What’s does Christian spirituality look like, in a nutshell? Jesus said:
“If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15 NKJV ).
Each of those words gives us an important insight.
Wait, “If”? Shouldn’t He have said “When”? “When you love Me”? Isn’t loving Jesus inevitable?
Many churches teach it is. They say every truly born-again person is guaranteed to grow to spiritual maturity. You might slip up occasionally, but not regularly, and never for long periods of time. So if you’re not consistently growing, they teach you should doubt your salvation.
Jesus didn’t assume these born-again disciples would love Him. He doesn’t assume you will, either. By saying “If,” He showed there was no guarantee the disciples would live as they ought to live. While their eternal destiny was guaranteed, their spiritual growth was not. And neither is yours.
“If you love.”
What is the central motivation for Christian living?
What was the central motivation in your tradition?
In some religions, the central motivation is fear: “Don’t do that or you’ll burn in hell!” Others motivate their people through guilt: “Shame on you!” Some religions focus on the search for knowledge, others on the search for happiness, or pleasure, or power. Any of that sound familiar? Is that the kind of spirituality you were taught?
By contrast, for Jesus, the central motivation is love.
If believing is the one condition to be born again, then loving is the great condition to live out that born-again life.
“If you love Me.”
If you browse the bestsellers on Christian living you will find a lot of practical advice. They tell you how to pray, what to pray, and when to pray. They give you lists of meetings and classes to attend and shame you when you don’t. They challenge you to knock on a certain number of doors or witness to a certain number of people every week. And, of course, there is all the tithing and giving and financial guitl-tripping. In this kind of teaching, the focus of Christian living is your behavior and all the things you are supposed to do. In other words, the focus isn’t Christ-centered, but self-centered. It’s on a performance, not on a Person.
But Jesus didn’t put the focus on your behavior but on Himself. “If you love Me.” Me! Jesus is the focus of the Christian life. Or should be. As long as your eyes are focused on something else, something you have to do, you will miss it. How are we transformed? Paul said it: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor 3;18).
“If you love Me, keep My commandments.”
Only after identifying the great motivation and focus of Christian living does Jesus mention the commandments.
Can you guess why?
What are Jesus’ commandments? If you had to summarize them in one word, what would it be?
Jesus’ commands are to love God and love your neighbor. And who are you loving when you love either? Jesus!
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:40 NIV).
In other words, the key to Christian living comes full circle. It begins with loving Jesus, and ends with loving Jesus. To paraphrase the Lord, “If you love Me, love Me!”