Question: "What did Jesus mean when He said, "If you love me keep my commandments"?"
Answer: On the evening before His crucifixion, Jesus Christ gave a lengthy private teaching to His disciples. This discourse in the upper room takes place right after the Lord’s announcement that one of the disciples will betray him and Judas leaves the room. As part of the instruction, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, ESV). The unmistakable meaning of the passage is that obedience to Christ’s commandments is both a sign and a test of our love for Him.
The connection between love for Christ and obedience to Him is a recurring theme in the apostle John’s writings: “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands” (1 John 5:2–3). In the same upper room discourse, John quotes Jesus saying yet again, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them” (John 14:21; see also 15:14).
What does Jesus mean when He says, “Keep my commands?” Is Jesus referring to keeping a list of rules and laws like the Ten Commandments, or does He have something else in mind? The words John uses in the original language are not merely to be understood as obeying a series of moral instructions. These “commands” encompass all of Jesus’ words and teachings, which, in truth, are God the Father’s words: “Jesus replied, ‘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. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me’” (John 14:23–24).
These commands involve the full scope of Christ’s revelation: “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?’ Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word’” (John 8:31–37; see also John 12:44–50). Only those who believe and receive the truth of who Jesus is (John 14:6) are set free and thus “hold to His teachings” or keep His commands. Praying to God His Father, Jesus says, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word” (John 17:6).
Immediately after Jesus makes the statement “If you love me, you will keep my commands,” He says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (John 14:16, CSB). Jesus knows that keeping His commands in this fallen world will require a divine source of power in the form of the Holy Spirit’s presence living within us.
Thankfully, we have a model for loving Jesus and keeping His commandments: the love of Jesus Christ and His life of obedience to the Father (John 14:31). Obeying Christ’s commands means copying the example of Jesus (John 13:15–16). Loving Jesus is not merely a feeling; it is an active, abiding, ongoing relationship of following and obeying our loving Master: “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands” (1 John 2:3).