Missing the point
Even with this clarity, this statement has been misused by sectarian teachers who claim to represent Jesus yet do not understand his message. They have sought to take advantage of Jesus' life and service for their own fame and fortune.
Rather than understand the loving relationships that exist between Jesus and the Supreme Being, and Jesus and his students, they have tried to expand this statement out of context into a universal claim that Jesus died for our sins.
Their claim is that the Supreme Being became a man and allowed himself to be crucified in order to cleanse the sins of humanity.
This is a preposterous theory, one based not on scripture or the teachings of Jesus, but based upon the desires of the Roman emperors and their church surrogates to dominate the peoples of Western Europe and the Middle East by creating a church-state where they could control religious thought. From many cultures with varying doctrines, they successfully developed a single religion that controlled the people.
This doctrine of God becoming Jesus and dying for our sins - communicated through the Nicene Creed - was brutally enforced throughout the Roman empire and beyond. Any manuscript that mentioned another doctrine was burnt. Entire libraries were burnt in the decades and centuries following the 325 AD Nicene synod. And over the next ten centuries, anyone caught teaching any other doctrine was imprisoned or burnt at the stake.
Does this have anything to do with the love that Jesus is speaking of here? Does ruthlessly torturing and killing people just because they understood Jesus' teachings differently have anything to do with Jesus' "greater love"?
Absolutely not. Remember that we can see a tree by its fruit. We can understand this teaching has no merit just by seeing that it was the basic tenet that drove a fanatical power-hungry institution, a surrogate of an authoritarian Roman empire, to murder innocent people - all for the sake of upholding a theory that God became a man in order to die for our sins.
Let's consider the logic of such a preposterous doctrine.
Why would the Supreme Being - the Controller of all that exists - have to submit Himself to a sacrifice in order to cleanse our sins? By the Supreme Being needing to submit to such a gruesome sacrifice, they are saying that God is subject to atonement and reparation. This means that God is not God. That God is not the Supreme Being. This says that God is subject to the rules of atonement - which means that God is not in control.
In other words, by accepting such a notion that the Supreme Being had to atone for our sins by dying on the cross is to reject God as the Supreme Being. It means that the rules of atonement stand above God. This is, in fact, atheism. By saying that God must atone, they are rejecting God as God. This means they do not believe in a God who is truly God - and truly in control.
Secondly, God never has to atone to cleanse sins. The Supreme Being is all-purifying. He can cleanse an entire universe's sins simply with a single thought. He is pure, and purifying in Himself. He does not need to do something to purify someone else.
Thirdly, God never becomes a man, and God never dies (e.g., "died for our sins"). God is eternally God. He never dies. God can certainly take on any form He pleases, but He never reduces Himself to the temporary. God is eternal, and the physical body of a man is a temporary structure. It has a lifetime of several decades and then, when the spirit leaves, the physical body begins to decompose. God never becomes a physical body. God always retains His eternal form and never is He obligated to become subjected to the pains of a physical body, or the death of a physical body.
The fact is, this entire false doctrine of God becoming man and dying on the cross to cleanse our sins has not only been perpetuated through institutions that have followed traditions based upon brutal violence and oppression, but they are maintained today for the purposes of gaining followers and lining coffers that pay rich salaries and provide lavish quarters for their politically-elected church leaders.
Tugging on our emotions
Today, the doctrine of Jesus being God and dying for our sins is now embellished by teachers who tug at our emotions with a fervor that lacks sanity. These teachers utilize emotion to pull in their followers as they continue this lie - trying to create some false notion of a personal relationship with Jesus. "Walk with him," they say, asking us to imagine being saved personally by Jesus' torture and murder two thousand years ago. How do we "walk with him" if we see him hanging, nailed to a cross for our benefit? How do we have this personal relationship with Jesus when we glory in him being crucified for us? What kind of "personal relationship" is this?
It is a relationship of usury. Just imagine if we worked at a bank and we wanted to steal money from the bank but not get caught - and not get put in jail to pay for our stealing. So we make friends with a co-worker in the bank and blame our stealing on this co-worker. The innocent co-worker now has to go to jail for our stealing from the bank. As our "friend" the innocent co-worker gets carted off to jail, we are feeling so emotional - so thankful - for our friend having sacrificed his life so that we would not be held responsible for stealing from the bank. Now that he is in jail, we can continue working at the bank, meanwhile we have tucked away millions of dollars we stole, without responsibility. Could this be called a relationship of love? Is the jailed co-worker "walking with us?" No. We would call this usury.
This is precisely what the teachers and their followers of the organized ecclesiastical sectarian institutions have been doing with Jesus. They have imagined that Jesus' torture and murder has paid for their selfish activities. They are imagining that Jesus will pay the price for their transgressions. They won't have to be responsible, because Jesus suffered two thousand years ago, and as long as we "accept Jesus into our heart," Jesus' suffering pays the price for our transgressions.
Could this be true? Does Jesus really take on the responsibility for our sins? Certainly not. We can see this practically. When a person - even a "born again Christian" (someone who has supposedly accepted that Jesus died for his sins) - gets caught stealing something or hurting someone, they will still have to take responsibility for that sinful activity. They will still be arrested and go to jail. It is not as if they can show up in court and say "I am not responsible for this crime because Jesus died for my sins" and then be let go by the court. The judge or jury will still throw them into jail to pay for their sinful (self-centered) crime.
And this goes for any other self-centered (sinful) activity. If even a "born again Christian" is caught cheating on an exam they will be thrown out of school. They will still have to be responsible for their activities. We've also seen "born again Christian" evangelists who have been caught cheating or otherwise doing sinful things and had to pay a price for that activity. Their followers didn't continue to follow them while saying, "its okay, my preacher is not responsible for that activity because Jesus died for his sins." No. As a consequence, the preachers lost most of their followers, and lost their positions and their salaries. They had to pay a price for their self-centered (sinful) activities.
We are responsible for our sins
In other words, we are responsible for our own sins, and our self-centered activities in general - big and small, good or bad. This is the way the physical world is set up. This physical world is a place of consequence. It is a place of learning. The Supreme Being set this world up as a place of consequence to teach us: To allow us to learn from our behavior, in order to become better people.
Just imagine a place with no consequences: We could do whatever we want, without consequences. No one would learn to do the right thing. The result would be brutal chaos.
Modern psychologists, in fact, have determined that consequence learning is the best way to raise a child. Rather than use discipline, they have determined that teaching a child by delivering logical consequences to actions teaches without the emotional damage caused by spanking and other forms of violence. For example, when a child throws food at the dinner table, the child has to clean up that food. This teaches the child the consequences of throwing food.
The Supreme Being set up this physical world in the same way because He wants to teach us. And the reason our bodies suffer in different ways is that we made someone else's body suffer in that very same way in the past. (We must know, however, that our bodies are not us - they are temporary vehicles for learning.)
What does He want to teach us? He wants to teach us how to love again. We are each spiritual people - not physical bodies. We each come from the spiritual realm, a place of love for God and love for everyone. The spiritual realm is our home, and we are each one of God's loving caregivers by nature.
But we have run away from home. Instead of loving and caring for God and His other children, we decided we wanted to play God. We decided we wanted to be worshiped instead of worshiping Him. This is the "original sin," but instead of only Adam having the "original sin," each of us had this "original sin" where we ate the "fruit" of enviousness (this is the symbolism of Genesis). We wanted to be God and enjoy like God. This is why the serpent said about the "forbidden fruit":
"For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Gen. 3:5)This symbolic verse indicates that the "forbidden fruit" is envy of the Supreme Being. Wanting to "be like God" means being envious of God.
And once we became envious of God, we were tossed out of the spiritual realm - that place of love. This is symbolized in Genesis with God's statement to Adam after he ate the "forbidden fruit":
"The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." (Gen. 3:22)Each of us is Adam. Adam symbolizes each one of us, and our envy of God is expressed by our each wanting to enjoy the world in a self-centered way. We each want to be the boss, the hero, the star, the president, the CEO, the mogul. These are all God's position, but because we are envious of Him, we want to be in these roles.
So the Supreme Being gave us each temporary physical bodies and a place to "play God" for a while:
The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. (Gen. 3:21)These "garments of skin" are our temporary physical bodies. They cover us like garments and allow us to live in this temporary virtual world and play these roles, all the while not having to face God. We get to pretend that God does not exist for a while. And we become self-centered. This is the meaning of "sin" - activities based on self-centeredness.
We might compare this physical world to a computer video game - a person sits at the computer, takes on a virtual avatar, and pretends to be someone he isn't for awhile while he plays the video game.
But this virtual physical world is also a place of consequences. Like any well-designed video game, the physical world is a place where we learn many lessons. Each of our actions comes with a consequence - good and bad. Good actions come with positive consequences, and bad actions come with negative consequences. This is set up for us to choose "good" activities.
But what are "good" activities? They happen to be activities that help others. They happen to be activities that care for others. Why do these activities have positive consequences? Because God wants us to come home. He wants us to remember who we are - loving caregivers by nature. As we begin to remember who we are, He opens the door for us to return to Him, by sending to this world His loving representatives such as Jesus Christ, to guide us back to Him.
Why did God send Jesus?
And why did the Supreme Being send Jesus then? To die for our sins and remove our consequences?
No. God sent Jesus to teach us about Himself. He sent Jesus to teach to his students - who then would teach to their students and so on - that we can each resume our natural loving relationship with the Supreme Being. How do we know God sent Jesus to pass on His teachings? Because Jesus stated it clearly:
"He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me." (John 14:24)And this is precisely why Jesus says in the statement above:
"You are my friends if you do what I command."He is connecting their relationship to his teachings. The word "command" comes from the Greek word ἐντέλλω (entellō) which is not just a command or order, but also an instruction.
And what was Jesus' first and most important commandment?
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)But Jesus also adds another commandment, which he says is "like it":
"And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matt. 22:39)This second commandment is practically identical with Jesus' statement here:
"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you."Except that Jesus is speaking personally with his disciples here. The love that he has shown them has been specific: It is related to him teaching his students about the Supreme Being. Jesus is saving his students with his teachings. And Jesus wants his students to pass on that love. He wants his students to care for each other, and care for others as he has cared for them. He wants them to save others by passing on his teachings.
This means that he wants them to help each other in their devotion, and teach to others after Jesus leaves the physical world.
And as for Jesus' next statement:
"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."Jesus is not talking about dying for our sins - as insinuated with this translation by professional ecclesiastical teachers. If Jesus was talking about dying here, then he would be telling his disciples that they need to die for each other. This would be a preposterous statement - likened to a mass suicide. Jesus is not asking his disciples to die for each other.
Rather, Jesus is talking about rendering service. He is talking about giving one's life in a practical way. The Greek word τίθημι (tithēmi) means, according to the lexicon, "to set, put, place," "to place or lay" but also "to set on (serve) something to eat or drink," "to set forth, something to be explained by discourse," and "to make (or set) for one's self or for one's use."
This word has nothing to do with dying. It is talking about giving oneself - in service - to others. Jesus confirms this message also when he said:
"Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant" (Mark 10:43)Jesus spoke of service to one another because this is what Jesus was doing. Jesus was serving them and serving God by teaching them love for God. Jesus was in fact, saving them with his teachings.
This is the "being saved" that has been missed by these follower-hungry Christian institutions over the centuries. While the words were right in front of them - while Jesus' teachings are in black and white - they chose to glaze over those teachings while seeking to maintain a theory to attract followers - being relieved of the responsibility for their actions. In doing this, they missed the essence of what Jesus really said - to teach us to love and serve the Supreme Being, and love and serve each other.
This is what will save us. If a person loves the Supreme Being and loves others, that person is no longer living for themselves. That person is living for the one they love. When we act on behalf of the Supreme Being's pleasure there is no consequence - outside of developing our relationship with the Supreme Being. These activities - and this consciousness - cleanse us.
It is not as if we will not still have to take responsibility for activities performed with self-centered intent. These activities will still have consequences. But activities performed with the intent of pleasing the Supreme Being - those activities that by nature help others with their spiritual lives - cleanse our consciousness. As our consciousness is cleansed, our self-centeredness gradually abates. And we begin to embrace our true nature - our loving, caregiving relationship with the Supreme Being and His children. Only then can we truly be "born again."