What does this verse mean? So often teachers and preachers speak of the action of laying down one’s life and they speak of what it means. They use the example of Christ and use it as the motivation for us to do the same for Him. I want to look at the actors in this verse. There are three: Jesus, His disciples, and others.
We each go through life as the child of our parents, the partner of our spouse, and the employee of someone else. Jesus came to give us life abundantly. That gift has given us a new relationship title. We become the children of God who serve the High King like the Levites served God in the temple. This allows us the title of co-heir with Christ. As we grow, we become disciples of Christ. Farther in this relationship, we become friends: to Jesus and to others.
In the first phase, we become as the Israelites were when God first chose them to be His people. He wanted a relationship with the people He created. He wanted to be their God. He required their reverence and worship. As His children, they also had to remember they were subservient to Him. They, as His worshippers, had to realize who they were in relation to Him – small and humble compared to His majesty and power. There was such awe that they feared being in God’s presence. Our relationship with God, when we are first re-born is like this. We see how small and insignificant we are in relation to how infinite and mighty He is. We come before Him in humility and adoration knowing who we are and what He has made us to be by His love. We feel as if we should serve our heavenly King through our subservience since we can never be as great and mighty as He is. The humility we feel is correct. God is mighty, powerful, and majestic. He should be worshipped for who He is and for what He has done: Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, and Lord. We must go beyond this point though if we are to be in a growing relationship with God, though. We must never lose our awe and reverence for Him nor our perspective of Him and His might and majesty.
In the second phase, when we grow beyond our initial gratefulness, subservience, and awe, we become aware that Jesus saved us for more than this. He left us with eyewitnesses who wrote His teachings down. We begin to see who the disciples are and become disciples ourselves. We walk with them through their three years with Jesus. We learn about the Son of God as foretold in the prophets of the Old Testament and as fulfilled by the coming of Jesus, God incarnate. We learn He has power over demons, illness, life, and death. We learn Jesus will be our judge on the last day. We also learn how to be His followers and what that means. Jesus is our Rabbi now, our teacher. We sit at His feet. We eat at His table. We walk in His footprints down the road with Him. In living with Him and learning to do these things, we learn to be like Jesus. As Jesus said, “He is able to do only what He sees the Father doing.” (John 5:19 [AMP]) As Jesus learned from His Father, so we learn from Jesus our Lord. We are His disciples. This growth phase includes the first phase of awe and subservience, but it includes discipleship now. It includes a commitment of our lives.
The third phase of our growth in relation to God Jesus states in John 15:15, “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” [NASB] It is this phase of growth where our joy is made complete. This phase is when the Son and the Father are pleased with us and count us worthy to be called friend. What does this new status in regard to Jesus mean? He states it Himself like this: a friend lays down his life for his friend. (vs.13) Just as Jesus could not act without having seen the Father, we cannot act unless we see our teacher, Jesus, do it. So many of us read verse 13 as God telling us how great love regards one’s self - as nothing in compared to the value of another friend’s life. What I am saying is this verse tells us how to act and gives us value because of who we are - friends of Jesus. According to Jesus, His friends abide in Him; they live in Him just as He abides in the Father. Jesus states that we know we are abiding in Him if we keep His commandments. He says twice in the chapter what a friend is: friends have love for one another (the brethren) just as Jesus loves us. He states this in verses 12 and 17.
This is the point we are growing toward – to be like Jesus, to love as Jesus loves. When we see beyond ourselves and how an act will affect us, we are no longer just disciples, but are identified with Christ. Prior to this we counted the cost when we were young converts and learning at the feet of Jesus. We are now walking in the shadow of Jesus and becoming the cost without thinking and without hesitation because we are so identified with Christ. This phase does not mean we have stopped growing in Christ, but is a phase where the growth is unconscious because the life of Christ through His Holy Spirit within us guides us in the way of Christ so we are unconsciously doing as He did, being as He is, and speaking as He spoke. When we reach the phase of our growth when we are unconscious of our own selves and no longer desire anything for ourselves is when Jesus is most consciously visible to others in our words and actions. That is when Jesus calls us friends.
Jesus calls us His children, His disciples, and His friends. There is nothing we can do to earn any of these privileged titles. The gift of faith, which God gives us, enables us to believe Jesus is the Son of God. The gift of salvation enables us to have eternal life with Him. The gift of the Holy Spirit enables us to follow Jesus and grow more like Him. The only thing Jesus says we can do is this, "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:10 [NASB]) Our part of all this is to keep Jesus’ commandments, His teachings. In doing this, we grow out of ourselves and into more unconscious Christlikeness. We do nothing to earn Jesus’ friendship other than lay down our lives for His. Be filled with His Spirit. Become a believer in Jesus as the Son of God. Become children of the Most High God. Be identified with the Messiah.