The Great Gospel Love Of Christ And Our Call To Love – John 15:12-17

The Great Gospel Love Of Christ And Our Call To Love

Nick Esch, 4/22/2018 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Context

For the last few chapters of John, in what is known as the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus has been addressing His disciples, and seeking to prepare them to live in the world as His disciples after He has gone into glory… This is the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, and He’s been using this time with His disciples to encourage and equip them, telling them that He is going to the cross, that He is going to die for the sins of His people, and then rise from the grave and ascend into heaven… Knowing that His disciples would not only struggle with His death, but would continue to struggle after He ascended victoriously into glory, He’s been seeking to calm their troubled hearts, telling them that after He ascends the Holy Spirit will come and be with them, and all of His true disciples since them, to empower us to love Him and live for Him until we are with Him forever…

John 15:12-17

Our passage begins in verse 12 with Jesus saying, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Now, here He’s calling our attention back to what He said in John 13:34; there He said, “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.” But this begs the question: how has Jesus loved us? What does Christlike gospel-love look like? Well look at what Jesus says next.

In verse 13 Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” This sentence is what defines the love that Jesus is commanding all of His disciples—including you and me—to have… First He says that this is the greatest love that anyone can have… But He says this first and foremost speaking of Himself… There is no greater love than the love of God in Christ seen in the gospel… Let me show you what I mean…

What makes the love of Christ so great here is the cost of the love… Again, Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” That’s exactly how Jesus has loved us… This is what the gospel tells us… “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3)… “[He] came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). And indeed He did… “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). “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)…

Remember what John said in the opening of his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1)… “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14)… So the Son of God became flesh… He came to earth… And why did He come? “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15)… And how does He go about saving sinners? By giving His life as a ransom… By living, dying, and rising again… By dying in our place… Now, try to get your mind around this… The infinite God of the universe, who is infinitely precious and glorious, gave Himself up to save sinful wretches like you and me… And what drove Him to do this? Why would the Son of God give Himself over to death? Why would the Father give His Son? His Word tells us… “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)… Again, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)… There is no greater love than this, because there is no greater cost than this… What makes this love so great is the great cost of this love… The Son of God poured Himself out completely demonstrating the greatness of this love…

Oh church! If we would get this it would transform our lives… If we could only begin to understand how great the love of God in Christ for us is, we would always joyfully pour out our lives for the glory of Christ… If we would grasp how much He loves us we could not help but love Him… This is the greatest love in existence… But, here also we can see another reason why this love is so great… Jesus says there is no greater love than that someone lay down his life for his friends; and then He says in verse 14, “You are my friends…”

Think about the verses I just quoted from Romans 5… There we’re told that outside of God’s grace we are ungodly sinners… In Romans 8:7 we’re told that in the flesh we are hostile to God. In James 4:4 we’re told that the world by nature is at enmity with God… In Ephesians 2:1-3 we’re told that all of us, in and of ourselves, by our sinful fallen nature, are disobedient children of wrath… And that’s exactly what we all deserve because of our disobedience, because of our sin against God: wrath… In and of ourselves we are not friends of God… We are His enemies who rightly deserve His wrath… Yet Jesus says He lays down His life for His friends… Outside of God’s grace there is no mere man who is Jesus’ friend… So either He didn’t lay down His life for us, or, in laying down His life for us He makes us His friends… And you see, that’s what it is… That’s another reason why this love is so great… This love is so mighty, so powerful, so great because it transforms enemies of God into His friends… It takes sinful children of wrath, like you and me, and makes us children of God—friends of Jesus… The Greek word for friends that is used here, could actually be translated beloved ones… Though we were God’s enemies, the sacrificial love of Jesus on the cross transforms us into the beloved of God.

Now, notice what Jesus says in verse 14; He says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Don’t misunderstand how that word if is being used; He’s not saying that we have to do something in order to get this great love He has for us… He’s not saying, “If you keep my commandment then I will make you my friends…” No! Notice in His commandment in verse 12 He says, “love one another as I have loved you…” Did you catch that? Even though He has yet to go the cross at this point in the Gospel of John, it is already as good as done; Jesus speaks as though it has already been done… He says, “as I have loved you…” As in, as I have already loved you… Even in the midst of Jesus’ command here is grace, the grace that transforms enemies into friends… It is the love of Jesus that makes us into His friends and enables and compels us to love one another as He has loved us… On this side of the cross we know indeed that God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us… It is done; it is finished… He has and He does love us, long before we ever loved Him…

When Jesus says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you,” we have to understand that the if in that sentence does not mean that keeping His commands makes us His friends, but that being His friends empowers us to keep His commands… The gospel—the good news about the person and work of Jesus Christ—so transforms us that we now delight to do what Jesus has commanded us… We don’t obey in an effort to enter into a right relationship with God; we obey because Jesus has brought us into a right relationship with God… It is because of what a friend we have in Jesus, it is because He has bore all of our sorrows and griefs, and suffered in our place that we now gladly submit to His Lordship…

So, to be a Christian is to be a Jesus follower; it means you obey His commands… You can’t simply say, “Hooray! Jesus loves me!” And then live however you want… You must actually follow Jesus… But, becoming a Christian doesn’t merely mean that we just decide to start following Jesus… In order for us to follow Jesus rightly we have to be transformed from enemies into friends; and along with that something has to change in us: our mind, our heart, and our will have to be so impacted by the love of God in Christ that our affections, our desires, our loves change and we now delight to follow Jesus… Who we are has to change in order for us to truly be Christians who rightly follow Jesus; and that idea is seen throughout the Bible: for instance, when Jesus said in John 3 that we must be born again in order to see the kingdom of God… It’s the same idea; we need to be born again, made new… But, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that’s what the gospel does… Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” And that’s what has to happen for us to be Christians… We must be made new… We will never follow Christ unless God first does a profound work in our lives… But, in His great mercy and grace He does…

In verse 15 Jesus says, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Here we see a fundamental shift in who these disciples are… There’s a level of intimacy here that’s truly astounding… Again, when you see the word friends here read beloved ones… And likewise, when you read the word servants here read slaves… Jesus says He no longer calls His disciples slaves… Now, there’s a sense in which all of His disciples are indeed His slaves… Jesus is Lord… He is our Master… He is our Creator, therefore, He has Divine rights over us… He is in charge of our life… But, through His life, death, and resurrection Jesus brings us in close, as His friends, as His beloved ones; the slave isn’t allowed to get too close to the his Master, so he doesn’t know what all the Master is doing, or why… But as friends, as those who are brought in close, Jesus makes known to us all that He’s heard from the Father…

In the Bible the only people who are called friends of God are really just Abraham and Moses… They were God’s friends, and had a relationship with Him that was closer and more intimate than most… But now, all those who are in Christ have been brought near; all in Christ are friends of God… And we’re brought so close that God makes things known to us… The first things that are made known to us are God’s holiness, our utter depravity, and the glory, the greatness, and the sufficiency of Christ… Being born again and made new enables us to see our sin and need for a Savior, and to see Jesus for who He truly is… “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6)… We see and we repent and we believe… We cling to Christ because we see that He is glorious… His sufficiency, His beauty is what our hearts long for; and He Himself is what we so desperately need… (Call to repent and believe) But along with that, and ongoing after that, here in our text Jesus says He makes all that He has heard from the Father known to His disciples… The all here seems to be all that we need to know in order to love and obey, in order to joyfully obey, and glorify God… And I think we can see this based on what Jesus says next.

In verse 16 Jesus says, “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.” Jesus jumps from telling us that all of His disciples are beloved—they are friends of God, they’ve been brought near—He jumps from that to the doctrine of election… But this makes sense if you think about it… As we were just looking at, this seems to be one of those things that Jesus makes known to us in order to help us love and obey… The doctrine of election shows us that our salvation is all of grace… That so, the doctrine of election ties back to what Jesus said in verses 12 and 14 as well… It shows us that He has indeed already loved us, not only at the cross, but before the foundation of the world…

Think back to what we read earlier in Ephesians 1:4-6: “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” Here Paul is laying out the very same thing that Jesus does in verse 16: “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” This is why throughout God’s Word God’s people are called the elect… They have been chosen by God; and that’s what it means to elect: to choose… And according to Jesus, God chooses His people long before they ever choose Him. Yes, we must decide to follow Jesus, but that only happens after He has chosen us, and opened our eyes… God initiates… He loves us, He chooses us and saves us before we ever want anything to do with Him… Remember, before He saves us we are His enemies. But by His sovereign grace He makes enemies His friends… This goes right back to what Jesus said in John 15:5: apart from Him we can do nothing…

Now you might be asking yourself, “But why does He choose whom He chooses? And if He chooses whom He saves, what about those He doesn’t save?” One time Israel was asking these same types of questions… Listen to what God told them; He said, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)… So Israel says, “Why do you love us Lord?” and He says, “It’s not because you’re awesome; it’s just because I love you… I love you because I love you…” And the answer is the same for us…

As I said earlier, in the flesh we are all enemies of God, we are children of wrath; so all we deserve is death and wrath—we deserve hell… So it isn’t because of anything in us that God chooses us; all we bring to God is our sin and our desperate need for a Savior… Paul shares some words with the church in Corinth that are true for us, that we need to be ever mindful of… He told them, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)… God chooses the weak, the broken, the needy, the foolish; as Christ says elsewhere, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9:12)… So God loves who He loves, and He chooses and saves whom He does—the weak and the needy—so that He alone would get the glory…

Now we know, regardless of how things may seem, that all are weak and sin sick, and in desperate need of a Savior, so these verses could apply to anyone or everyone… But God says in His Word, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Romans 9:13)… Again, all any of us deserve is death and hell, yet God chooses to save some… If we’re honest, something inside of us feels like this isn’t right; we want to accuse God of being unjust… We want to cry out, “This isn’t fair!” And indeed it isn’t; but not the way we think… It would be unjust of God to forgive the sins of anyone, had Christ not died for the sins of His people, because God’s justice demands that all sinners suffer His eternal wrath; but Jesus took that wrath upon Himself for His friends, for those for whom He died… Indeed it is not fair that God saves some, and others perish in hell… But fair would mean that all would go to hell, because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… So instead of fair, because of Jesus, we get grace…

What we see here in the great doctrine of election is that God’s grace is deeper and wider and more amazing than we could ever comprehend… Our instinct is to get upset or get defensive when we hear this doctrine, but God’s purpose for it is not to stir us to anger but to worship… We shouldn’t be angry… we should be amazed… God loves us because He loves us; He chose us for His glory; indeed He loves us and chose us because He is love, because He is glorious… And this great love should stir us to love Him and live for Him… Again, this doctrine is a part of the all that Jesus makes known to us to enable us to love Him and to keep His commands…

And let me show you how it does just that… If God in His grace set His love on us, chose us, sent Jesus to live, die, and rise again to save us, all in spite of us, then this is a life altering level of grace… In Christ God has essentially lavished limitless grace on us… Its roots are in eternity past, and the blessings and promises of it will go into eternity future… “Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt…” Our sin and our guilt are infinite because we have offended an infinitely holy God; yet His grace exceeds even that… Our sin and our guilt are great, but His grace and His love are greater still… As Jesus said, there is no greater love than the love of God in Christ seen in the gospel… But do you see what this means? Because we have been loved like this and have received this limitless grace, there is therefore now no limit to what God can ask of us…

Even the world recognizes things like this… In The Count of Monte Cristo the main character, Edmond Dantes spares the life of this guy Jacopo, and he then gives himself over to Edmond as his servant… He knew he owed him his life, because he knew he owed a debt he could never repay… If that’s true out in the world, how much more so with God? Jesus paid a debt He did not owe because we owe a debt we cannot pay… And we cannot repay it… The grace we have received is limitless—it’s infinite… In saving us God has every right to simply make us His slaves… Of course, He has every right to make us His slaves even if He doesn’t save us… But Jesus says, “No longer do I call you servants . . . . but I have called you friends…” Though we are eternally indebted to Him, and though we really aren’t even worthy to be His slaves, He says we are His beloved ones… But that means that the fuel for our obedience is doubly there; we not only owe Him our lives—eternally—but we also are compelled by His love for us… His love chooses us, dies for us, and transforms us from enemies to His friends…

So what Jesus is doing here is taking us into the depths of His grace and love, and then building us up in Him, and then commissioning us out to go and love like Him… It’s like He’s saying, look at how great you are loved by me, now go and do likewise… We often sing, “Jesus paid it all; all to Him I owe…” And that’s true, but the motivation that Jesus is seeking to give us here, isn’t some mere debtor’s ethic, where we’re trying to repay God for giving us grace; but instead our motivation is God’s grace, is God’s love in Christ, is Christ Himself… Our being amazed by the grace of God in the gospel and the love of God in Christ is what commissions us to completely surrender ourselves to Jesus… We see God’s electing love and His sacrificial saving-love in the gospel and we gladly give ourselves to Him as His slaves; but He says, you aren’t just slaves, you’re my friends… And this is all part of His grand plan…

Notice Jesus says He laid down His life for His friends… When He went to the cross He knew who He was dying for… He didn’t die to make salvation possible, He died to make it happen, He died to save His friends, His beloved ones, His people… I can think of a few songs that many of you love that say as much, right… That He had you in mind when He went to the cross, that He took names to the cross, that He thought of you as He went to the cross… And that is right and good! No one for whom Christ died will go to hell… Not a single drop of the blood of Christ was shed in vain… He will receive the reward for His suffering… In Revelation 5:9-10 John writes of people and creatures in heaven singing out a new song to Jesus, saying, “for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Jesus ransomed specific people from all peoples: from every tribe, language, people, nation, and generation… He doesn’t just make salvation possible, He makes it happen…

Now, some people hear the doctrines I’ve been laying out and think that if God is that sovereign, and if He’s already chosen His people, then we must not need to do anything… If God is sovereign why pray? Why evangelize? Why make disciples? Well, for one because He commands us to… Second, because if God wasn’t sovereign there would be no point in praying, because He wouldn’t be able to answer our prayers. And if God isn’t sovereign He isn’t mighty to save… And third, we pray and obey because God uses means… He uses His people to advance His gospel and magnify His glory… And this is what Jesus ties all of this to… Again, in verse 16 He says, “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.”

God’s sovereign grace and gospel-love is not suppose to stir anger in us or make us idle and passive, but it’s to stir us to worship and commission us to go—to go and bear fruit… And the idea here is to go and make disciples… It’s the same idea as the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19… “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” Up until this point Jesus has been primarily focusing on our holiness, and us bearing the fruit of the Spirit, but here He is commanding us to go… He’s saying that He saves us for mission… He uses us as His means to see the friends for whom He died be transformed from enemies into friends… Notice He says that He appoints His disciples for this… He’s not merely talking about the apostles here, but all of His disciples throughout all time… He appoints, He assigns us, He sovereignly makes us who we are where we are, that we would go and bear fruit; that we would go and make disciples… That we would love people, that we would reach people… We are to give ourselves to sharing the gospel with others and seeking to help them come to know Jesus, love Jesus, and live for Jesus… That’s ultimately how we love like Jesus… We are to boldly tell others of Jesus, we are to invite them to church, and to do whatever we can to help them become ever-growing followers of Christ… And part of what that entails is desperate prayer… But Jesus promises that whatever we ask the Father in His name—that is for His namesake, for His glory—He will give it to us… As we seek to leverage our lives for the glory of Jesus, and as our prayers are brought in line with His will, God will answer those prayers; we will bear fruit, and that fruit will abide… Because God is sovereign… So, what we see here in all of this is that the sovereign grace of God in Christ saves us, grows us, sustains us, and make us fruitful for our good and His glory… And even the fruit of our labor is grown and sustained by God’s sovereign grace…

Conclusion

In verse 17 Jesus ties all of this together, saying, “These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” The amazing grace of God and the sacrificial love of Christ motivate us to love this way, show us how to love this way, and empower us to love this way… This is a costly, completely sacrificial love… A love they may cost us everything in this life… I mean, to love others like Jesus has loved us means that we have to love the unlovable, the wretched, the vile, the poor, the needy, the broken, lawless criminals, haters of God, our neighbors and our enemies… And the model for the type of love that we are to show them is self-sacrificial love… We are to lay down our lives for them… We are to give ourselves over in sacrificial service, doing whatever we can to help them come to know Jesus, love Jesus, and live for Jesus…

This love simply isn’t possible in and of ourselves… But we are not by ourselves… We are friends of God… We are Jesus’ beloved ones, and He is ours… He is with us, and will be always, to the very end of the age… So we can love like this… We can give our lives for His glory… We can love one another, we can even love our neighbors and even our enemies… Because this kind of powerful gospel love transforms enemies into friends… So beloved, Jesus is telling us here that He loves us greatly… And as we see that He says, now go and do likewise…