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When a passage mentions to love God/Lord and to keep His/the commandments in the same passage, is it equating these two actions as equal, as separate actions, or is one action a subset (for lack of better word) of the other?

References:

  • Exodus 20:6
  • Deuteronomy 5:10
  • Deuteronomy 7:9
  • Deuteronomy 11:1, 13, 22
  • Joshua 22:5
  • Nehemiah 1:5
  • Daniel 9:4
  • John 14:25
  • 1 John 5:2-3
  • 2 John 6
2
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    – agarza
    Sep 15, 2021 at 0:21
  • Keeping his commandments is the action that demonstrates our love for God. I wouldn't call it the same action.
    – Perry Webb
    Sep 15, 2021 at 0:33

5 Answers 5

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John 14:

15 If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

Let statement L = you love Me.
K = you keep My commandments.

In terms of first-order logic, John 14:15 expresses the conditional statement, C1:
L→K

John 14:

21a Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.

In terms of first-order logic, John 14:21a expresses the conditional statement, C2:
K→L

C1 ∧ C2
⇒ L→K ∧ K→L
⇒ L⟷K

In English: you love me if and only if you keep my commandments; i.e., L and K are logically equivalent.

When a passage mentions "love God" and "keep His commandments", is it equating the two actions as being one in the same?

Yes, according to first-order logic, you can't have one without the other.

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  • +1 This seems like the perfect answer to me. Well, done. I'd be happy to know if anyone could legitimately poke holes in it.
    – Austin
    Sep 23, 2021 at 3:47
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The first example, Exodus 20:5–6:

the iniquity of the fathers … those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

It's clear that:

  • Those that hate God have iniquity.
  • Those that love God keep the commandments.

The last example, 2 John 1:6, makes it even more explicit:

And this is love, that we walk after his commandments.

Those that love God, do keep his commandments.

Those that keep his commandments, almost certainly love God (otherwise why would they bother to keep his commandments?).

They aren't quite "one and the same", but keeping his commandments is definitely one sign that one loves God. (In particular, if one doesn't keep the commandments, one obviously doesn't love God.)

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Definitions and Verses

Obedience is generally related to love, but they are not identical. We can disobey someone we love if it would be bad for the person giving the order. Also, we could bother to keep the commandments of someone we don’t particularly like if we think it will benefit us to do so. If we love and trust someone, the two would imply obedience. But even then they wouldn’t be synonyms.

Incidentally, I think some verse number(s) in the question is off.

John 14 KJV

15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.

21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me..

25 These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you.

(The question itself lists this last one)

How they Relate

The greatest commandment is to love Him. Yet in the end, He is love.

1 John 4

7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

If we obey Christ: Then we will love God (which includes Christ) as this is one of the commandments that we’ll obey, but we will also do other things (such as love one another).

Matthew 22

37Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment.

If we love God: Then we will love Christ as Christ is God.

John 14:15

15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.

Summary

If we obey God, we will love Him, and do other things. If we love God, we will obey Him, only. I can write “only” because loving Him is included as a command.

Written from sets of behaviors within an individual: Loving God is a strict subset of following His commandments.

Written from sets of individuals: They are an equivalence. Anyone who Loves God obeys Him, and (because Loving Him is commanded) anyone who obeys God loves Him. This is an “if-and-only-if” relation, making them logically equivalent in sorting persons.

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  • I guess it’s so obvious as to be ok omitting: Im describing the ideal situation in the summary. “All fall short of the glory of the Father. None is righteous; no not even one.” as in Romans
    – Al Brown
    Sep 15, 2021 at 18:20
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Let me start with a more famous example that could be added to the OP's list, John 14:15 (BLB) -

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

As stated here, our love for God is the source and spring of our motivation for keeping the commandments. However, this is only part of the story. Note the following:

  • 2 Cor 5:14 - For the love of Christ compels us, having concluded this, that One has died for all, therefore all have died. [I will not debate whether this is talking about Christ's love for us or our love for Christ as both are probably intended.]
  • James 2:17 - Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, with whom there is no change or shifting shadow.
  • 1 John 4:10, 11 - And love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as the atoning sacrificed for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
  • 1 John 4:19 - We love because He first loved us.

Thus we have an interesting situation, summarized by the following:

  • Our ability to love at all comes from God, the source of love, because, "God is love" (1 John 4:8, 16)
  • That love, planted in our hearts by God, motivates ("compels", 2 Cor 5:14) us to love God
  • Our love for God motivates us to keep the commandments
  • Indeed, without the love of and for God, there can be no commandment keeping at all.
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  • Lovely answers. I suspect that the subtext of the question is “How can we say, as Christians, that we love God if we don’t keep the Law?” There are some good answers for this: Jesus is the ‘terminus’ of the law; Jesus gives “new commandment[s]”; the old covenant is abrogated to make way for the new etc. If the person takes the time to do a ‘chunky’ read of the NT, these concepts emerge. I may be off-track though?
    – user36337
    Sep 15, 2021 at 4:41
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The OT references in the OP’s question all use the conjunction “and'' to join loving God and keeping his commandments. Connected in this way, the two constructs are not logically linked or dependent on one another.

But in Jn 14:15 of the NT, Jesus uses a conditional statement.

  • v 14 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. – John 14:15

In this conditional statement the two parts are related to one another, but are they logically equivalent? Using conditional reasoning to answer this question yields some unexpected results. To understand the logic behind conditional statements, I relied on an example from the Khan Academy lesson “Conditional reasoning and logical equivalence.”

Original statement: If I’m in civics class, then I’m in school today.

Diagram: Civics → School

Let's assume this to be true, and now consider a version that flips the order:

If I’m in school today, then I’m in civics class

Does this follow from the original statement Civics → School?

No.

Why not? Well, I could be in school, and eating lunch in the cafeteria. Knowing that I’m in school isn’t enough—it isn’t sufficient—to conclude that I’m in civics.

By this reasoning, reversing Jesus’ original statement does not result in its logical equivalent. Knowing that you “keep my commandments” is thus insufficient to conclude that you “love me.” The story about the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18-23 supports this point:

  • You know the commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not give false testimony, Honor your father and mother.’” 21 And he said, “All these things I have kept since my youth.” 22 Now when Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 23 But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely wealthy. – Luke 18:18-23

What if we negate both the if and the then parts of the original statement, do we get its logical equivalent? In the Khan academy example:

If I’m not in civics class, then I’m not in school today.

Diagram: not Civics → not School

Does this follow from the original statement Civics → School?

No.

Why not? I could be sitting in geometry class and still be in school. Knowing that I’m not in civics isn’t sufficient to conclude that I’m not in school.

Knowing that you don’t “love me” is thus insufficient to conclude that you don’t “keep my commandments.” Consider Paul’s words regarding Gentiles in Romans 2:14-15:

  • For when Gentiles who do not have the Law instinctively perform the requirements of the Law, these, though not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience testifying and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them. – Romans 2:14-15

To find a logical equivalent from Jesus’ original statement, we need to look to its contrapositive, that is, we need to reverse the order and negate both conditions.

If I’m not in school today, then I’m not in civics class

Diagram: not School → not Civics

Does this follow from the original statement Civics → School?

YES.

Why? The original statement asserts that if I’m in civics class, then I must be in school. So there’s no way I could attend civics class unless I’m in school.

This is Jesus’ original statement: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” The contrapositive statement goes like this: If you don’t keep my commandments, you don’t love me. Knowing that you don’t “keep my commandments" is thus sufficient to conclude that you don’t “love me.” In other words, there’s no way that “you love me” can be true unless “you keep my commandments.” It is amazing to me how Jesus himself makes this point a few verses later:

  • v24 The one who does not love Me does not follow My words. – John 14:24

In answer to the OP’s question, the two actions (to love God and to keep his commandments) cannot be said to be “one and the same.” By the above logic, one can only conclude from Jesus' original statement that a person who does not keep God’s commandments does not love God.

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  • The rich young ruler didn't follow Jesus's words, his command to sell all his possessions and follow him. Therefore he's not a counterexample to if you keep my commands you love me.
    – Austin
    Sep 22, 2021 at 7:30
  • “Come, follow me.” To me Jesus’ words are of invitation, not command. It was an invitation of love (Mk 10:21) that the man, still attached to his possessions, was not ready to accept or respond in kind. He had reached the limit of where commandments could take him, I think. The next step was love. Here is the conundrum: if he loves because it was commanded of him, does that still count as love?
    – Nhi
    Sep 22, 2021 at 22:20
  • "if he loves because it was commanded of him, does that still count as love?" Yes. Otherwise, Jesus' command in John 15:12 would be illogical nonsense as would be the greatest commands.
    – Austin
    Sep 23, 2021 at 3:43
  • I cannot argue against Scripture, but do you not see the dilemma in the commandment to love? For even if we so willed it, can the heart be compelled to love? And even if it could, is such love true? Thankfully, Jesus solves this puzzle for us. In Jn 15:12, he commands us to “love one another, just as I have loved you.” His love has the power to tame our hearts and teach it to obey. Then we would love, not because of obligation or command, but “because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). This love, I believe, at once fulfills the commandments (Rom 13:10) while setting us free from its bonds.
    – Nhi
    Sep 23, 2021 at 21:52
  • "For even if we so willed it, can the heart be compelled to love?" I think most commentaries will inform you that heart is roughly equivalent to the way we think of mind. Love is a decision. It's loyalty. It's not based on a particular feeling but an inclination of the will and mind. Just because you are fond of someone doesn't mean you love that person if you don't act according to their best interests. My favorite Bible definition of love is doesn't use the word love. (Phil 2:4). We don't have to guess what's in God's best interests. His commands inform us. We obey if we decide to care.
    – Austin
    Sep 24, 2021 at 3:10

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