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Lesson 78: Knowing Christ More Intimately (John 14:21-24)

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January 4, 2015

In one of my more profound theological books, Lucy says to Charlie Brown, “Life is a mystery, Charlie Brown … Do you know the answer?” Charlie lifts his finger and pontificates, “Be kind, don’t smoke, be prompt, smile a lot, eat sensibly, avoid cavities and mark your ballot carefully… Avoid too much sun, send overseas packages early, love all creatures above and below, insure your belongings and try to keep the ball low…”

In the last frame, Lucy says, “Hold real still because I’m going to hit you a very sharp blow on the nose!” (You’ve Got it Made, Snoopy, by Charles M. Schulz [Fawcett Crest], no page numbers.)

None of us likes simplistic answers to deep questions. And for every Christian, one of the deepest questions is, “How can I experience a deeper, closer, more intimate relationship with Christ?” Although all Christians believe certain core doctrines, Christianity is not merely intellectually believing doctrines. And although all Christians hold to common moral standards, Christianity is not primarily following a moral code. Rather, at the heart of what it means to be a Christian is to enter into a personal relationship with Christ through faith in His atoning death and resurrection. And as you know, personal relationships are not static. Even those of us who have been married for decades and know our mates very well can always grow closer.

And so one of the most important questions for all Christians is, “How can I know Christ more intimately?” In our text, Jesus answers that question. But at first, you may think that His answer is rather simplistic. His answer is:

We will grow to know Christ more intimately by obeying Him.

You may be thinking, “Huh? That’s it? The key to knowing Christ more deeply is just to obey Him?” That’s what He says. If we have His commandments and keep them, both the Father and Jesus will love us and Jesus promises that He will disclose Himself to us. And further, both the Father and the Son will make their home with us. The key to an ever-deepening relationship with Jesus Christ is to obey Him.

Before we look at this in more detail, let me make it clear that this is instruction for believers in Christ only. If you have not come to Christ and trusted in Him to forgive your sins and give you eternal life, this does not apply to you. You cannot get saved by keeping God’s commandments, because no one can do that perfectly. No one can love God with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength. No one can love his neighbor as himself. We all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). So we can’t be saved (delivered from God’s judgment) by obedience.

Rather, as Paul states (Eph. 2:8-9), “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Faith brings us into a love relationship with Jesus, who died for our sins. Obedience is the fruit that results in knowing Him in a deeper way.

Jesus is giving these words about obedience to His disciples to comfort and encourage them on the night before He died on the cross. He knew the trials that they would face after His departure. He knew that they would be sustained through those trials by entering into a closer relationship with Him. Here He tells them (and us) how to do that.

1. Obedience is the evidence that we love Jesus Christ.

I realize that by using the word “obedience,” I may be accused of being legalistic. It has happened in the past. Years ago someone gave me a book about God’s grace by a popular preacher and told me that I needed to read it because I tend to be legalistic. When I asked for clarification, the person said, “You’re legalistic because you emphasize obedience.”

But may I point out that Jesus emphasizes that we need to keep His commandments in verses 15, 21, 23, and 24. He will hit it again in John 15:7, 10, 12, 14, & 17. Of course, Jesus was not being legalistic! To say that God’s grace and our obedience are at odds is to misunderstand God’s grace. Titus 2:11-12 states, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age ….” In other words, God’s grace instructs us to live obediently.

I just cited the wonderful promise of Ephesians 2:8-9, that we are saved by grace through faith apart from works. But don’t forget Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” God’s grace produces a life of good works.

The key that keeps obedience from becoming legalistic is to love Jesus Christ. He hammers on this: John 14:15: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” John 14:21: “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; …” John 14:23: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; …” John 14:24: “He who does not love Me does not keep My words; …” Love for Christ motivates us to obey Him.

Keep in mind that biblical love is not just feeling the “warm fuzzies” for someone. Biblical love is a self-sacrificing, caring commitment that seeks the highest good of the one loved. If we love Christ, the highest good we seek for Him is to glorify Him. Jesus glorified the Father by obeying all that the Father commanded Him (John 15:10; 17:4). We glorify Christ (make Him look good) when we obey Him. When we sin, we dishonor Him (make Him look bad). If we love Christ, our aim should be to glorify Him. Jesus indicates that there are two parts to obeying Him:

A. To obey Christ’s commandments, we first must have them.

John 14:21: “He who has My commandments ….” We can’t obey what we don’t know or understand. I once read a campus minister who told about a young college student whom he led to Christ. A short time later, this new convert excitedly told the campus worker of how God had blessed his weekend by giving him and his girlfriend the most wonderful time in bed that they had ever enjoyed! Obviously, he did not have Christ’s commandments! You can’t keep commandments that you don’t even know about!

To have Christ’s commandments you need to be in God’s Word consistently. Read it over and over until it shapes your worldview. If your worldview is shaped by the world and its media, you will think that it’s acceptable to have sexual relations outside of marriage, as long as you love each other. You will think that living together before you’re married is a good way to discover whether you’re compatible with each other. You will think that homosexual relations are okay because that’s just the way some people are wired. You will think that cheating on exams or lying to cover your tracks are normal, because that’s what everyone does. But when you begin to read God’s Word, you discover that much that you thought was right is wrong and many things that you thought were wrong are right (Isa. 5:20-21).

One of the best ways to begin to experience victory over temptation and sin is to memorize God’s Word. As Psalm 119:11 states, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” You will seldom have a Bible and concordance at hand when you are tempted to sin. Perhaps you’re ready to let fly with some choice words to cut someone down. But God brings to your remembrance Proverbs 12:18, “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Because you memorized that verse, you’re able to speak words that heal rather than wound.

Or, you’re tempted to look at pornography when 1 Corinthians 6:18 flashes across the screen of your mind: “Flee immorality.” You don’t even need the entire verse or those that follow, although they are helpful. All you need to remember is, “Flee immorality!”

But I’ve known some who have Christ’s commandments through Bible study. They have even been to seminary and know Greek and Hebrew. They know the Word, but they don’t keep it.

B. To obey Christ’s commandments, we must keep them.

Obedience is not a matter of lip service, but rather of doing what He commands, not just outwardly, but from the heart. In Mark 7:6, Jesus condemned the Pharisees, who knew the Scriptures well, because they honored God with their lips, while their hearts were far from Him. God looks on our hearts. Obedience begins on the heart or thought level.

Also, we can’t pick and choose which commands we obey, based on our individual preferences. We all tend to do this. You may pride yourself that you don’t drink and look down on all those who get drunk, while at the same time you tolerate your own sins of grumbling and complaining. Or, you wonder how anyone can be tempted by homosexual sin, yet at the same time you often look at pornography. But Jesus didn’t say, “Keep My commandments that fit with your preferences.” He said, “Keep My commandments.”

At this point, you may be getting panicky. You may be thinking, “I try to obey the Lord, but I often fail. Does this mean that I don’t love Christ and that I’m not His true disciple?” In this regard, we need to keep in mind that this isn’t about perfection, but rather, direction. It’s instructive to note that in John 17:6, Jesus prays with regard to the disciples, “They have kept Your word.” Really? These are the guys who at the Last Supper were arguing about which of them was the greatest. Later that night, they would all desert Jesus. Peter would deny Him and Thomas would doubt His resurrection. And yet, knowing all this, Jesus says that they have kept God’s word. He was looking at the overall direction of their lives, not at perfection. A. W. Pink (Exposition of the Gospel of John, on monergism.com) has some helpful words:

Two things are true of every Christian: deep down in his heart there is an intense, steady longing and yearning to please God, to do His will, to walk in full accord with His Word. This yearning may be stronger in some than in others, and in each of us it is stronger at some times than at others; nevertheless, it is there! But in the second place, no real Christian fully realizes this desire. Every genuine Christian has to say with the apostle Paul, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may lay hold of that for which I am laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12).

I’ve already mentioned that to keep Christ’s commandments, we need to have them in our hearts. In addition, there are four things in our text and in the wider context that will help us keep Christ’s commandments:

1) Responding to Christ’s immutable love will help us keep His commandments.

I’ve already mentioned the importance of keeping our love for Christ as the driving force that keeps obedience from becoming legalistic. But behind our love for Christ is His great love for us. “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). This is one benefit of partaking of the Lord’s Supper often: it reminds us of the love of Christ that caused Him to endure the agony of the cross. As Paul says (Gal. 2:20), “… I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

2) Realizing Christ’s indwelling presence will help us keep His commandments.

In John 14:23, Jesus promises that if we love Him and keep His word, both He and the Father will come and make their abode with us. This is the only verse in the New Testament that says that the Father indwells us. So all three members of the Trinity take up residence in our hearts: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (John 14:17). “Abode” is the same Greek word that Jesus used in John 14:3, where He promises that He is preparing a dwelling place in heaven for us. Until then, the triune God Himself lives within us! Is your heart a suitable home for God?

If we would only remember that wonderful truth, it would keep us from sin! How can you sin when you realize that God Himself is living in your heart as His home? If you’ve never read the wonderful little booklet, “My Heart, Christ’s Home,” by Robert Boyd Munger, I encourage you to do so (you can read it online). He shows how Christ moved into his heart as His home and began cleaning and remodeling each of the rooms.

In one of his books, Watchman Nee illustrates how an awareness of God’s presence will cause us to walk more carefully in this evil world. He says that if you have a quarter in your pocket, you can walk down the street rather carefree. If you lose it, it’s no big deal. But if you have $1,000 in your pocket, you walk more carefully. Every once in a while, you’ll reach into your pocket to make sure that it’s still there. You guard the treasure. Of course, we’ll never lose God’s indwelling us, but we do lose the sense of His nearness when we sin. If we treasure His presence, we’ll be careful to walk in obedience.

3) Relying on Christ’s indwelling Spirit will help us keep His commandments.

Jesus just promised the disciples that the Helper, the Holy Spirit, would soon be in them forever (John 14:16-17). Paul makes it clear (Gal. 5:16-23) that the way not to carry out the desires of the flesh but rather to develop the fruit of the Spirit is to walk in dependence on the Spirit.

4) Remembering Christ’s incarnate example will help us keep His commandments.

In John 14:31, Jesus says, “But so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me.” Jesus’ love for the Father was at the heart of His obedience to the Father’s commands, which in this case refers to the cross. Any way you cut it, the cross was not enjoyable or easy. It was horrific, not only because of the physical suffering, but also because of the spiritual reality that Jesus bore the Father’s wrath against our sin. He did it to show that He loves the Father.

The real test of obedience is when you don’t feel like it. “Kids, eat your ice cream,” is easy. “Kids, eat your spinach,” may not be so easy or pleasant, but you’re better off in the long run when you do it. Sin always promises short term pleasure, but it hides the long term pain. Obedience may require short term pain or self-denial, but it yields long term pleasure. It is the evidence that we love Jesus Christ. Loving obedience results in three wonderful benefits:

2. Obedience yields three benefits: God will love us; Jesus will reveal Himself to us; and, we’ll enjoy a relationship with God that the world cannot know.

A. Obedience results in the Father and the Son loving us.

John 14:21: “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” You’re probably thinking, “I thought that God’s love is unconditional. But this sounds as if it’s something we earn or merit.”

As Paul makes plain (Rom. 5:8), God loved us and Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. God so loved this evil world that He gave His only Son to die for it (John 3:16). But in our text, Jesus is talking about a deeper experience of His love. It’s parallel to what Paul prays in Ephesians 3:17-19:

… that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

If we have trusted in Christ, He already dwells in our hearts and we already know His love. But Paul prays that we will experience His presence and His love on deeper and deeper levels. Jesus is saying that we will experience these things by obeying Him.

B. Obedience results in Jesus revealing Himself to us.

Jesus says that when we obey Him, He will disclose Himself to us. He isn’t talking about a mystical vision or appearance where we see Him physically. Rather, He reveals Himself by giving us deeper insight into knowing Him through His Word.

We see the principle that Jesus states here in our relationships with others. You don’t reveal yourself to just anybody, but only to those whom you trust. If a person you don’t know starts telling you intimate details about his life, it makes you uncomfortable. You only share the personal stuff with those you trust. Even so, Jesus is saying that when we obey Him, then He will share more of Himself with us. Again, this isn’t mystical, extra-biblical knowledge, but rather the knowledge of Him through His Word.

Just as Jesus spoke these words to comfort the disciples in their time of trouble, so a deeper revelation of Christ to our souls through the Scriptures will comfort us in our trials. If you’ve never read the life of Hudson Taylor, the courageous pioneer missionary to China, you’re missing a life-changing experience! His close relationship with Christ enabled him to endure overwhelming trials, including the loss of his first wife and of several children. He wrote to a fellow worker who was going through a difficult trial (Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission: The Growth of a Work of God, by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor [The China Inland Mission], p. 236, italics his), “The one thing we need is to know God better. Not in ourselves, not in our prospects, not in heaven itself are we to rejoice, but in the Lord.” His favorite hymn was, “Jesus, I am resting, resting, in the joy of what Thou art. I am finding out the greatness of Thy loving heart.”

C. Obedience results in enjoying an exclusive relationship with God that the world cannot know.

In John 14:22, Judas (not Iscariot) thought about Jesus’ statement that the world would no longer see Him and that He would reveal Himself to those who obey Him. So he asked, “Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?” The Jews thought that the Messiah would reveal Himself openly and rule over a political kingdom. Jesus’ triumphal entry had given the disciples hope that He would soon be on the throne. But they didn’t understand that in His first coming, Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36).

Jesus seemingly ignores Judas’ question and repeats pretty much what He has just said in verse 21: He will not reveal Himself to the rebellious world, but only to those who obey Him (cf. Matt. 13:10-13). His final warning in verse 24, “and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me,” underscores the enormity of the world’s sin in rejecting Christ. They are not only rejecting Him, but also God Himself. How could the living God make His home with such rebels? Obedient believers enjoy a relationship with God that the world cannot know.

There may also be a hint in Jesus’ answer that He will reveal Himself to the world through those who obey Him. As people see Christ in us, many will be drawn to our Savior. The fact is, we’re the only Bible that many people read. If we joyfully obey Christ and enjoy His abiding presence, we will be His channel for revealing Himself to this disobedient world.

Conclusion

So if you want to grow to know Christ more intimately in the coming year, figure out where you’re not obeying Him and begin to obey Him at those points. You may have some dirty closets that you need to let Him clean out. You may need to prioritize your list and begin with one or two changes before you tackle others. It sounds simplistic, but Jesus promises that we will grow to know Him more intimately by obeying Him.

Application Questions

  1. Since love for Christ is the right motivation for obeying Him, should we obey even when we don’t feel love for Him? How can we restore our first love for Him (see Rev. 2:4-7)?
  2. Explain why obedience to Christ is not opposed to His grace.
  3. Which commands are you prone to pride yourself in keeping? Which ones are you prone to condemn others for? How can you guard against this (Matt. 7:1-5)?
  4. John tells us (1 John 5:3) that God’s commandments are not burdensome. Is this true for you? If not, why not? What change in your thinking is needed?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2015, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Life, Discipleship

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