I saw this picture of an old run-down house, which wouldn't have been too unusual, except for the fact that it was in the heart of an American city in the shadow of modern skyscrapers. The same house on a lonely country road would have made sense, but wedged between multi-storied buildings forced a totally different meaning upon it.
Our whole concept of what the Bible refers to as faith has undergone a similar transition as religious civilization has grown up around it and has likewise altered its meaning. The same thing has happened to the phrase "Abiding in Christ". I am convinced that Jesus' words (John 15) originally came across to his disciples as a mind-boggling sneak-preview into the miraculous, but have evolved under the growing shadow of religion into a difficult maintenance program Christians need to develop.
Here's what I'm saying: the way we've come to use abiding today is mostly RELATIVE. In other words, when we talk about abiding we get introspective and focus upon this faith-thing we are doing (or are SUPPOSED to be doing). But this shift in focus from Christ to ourselves is something that has been forced upon the words of Jesus.
Don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying there's something wrong with the word abiding. I have even heard a rare few use it in the context of the miraculous, but the truth of ABIDING is more often understood without using the word abide.
While many settle for a less specific phrase like "A moment by moment walk of faith", I think the following definition I found accurately captures the basic assumptions of contemporary Christianity. I say assumptions because while I think most agree with the basic ideas in this definition very few are able to put it into words. Here it is:
what Jesus meant was really very simple ... to abide in Christ is to renounce any independent life of our own, to give up trying to think our thoughts, or form our resolutions, or cultivate our feelings, and simply and constantly look to Christ to think His thoughts in us, to form His purposes in us, to feel His emotions and affections in us.
Now, I gotta admit, there's a lot about this definition that sounds pretty good. At the same time it's simple meaning forces a few questions. I mean, what if I thought I was renouncing ALL independent life only to discover later that there was MORE to renounce? Does that mean that I wasn't abiding the whole time I thought I was? So, how do I know I'm STILL not holding some independent thought yet to be revealed which will suggest that I'm not abiding at the present time? And then, to top it off, could I even contemplate my own level of abiding without considering my own independent life?
I could keep going, but I think you've dealt with similar questions of your own that have left you thinking that whatever abiding is you're supposed to be doing it, and yet you're not really sure if you are ... most of the time. Tell me, if you heard a preacher say, "Abiding is perhaps the most serious failure among Christians!", wouldn't you be nodding your head in agreement along with everybody else? Yeah, I've been there.
Unfortunately, I just assumed that Abiding was one of those confusing Deeper-Life teachings that required years of serious study. It turns out that the answer was right under my nose the whole time. I had been looking for the door INTO the room I was ALREADY in! No wonder it was such a frustrating search. Are you ready for some good news?
First, let's take the mystery out of the language. There was no hidden or deep meaning in the word abide (or its Greek counterpart, meno). It was used in various ways in the New Testament writings, but there is a common thought behind all of them. It had to do with the WHEREABOUTS of someone or something. In other words, where something or someone dwelled, lived, existed, or stayed.
The deep reality found in the abiding spoken of by Jesus had to do with the fact that it refers to the connection between God and man: JESUS Himself. Long before the Word became flesh it was known that "the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands (Acts 7:48 - a different Greek word, by the way)", but God DID come to dwell with us, for the Father was abiding in Jesus. And Jesus told His disciples that He would abide in them through the Spirit He was sending. Jesus and His Father would make their abode - Their HOME, the place where They would live - in these men.
Do you realize the significance of those upper room discussions? Jesus was revealing a brand new reality that was in the process of happening at that very moment. In a few short hours they would see Him hanging on a cross to die, from which He would rise from the dead, then to return to His Father, and then He would send His Spirit. If you read through John you will notice a change half way through chapter 12 where Jesus declared,
The hour HAS COME for the Son of Man to be glorifiedJohn 12:23
We have learned to read that whole section as if it was telling us what we need to be doing in order to develop the relationship He spoke of. No wonder we have misread it so badly, for Jesus was describing the relationship that He was bringing to pass!
In John 15, Jesus likens Himself to a vine and His disciples to the branches. They didn't need a background lesson on grapevines, for most of them had probably worked in a vineyard sometime in their life. I wonder how many of them, as children, tried to grow a vine from one of the discarded branches only to have it die time after time? Here in South Florida, you can stick all kinds of plant cuttings in the ground and they will grow. But you can't do that with grapevines. If the branch isn't attached to - existing in - the vine it will die because the life that produces the fruit comes from the vine.
Jesus was NOT telling His disciples to do something called abide, He was declaring the dynamics of a totally new relationship!
Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch CANNOT bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me John 15:4
They would HAVE to have their life in Him and He would HAVE to have His life in them in order for this new thing to work. This abiding relationship is what Jesus was in the process of creating ALL BY HIMSELF. Why do we still think that WE are the ones who are responsible to make this relationship happen?
I will continue this in the next Shoveletter. Your input and your questions will help me address some things I may otherwise not cover. Thanx. :)
Until next time .....
the shovel (aka Jim)