For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. – 1 John 5:3 ESV
1 John 5:1-5
When John wrote this passage, he more than likely had the words of Jesus Himself ringing in his ears. He had heard Jesus make similar statements on numerous occasions. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV). “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (John 14:21 ESV). “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23 ESV). And when John added the line, “and his commandments are not burdensome,” he was probably thinking of Jesus’ promise, “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30 ESV). But he was likely speaking from experience as well. He had lived a long life and had probably spent more than five decades as a faithful follower of Jesus. He had watched the beginning of the church in those early days in Jerusalem. He had ministered as one of the apostles, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ and helping spread the message of salvation through Jesus alone throughout the known world. He had been exiled to Patmos and was now well up in years, still fulfilling his pastoral duties to the faithful in Ephesus. He had been through a lot over the years, but knew that the commandments of God were not burdensome or too heavy to bear. Living in obedience to God was not overwhelming or impossible to pull off. For the one who believes in Jesus Christ, obedience comes supernaturally. It is made possible by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had told John and the other disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17 ESV). The Holy Spirit is made available to all who place their faith in Jesus as their sin substitute and Savior. He is, as Paul so aptly put it, the “down payment” or guarantee that we are in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:22). He gives us the strength we need to obey willingly. But as John has stressed repeatedly throughout his letter, the key is that we abide. We must remain dependent upon God and fully aware of our daily need for Christ’s ongoing redemptive work in our lives. His work, while fully sufficient for our salvation, is ongoing and unfinished when it comes to our sanctification. God is still in the process of transforming His children into the likeness of His Son. Paul wrote, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 ESV). Paul went on to tell the Philippian believers, “Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:12-13 NLT).
Our love for God shows up through our obedience to Him. And the amazing thing is that He has provided us with the desire and the power to do so. Obedience to Him not only reveals our love for Him, but it plays a part in His ongoing transformation of us. It also produces joy in us. Jesus said, “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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:10-12 ESV). The love of God goes full circle. He has loved us by sending His Son. His Son has loved us by giving His life. We love God by obeying His commands, and one of those commands is that we love one another. As we love one another, we are effectively expressing our love back to God. The world would have us live selfishly, with the focus on our own wills. The world would have us love, but only if we receive love in return. The world would encourage us to live myopic, me-centered lives where the goal is our own self-satisfaction. But John says, “everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4 ESV). As we live in faith, trusting in Jesus for our salvation as well as our sanctification, relying on the Holy Spirit for the desire and the power to do what pleases God, we overcome the world. We live in victory right here, right now. No, not perfectly or completely. For God is not done yet. We will fail and we fall. We will give in to temptations. We will occasionally turn the spotlight back on ourselves. We will even disobey and distrust God. But He is still at work. The words of Paul provide us with comfort and encouragement. “I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation — the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ — for this will bring much glory and praise to God” ( Philippians 1:9-11 NLT). God has unfinished business. But “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.”