus.
We’re so used to dysfunctional relationships that too often become one-way streets, with one member constantly giving and the other consistently taking.
But that’s now how Jesus operates.
He explicitly states his operating modus operandi, the reason behind his requirements. John 15:11, “ I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
Earlier in his Gospel, John reminds his readers of another of Jesus’ central goals, found in John 10:10: “The thief approaches with malicious intent, looking to steal, slaughter, and destroy; I came to give life with joy and abundance.”
Jesus offers a new way to live, a better way to live.
It’s quite unlike the life that the world offers. It’s nothing like what you read about in books or see in movies.
This life is not defined by its monetary victories, and it’s not measured by our popularity. It can’t be gauged in poll numbers, and it can’t be quantified in advanced analytics.
But it’s the only life worth living. And it’s the only life that follows through on its promise.
So abide in the true vine today by remaining in Christ’s love. Embrace the life that he is calling you to, not out of slavish devotion to a dogma or doctrine, but driven out of love for God, knowing that he has already given you his everything, offering his grace and mercy and compassion through his life, teaching, death, and resurrection.
Commit yourself to this life and discover the life that Jesus wants for you, the life filled with joy and abundance!