We left off in our study of the book of John with Jesus allowing his disciples to be battered about by a storm. There may have been a good reason for that. If you’re interested you can read the last post from the Gospel of John here: What It Takes To Be Glad About Jesus: John 6:16-21.
The Work Of God
The morning after the storm, what the crowd saw was that Jesus sent his disciples over to the other side of the sea of Galilee in a boat, and then he himself hiked up a mountain to pray. What they didn’t see was Jesus walking across the water later, during the night, and joining his disciples on the other side.
So now the crowd of 5,000 men who Jesus fed, and a new group from Tiberias, are hanging around the place where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish. But when they realize Jesus is no longer there, they take some boats and head for Capernaum to try to find him.
When they do find Jesus, they can’t figure out how he arrived there. And they ask him, “When did you get here?”
But Jesus doesn’t explain why he doesn’t need a boat to cross the sea. Instead, as he so often does, he just cuts to the most important issue of the moment, he says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you’re not looking for me because of the signs, but because you ate your fill. Don’t work for food that perishes, but for food that endures to eternal life. Food that the Son of Man will give you. For on him God has set his seal.” (John 6:22-27)
I think Jesus’ meaning here is plain: Don’t invest yourself in what is temporal, but invest yourself in what will endure through eternity. He’s instructing us to prioritize, to prioritize what will last, forever, in heaven. Jesus communicated the same idea in Matthew 6:20. If you’re interested you can read a previous post about that verse here: Matthew 6:20–But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven
Jesus’ statement about working for what endures prompted the crowd to ask, “What must we do? What is it we should do, to do the works of God?”
And Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 28-29)
Bible verses like this one used to confuse me, because for every verse that says, all you have to do is believe in Jesus, there’s a verse that says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
Besides John 6:29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent,” the “All you have to do is believe” category includes (but is not limited to) the following:
- “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” John 8:23-24
- “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
- For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:17
- Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
- For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
- All of Romans chapter 4
Obey My Commandments
And the “keep my commandments” category includes (but is not limited to) these scriptures:
- If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 14:15
- Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. John 14:21
- Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. John 14:23
- Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Luke 6:46
- Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Luke 13:24 (“Agonizomai” is the Greek word for strive here, it’s where we get our English word “agonize.”)
On the surface these two categories of scriptures, both of which include direct statements from Jesus, appear to disagree with each other. And for a long time I struggled with this. Because I heard some Bible teachers teach about the “just believe” scriptures in a way that seemed to imply that Jesus’ commandments aren’t really commandments. And then I’ve heard other Bible teachers teach that you darn well better obey those commandments of Jesus–or else.
So who’s correct?
The Third Category
For me, I finally found the answer in a third category of scriptures, the category of marriage imagery. Scriptures from this category include (but are not limited to) the following:
- “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)
- Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:9)
- Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; (Revelation 19:7)
- For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. (Isaiah 54:5)
- The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. (John 3:29)
- Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the Lord, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.” (Jeremiah 2:2)
The list goes on–I didn’t even include the Song of Solomon. There’s so much, so much rich marriage imagery in the scriptures. And I think maybe it’s there, at least in part, for this reason: it reconciles the first two categories of scriptures, the “just believe” category and the “obey my commands” category.
Speaking of marriage, Paul wrote, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:31-32) For me, the mystery of the two apparently contradictory categories is reconciled because through the marriage imagery we’re shown how someone who truly loves another, strives to please that person: not because they have to, but because they want to. They just can’t help themselves. Most of us have experienced this kind of love. When we’re head over heels we’ll do anything to please the person we’re in love with. We’ll buy roses. We’ll buy presents. We’ll take them to a nice dinner. But we’ll do even more than that.
We’ll listen to them.
And we’ll respond to their wishes.
So when Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” he’s not saying we must keep his commandments to earn our way to heaven. He’s simply stating a fact.
He’s simply saying, The people who love me keep my commandments, because they love me. (John 14:15, 21, 23)
He’s just saying, The people who love me as their Lord, they do what I tell them, because they love having me as their Lord. (Luke 6:46)
He’s saying, The people who love me, want to strive for me, because they love me. (Luke 13:24)
Like a man who loves his wife, or a wife who loves her husband, we listen to Jesus because we love him. We respond to what he wants from us because we adore him.
His Father’s Seal
And as we saw in John 6:27, “on him God has set his seal.” His Father has given him His complete approval. Everything we do because we love him so much, we also do because we believe in him. We believe the Father set His seal upon him, we believe he is the Son of God, we believe his words are from heaven. We believe his words are the most important ever recorded. We believe his words are from the Father. So we have faith and trust in him and his words (and the words in all of scripture, because all of scripture testifies of Jesus, and Jesus is all of scripture). (John 5:39, John 1:1)
In other words, we also listen to and follow Jesus’ commands because we believe he is who he said he is.
For years I struggled with this dilemma, this apparent contradiction between the “just believe” scriptures and the “obey my commands” scriptures. But for me at least, the picture of marriage reconciles the two and makes it all clear.
Jesus is our bridegroom.
Love him with everything you have.
The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. (John 3:29)
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