Abide

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 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. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another. – John 15:1-11,16-17 ESV

Yesterday, we looked at three different imperatives or commands found in the New Testament Scriptures that seem to provide Christ-followers with marching orders: Put on…, put off…, and grow up…. But we saw that these non-negotiable requirements were never intended to be a list of activities we pursue in order to make ourselves more righteous in God’s eyes. Each is meant to be a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. The commands to “put on Christ” and to “put on the new self” are not to be seen as actions we implement in our own strength, according to our own will power. They are actions that flow from an inner awareness of our need for divine help in our own sanctification or growth in Christlikeness. While the Scriptures are replete with calls that seem to indicate our need to put effort into our quest for spiritual maturity, we must never lose sight of the fact that our growth is never up to us alone.

In his letter to the Philippian believers, Paul told them to, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12 ESV). At first glance, that sounds a bit foreboding and overwhelming. It appears as if Paul is calling them to save themselves. But the key to understanding Paul’s meaning is found in the phrase, “work out,” which is actually one word in the Greek, and it literally means “to do that from which something results.” It is a picture of salvation, a work of God, lived out in daily life through tangible, visible expressions of change. In other words, God’s salvation of sinful men is to be trul life-changing and transformational. Not only does it have future ramifications, in terms of the promise of eternal life, but it also has immediate implications that show up in the form of abundant life, right here, right now. 

And to make sure that the believers in Philippi understood that this working out of their salvation was not a call to increased effort at living a righteous life, Paul clarifies that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13 ESV). In other words, our salvation is actually worked out through us as God works in us. And one of the key ways He accomplishes this work in us is by the presence of His Spirit within us.

In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul makes several interesting observations about the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence. First of all, he describes the Spirit as being the Spirit of God. Then he designates Him as the Spirit of Christ. And, finally, Paul seems to suggest that the indwelling Spirit is Christ Himself.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. – Romans 8:9-10 ESV

While all of this language may seem a bit contradictory or, at the least, confusing, it is simply a way of characterizing the total involvement of the Trinity in the sanctification of the believer. The entire Godhead, including the Father, Son, and Spirit, are unified in their work of transformating the believer into the likeness of Christ from “one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Notice how Paul easily exchanges and interchanges the names of Jesus and the Spirit as he discusses the divine transformation taking place in the life of the believer.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 ESV

For Paul, the Spirit’s work in sanctification could not and should not be divorced from that of God the Father of the Son. As the unified Godhead, their efforts are always symbiotic and synergistic. It is a collaborative relationship. So, in John 15, when we hear Jesus speaking of the one who abides in Him, we must understand that this is far more than a call to a relationship of dependence upon Himself. This call to abide in Him and to have Him abide in you includes the other two members of the Trinity.

The picture is one of communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is an interdependency involved, in which the believer enjoys a powerful and life-transformative union with the three members of the Holy Trinity. And, as if to stress the vital nature of this unity, Jesus discusses the topic of abiding 11 times in just 13 verses. Through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, God the Father and God the Son abide within the life of the believer, and this powerful union produces undeniable and unavoidable outcomes, which Paul describes as fruit bearing.

Eight separate times, Jesus ties abiding to fruit bearing, and He uses the imagery of a vine and branch to drive home His message. This aggrarian reference would have struck a chord with His audience, providing them with a clear and compelling metaphor that made His point easier to comprehend. As a branch must cling to or remain attached to the vine in order to produce fruit, so a believer must see himself as completely reliant upon his relationship with the Trinity in order to be fruitful. And the abiding of which Jesus speaks is not meant to conjure up thoughts of effort or expended energy. A branch doesn’t have to work at abiding. It’s role requires a degree of passivity and complete receptivity, that allows the vine to produce the preferred outcome. As Jesus makes clear, the branch, apart from the vine, is useless. And the believer, apart from his relationship with the Trinity, is powerless to produce fruit.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:4 ESV

And the goal is fruitfulness. In other words, fruitlessness is not an option. Someone who is united with Christ, restored to a right relationship with the Father, and indwelled by the Spirit of God, will produce fruit. And, as Jesus makes clear, not just a little fruit, but a lot. The lack of fruit in an individual’s life is not from a lack of effort, but from a lack of a relationship with Jesus.

While this passage has been used by some to promote the idea that a believer can lose their salvation, that is not what Jesus is teaching. And you won’t find support for that false doctrine anywhere in Scripture. While there will be those who claim to know Christ and who believe themselves to be in an abiding relationship with Him, the proof will be in the fruitfulness of their lives. The presence of God in the life of a man or woman will always produce fruit. The bearing of fruit is the God-ordained purpose for every believer, and our fruit-bearing brings glory to God, because it is the work of God, from start to finish. As Paul told the Philippian believers, “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13 ESV). And, as he told them earlier in the same letter, “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT). 

Abiding is not something we do as much as it is something we embrace. It is not an effort we expend, but a lifestyle we express, through our humble reliance upon the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. From the moment we place our faith in Christ, we must constantly remind ourselves of our complete dependence upon Him for all that we need. He is the vine. We are the branches. The fruit is His work, not ours. The credit is His, not ours. Through our union with Him, we enjoy the blessing of being used by Him, for the good of others and the glory of His name.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

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God’s Will. Your Walk.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. – Colossians 1:9-10 ESV

Colossians 1:9-14

Sometimes my prayers can lack focus. Not only does my mind wander when I pray, but even in those moments when I successfully manage to give God my undivided attention, the content of my prayers can be all over the map. It can be hard to know what to pray. If I’m not careful, I can find my prayers becoming somewhat robotic and rote, making the same requests for the same individuals day after day. One of the things I like about the prayers of Paul found in his letters, is that they were focused prayers. He wasn’t distracted by external issues, but seemed to go straight to the heart of what was really necessary and needed. His prayers always seemed to be spiritually-focused, not materially-minded. In his own life he had learned the secret of contentment. “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13 ESV). He had learned to be content with Christ. Everything else that had at one time been so important to him – his career, his reputation, his financial status – had taken a backseat to his relationship with Christ. He wrote, “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8 NLT).
So when Paul prayed for others., he focused his prayers on their spiritual condition. He prayed that the believers in Colossae would be filled with a knowledge of God’s will. that would be the source of the spiritual wisdom and understanding they would need in their daily lives. And he knew that knowing God’s will was the key to their ability to live spiritually healthy lives. Knowing God’s will was going to be essential if they were going to live lives that were worthy of their calling as God’s children. We all know what we want to do. Our will is no secret to us. But God’s will can sometimes be difficult to discern. So Paul asked God to make His will known to those for whom he prayed. Why? Because Paul wanted them to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.” He knew that their knowledge of God’s will and their willful obedience to it would produce fruitfulness. Jesus called it abiding. He told His disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV). To abide is to remain, to rest in and depend on, just like a branch does with the vine. It submits its will to the vine and allows the vine to produce fruit through it. Knowing God’s will and submitting to it is what makes us fruitful. It produces a life that is pleasing to God. A branch that refused to abide is useless. It loses its capacity for fruit-bearing. Failure to abide is when I determine to do my will instead of God’s. It’s when my agenda takes the place of His. Paul knew that was a danger for every believer. So he prayed that they would know the will of God and live according to it, so that they could bear fruit in every good work. Jesus said bearing fruit brings glory to God. “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8 ESV). But it requires abiding in Christ and a submissive obedience to the will of God.

And Paul prayed this prayer because he knew that, ultimately, knowledge of and obedience to the will of God produces a growing awareness of who God is. If we know God’s will and obey it, we will develop a deeper intimacy with Him. Not only will we grow in our knowledge of His will, we will grow in our knowledge of Him. “All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better” (Colossians 1:10 NLT). Knowing God is the objective. He wants us to know Him better. He wants to reveal Himself to us. He wants to deepen the relationship between He and us. That is the essence of what it means to have eternal life. Jesus Himself said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:5 ESV). The apostle john wrote, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20 ESV). Jesus Christ has made God known to us. He has made it possible for us to know God, the one true god. But that knowledge is to increase daily. As we learn His will, we get exposed to His heart, His nature, and His incredible love for man. As we live within His will, we discover just how faithful, true, trustworthy, loving, wise, and powerful He really is. And like Paul, we learn to say, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Abide and Accept.

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. – 1 John 2:27 ESV

According to John, there appear to be two significant things that contribute to a believer’s inability to live as Jesus lived and walk as He walked. The first is that we do not abide in Him. The word for abide is menō and it means “to remain, tarry, not to depart, to be held, kept, continually.” It is the same word Jesus used when He said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4 ESV). Jesus gave us an image of connectedness and oneness. He was illustrating a unity and spirit of dependency that is essential to our fruitfulness as believers. You have to remember that the context in which John writes involves a group of individuals who had left the local fellowship. They had failed to remain. Not only had they departed from fellowship with the people who made up the church there in Ephesus, they had walked away from the Christ that the apostles had preached. Either they had never believed that Jesus was the Son of God and the Savior of the world, or they had changed their opinions about Him somewhere along the way. So John was reminding those who were left behind to “remain.” He wanted them to stay connected to Christ, but not a Christ of their own choosing. They must continue believing in the Christ Jesus claimed to be, the apostles taught Him to be, and the Spirit confirmed Him to be. “But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ” (1 John 2:27 NLT).

There is a time when Jesus will return. And while we don’t know when it will happen, we are to live with that moment in mind. His eventual coming is to have an impact on our conduct. And our conduct is directly linked to our willingness to abide in Him. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV). Our fruitfulness is directly linked to our abiding. And our fruitfulness glorifies God because it gives evidence to His power operating in us and through us. “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8 ESV).

There is a second thing that makes it extremely difficult for us to live abundant, powerful and fruitful lives while we wait for the Lord’s return. We refuse to accept or acknowledge who we really are. John reminds us that we are children of God. This incredible reality seems to never really sink in with most believers. And John would have us know that our new designation as God’s children is the direct result of His incredible, marvelous, undeserved love for us. He has made us His children. Not because we deserved it, but because He chose to extend His love to us through the death of His Son on our behalf. We are His children and yet, most of us fail to ever recognize the immense significance of that reality. We tend to live as paupers rather than princes. We have been adopted by the God of the universe, but live as though we are orphans left to defend for and care for ourselves. The apostle Paul reminds us, “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure” (Ephesians 1:5 NLT). And one of the most significant things about our adoption is that it comes with rights. Paul tells us that the full impact of our adoptions as sons is “that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Galatians 4:5 NIV). We’re not third-class citizens, but fully legal children of God with all the rights and privileges that come with being His sons and daughters. God is our Father and we can come to Him at any time. We can make requests of Him. We can cry out to Him. But many of us fail to accept our new status as God’s children. We live as if we belong to this world. We tend to seek for satisfaction and comfort from this place rather than turning to our heavenly Father. C. S. Lewis put it well when he said, “It would see that our Lord fins our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

If we want to be fruitful, faithful and experience the full life Jesus offered, we must remain in Him. We must not depart from Him, but remain attached to Him – at all times and at all costs. We can do nothing without Him. And we must constantly remind ourselves that we are children of God, with all the rights and privileges that come with that designation. We are no longer citizens of this world. Which is why John said, “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (1 John 3:1 ESV). And why Jesus prayed on our behalf, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:14-15 ESV). Abide in Him. Accept who you are. And you will see God work in ways that transform you and glorify Him.