What Does it Mean to Keep His Commandments?
1 John 5:3 explained
Here’s a verse that can really trip you up:
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. (1 John 5:3a)
What commandments is John talking about?
If you have not learned to read scripture through a new covenant lens, you might think he’s talking about the Ten Commandments or the Law of Moses. If so, you’ll be setting yourself up for disaster.
If you think you must prove your love or earn God’s love by keeping Old Testament laws, you have fallen from grace and cut yourself off from Christ.
“Keep his commandments” – but which ones?
As you may know, I recently started a project called The Grace Bible. This is a series of books designed to help you read scripture through a new covenant lens.
You may be wondering, why I began The Grace Bible with the three short letters from John? Because the 105 verses in those letters contain just about everything you need to know about the gospel of grace.
In his letters John proclaims the unconditional love of your heavenly Fatherand the complete forgiveness of your sins. His letters are full of grace treasures, but today I want to look at that verse linking love with commandment keeping: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3a).
To keep his commandments does not mean obeying the Ten Commandments or the Law of Moses. How do we know? Read the rest of the verse:
His commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3b)
The yoke of Moses is unbearably heavy (Act 15:10). No one can keep all the commandments of the old law.
So why does John say his commands are not burdensome? Because he’s not referring to the commands of Moses but his command, meaning the Lord’s command, and the Lord’s yoke is easy and light. Here it is:
This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ… (1 John 3:23a)
John calls this a new command because it is a new covenant command as opposed to an old covenant command. In the old, you were commanded to keep long lists of rules, but in the new you are commanded to believe.
How do we keep this new command? It starts with a revelation of God’s great love for you. When you know how much your heavenly Father loves you, he is easy to trust and obey. It is his great love for us that empowers us to trust him.
That is the first part of the command; here is the second:
…and love one another, just as he commanded us. (1 John 3:23b)
Moses said “Love one another” and to this old command Jesus added five words: “as I have loved you” (John 13:34). John was there when Jesus said it which is why he refers to it as his command or the “commandment we heard” (2 John 1:6). He wants us to know this is the Lord’s command, not Moses’ command.
Just in case there is any doubt, John adds, “just as he commanded us.” It was Jesus not Moses who said love others as I have loved you. It was Jesus who came for us while we were sinners and went to the cross to set us free. And it is Jesus who intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father.
We don’t love others because it is required of us; we love others with the love we have received from the Lord. It’s both a new command and a new kind of command.
(For those taking notes: The new commandment is sometimes referred to as the law of Christ.)
One more verse:
The one who keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in him. (1 John 3:24a)
Again, what are “his commandments”? John has just told us: “His commandment is that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another” (1 John 3:23).
The one who keeps his commandments is the one who continues in the grace of God. Conversely, someone who tries to keep other commandments, such as those of the old law, is no longer walking in grace. They are trying to keep the old laws because they do not believe Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law on their behalf.
The one who keeps his commands (i.e., believes in Jesus) abides in him. But the one who trusts in his own law-keeping performance does not abide in him and is alienated from Christ (Gal. 5:4).
Short version: When we receive the love of God that is revealed to us through his Son, we are empowered to trust him and love others.