John 15:5 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.
When it comes to our lives we tend to let the urgency of the moment distract us from what is really important. We do this because we think that anything we do is going to depend solely on our productivity with our passion and perseverance. Although I believe we should be passionate and persevere to see results I think we have a tendency to think that the results of our work are solely our doing. I agree that we reap what we sow. (Galatians 6:7) but I also believe there is something more to our Christian walk than hard work.
Some versions of the Bible say abide and some versions say remain but both convey the message that Jesus wants us to adhere to and that is our strength and guidance comes from God and not of our own doing. Meriam Webster’s dictionary has several meanings of abide but the one that I think is fitting for this passage is, “to continue in place.” The Idea of abiding with God is to be in a place with God as you rest in the fact that He is in control. The idea of the Vine is that the branches only can grow and produce fruit as long as they are connected to the Vine. Israel was known as a vine (Jeremiah 2:21) , although an imperfect one, and Jesus ties in that He is the ultimate vine that we need in order to produce lasting fruit that He longs to see in our lives. Branches have no life in and of themselves and are dependent on the vine in order to do anything but so many times we think it is by our own effort and ability that we forget who we really are dependent on. We need to learn what it means to abide in Christ and what we must do that will produce eternal fruit with our lives.
Abide in His Strength
If you look at our nation and the world you realize that the problems we are seeing are because of spiritual problems. Church attendance is down, young adults are walking away from the faith, the largest religious organization outside of Baptist and Catholics are called “Nones” because they have no affiliation with any denomination or church. Part of the problem we are facing is because we have taught that Christianity is behavior modification instead of life transformation and each week we have given everyone a list of things they should and should not do.
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
“I no longer live but Christ lives through me” If you are like me when I became a Christian (Christ follower) I thought I had to go and earn my keep or prove myself worthy to be on “God’s team”. I tried and tried not to sin and to do the things that church asked me to do the problem was I kept failing and I would grow discouraged and tired. I had to learn (and I am still learning) that I am a branch and it is Jesus power and Holiness that lives through me. For those of you who have a works mentality of Christianity this is going to be difficult for you to understand since you think that you are to go out and charge the gates of Hell with a squirt gun. We have to realize that the Christian life is not for us to live but for Christ (The Vine) to live through us (the branches). This idea that we can produce our own fruit is because we believe it is about our own activity and works. My friend Brent in his book living for another explains the life of a branch lived in a vine this way.
“It needs to be said here that his fruit is produced naturally. Like breath, we only expel what is put in us. We breathe in the things of God and expel the things of God. The old saying goes, “Trees don’t grunt to grow! I am certain you’ve never seen a tree grunt to pass and apple! The roots go deep and the fruit comes naturally. A plastic fruit factory is loud and hectic and smells bad. But a vineyard is quiet and peaceful. When we try to produce our own “plastic” fruit, we become louder, more hectic, and sooner or later our lives stink.” Brent Gambrell, Living for Another, PG. 39)
Many Churches and Christian are loud and hectic as they are producing fake fruit thinking they are doing what God commanded them to do. We have separated time with God with activity for God and it is a common mistake we all can make over and over again. It “FEELS” productive to be busy, tired or burned out doing ministry but is that really what God called us to? Yes there will be times when your energy will be zapped as you minister to others (Luke 8:46) but that is even more reason we cannot rely on our own strength or resources.
I am for spiritual disciplines, as we will talk about in a moment, but when we think it is about our working harder or doing better than we miss out on the greatest relationship we can have which is with Jesus Christ as He works in and through us to accomplish His will. We have become religious leaders who are busy doing acts of righteousness by our own power and for our own glory while missing out on Jesus.
“The focus of the Bible is not on the question, “What would Jesus do?” but on, “What has Jesus done?” (Michael Horton, Putting Amazing back into Grace, Pg 14)
Christianity is the story of what Christ has done not what I am doing and when we get this backwards we become the religious leaders instead of serving out of a love relationship with God. You cannot make God happy by your works because your greatest works are still gross to Him (Isaiah 64:6) and this is what the religious leaders of Jesus day could not understand. They thought all their rules and all their sacrifices would be accepted by God but they failed to realize that even our best efforts are tainted by sin. We have to get this right or we are going to find ourselves burned out and frustrated and useless as we work tirelessly to serve Him. We have to learn to abide with Him if we are going to see Him do things in and through us that no one but Him can get the credit.
Abide with Him Daily
Abide means to Continue in a Place and so many times our time with God gets pushed out by things that seem more productive and more of a priority than Him. We may not ever say that in our churches but the fact remains we allow other things to take precedence over God every day. One of the reasons we do not take time to sit with God is because we start with the wrong view of God. We do not see God in light of how He has made us acceptable to Himself by dying on the cross for us and therefore we have become a friend of God.
John 15:15 No longer do I call you servants,[a] for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
Do you have people in your life that it is easy to hang out with and talk to? Many Christians have a faulty view of God and therefore they do not spend time with Him on a daily basis and pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) as if He went with them throughout their day. The only way that you can become more like Christ is to spend time with Him because it is His life that is lived through you but if you see God as a taskmaster asking you to do the impossible for Him then you will not want to spend all day abiding with Him. When we understand God’s Love, His Grace and the friendship we can have with Him then we realize that our service to Him is not as a servant but in a love relationship.
A) Abide by Listening to His Word
Going to church is important. I say that right away because our culture has changed thinking they do not need to be in a church. We have taken the phrase “a personal relationship with God” to mean we are to live the Christian walk on our own. We need each other but we need each other to share Gods word together.
“We do not seem to appreciate the extent to which we ourselves are seduced by the idols of our own culture and require in-depth, continuous, dedicated deprogramming by faithful teachers. … the church’s ministry needs to prepare us for real life in the adult world. (Michael Horton, Putting Amazing back into Grace, Pg 21-22)
Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
1 Timothy 4:13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.
The only way we can make sure we are not straying into the deceitful ways of the world is to stay in God’s word and with other brothers and sisters in Christ who can help guide us in ways to make sure we are not twisting God’s word to say what we want it to say.
B) Abide by Reading His Word
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say read your Bible? Some people say things like, “I don’t understand it all, or I fall behind and give up, or I know I should but it’s difficult to understand”. When you look at reading the Bible as a chore instead of a letter from a friend it can become difficult and there are some difficult things for us to understand. In fact there are many things we may not understand this side of Heaven but that should not keep us from reading it and understanding what we can understand.
2 Peter 3:15-16 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.
People only complain about the Bible being difficult to understand even though there are many things in this life we do not understand. Did you understand every subject in school growing up? Were you allowed to quit? No we pushed ourselves to understand what we could and sometimes (not all the time) we understand those things later as we grew and matured as adults. The same is true with God’s word it is simple enough for us to get the basic concepts down but some things we will not understand until we grow and maturity. We are also a very distracted people and just like physical exercise we need to train our brains.
They say if you really wanted to you could read the entire Bible in 72 Hours. They say if you read for 15 minutes a day you would read the entire Bible in a year. This may or may not be true for all of us but those numbers are probably pretty close to being true. Before the reformation it was the priest who had the Bible and they would tell people what it said and what to think. Martin Luther fought for the average person to read their Bibles and after the reformation people would take their lunch times and time with family to read the Bible together. I’m afraid that we have gone back to just waiting for someone to read the Bible to us and tell us what to think even though we have Bibles that we can read on our own.
Hebrews 5:12 -13 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.
Romans 10:17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
If we are going to have the faith that we need to walk in this world then we have to be reading Gods word on our own. Just like when you start a subject at school you may not get it all right away but you will eventually as you continue in it. The good news for Christians is that we have the Holy Spirit to guide us and teach us (John 16:13) kind of like having a tutor who is available at all times.
I would encourage you to read your Bibles on your own by having a reading plan and by setting a consistent time of the day that you will read.
C) Abide by Memorizing His Word
Psalm 119:11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
Some versions say hidden but stored is better because it means you have abundance. What is the Word of God in the arsenal of Spiritual warfare? Ephesians 6:17 says that the sword is God’s word. Some of you will not leave your house without your gun but you do not take a more important weapon with you which is God’s word. If you are struggle loving someone get a passage of scripture that talks about forgiving. If you are struggling with fear memorize a passage of scripture that deals with that. Whatever you are dealing with then memorize scripture about that so that you can be ready when the enemy attacks. The old adage goes “when do you need a fire extinguisher? When you need one” the same is true for the Bible verses you need because you never know when the enemy will attack.
Some of you might say that you do not have a good memory. You can memorize what you work on so do not buy into the excuses that you do not have a good memory. Can you remember your phone number or your Address? Then you can memorize scripture.
Memorization will help you minister to others as well. Remember we do not exist for ourselves and the verse you memorize by just be the word from God that someone needs.
D) Abide by Meditating on His Word
When we think of meditating we many times think of yoga practices of emptying one’s mind. We are never called to empty our minds and I would encourage you to never do it. Christian meditation is thinking about Gods word not thinking about nothing.
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Meditation is more like pondering and slowing down to think about what you just heard or read. I would encourage you to write down and think about something from your reading. Sometimes I forget what my time with God was about so I jot a note on a piece of paper and review it throughout the day. That is meditation, thinking and remembering what God has said.
If we are going to Abide, continue in place with Jesus, we need to Listen, Read, memorize and meditate on the word of God. If you spend time with Jesus (The Vine) you will see Him do things in and through you (The Branch) that can only be explained by a supernatural working of God. Many people get confused about what God will do through you but we know in scripture the fruit that He said He would produce through us.
Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
This is the fruit you will gain when Christ works through your life. In this crazy mixed up world I wish I could demonstrate these entire all the time and I can as long as Christ lives through me and not by my own power. Our world needs to see Christ working through us and in order for us to be the salt and light to the world we need to be a people that learns to abide (remain) with Him.