John 15:17-20 Citizenship Defines Battle Lines

Here are my notes on John 15:17-20.  The main thrust of this passage is a call to place our hearts in heaven, and to treat others in a way that reflects our priorities and heavenly citizenship.  Enjoy!

PJW

15:17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

In verse 17 Jesus caps off what some have referred to as “the Magna Carta of love.” He ends this section by once again reminding them of the new commandment – which is tied in with everything He has been saying about bearing fruit.

If we look back just a few chapters, we’ll remember that the first time Jesus spoke of this new command, it went like this:

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.” (John 13:34-35)

The principle aim of the new command is to conform the hearts of the disciples to match His own. Jesus is not interested in working from the outside in. He does not impose a moral law in order to show us our sinfulness and our need for Him, as with the Mosaic code. Rather He aims at the heart – to transform the very motives at the root of our actions in order to bring the Father glory.

The Spirit now dwells within us to help us do the impossible – love one another as Christ loved us.

15:18-20 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.

The Battle Lines Have Already Been Drawn

Now that Jesus has told us what we are to do (obey His command to love one another thus bearing fruit), and how we are to do it (abiding in Him by the power of the Holy Spirit), He tells us what the result will be.  Sure, He’s already addressed the result within us (we’ll “bear much fruit”), but now He warns us that the world’s reaction will not be so sweet.

In all of this, He reminds them that the persecution isn’t happening because of a bad decision they made – they didn’t take the wrong path.  Instead He says that “I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

Jesus has chosen us to a life of persecution and hatred by the world.  The world will hate us, the world will persecute us, and the world will kill us.

The reason for this is that Jesus has been hated, persecuted, and we are now “in” Christ.  The benefit of being “in the vine” has been extensively looked at above, but now there are consequences.  MacArthur puts it this way, “The privileges that characterize the friends of Jesus Christ carry with them corresponding responsibilities.”  I hope you affirm with me that the consequences are far outweighed by the benefits of being “in” Christ.

It struck me that this is all part of a much larger picture. Remember, you have now become the spiritual seed of the last Adam (Gal. 3:29) which will defeat the seed of the Devil (Gen. 3:15b). For the seed of the woman is at enmity with the seed of Satan. The battle lines have been drawn, and since the fall the seed of Satan has always tried to kill the seed of the woman. Nevermore has the Devil smarted than when Jesus put him to open shame on the cross (Colossians 2:15).  That victory is but a foretaste of the victory He will one day usher in.

Doug Kelly puts it this way:

All the wars and struggles of this world history, and our little part in it, go back to the Holy enmity, the Holy War, between the seed of this first woman, and the seed of the evil one. The Bible is basically an unfolding of the map of this conflict.

This battle is vividly described in Revelation 12 where we read of the woman clothed with the sun who is pregnant and fleeing from the dragon.  Eventually her child would rule the world with a “rod of iron”, and this is certainly the case.  We know that Jesus reigns over all powers both seen and unseen.

Citizenship Defines Battle Lines

Lastly, all of this has to do with the fact that we are now no longer a part of the world, and so you aren’t going to be fighting for the world’s causes or interests anymore. It is an interesting perspective to meditate upon, is it not? You simply cannot go back across enemy lines.  You can’t be plugged back into the Matrix!  Once you’ve been born again, you can’t be “unborn” again spiritually. You are now in the camp of the Lord of Hosts.

Therefore, you must not desire to defect and once again live for the pleasures of the world as though you are not Christ’s. You must understand that you have been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20) and you are not your own.  Neither do you belong anymore to this world – you are citizens of heaven. Consider the following passages:

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, (Philippians 3:20)

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:14)

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)

Therefore we are no longer part of this world and need to stop acting as though we love it so much.  I preach to myself as much as to any other.  For I am like you – always fighting the love of the world for something that it much higher, and much better. We will face persecution, we will face trials – not to mention the battles of our own flesh!  But in all these things let us remember that we are “in Christ” and that is the safest place to be!

As Doug Kelly says (during a discussion on Revelation 12):

The only hope of ultimate security and victory for us as individuals is to identify by faith with the ascended one, the seed of the woman, who sits on that throne and is ever gracious to receive us, to forgive us, to love us and the keep us.

Do Not Love Your Enemy?

The implication of the world hating us is that we are in a battle that places us squarely in the camp of those opposed to the world’s desires.  Our desires are for the Lord and not for all that the world has to offer. There is a balance between love of His creation and a love for the things of this world that trumps all else.

Elsewhere Jesus calls us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44), but here we learn that another kind of enemy – an enemy which we are called not to love in a manner of speaking. Perhaps a more accurate way of speaking is that we are not to love the world more than we love Christ – for Jesus loves His creation, and His creatures (John 3:16), and we are called to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31).  But what Jesus is saying here is different.  He is calling us not to love the world more than we love Him.  We are not to idolize the world and treasure it above Christ.

Think of Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Jesus later had to warn the church at Ephesus that they had lost their “first love” (Rev. 2:4) and I think it was because a love of the world had crept in and supplanted their love for Christ.  This is what He said:

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Revelation 2:2-5)

Lastly, John makes this same truth abundantly clear in his first epistle:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

Jesus has called us to place Him first in our lives and to cultivate a love for Him.  From this flow a love for others who are in the world, though it is opposed to a love for the world that supplants or supersedes a love for Christ.

John 15:16 Study Notes: Purpose in Life

Below are my notes from this past Sunday morning.  We examined John 15:16 and the purpose of a Christian life.  The very fact that we have a purpose is simply stunning – the fact that we know what that purpose is can be very comforting.

Enjoy!

PJW

15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

The Mission and Purpose of Christian Disciples

Jesus is reiterating some things that he’s been telling the disciples over the course of his ministry and their discussion in the upper room, and here he says that they are appointed to bear fruit, and that their fruit will abide – that it will last – and “so” whatever the disciples of Jesus ask for in the name of Jesus the Father will surely give to them.

One of the great comforts of the Christian life is to have a mission – a reason to live, and a sense for the meaning of life. The mission of a Christian is to “bear fruit”, and that fruit is good works (as we have seen earlier).  These good works are not from our flesh – that is, they are not works that we do on our own or in our own power – but they are in the Spirit.  They are the “fruit of the Spirit” so to speak.

As a young man matriculating to a secular university I noticed at once the attitude and conclusions about life that my fellow students held was vastly different than my own.  This was primarily due to a lack of understanding as to the reason for their life in the first place. They didn’t know the answers to “why am I here?”, “what is my purpose?” “how did I get here?” and so forth.

As Christians we know the answers to life’s most pressing and perplexing questions, and that is an overwhelming source of comfort that we must draw from if we’re to live life productively.

Those who do not have the Christian worldview have often been influenced by modern evolutionary thought, which has had a profound psychological impact on our culture.  Wayne Grudem explains the effect of evolutionary thinking on the way human beings think about their purpose in life:

It is important to understand the incredibly destructive influences that evolutionary theory has had on modern thinking. If in fact life was not created by God, and if human beings in particular are not created by God or responsible to him, but are simply the result of random occurrences in the universe, then of what significance is human life? We are merely the product of matter plus time plus chance, and so to think that we have eternal importance, or really any importance at all in the face of an immense universe is simply to delude ourselves. Honest reflection on this notion should lead people to a profound sense of despair.

As Christians, we know differently, and Jesus is saying as much in this passage. But this passage alone is not the only one that tells of His eternal purpose for us.  The entirety of Ephesians 1 screams this, and I have mentioned in commenting on previous verses that a great cross reference here is Ephesians 2:10 where Paul says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Therefore Christ is here saying that He chose us not only for salvation (and a salvation that lasts, by the way), but also for good works (cf. MacArthur and Morris), for “fruit” that abides. MacArthur makes the point that the “fruit” is the souls of those saved through the spread of the Gospel, “When believers proclaim the gospel, those who respond savingly to it become fruit that will remain forever (cf. 4:36; Luke 16:29).”

He made us for a purpose – a destiny – and not simply an end, but a body of work that comes between our creation and our glorification.

In fact, the statement, “whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” is qualified by the word “so”, which is very important. It is that word “so” that tells us that the reason we ask the Father for help (for anything) is for the purpose of the previously mentioned goal: to bear fruit.  That He would give us help and a way to ask for that help implies that there is something He will be helping with.

So the thrust of this passage is that Jesus is going away, but He wants His disciples to know that He is still sovereign. He wants them to know that He has a mission for them once He is gone.  He is sovereign over their mission and He is sovereign over He chooses to send on it – “I chose you” and “you did not choose me.”

God’s Sovereign Choice

We have discussed the overall “thrust” of the passage, and I don’t want to miss the importance of the emphasis on mission here because I think that is the central message of the passage. But it may also be valuable to examine the foundation of the message.  Jesus’ command to bear fruit is built upon the rock solid sovereignty of God in all things – including, as we see here, in the choice of his disciples.

Jesus explicitly states that they didn’t choose him – nor would they have chosen Him if they had the chance. These are men who saw the Lord Christ Incarnate – the Word made flesh!  Yet they didn’t choose Him, He chose them.

In fact, we learn elsewhere in Scripture that no one chooses to follow Jesus of their own unaided volition.  Paul makes that clear in Romans:

as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

This is because in our unregenerated state even if we saw the scars of Jesus, heard the words of Jesus in person, or saw Him resurrected, we would still find a reason to disbelieve. We would create lies to explain away what our eyes saw and ears heard.

Before He breathes new life into us we are radically depraved, totally faithless, spiritually dead, and totally unable to believe and be saved apart from His sovereign unconditional electing salvation.

The doctrine of God’s sovereign election and our radical depravity is seen clearly throughout the book of John.  This passage simply reiterates what John and Jesus have been saying for 14 previous chapters, namely that it is His choice, His plan, His initiative that rules the destinies of men. This is not only the case for the 12 disciples, but for us today as well. He sovereignly chooses those whom He will and appoints those chosen to a life that will abide forever in the bosom of the Father.

Those who have studied John with me to date know well the myriad times that the apostle has labored to show God’s sovereignty in electing those whom He has chosen to life. The evidence has been so overwhelming that I’ve come to believe that those who harbor belief of their will or “choice” preceding the internal work of the Spirit have serious Scriptural obstacles to overcome.

Consider just a few (for the sake of time and space) of the following passages we’ve looked at in our study:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:16)

…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him… (Ephesians 1:4)

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, (1 Thessalonians 1:4, ESV)

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37)

Commenting on John 6:37 Steve Lawson has this to say:

That word “all” is a collective word for all the elect. What this is saying is that before any sinner ever came to Christ, before any sinner is drawn by the Father to Christ, God had already given those to the Son. And the reason God had given them to the Son is because God had already chosen them by Himself and for Himself. That choice was made before the foundation of the world. And when God chose us God the Father gave us to God the Son to become His bride and to become His chosen flock….the giving of all of these to the Son precedes their ever coming to the Son, and we can trace this all the way back to eternity past.

John 6:39 and 40 show us once again that this is all done by the will of God:

And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:39-40).

The Upshot of This Truth

When we weigh what we know about these disciples and what we know about ourselves against the sovereign choice of Christ, it ought to cause us to bow before Him in worship. It ought to cause us to acknowledge His lordship over all creation and give us great comfort.

This sovereignty extends from the choosing, to the keeping (the abiding) to the carrying out of the mission: He is in control!  Complete and utter control!

The implications of this are nothing short of astounding. He is not simply the deistic god who winds up the clock of the universe only to sit back and watch it flutter along until judgment day.  He is not the pantheistic god of the eastern religions who is so mixed “in” with creation that his transcendence is obliterated.

He is both transcendent and immanent: He is God. He rules over all and IN all as well.  Paul describes this in one amazing sentence:

“…one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6).

All of this has led me to think that rebellion against the doctrine of election is just that: rebellion. It is not intellectually or Scripturally supportable to think that man in his fallen state would ever choose Christ over his sin, not have the inclination or desire to follow Christ on his own. Frankly, it is not the Spirit that motivates that kind of thinking. Most people who object to the doctrine of election object to it either because they either misunderstand the way in which God works, or they simply don’t understand the sovereign character and right of God to do whatever He pleases with His creation (you and me).

I will close this short thought by asking you to consider what the Psalmist says:
Our God is in the heavens
He does all that He pleases (Ps. 115:3)

“All” literally means “all.” There is nothing that falls outside His jurisdiction in the created order – how much more so the destinies of the pinnacles of His creation (mankind).