I was thinking about John 14:15 this morning. In it Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” When you read it initially, it kind of sounds a bit manipulative. Like if someone says, “If you really love me, you’ll rob that bank” or whatever. But I don’t think that’s how He means it.
Let me use an example.
One of my biggest passions is running. I absolutely love strapping on my iPod and then zoning out on the pavement for several miles. And because I love running so much, I ended up completing a marathon last May.
So from my experience, I would say, “If you love running, you will complete a marathon.”
Now I don’t mean, “If you love running, you will just show up on race day and knock out 26.2 miles like it’s nothing.” That’s impossible
What I mean is, “If you love running, you will train your body to run a marathon by running 3-5 times per week and eating healthy for six months, so you’ll be in shape to actually do it.”
Because just wanting to run a marathon isn’t enough to get you through one. If you want do something like that, you have to approach it indirectly. You can’t just say, “Oh, I want to run a marathon so I’m gonna show up and do it.” You have to approach indirectly through training and preparation to become the type of person capable of lasting 26.2 miles. And then after focusing on the process (the training) rather than the goal (the race), you are eventually able to naturally do it.
But the process isn’t easy and sometimes it’s tempting to lose sight of the goal and want to give up. For me, it was love that kept me from quitting. When it’s cold and snowy and slippery outside, you have to love it if you’re gonna walk out the front door and grind through the elements. My motivation couldn’t be shallow like just trying to lose weight or to look better in a mirror. Those motives are fine but they weren’t enough to keep me in the game during such adverse conditions. The only thing that kept me motivated every day was my love for running.
So Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” And to be honest, Jesus’ commands are not easy to do. They are quite hard actually. I mean, loving your enemies and living without anger aren’t exactly natural things to do. It would be nice, but we don’t just wake up one day and instinctively put the needs of others before our own. So how in the world do we obey Jesus’ commands?
I think it’s the same way we run marathons. We approach it indirectly. Instead of just trying our hardest to obey God’s commands in our strength, we choose to connect with God through different spiritual exercises or disciplines, such as solitude, study, prayer, service, or fasting. And in doing those things (which we can decide to do), we slowly and gradually become capable of obeying God (which we cannot always decide to do). We train ourselves through the disciplines to become like Jesus. We employ these exercises to become capable of obeying God. And we do that because we’re totally in love with God.
Many people haven’t done this though. Instead, they love God and so when they read His commands, they try their hardest to obey them but they’re not strong enough to do it. They’re basically trying to run a marathon without training. So unfortunately they get discouraged and think that they don’t love God enough or they’re not meant to obey Him or that this stuff is just a bunch of “idealistic gas” as CS Lewis said. They eventually give up or quit trying to obey God. Just chalk it all up as a loss and move on. That’s so disappointing because the reality is this:
People can change. Selfish people can become unselfish. Proud people can become humble. Addicts can become free. Liars can become honest. All of us can change. We can become capable of obeying God’s commands. Even the commands that seem most impossible now can eventually become natural and easy for us. An untrained marathon runner is set up for failure and disappointment. While a trained runner will naturally complete the race. That’s the difference between trying to obey God with or without consistent spiritual disciplines.
Unfortunately we don’t change overnight, nor do we change while lying on the couch. It takes time and effort to become Christlike people with renewed minds by “training ourselves for godliness”(1 Timothy 4:8).
And that’s a process filled with sacrifice and adversity. It’s not always easy or fun. Sometimes it’s discouraging getting through it. But our motive for participating joyfully in that journey has got to be our love for God. If we don’t love Him with all we’ve got, then all the talk about spiritual disciplines and soul training will eventually just feel like work. But if we do love Him, we’ll do whatever it takes to obey Him. Even if that means enduring a spiritual training program to get us in shape to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).
May our love for God be so strong that it motivates us to do whatever it takes to learn how to obey Him.