This week’s sermon was preached by one of our Pastoral Apprentices, Sam Knox.
“Love Constrained to Obedience.”
(William Cowper) Cooper
No strength of nature can suffice
To serve the Lord aright:
And what she has she misapplies,
For want of clearer light.
How long beneath the law I lay
In bondage and distress;
I toll’d the precept to obey,
But toil’d without success.
Then, to abstain from outward sin
Was more than I could do;
Now, if I feel its power within,
I feel I hate it too.
Then all my servile works were done
A righteousness to raise;
Now, freely chosen in the Son,
I freely choose His ways.
“What shall I do,” was then the word,
“That I may worthier grow?”
“What shall I render to the Lord?”
Is my inquiry now.
To see the law by Christ fulfilled
And hear His pardoning voice,
Changes a slave into a child,
And duty into choice.
In this great hymn Cowper shows us wonderful truths. That salvation is accomplished through faith alone, by the work of Christ himself. In The lyrics we see what it means to be sanctified. To Cowper becoming more like Christ was only a work of the Spirit to change our perspective. The Spirit helps us “see” our depravity as great, and profound. The Spirit points us to “see” the fulfillment of all things in Christ. And by “see” he doesn’t simply mean, “to understand.” He means also to “feel.” We cannot move toward the salve of the atonement until we feel in our flesh the futility and despair of self-effort. When all our attempts at goodness fail, we see the law fulfilled, and we feel the warmth of His pardoning voice!
What great words to say; “now freely chosen in the Son, I freely choose His ways.” When we know God’s grace in the finished work of Christ, our wills are renewed and our hearts begin (if slowly at times) to choose freely the ways of God – obedience. O to obey as a happy child and to flee the drudgery of slave-obedience as if God could ever owe us!
Today we continue in the portion called the Upper Room Discourse in which the Lord is instructing the disciples in the light of his soon departure from them. The disciples were troubled and afraid. The reason was that Jesus said he was going away and they couldn’t imagine life without him. Even though Jesus said in verse 3 that he would come back for them, the promise of his comforting presence seemed “out there” in the future. They were distressed by what they thought would be an absence of his presence—a gap between that moment and whenever he returned. But Jesus promised that wouldn’t be the case. The Great shepherd pastored his flock and he spent his last moments with them preparing them and comforting them. All three Persons of the Trinity would be present to comfort them here and now.
So we pick up were Adam left us last Sunday. Verse fifteen provides the transition between the promises of answered prayer, which Jesus makes to his disciples in verses 13-14, and the promise of the Holy Spirit, which is introduced in verse 16. Obedience is the proof of genuine love.
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
The main point I am to get across is the love for Christ is evident in life through obedience and by faith in the Holy Spirit. So living for Christ is through love and through obedience. I have outlined it as:
- Live For Christ (v15)
- Through love
- Through obedience
- Live by the Spirit (16-17)
- Gifted by the Father (through Christ)
- Gifted to His Children
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
In John 14, our Lord reminds us that it is those who love Him and obey His commandments, and He reminds us once in verse 15, a second time in verse 21, and again in verse 23, and then reversed in verse 24.
Our hearts need to burn with that Jesus entirely deserves our love. He is infinitely worthy of being loved. He is perfectly lovely. He is loved not in spite of what he is, but because of all that he is. We fail to obey Jesus’s word and truly love him if we feel that it is a moral obligation to do so or that we need to earn his favor. Love is obeying his challenging commands for they “are not burdensome.” We obey him even in hard times joyfully and willingly. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:1-5)
In the Greek, the second half of the verse is not an imperative, it is a future tense verb, indicating what will happen, not what must happen: “If you love me, then you will keep my commandments.” That is, loving Jesus will result in keeping his commandments. He’s not issuing a command in verse fifteen; he’s introducing a principle. Those who love him also obey him. If you do the one, which is “love” him, you’ll do the other and “obey” him. Through love we obey him.
The reason that love precedes obedience is out of love comes obedience. Let me describe it as an analogy. From the spring of love flows the river of obedience. Love is the root. Obedience is the fruit. The fruit of obedience grows from the root of love. So the certain consequence of loving Jesus is that you will obey him. Obeying him is the result of loving him. As Spurgeon points out “Some persons think that if they love Jesus, they must enter a convent, retire to a cell, dress themselves queerly, or shave their heads. It has been the thought of some men, ‘If we love Christ we must strip ourselves of everything we possess, put on sackcloth, tie ropes round our waists, and pine in the desert.’ Others have thought it wise to make light of themselves by oddity of dress and behavior. The Savior does not say anything of the kind; but, ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments.’” (Spurgeon)
See Love is measured by our obedience to him. We need God’s presence and power to keep His commandments. God the Son promised to pray to God the Father and ask for the giving of God the Holy Spirit to the believer to accomplish this. Church love is measured by our obedience to him. When we treasure him above all others, desire him, long for him, enjoy him, and to be satisfied in all that he is.
Notice that Jesus says, “My commandments.”
The Christian life is characterized by obedience. Not perfect obedience, but by obedience. The Bible says that those who truly believe in Christ will keep his commandments, and also they will not live a life characterized by sin. You and I may sin and disobey but it should not characterize our life. Peter disobeyed, and he wept bitterly, that was evidence that his nature was different. Judas betrayed Jesus for money. There is a great difference between people who truly have come to know Christ and have his nature, and others who don’t.
Where there is love for Christ, there will be obedience to Christ. John echoes Jesus’ words in 1 John 5:3: “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” That is, the proof of our love for God is that we keep his commandments because obedience comes from love for God. R.C. Sproul clarifies in his commentary on John that, “The Reformers held to this view, and that is why they believed that while justification is not based on our works, true justification always generates a response to obedience. Sanctification always and ever flows automatically and necessarily out of justification.”
Beloved Orthodoxy without orthopraxy is not enough. The practice of our faith is important. We can see Jesus making this point in his Sermon on the Mount. Jesus near the beginning of his sermon says: “…whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19) Then, at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus comes back to this very issue of the practice of faith. He tells the parable about the wise and foolish builders who built on sand and rock. Do you recall how the man who built on rock is described? We hear Jesus saying: “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” The Sermon on the Mount is framed within Jesus concern that his followers practice their faith – practice the word and will of the Lord. And, that will not happen without the help from the Holy Spirit.
The unity of the Godhead demands that God’s commandments are equally Jesus’ commandments. Love and obedience are bound together in the Godhead.
The reason that Jesus commands obedience from His disciples is based upon the love of the Son for the Father and the love of the Father for the Son and the Son’s submission to the will of the Father. We can obey rightly if we live by the Spirit.
- Live by the Spirit (16-17)
- Gifted by the Father (through Christ)
- Gifted to His Children
16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
- Gifted by the Father (through Christ)
Those who believe in Jesus will keep his commands because Jesus will ask the Father, on their behalf to give them a “helper” who will be with them “forever.” A glorious truth that can be gleaned on is how the Trinity is fully clear in the verse: The “I,” is the Son; notice “the Father,” and “the Helper,” who is the Spirit. “I will ask the Father. He will give you another Helper, another Comforter, that He may be with your forever.” It is a Trinitarian work.
The helper who is a paraclete which would sound better if I could pronounce it in a deep Scottish accent. In the Greek “Parakletos”—“para” means “alongside of”, and “kletos” which means “called”. The term paraklatos referred to as an advocate or a defense attorney in a court. John later will emphasize this legal function of the Paraclete in John 16:7-11, but here in our verse John emphasizes that it is the coming of “another” Helper who will remain with the disciples to comfort them after Jesus departs from them to return to the Father. The “Another” in the verse means they currently have a paraclete. It means another of the same kind. Jesus is the first advocate as John writes in his first letter “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1)
The Paraclete will advance the work Jesus has been doing, because he is the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is described by Jesus as “one who is called alongside of”. Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as another paraclete the implication being that Jesus is also a paraclete. However, as a paraclete, Jesus is limited by the Incarnation—by time and space. He can be in only one place at a time, and can help only a limited number of people in any given time. Moreover, he is moving toward his glorification, his death, resurrection, and ascension so he will be leaving the disciples. The new paraclete will be with all disciples everywhere and will be with them forever. In short the Holy Spirit is the divine person who takes place of the divine person who leaves.
I recall almost six months ago Aaron and I got to experience a flight simulator. We were privileged to take part in such an adventure. We both sat side by side in the cockpit of the plan and behind us we had our trusty instructor guide us through our whole experience. My expertise in flight is solely based on the movie Top Gun and video games. With danger zone playing in my head, Maverick and Goose I mean Aaron and I started to take off with our plane following the instructions of our fearless leader. When it came to Aarons turn he had no issue getting the plan off of the ground but when it meant keeping the plane at a safe and steady altitude he needed help. The moment I see us nose-diving down and I heard low altitude and terrain, terrain. Pull up pull up and alarms going off. I knew that I needed to come alongside and help by taking over the yoke on my side of the plane. I remember Aaron laughing as this is happening and it’s the type of laugh that if you know him you would recognize. It’s that same laugh that he always does if Jaymes Cruz is the brunt end of a Joke. The point is he needed a helper. He needed someone to come alongside and help.
Let me illustrate in another way. Church do you remember the time when you first learned how to ride your bike. Your parents were always there by your side and when you fell they picked you up and comforted you and helped you back up and gave you encouragement. The Spirit is not only our advocate but also our great comforter. Gifted by the Father through Christ. The Holy Spirit is not a thing that is being given and not a force, but rather another divine personality that is being sent. He knows the disciples intimately for he will identify with them in their distress and comfort them. For he has a will, and he will carry out and enable the disciples to do the great commission.
As Horatius Bonar poetically writes, “Two comforters instead of one; the outward and visible presence gone, but the inward and invisible presence doubled; and thus double blessing double consolation, double strength. Surely the “love of Christ” and “the love of the Spirit” will prove sufficient for our joy, as the power of Christ and the power of the Spirit are enough for our help”
Beloved Jesus had lived alongside of His disciples throughout His public ministry. He had been there for them in each and every situation that they had faced. He was there for them in the good times and in the bad times. He was always there for them, extending to them not necessarily what they wanted but certainly what they needed. And Jesus is now assuring them that even though He would not be there for them physically in the future as He had been there for them in the past, another helper was going to be there for them by His Father who would be able not only to encourage them, to strengthen them, to guide them, but most importantly to teach them so that they would know the mind and will of Christ.
Jesus does not give the disciples a recipe or a formula of things they can do to perform these greater works or so that they might have a victorious prayer life. Rather, in verse 16 he tells them of a person–the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity. Yet, even though the work of the Paraclete is already a reality for the disciples, the Spirit’s work remains mysterious to them, and will remain so, until Jesus reveals to them more about the work of the Spirit. He will empower the disciples to do these greater works, and to pray according to the will of God so that their prayers are answered as Jesus has promised, Jesus reveals to them the one through whom all of these things will come to pass. The Christian life is participation with God through Christ and in the Spirit, the Paraclete who guides the believer as the indwelling and eternal presence of God.
- Gifted to His Children
“even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
“He is the Spirit of truth.” because God is truth. Remember Jesus said earlier in the chapter, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He is saying the Holy Spirit will be what I was to you; and I am the truth, and He is the truth; and everything He tells you will be the truth. “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
Notice, God the Holy Spirit is sent only to believers, not to the world. Non-believers do not have the Holy Spirit living in them; He only inhabits believers. Notice that the Holy Spirit is referred to with a personal pronoun. He The Holy Spirit is a person and not merely an influence. The Holy Spirit never leads us contrary to the truth of God. And God the Holy Spirit is not just a feeling. The Holy Spirit never does anything contrary to the word of God. All of his actions are attached to the word of God.
He is gifted to his Children and not to the world as Paul says in Romans 8 “5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus[ d]from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
The text lays out the reality that our Lord promised Trinitarian presence to His disciples and through out scripture we can see this truth: that, you are “God’s temple” that we “abide in Christ”, and “the Holy Spirit dwells in you”, all at the same time. The Holy Spirit comes to make a place for the Father at our side so that we might become the temples of the Holy Spirit. “so that we might become a dwelling place in which God lives by His Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:22) He is not the Spirit of Jesus as though He were not distinct from Jesus, He is not our spirit made right, but He is a Person of the Godhead, just as Jesus, the Son, is, and just as God the Father is. We find in Holy Scripture, Three Persons – equal, yet distinct, who are the One God. This is a great foretaste of what Adam will expand on more in the coming Sundays.
You see beloved. After Christ’s departure they would not only have Jesus in the heavenly sphere from His seated position at the right hand of God who “always lives to make intercession for them” according to Hebrews 7:25, but they would also have the Holy Spirit right alongside of them, the third person of the Godhead. The word “abide” or “dwell” has to do with deep, ongoing relationships. Jesus has been their Paraclete, Helper, and Friend thus far, but the Holy Spirit will replace Jesus as an interior presence, always with them, to guide and instruct them. There is no more distance as Spurgeon says “Between Christ on earth and his disciples what a distance there was! In his condescension he came very near to them; but yet you always perceive a gulf between the wise Master and the foolish disciples. Now the Holy Ghost annihilates that distance by dwelling in us.” (Spurgeon)
In Luke 11:13, Jesus says: “If you then who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” The Heidelberg Catechism says: “pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking God for them”. (Q/A 116) A different translation says with a “heart felt longing.” When is the last time you begged God for his grace and Holy Spirit to better understand his Word? When you and I see, it is through our begging that God begins to realize that we are really serious about wanting to know and do His word. Living a life serious about following and obeying Jesus’s commands. Without this empowerment we will not be in any shape or state to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
Our love for Christ is evident in life through obedience and by faith in the Holy Spirit. We live for Christ through love and through obedience. In the words of John Piper “In short, loving Jesus is not a matter of doing excellent things. It’s a matter of delighting in an excellent Savior. Jesus says doing excellent things — keeping my word — is the result of delighting in the excellent Savior. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word.”
Jesus later on says in 14 “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world will know that I love the Father.” He willing out of the Obedience to the Father, and to show that He loved the Father. Went willing to the cross knowing that the full cup of the Fathers wrath would be poured out on him and On Skull Hill, He entered the innermost darkness when He cried out, “My God, why have You forsaken Me?” bled and died on the cross. Yet Christ’s willingness did not merely encompass his voluntary death on the cross. Rather, his entire life was an offering and one of willing obedience to God’s will. From the cradle to the grave, so to speak, Jesus acted out of love, which makes obedience acceptable to God. Therefore, his willingness was a conscious decision to fulfill not his own will, but the will of the one who sent him. Jesus gives us the example of the loving obedience he wants us to follow. Remember it is the indwelling Holy Spirit who enables us to love God who keeps the display of God’s love for us which is the cross of Christ always before our eyes, and who then creates within us the desire and the power to obey God’s commandments as the fruit of regeneration and faith. So church will you live your life by the Spirit for Christ with love and obedience.