Those who know me well know that I'm a man who loves logic. In college, my philosophy professor had me come back and guest teach a class on logic the semester after I took his course. So, when I came across Jesus' words in John 15:10, my logic loving brain kicked in:
"If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commandments and remain in his love." (New English Translation)
There is much debate in theological circles as to whether or not someone can earn God's love. Some might think the verse above supports the position that God's love for us is based on our obedience of Him. If you look at this verse and think that Jesus' love comes through our obedience, you have fallen into a very common logic trap.
This verse presents a typical “If . . . then . . .” logical statement. These are common statements. For example, I might say to you, “If you drive north from Iowa, you will arrive in Minnesota.” My statement is very similar in its construction to Jesus’ statement in John 15:10. Both have an antecedent clause, (“If you drive north from Iowa,” and “If you obey my commandments”) and both have a consequent clause (“you will arrive in Minnesota,” and “you will remain in my love”).
(For those of you getting confused, bear with me. You will soon see why this is important.)
Now, some might look at Jesus words in John 15 and say, “You see! If we want Jesus to love us we have to obey him. Salvation is based on our works. Our relationship with God is based on us. If we don’t obey Jesus commands, He won’t love us.”
This is a logical fallacy called “denying the antecedent.” To understand why it is wrong, let’s compare this statement to my statement. “If you drive north from Iowa, you will arrive in Minnesota.” Does this then mean that if you don’t drive north from Iowa that you cannot arrive in Minnesota? Not at all.
It is entirely possible to fly north from Iowa and arrive in Minnesota. It is also entirely possible to arrive in Minnesota by driving west from Wisconsin. There are many ways to get to Minnesota. Driving north from Iowa is just one of them.
Now let’s apply this to Jesus words. Jesus is saying that if we obey his commands, we remain in His love. He is not saying that if we disobey His commands that He will stop loving us any more than I am saying that driving north from Iowa is the only way to get to Minnesota.
Thus, we cannot use this verse to support a works based salvation or even use it as a means to show that we can earn a greater portion of God’s favor by obeying Jesus. However, this is not the only mistake some might make with these verses.
Some might say, “I know that I remain in Jesus’ love. Therefore, I am automatically obeying him. All I have to do is feel God’s love and obedience comes naturally. Jesus is more interested in our feelings than our actions.”
This is the opposite argument to the first one, and it is also a logical fallacy. This mistake is known as “affirming the consequent.” This fallacy holds that if the consequent of the “If . . . than . . .” statement happens, the antecedent must have happened as well.
Applied to my statement about driving north from Iowa, it would be like saying, “I arrived in Minnesota. Therefore, I must have driven north from Iowa.”
Again, this is not necessarily the case. Perhaps you drove south from Manitoba. Perhaps you took a boat from Iowa up the Mississippi. The fact that you arrived in Minnesota in no way indicated that you must have driven north from Iowa. In fact, you can get to Minnesota without ever having been to Iowa. In the same way, the fact that Jesus loves you in no way means that you are living in obedience to Him.
There is an interesting conclusion that we can derive from Jesus’ words in John, and these words are shocking when we think about them. Let’s start with the reverse of my driving to Minnesota statement:
If you have not arrived in Minnesota, then you did not drive north from Iowa.
There are many ways to get to Minnesota. Driving north from Iowa is one of them. If you have not arrived in Minnesota then there is no way that you drove north from Iowa. Of all the possible ways to arrive in Minnesota, you used none of them, including the Iowa route.
This is called denying the consequent. If the consequent clause of an “If . . . than . . .” statement did not take place, then the antecedent clause did not take place either.
Now, let’s apply this to the reverse of Jesus’ words:
If you do not remain in Jesus love, you are not obeying His commandments.
If we take Jesus at His word, and apply the rules of logic to His statement, then there is no way that we can even obey Him without Him loving us.
Why is this important?
Because it means that if you are trying to earn Jesus’ love by obeying a set of rules, you are failing. You cannot even begin to obey His commandments until He loves you. If He loves you already, why are you trying to earn His love?
This is why I wrote this in the first place. It is vitally important that we understand this point. We need to know that it is not even possible to become a good person without Jesus’ love.
It is the work of Jesus in you that allows you to obey Him. You are helpless without Him. It was His love that caused Him to come to earth as a man, die for you, and rise again. It is a love given to you freely and without limit and it is only out of that love that you can be transformed into the person you were meant to be.
Will you accept His love for you?
Will you remain in His love?
Will you remain in His love?