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

 

Advertisements

One With Christ.

But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:17-20 ESV

The Corinthians were not taking their union with Christ seriously. Because of the dualistic approach to life, they seemed to believe that what they did with their bodies really didn’t matter. This led them to look on any sins they committed with their bodies as somehow separated from their spiritual lives. You can see the logic behind their thinking in the phrase, “All things are lawful for me” (1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV). This was a common expression used by the Corinthians to excuse their behavior. And it had led them to commit all kinds of sin with impunity, including sexual sin. The very fact that they had refused to deal with the man in their church who was having sexual relations with his stepmother shows how skewed their thinking had become. But Paul is out to confront and correct their improper views of the body and its relationship with sin.

Paul commands them to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18a ESV). He uses the Greek word, φεύγω (pheugō), which means “seek safety by flight or to escape safely out of danger” (“G5343 – pheugō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It is the same word he used when writing to Timothy. “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11 ESV). Paul had been warning Timothy about those who have an “unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6:4-5 ESV). Paul warned Timothy to flee from these things. Instead, he was to διώκω (diōkō) righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness. The word Paul used means “to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after” (“G1377 – diōkō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It is not enough to simply run from something. We must also run to something else. But if the Corinthians would not see sexual sin as wrong and dangerous to their spiritual well-being, they were going to continue in it. That was unacceptable to Paul.

So he attempts to paint a vivid picture of the dangers of sexual sin, by emphasizing that every other sin a person commits is “outside the body,” while sexual immorality is a sin “against” the body. The word he uses is a Greek preposition that is most often translated “into.” There is a physical union that takes place in sexual sin unlike any other sin. There is no doubt that all sin requires the use of my body. In order to lie or slander, the tongue is necessary. In order to steal, the hands and feet must be used. To murder another human being requires the mind to plan it and the body to carry out that plan. And while these sins are no less serious than sexual immorality, Paul’s point is that there is a difference. Sexual immorality is a blatant sin against the body, and that body, Paul stresses “is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God” (1 Corinthians 6:19b NLT).

As followers of Christ, we enjoy a mystical, but real union with Him. His Spirit lives within us. We take Him with us wherever we go. Paul told the Colossians, “Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory” (Colossians 1:27 NLT). And so, there is a sense that when someone commits sexual sin with his or her body, they are dragging Christ into that experience. Paul asks the Corinthians, “don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her?” (1 Corinthians 6:16a NLT). There is an intimacy and interconnection established. Which is what led Paul to ask, “Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute?” (1 Corinthians 6:15 NLT). And just to clear up any possible confusion, Paul’s provides the correct answer: “Never!”

For Paul, union with Christ was an essential doctrine that needed to be understood and made a part of the believer’s daily life. John Murray wrote that “union with Christ is . . . the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation. . . . It is not simply a phase of the application of redemption; it underlies every aspect of redemption” (Redemption – Accomplished and Applied, Eerdmans, 1955, pp. 201, 205). We are one with Christ. We share His identity. We are progressively being transformed into His likeness. We not only share in His death and resurrection, and all that those things imply, we share in His righteousness. We have the capacity to live like Christ in this lifetime. The very same power that raised Him from the dead lives within us and is available to us. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:3-4 ESV). He went on to emphasize their oneness with Christ:

 In him we have redemption through his blood – vs 7

In him we have obtained an inheritance – vs 11

In him you also … were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit – vs 13

We are in Christ. We are one with Christ. Sexual sin uses the body that belongs to Christ and re-purposes it for immorality. It takes what God has bought with the precious blood of His Son, our body, and uses it for ungodly purposes. And in so doing, we degrade and desecrate the very temple of God. Which is why Paul ends this section with a call to “honor God with you body.” Why? Because “You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT). We belong to God – body and soul. Your body is no longer yours to do with as you want. It is the temple of God’s Spirit and is to be used to bring God glory and honor. As Paul reminds us, “give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable” (Romans 12:1 NLT).