John 15:9-11 Study Notes – Getting Joy from Obedience

Here are my study notes from yesterday morning’s lesson.  We spent some time talking about joy in life, and how big of a deal it is that in this section of Scripture Jesus reveals His desire for us to have joy.  That’s a far cry from the stoic detached God we hear about from critics of Christianity!  I hope you enjoy these short notes, and that this week you are challenged to think especially on verse 11.

Blessings,

PJW

 

15:9-10 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.

The Awesomeness Meter…Broken

I think there are basically 6 points to verses 9-14 that need examined.  But first, I can’t move on to look at these general themes without noting something in particular about verse nine – as I was looking at this verse and the whole section I just couldn’t get over Jesus saying that He loves us (note the past tense there as if he’s always loved us) “as the Father has loved me.”

What this ought to tell us is something about the relationship between the Father and the Son, and also something about how much Jesus loves us.  I’m not sure how much it would help to prattle on here about this, because every explanation or description I think of to describe it seems to make it seem trite in comparison with what I know Jesus is describing.

Think of it this way: when God does something, He does it in a BIG way.  Not size-wise, but in terms of awesomeness.  Think of the awesomeness meter being broken!  Okay, now that the picture is in your head, realize that the intensity and depth of His love for the Son is going to match that depth and intensity that the Son has for us.  If that doesn’t blow your mind I might as well quit teaching now!

Its this kind of truth we need to lay as a foundation stone for our understanding of Christian doctrine.  Let me give you an example of why….if someone asks you if you can loose your salvation, or if Jesus is really with you in a trial, or if God is really in control of all the details of your life, or if Jesus really died specifically for you, and so on…you can answer in the affirmative because you have a foundational understanding of how much Jesus loves you.

  • Jesus doesn’t loose any sheep – He’s too powerful and loves you too much
  • Jesus doesn’t abandon you – He loves you too much
  • God the Son is in control of all things and that includes all the details in your life – He loves you too much not to be involved
  • Jesus really did die for you – because He loves you as much as the Father loves Him

I think you probably get the picture!  Paul got the picture also, and that’s why he could write the following:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

The Mark of a Christian

So the first part of verse 9 is foundational, and as we examine verses 9-14 I want to look at the mark of discipleship and what enables us to obey.  Christ is primarily here concerned to show what life in the vine looks like, and to exhort His disciples toward that life which will reflect their relationship with Him.  Just as it was the purpose of ancient Israel to be a light to nations and show forth the glories and joy of living in true relationship with God, so too is it our privilege to be a light to the world and show others what true communion with God looks like.

I want to explore these truths under six headings:

    • Disciples Obey
    • Disciples Obey Because Jesus Obeyed First
    • Disciples Obey and get Joy as a Result
    • Disciples Obey because they love Jesus
    • Disciples Love Jesus Because He First Loved Them
    • Disciples Are Called to Radical Obedience and Love

Notice that there is a sort of ascending or building house of truth here…

Disciples Obey

Jesus says that the result of being united with Him is that we will bear fruit. If you are in the vine then you will bear fruit – so what does that look like? It looks like obedience.

The mark of a true disciple of Christ – a born again believer – is that they will bear the fruit of obedience to the commands of Jesus.

That is why Jesus can confidently assert, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”  Keeping the commands results from abiding in Christ.

If you are consistently not obeying Christ’s commands, then there is good reason to wonder if you are truly saved and numbered among His sheep. It is a simple fact that those who have been converted become a new creation, and that new creation behaves in ways that are different than those who are not “in” Christ.

Of course the sanctification process is slow – painfully slow sometimes! – but we know that what God began He will be faithful to complete (Phil. 1:6).

Disciples Obey Because Jesus Obeyed First

Note now from verse 10 that Jesus isn’t asking us to do anything that He didn’t first accomplish. He is the “righteous branch” (Jer. 23:5) and is not only our example, but also paved the way for us to be capable of obedience. That’s what Jesus is saying when He says, “Just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

These are the two truths we must internalize here:

  1. Jesus obeyed first and is our example of how to live in righteousness and truth
  2. Jesus’ obedience means that even when we fail we will still be righteous in the eyes of God

Jesus was just as human as we are, tempted as we are, and yet was without sin (Heb. 4:15; 2 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5), and Jesus’ obedience has been imputed to our account (Rom. 4:22-25) in order that we might become “the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

The result of this obedience is not only the ability to obey through the power of the Holy Spirit, but the beautiful truth that when we fail (and we will) we can boldly come before the throne of grace and ask for forgiveness – with the confidence to know it will be forgiven (Hebrews 4).

Therefore, because Christ’s righteous life ransomed us from a life of sin and corruption, which would have resulted in eternal death, we give Him our lives as an offering. We serve, we teach, we follow Christ – we obey.

As Christians we now follow the example of Christ by the power of Christ.  Just as He obeyed through the power of the Spirit, so we too “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4) and obedience to His commands.

Of Christ’s submission to the Spirit Bruce Ware comments:

Although Jesus was full God, as a man he chose to rely not on his own divine nature but on the power of the Spirit. In this way, he lived his life as an example for us (1 Peter 2:21-22), and fulfilled the perfect obedience that Adam had failed to accomplish…As a man, Jesus submitted fully to the Spirit, even though in terms of rank, within the Trinity, Jesus has authority over the Spirit.

Likewise we Christians are to submit to the power of the Spirit as we follow the example of Jesus. Romans 6:17-18 describes this beautifully:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18, ESV)

15:11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Disciples Obey and get Joy as a Result

Just as Christ is our example in obedience and walking in the power of the Spirit, so too is He in receiving joy as a result.  Look at what we read in Hebrews 12:

…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2, ESV)

I think this joy is not only something we experience in heaven, but also here on earth.  There is a joy in obeying your Lord – in serving Him with all of your heart.  This is proven by our own experience, is it not?  We obey Christ’s word and someone benefits by our kindness, or our generosity and it thrills our soul!  In this way the kingdom of heaven’s benefits are made manifest in our hearts even before we see that kingdom consummated upon Christ’s return.

This is what is meant, then, by the psalmist’s exhortation, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Ps. 34:8)

Obedience to God is not drudgery it is joy, and this is so because it is done in love.  That’s why Jesus said above, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”  Love is the overarching descriptor that Jesus uses to explain the nature of His obedience to the Father and our obedience to Him.  Without love your obedience is a “clanging symbol” (1 Cor. 13:1) and is completely unprofitable.

As we’ve said previously, love for God and others is a mark of being a Christian. As was mentioned in chapter 13:

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)

Therefore all of this joy springs forth first from a heart that is loving toward others and toward God. Without this love there will be no joy. All of your “righteous” deeds will be like annoying sounds upon the ears of those whom you purport to serve.

A Last Word About This Joy…

There will be sometimes that we obey knowing that it is the right thing to do, and are empowered by God do obey, and yet we don’t experience that joy right away.  It seems like we’re doing something difficult and not something that excites us. But I can only attribute this to our sin nature.

For example, I once told Derek (Stone) that I really didn’t enjoy doing evangelism, but I would sign up to go because I knew it was the right thing to do.  Gradually, I asked for God’s help, and He changed my desires. Am I a gifted evangelist?  No! (I laugh just asking the question!) But boy o boy do I enjoy sharing the gospel when I’m given the opportunity.  What held me back from enjoying evangelism rather than just carrying out my “duty”?  My sin nature.

It is our sin nature that prevents us from being joyful all the time. It is our sin nature that brings millions of Christians to church every Sunday as if it were some perfunctory gathering and not a joyful time of worship.  It is our sin nature that mellows our worship as something mindless and heartless.  It is our sin nature when we think that showing up to church is something special when 90% of our friends are sleeping in.  It is our sin nature that cares more about the style of worship than learning out to worship properly in the first place. It is our sin nature talking after church when we nitpick about the sermon and yet haven’t lifted a finger to serve for months and months.

Don’t be fooled.  You are a sinner, and in this world you will have trouble – and much of that trouble will not be brought on by Satan (as if you’re that important), but by your own sinful self-centeredness.

You will never experience the joy of the Lord if you continue to live in the flesh instead of walking by the Spirit.  Forget yourself and your self-centered schedule and your self-centered dreams, and start reorienting your life around the Son of God. That is my prayer for you this year.

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Study Notes 9-8-13: A New Commandement

This passage of our study on John covers 13:31-35

13:31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.

First, its probably worth nothing that Jesus says, “now”, and that this seems to give us a demarcation between Judas’ presence among them, and this time afterwards when He would give His last instructions and teaching to His disciples.  It is often thought that from verse 31 onward the ‘farewell discourses’ of Christ begin since Judas has now finally left, and only His chosen ones are left.

And as we get into the meat of the text, we see that Jesus is pointing toward an impending event – one that is imminent. R.C. Sproul’s study notes point us to Pauline theology which hangs so much on the shame that Christ was about to suffer in just a few hours from now, and the contrast Sproul notes is how John sees this as an hour of shame, yes, but mostly of glory. Jesus saw His imminent death as a source for His greatest glorification. As John MacArthur writes, “His entire ministry pointed to the cross (Mark 10:45), making it the glorious climax of the life He lived perfectly in keeping with His Father’s will.”

All of this is simply hard to imagine logically. But J.C. Ryle helps frame the problematic contrast between the way we think of “glory” typically, and the way that Christ and the Father had in mind:

This was a dark and mysterious saying, and we may well believe that the eleven did not understand it. And no wonder! In all the agony of the death on the cross, in all the ignominy and humiliation which they saw afar off, or heard of next day, in hanging naked for six hours between two thieves, – in all this there was no appearance of glory! On the contrary, it was an event calculated to fill the minds of the Apostles with shame, disappointment, and dismay. And yet our lord’s saying was true.

The idea that the chosen one, the Christ of God would be glorified was not an unfamiliar one, for as Isaiah said:

And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified (Isaiah 49:3).

Yet at the same time we see Jesus use the name “Son of Man” to describe himself.  And so we see that there are two themes colliding that the Jewish audience of the day could not have seen coming together: the Christ will be a man who will bring glory to Him own name, who will usher in a glorious kingdom, but will do so by suffering in humiliation and agony. More than just a martyr, Jesus was actually accomplishing something for His people – freedom and eternal life.

In light of this, I really love Carson’s comments on the nature of Christ’s glorification:

Even in the Prologue, the glorification of the incarnate Word occurs not in a spectacular display of blinding light but in the matrix of human existence (1:14). Now, bringing to a climax a theme developed throughout this Gospel, the Evangelist makes it clear that the supreme moment of divine self-disclosure, the greatest moment of displayed glory, was in the shame of the cross. That is the primary reason why the title Son of Man is employed here.

Pastor John MacArthur says that Christ was glorified in three ways by the cross: “by satisfying the demands of God’s justice for all who would believe in Him”, by destroying “the power of sin”, and by destroying “the power of Satan, ending the reign of terror of ‘him who had the power of death.’”

The Father Receives Glory as well

But not only did Jesus receive glory from the cross, but as He says, “God is glorified in him.”  This means that the Father would also receive glory in the cross-work of Christ. I see this happening in primarily two ways: In the righteous obedience and character of Christ, and in the knowledge of what Jesus was accomplishing for those whom He loved.

You see, God’s character was put on full display as Christ showed that God was holy, faithful, and loved His people. His law had consequences, and yet He was willing to pay the price for our breaking of His law. I hear recently that it’s a habit of Christians to talk as if we need to be guilty for the death of Jesus – that He died for us, and that this deep sense of shame pervades them for their sin. Well this is only a half-correct way to think about it.  Yes we should feel shame for our sins, but Christ did what He did not out of compunction, and not out of duty.  And as Pastor Tony Romano was so keen to remind us recently, God did what He did in sending His Son not out of some cosmic law that says He has to behave this way, but because He finds pleasure in doing so.  God loves to save sinners, and when His Son hung on that tree it magnified who He is! It screams for all the world to see that God is love; and it shouts from the mountaintops that He is just and righteous and holy. For He is God, and there is none like Him.

In Sum…

We often have a difficult time at first glance with some of these ideas. For what has “glory” to do with something so painful and horrific and hanging from a tree all bloody and bruised? What God does is expand our way of thinking. He is offering us a look at Himself.  He is inviting us to behold His character, His majesty there at the cross. The cross confounds our fleshly sensibilities and offers to us another paradigm of thinking: heavenly thinking.

I imagine that for the disciples it would have been difficult to comprehend how these two concepts (glory and shame) fit together apart from the help of the Spirit (which would come later).  We live on this side of the cross, and on this side of the cross we have the privilege of the Spirit’s abiding work within us. This work of His is helping change our thinking to be more like Christ’s thinking (1 Cor. 2:16).”

The same thing eventually happened with the disciples, you know. The suspended disbelief of this group of me will soon turn to faith in action, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that would prove to be of such a deep nature that most everyone in that room would suffer and die for their Lord many years later.

13:32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once

The Logical Progression of Glorious Events

Jesus also saw that not only would the Father be glorified, and not only would He be glorified by His actions on Earth, but that soon (“at once”) He would join His Father in Heaven once again and enjoy the glory He had with Him from the beginning. And so this comment “will also glorify him in himself” is an anticipation of His glorification. Jesus trusted and knew that His death would result in ultimate victory.  Jesus was not a fatalist; He did not march to death with no hope for future life. And so we too can face physical death knowing that those chains will never hold us back from the bosom of the Father.

This statement from Jesus therefore shows us that He was looking beyond the cross toward the joy that awaited Him:

Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 ESV)

The way D.A. Carson explains it may be helpful:

Instead of focusing on the glorification of the Son of Man and the correlative glorification of the Father in the Son’s voluntary sacrifice, one may reverse the order. If God is glorified in the Son, it is no less true to say that God will glorify the Son in himself…the entire clause has much the same force as 17:5. Christ’s glorified humanity is taken up to have fellowship with the Father…in the eternal presence and essence of his heavenly Father, partly because by this event he re-enters the glory he had with the Gather before the Word became incarnate (1:14), before the world began (17:5). The entire event displays the saving sovereignty of God, God’s dawning kingdom.

13:33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’

“Little children” is a beautiful saying of Christ, and (as Ryle notes) is the only time Jesus referred to them in this way. It reminds us of our adoption into the family of Christ.  In J.I. Packer’s classic book ‘Knowing God’ he devotes an entire chapter on the subject of our adoption.  Packer says that, “Our first point about adoption is that it is the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification…Adoption is higher, because of the richer relationship with God that it involves” (pg. 206-207).

That Jesus would offer the disciples this title after just speaking of His impending cross-work seems to me a special and wonderful revelation; a small peak into the blessings to come.

13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. [35] By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Introduction

A few introductory thoughts to this important passage. First, this “new commandment” is not new in the sense that God had not called His people to love one another in the OT (Lev. 19:18), but rather that this will be a new covenant. In the OT God’s people were never able to keep the commandments. Jesus is saying that this is an entirely new paradigm, a new covenant enacted on better promises (Heb. 8:6-13).  He is going to change not simply the way (or what) we obey, but the fact that we will be able to obey, and will actually desire to obey, and that when we fail we will not need to make sacrifices for our sin – for He is our sacrifice.

Secondly, by issuing the command to love, He is anticipating the coming of the Spirit, which will enable them to actually keep the covenant – in other words, He’s making new creations that will be covenant keepers rather than covenant breakers.

Lastly, this obedience will be so radical (love for enemies etc.) that it could only come from God – it has to be supernaturally motivated. The people called by the name of Christ (“Christians”) will behave in such a way that marks them as something completely “other” (“called out” and “holy”). People will ask, “Why do these people march to their deaths, love their enemies, and speak kindness and love in the face of hate, persecution and scorn?” There will be only one answer: They are Christians.

Not “New”, Yet “New”

This “new command” is not a new “rule” but rather a new covenant, a new way that God is dealing with His children.  As far back as the time of Moses we read that the Israelites were called to “love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).” Yet even the new covenant Jesus is ushering in isn’t something that ought to be totally foreign to these disciples sitting around the room that evening with Jesus. For we read in several places that this new covenant was going to come one day – a brand new covenant with better promises, namely eternal life and righteousness earned by Christ plus sanctification worked out by the power of God’s own Spirit.

Look, for instance at what both Ezekiel and Jeremiah had to say about this great impending day:

 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. [23] And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. [24] I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. [25] I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. [26] And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. [27] And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. [28] You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:22-28)

And…

So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. [11] Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ [12] Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. [13] And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. [14] And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.” (Ezekiel 37:10-14)

And…

 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, [32] not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. [33] For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [34] And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

Covenant Keepers

This leads us to the next logical step, which is that in giving us His Spirit, and issuing a new covenant with His people, He has a goal in mind.  He will shortly break the power of death and sin by His atoning work on the cross, but He hasn’t stopped there.  God not only sent His only Son to die in our places, and to give us His own righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21 – double imputation), but He wants to have an intimate relationship with His people.  He has promised to dwell among us.  How is this going to happen?  By sending His Spirit to live within us.

The consequence of this is that He is transforming us from covenant breakers into covenant keepers. Listen to what Paul says:

You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. [3] And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.[4] Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. [5] Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, [6] who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:2-6)

Baptist scholar Stephen Wellum outlines the importance of Christ’s obedience in reconciling us to God in the context of the inauguration of this command and the New Covenant, “…this is precisely the problem: God remains faithful to his promises, but we do not. It is only if God himself provides an obedient son – his Son – that the covenant relationship will be what it was intended to be from the beginning.”

Wellum continues:

What is needed is such heart transformation tied to the forgiveness of our sin, literally being born of God’s Spirit, so that human being will fulfill the purpose of their creation, namely, obediently living in relation to their covenant Lord and to each other (KTC, pg. 629)

In the New Testament, the Spirit is presented as the agent who not only gives us life but also enables us to follow God’s decrees and keep God’s laws, thus making us covenant keepers and not breakers (KTC, pg. 648).

Previously we were unable to keep the commands of God, yet we are told by Paul that they were a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). This new command will be possible because the law will be written on our hearts (Jer. 31:33). This is the great fulfilling of the promise of a time when God would dwell within us and help us to obey. What we could not do in the flesh, God has done for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:3).

The Coming of the Spirit

It is important to understand that this commandment comes from Christ by was of introducing the rest of what He is going to say to the disciples. The remainder of His conversation (and prayer) in chapters 14-17 is saturated by the promise that when He leaves He will send the Spirit. It is only because of this promised coming of the Spirit that this command, this new covenant, can be taken with joy and not complete consternation and (if they were being honest with themselves) the anticipation of utter failure.

This “new commandment” is the great “royal law” (James 2:8) which Christ has given us, a law which we could not keep if it were not for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There is more going on here than we might realize, because as I’ve labored to show, Jesus is saying that he is going to transform us from covenant breakers to covenant keepers, with the goal that we might enter into a relationship with Him, and fulfill the reason for our creation in the first place – what was originally meant for us in the garden, and has been won for us by the work of the ‘Last Adam’, the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5).

The Mark of a Christian

Jesus’ words signal the announcement of a new covenant, a better covenant enacted on better promises (Heb. 8:6), and a people whose actions of love will set them apart as a clear distinction from all others in this world.

Now, this is why Jesus says that, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This isn’t because of our own wisdom or knowledge, but because the Holy Spirit will be so markedly making a difference in our lives that we will act differently than all other people. It is both a stunning pronouncement on the evil of humanity, and the amazing promise of God’s work within us that “love” for others will be the most pronounced indicator of our inclusion in His heavenly family.

Scripture tells us that God’s people are a holy nation, not geographically, but spiritually (Gal. 6:16). We are a called people, called out of the world (ekklesia), called to be holy, live a holy life (1 Peter 1:15, 2 Tim. 1:19), and called to love each other (Matt. 22:38-40). This love is a sign of the working of the Spirit.

This is what Frances Schaeffer called ‘The Mark of a Christian’ (Sproul & MacArthur both cite Schaeffer in this way) and it is not simply an emotional reaction to His goodness, it is much more. It is an outpouring of His Spirit’s work within us. It controls us. It motivates us to action. And it is these actions that justify outwardly our identification as His children. As John Stott says, “Christian love is not the victim of our emotions but the servant of our will.”  And this “will” has been changed by Him from a will bent on sin and resulting in death, to a will inclined toward the things of God.

One need only look to church history to know that the love which Christ has given His children has driven them to do and say things they never would have otherwise. Peter, the blustering big-talking fisherman became a man who could speak before councils and kings.  He was transformed from a cowardly traitor into a bold proclaimer of the Gospel, and eventual martyr.

Only a supernatural kind of love could possibly affect this kind of change – church history is littered with case after case of this testimony. From Peter and Paul and James, to Ignatius, Polycarp and Justin. Time after time men and women gladly marched to death rather than surrender their affiliation and love for Jesus.

Lastly, but certainly not “least”, it is worth noting that if we are truly filled with the Spirit, we will know we’re never going to be lost. He will preserve us until His return, or our death. What a wonderful assurance! If we are filled with His Spirit, then surely He has adopted us into His family and ushered us into His kingdom.

John tells us in his first epistle, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14 – also 1 John 2:29, and 3:7 tell us this truth).  This love is a result of the Spirit’s work within us, and the Spirit is given to us when we are born again (John 3).

And as Wellum remarks, “In this age, Christ sends the Spirit to all believers and the Spirit becomes the previous seal, down payment, and guarantee of the promised inheritance of the last day.”  The indwelling presence of the Spirit the guarantee of our inheritance (Eph. 1:14; 2 Cor. 5:5), and the proof that one day Christ will come back and consummate the kingdom He inaugurated 2000 years ago.

Study Notes 6-30-13: Death to the World and Joy in Christ

John 12:24-25

These four verses are packed with rich practical and theological truth, and I hope you get as much enjoyment from them as I did.

12:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

The Necessity of Christ’s Death

It is a sign of His condescension and His gracious self-revelation, that in the mystery of His plans, and the complexity of the moment Christ gives an agrarian example in explaining the necessity of His death. He gives us the “why” in anticipation of our asking the question. He foresees the ultimate triumph, and yet knows our own weaknesses and frailty of mind and graciously shares His mind with us. The example of the seed that dies in the earth and yields fruit is most certainly referring to Christ’s atoning death – a death that yielded life for many.

Jesus knew that in order for His people to be saved, they would need a perfect sacrifice. For without the shedding of blood, there can be no remission for sins (Heb. 9:22), and because we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23), we were under the sentence of death for those sins. We needed a sacrifice – a perfect sacrifice that would cover all of our sins for all time – one of infinite value. Christ came to be that sacrifice: To stand in our place as a substitutionary Savior. It was man who sinned and yet the sin was so great that no man could ever atone for it all. Enter Jesus, the God-man, who was perfect and sinless. He was a perfect man like Adam before Him, only He never sinned, and could therefore represent our race perfectly. Yet He was also God so that He could bear the weight of the burden of sin of millions upon millions of Christians – not simply those who were alive during the time of Jesus, but those who would later believe on His name (John 17): Jesus new that His death would produce life for millions upon millions of his chosen people.

Caiaphas accidentally states this fact at the end of chapters 11, “it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should parish.” John further expanded the reach of the prophecy in 11:52 when he states in an editorial fashion, “not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”

That one representative should be able to act on behalf of an entire people is deeply rooted in the federalism of Scripture, and the role of kingship. A king would act as the voice for his people. The original regent of God’s creation was Adam, and because he failed to obey God’s rules, his actions represented the race as a whole. Similarly Christ represented His people when he lived a perfect life, and died an atoning death for us on the cross, and then subsequently triumphed over death for us so that we might forever live with Him – not based on our own work, but on His meritorious work. Paul explains the doctrine of this in Romans 5:

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:15-21)

What is amazing to look at is the choice Jesus made at this moment in history. This was a moment so charged with expectation, so politically tumultuous, so ripe for revolution that if Jesus had followed the course of this world He could have incited a military coup against the Romans and the Jewish leadership (Carson), and ruled as king of Israel. Instead, He set in motion a revolution that far outstripped the expectations of any man or woman watching Him ride into Jerusalem that day. He ushered in a kingdom of life everlasting by a death that was only temporary. He took the road – not less traveled – but never traveled. He did what no human being could do – and frankly what no human being would choose to do (Rom. 5:7).

I am thankful that at this crucial time Jesus chose to die for me, a sinner:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8 ESV)

12:25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

The Imitation of Christ

Verse 25 says that those who love their lives will lose them, and this statement is clarified more by the one that follows it which says that “whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life”, which is to say that those who value their eternal soul more than the temporal things of this earth will save their souls.

Matthew records a similar statement in his gospel narrative as well, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

But what does it mean to love or hate the world? Leon Morris explains the words well:

The verb translated “lose” often means “destroy”. John means us to understand that loving the life is a self-defeating process. It destroys the very life it seeks to retain…Jesus is saying that anyone who loves this life is destroying it right now. “Hates”, of course, is not to be taken literally, but “hating the life” is the natural antithesis of loving is. It points to the attitude that sets no store by this life in itself. People whose priorities are right have such an attitude of love for the things of God that all the interest in the affairs of this life appear by comparison as hatred.

This plainly means that while on earth we must not get wrapped up in the things of earth too deeply. I have to admit this is certainly easier said than done. First, there is the death by which we die to our sins by the power of God’s Spirit who breathes new life into us. But we can do nothing to affect this transformational reality of the new birth – that is the work of God. However, once born again, we must lay aside every hindrance and press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). We must put to death those things that so easily entangle us.

This is what the author of Hebrews exhorts us to do:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (Heb. 12:1)

This is also the antithesis of the thinking of this world. The world focuses on ‘Your Best Life Now’, saving for retirement, getting your kids into the best schools, and making sure you have the biggest house your budget can afford. I’m not saying that all of these things are a bad thing in and of themselves, but that more often than not we assign an energy level toward obtaining the temporal that we refuse to assign to working for what lasts, for the eternal treasures that Jesus talks about in the Sermon on the Mount. And in so doing, we put off till tomorrow what we need to be doing today.

In a recent article entitled, ‘Faith and Repentance’, Sinclair Ferguson addresses the need to die to self:

Jesus’ parable of the sower is instructive here. In one type of soil, the seed sprouts quickly but dies suddenly. This represents “converts” who receive the word with joy—but with no sense of fallow ground being broken up by conviction of sin or any pain in turning from it (Mark 4:5–6, 16–17). On the other hand, a conversion that is only sorrow for sin without any joy in pardon will prove to have been only “worldly grief” that “produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10). In the end, it will come to nothing.

The principle here is simple, in order for us to faithfully follow Christ, we need to die to our selfish ambitions and seek that which is not of this world. A true convert will both die to oneself, and live to the Lord in joy. Listen to the Apostle Paul’s exhortation in his letter to the church at Colossae:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. (Colossians 3:1-6 ESV)

Here Paul shows a heavy emphasis on setting our minds on the things above, and putting to death the sinful passions of this world. The two are closely connected. There’s an old adage that says, in affect, ‘where your mind goes your feet will follow.’ Therefore let us focus on the things of heaven and of God and lay aside our infatuation with video games, movies, TV shows, hobbies and any other thing that has become a distraction from following Christ.

Some people balk at the idea that their favorite hobby is “an idol”, but let me ask you this: is it a distraction from the things of God? Do you spend more time watching movies or building model airplanes or playing video games than you do talking with your wife, or doing family worship, or spending time in the Word and in prayer? If you can answer in the affirmative, then I would urge you to cut out the worthless things, that you die to this world and its passions, and that you follow Christ.

I’m not trying to be a downer, but simply explain that the things of this life are not the supreme joy in this life. The root of our joy must be Christ, and the blessings He gives us must be seen as happy realities of His kindness toward us. But if we replace the temporary blessings with the root of those blessings, then we will fall into despondence when these things are stripped from us by evil people, natural disaster, or other uncontrollable circumstances, we will not be shaken as easily and will keep our testimony despite the difficulty.

Christ also realized the difficulty. He could have had an easier life. He had forever prior to this lived in amazing splendor – a magnificence that no king or billionaire on earth could even imagine. But He took all of this into consideration, and looked forward to a more permanent joy. We looked earlier at Hebrews 12:1, now let us look at the verse following it:

“…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV)

I know what you’re thinking, “That was Jesus! I’m not Jesus! This is easier said than done my friend!” And I would agree with you! Taking the doctrinal reality that Jesus is our joy, and realizing what that means for how we approach the more tangible reality that my house is getting small for a growing family, my car is breaks down, my neighborhood isn’t safe, and my paycheck prevents us from taking a much needed vacation, isn’t easy. This is hard work. But it’s worth it – if it was worth it for Jesus who had everything, it’s worth it for us who really have nothing very splendid at all.

These are things we all struggle with, and I struggle with particularly. Who doesn’t want a big house? Who doesn’t want a nice car? Who wouldn’t want to see their children succeed and their bank accounts full and their life less troubled by rough patches of sickness and disease. But because life is full of these things, we must grab hold of what is everlasting, and learn to have joy through both blessing and storm, or we will find ourselves shipwrecked and depressed and miss out on a life full of real tangible awesome joy – the fruit of the abundant life that Christ came to give us.