"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15, ESV / NASB)

There seem to be at least two opposing interpretations of Jesus' above statement, and similar Scripture, namely the following:

  1. "If you love me, you will [by nature] keep my commandments."

  2. "If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you" (The Message, same verse)

To expound:

  • Regarding the first view, some hold the view that

    the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Gal 5:14)

    then go on to say that love is the fruit of the Spirit, and finally conclude that any Law that is not a result of '[treating] people the same way you want them to treat you' (Matt 7:12b) is without authority.

  • Regarding the second view, others say

    this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments (I John 5:3)

    Stating that the Law defines love, and the Holy Spirit makes us willing to be obedient to those commandments, because we love God [and our neighbour.]

Both positions may affirm that the Holy Spirit causes us to have a genuine loving inclination to others. Yet people holding to the second position may impose commandments which people from the first position will label as 'ceremonial, hence not applicable.'

Based on the first position, commandments are only kept if this makes sense in the mind of the believer. To exemplify, a believer would only keep the weekly Sabbath day if he thinks that doing so is consequential to 'loving your neighbour.' This is then the measuring stick to define 'Ceremonial Law' and 'Moral Law.'

Based on the second position, commandments are kept whether they are being understood or not, because of a will to obey and please God by keeping His instructions. In this case, keeping of the commandments can be directly consequential to 'loving God.' The question then is not necessarily [only] if the commandment can be identified as being consequential to 'loving your neighbour', but rather if God requires the keeping of it.

Which of the two above views, if either of them, developed in Reformed Protestantism under the branch's inherent claim of Sola Scriptura?

(Above quotes NASB unless indicated)

  • 1
    Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. Your question is a good one. However, for it to work on this site, you would need to specify a particular group or denomination of Christians whose answer you want. Otherwise it will be a matter of opinion, which isn't what this site is about. See: What topics can I ask about here? Commented May 22, 2017 at 15:51
  • 1
    Thank you for your comment. In response, I have confined the question to Reformed Protestantism. I hope this makes a defined answer possible and allows re-opening of the question.
    – ig-dev
    Commented May 23, 2017 at 0:24

2 Answers 2


This is a struggle that a great many people are experiencing, and is the same struggle that the first century AD churches had to contend with the Judaizers.

Christ's love fulfilled the law (Matt. 5:17).

Rom. 13:8,

"Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law." (NKJV)

Paul addresses the issue in Galatians of trying to keep the law while being in grace under Christ's law. The Judaizers had come back through the churches after Paul and the apostles taught the gospel of Christ, and were telling the new born Christians that they had to be circumcised first and then had to keep certain other Mosaic laws before they could be in Christ.

Their attempt to exist in both the death of the law, and the living grace of Christ defeats Christ's sacrifice for sin which was under the law.

So, Gal. 5:14 is the answer as you have noted above. Loving one another is the fulfillment of the law.

Paul got so angry with those that had tried to damage the congregation in Galatia for teaching they had to be circumcised that he said he would rather they had been cut off.

Gal. 5:12,

"I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!" (NKJV)

Most people miss what Paul really meant. Look at that verse in the ASV.

" I would that they that unsettle you would even [c]go beyond circumcision."

And, in the ESV:

"I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!"

In the Greek it meant to mutilate themselves. In other words, Paul would rather the corrupting Judaizers had not only circumcised themselves, but had castrated themselves... cut it all off.

There is a very good analysis of Paul's letter to the Galatians, and this problem of today's Judaizers that are again teaching we have to keep the commandments of Moses' law. See here. It is a study in parts, one for each chapter.

Rom. 13:10,

"10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." (NKJV)

Matt. 22:37-40,

"And Jesus said to him, `Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thine understanding --

38 this is a first and great command; 39 and the second [is] like to it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself;

40 on these -- the two commands -- all the law and the prophets do hang.'" (YLT)

We do not have to keep the Mosaic commandments. Christ fulfilled all of them with His death on the cross.

  • If by "Mosaic commandments" you mean only the ceremonial and civil law, then this could pass for the view of Reformed theology (though it'd be much stronger if you actually quoted Calvin or Turretin or Bavinck or Grudem). But without that distinction, you appear to be including the Mosaic moral law, which Reformed theologians do believe must still be obeyed. Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 10:51
  • At its very base, Reformed theology is "sola scriptura". The Reformation began by decrying the opinions, dictates, and beliefs of one church or one man (the pope) over the scriptures. No matter what Calvin, Knox, Turretin, or any other man dictates, sola scriptura is still the basis for the Reformed view.
    – Gina
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 12:06
  • That is true, but there are many non-Reformed applications of the sola scriptura principle. This answer sounds like it espouses dispensational theology, not Reformed theology – two different results that are both based on sola scriptura. Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 12:10
  • Then Reformed view is going to have be more narrowly defined as "according to Calvin" or "according to Luther", etc. Most of them disagreed on many scriptures.
    – Gina
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 12:16
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    Hmmm. I just wonder how Reformed is a theology that claims to be "sola scriptura" when it is willing to substitute Calvin's opinions and beliefs for those of the "pope's" if they still are not supported by scripture? After all, basing one's beliefs upon anything other than God's word seems risky.
    – Gina
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 12:45

I'm now answering this question myself two years later.

Both of the introductory statements are false in a narrow sense, but true in a broad sense. According to the Reformed view, the following would be more precisely true:

"If you love me, you will [by nature] show it by doing what I’ve told you."

That is, according to the reformed view

  • a true believer will have a love to God given by the Holy Spirit,
  • this love inevitably compels the believer to walk pleasing before God, i.e. to do what Jesus said.

Nevertheless, Jesus is not asking to "prove" by obedience that we love Him. He is stating that obedience will be a natural consequence of the love. In that sense, "the love of God fulfills the Law" would be more correct.

you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you - Romans 8:9

Meaning in reformed context that believers will by nature seek to please God. Context of chapter 8 is mortification of sin.

Neither is He saying that the love itself, by itself, is the fulfillment of His law. Correctly applying and keeping His commandments still involves our active free will, and faculties such as conscience, wisdom, knowledge and compassion. In that sense "the love of God keeps the Law" would be more correct.

Now lastly - and this is where the question becomes a bit confusing - love to God an neighbor is the ultimate principle in the above obedience. So the love is not only the motivation, but also the principle by which the law is correctly applied in our active obedience.

the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Gal 5:14)

Instruction is seen as necessary, primarily to edify our understanding of what it means to love God and neighbor.

Reformers will dismiss any laws in the Bible that are not rooted in the above principle of love to God and neighbor as "ceremonial" for the Jews, or "civil" law, meaning they are not applicable by Christians. There is in-house debate if the Sabbath commandment is among the "moral laws", to be kept on Sunday (not Saturday) following the coming of Christ.

The reformers call outward obedience without love to God "legalism," and on the other hand, love, so called, without obedience to the Law, "anti-nomianism" (from the Greek, Against-Law, or lawlessness).

It is also worth pointing out that the reformed view teaches that obedience is not a requirement for justification. A believer's justification cannot improved or diminished by acts of obedience or disobedience. Justification is by faith alone (sola fide).

In the same breath, the reformed view is that our obedience is not because of fear of hell, but because of love towards God following His receiving us.

It is also taught that a true conversion can be measured by the presence of some fruit of obedience. The absence of all obedience is taken as a sign that the love of God, hence the Holy Spirit, is not present in a person, meaning that conversion has not (yet) taken place.

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