There is a brief verse in John 15 that slips your attention unless you’re looking closely. Jesus is explaining to His disciples that persecution will come to them because they are His followers. It’s rather plain to see – they hate me; you love me; so, they hate you. The Pharisees will soon kill Christ. Then, they will seek to murder those who followed Him.
The sobering truth comes in the short verse 15:23 “Whoever hates me hates my father also.” The hatred being discussed is, by and large, the hatred of the Pharisees. Jesus’ primary opponents in all four Gospels are the ones who hold power over the people and are the closest to God’s word. The Pharisees were in charge of keeping, interpreting, teaching and implementing God’s word in the Old Testament. Tantamount to their charge was the worship of God.
Surely, many, if not all, Pharisees memorized this passage as a divine command straight from the throne room of God, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Dt 6:5; Cf. De 11:1; Jos 22:5). They knew what they were supposed to do. They thought that in hating Jesus they were loving God by protecting Him from an imposter.
In typical Jesus fashion, the tables were turned and their argument was put on its head. Rather than loving God, the Pharisees were hating Him. They thought their pious observance of every OT law, their memorizing of the Scripture and their teaching in the synagogue was fueled by love for God. This, after all, is what God commanded them to do – “You shall therefore love the LORD your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always” (Dt 11:1). Their obedience was to be fueled by love. This is explicitly stated in the OT, as I’ve shown.
The sobering truth, of course, is that although resolute and determinedly obedient, the Pharisees were hell-bent God-haters. More sobering is the thought that we are God-haters. Are you a God-hater?
My instinct in answering that question is to think about the things I’ve done for God. “I don’t hate God. I read the Bible and prayed this morning. I taught the word to people last week. I memorize Scripture all the time. I do the things Christ commands us to do.”
The next question is, “how is your response any different than the Pharisees?” They appealed to law keeping, Scripture memorization, teaching the word and Bible reading. If you appeal to these things, is it possible are standing shoulder to shoulder, even hand in hand, with the men who crucified Christ? Are you any better than a Pharisee?
There are two points following this disquieting query.
1.) Do not rest in your spiritual accomplishments (Bible reading, teaching, memorization, obedience etc.). If you are to have any assurance of your salvation in Christ, it is purely by the sovereign work of God. He is the one who makes sure we’re saved. When Satan, people, or our consciences ask us if we’re saved, our answer is always “Yes, because God said so.” It is never “Yes, because I do all of these things.” It is the case that true faith will always have works (Js. 2:26). But, many people do the exact same works without any faith. True faith has works attached. But, so does false-faith. False faith either has works or no works. True faith has works. So, appealing to works doesn’t prove true faith since works can be attached to true or false faith. The spiritual diagnostician looks at works and says, “These works are a good sign. But, we need to run some more tests.” So, don’t rest on your works. Rest on His.
2.) The greatest litmus test for true faith is not so much in what we’ve done (as I’ve said) but in how we love. Jesus said in the same chapter “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn 15:13–14). What does Jesus command us? “Love one another” (Jn. 13:34-35; 15:17). How much? To the point of death. The Christian must be willing to lay down his life for his friends. Scripture reading, memorization, teaching and obeying Christ are good. But we can do those things with impure hearts and twisted motivations. The true test that Jesus offers is this – “Would you die for me?” Unless you desire with all your being to answer that question in the affirmative (although you’re allowed to do so shakily – none of us are perfect) it is possible that you do not actually love God. If you can’t say, “Yes, I would die for you!” (and mean it), the recourse is simple. Ask God to give you that kind of faith. Ask Him to enable you to love Him to the point that you are willing to give up your family, friends, money, security, retirement, social status, citizenship, and yes, your life. He will do that for you and when he does, not only you, but the world will know that you are His disciple. “By this all people [including you!] will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” Jn 13:35.