“It is my Father’s glory,” Christ said, “that you should bear abundant fruit and become my disciples.” But even when we have glorified the Father by bearing much fruit and becoming Christ’s disciples, we still have no right to claim the credit for it as though the work were ours alone. The grace to carry out the work had first to come to us from God, and so the glory is his, not ours. That is why Christ is recorded in another place as saying: “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works”—and here, lest they be tempted to attribute those good works to themselves, he immediately added: “and may give the glory for them to your heavenly Father.” This, then, is the Father’s glory, that we should bear abundant fruit and become Christ’s disciples, since it is only through God’s mercy in the first place that we can become the disciples of Christ. “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the performance of good works.”
“As the Father has loved me, Jesus says, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.” There we have the source of every good work of ours. How do they come to be ours? Only because faith is active in love. And how could we ever love, unless we ourselves were loved first? In his first letter John the evangelist made this quite clear. “Let us love God, he wrote, because he first loved us.” The Father does indeed love us, but he does so in his Son; we glorify the Father by bearing fruit as branches of the vine which is his son and becoming his disciples.
“Abide in my love,” he says to us. How may we do that? In the words that follow you have your answer. “If you observe what I command you, then you will truly abide in my love.” But is it love that makes us keep the Lord’s commandments, or is it the keeping of them that makes us love him? There can be no doubt that love comes first. Anyone devoid of love will lack all incentive to keep the commandments. When, therefore, Christ says to us: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,” he is telling us that the observance of the commandments is not the source but rather the gauge and touchstone of our love. It is as though he said to us: Do not suppose you are abiding in my love if you are not keeping my commandments, for it is by observing them that you will abide in my love. That is to say, your observance of my commandments is the proof, the outward manifestation, of the fact that you abide in my love.
Let no one, then, who neglects to keep the divine commandments deceive himself by protesting his love for God. It is only to the extent to which we keep the Lord’s commandments that we abide in his love; insofar as we fail to keep them we fail to love. Yet even when we do keep God’s commandments, it is not something we do in order to make God love us, for unless he loved us first we should not be able to keep them. It is the gift of his grace, a grace which is accessible to the humble of heart, but beyond the reach of the proud.
St Augustine of Hippo