We have grown up in a religious environment that has rephrased the miracle of Christ to fit into our natural perceptions. Faith has become nothing more than an intellectual transaction that is made with God. Why else do you think the Sinner’s Prayer has become the most important part of many gospel presentations? It is considered to be our part of salvation - or as it has been called, the faith transaction.
By the way, if you are bothered by my calling it intellectual, I understand. For I remember how I used to word the gospel message in the attempt to take people beyond a mental agreement. But the fact that I felt compelled to distinguish heart-faith from head-faith (though I didn’t use those terms) only proved my own assumption, and fear, that faith was primarily intellectual. This fallacy lead me to believe that their salvation was ultimately in MY hands since it was up to me to make an intellectual distinction in their minds between believing and REALLY believing! And, yes, it was THAT confusing to myself and to many others that I talked to. Whew! I love freedom in Christ!
Now, those who claim that salvation is gained by their efforts find no contradiction with this redefined idea of faith for it fits quite well. But those who hold to salvation by grace through faith find themselves continually struggling to explain how one can do something without doing something. As we discover that we didn’t just get in, but that we also LIVE by faith our confusion over the nature of faith keeps coming back to haunt us.
You see, we don’t want the same run-of-the-mill faith we see in believers around us. NO! We want New Testament faith! We want active faith! We want ABIDING faith! When we talk like this I don’t think we understand faith - or abiding - at all. For the faith through which we are saved does not refer to a Christian decision one must make - it describes the actual DEPENDENCE between a person and God through Christ. Our confusion comes from trying to get a handle on faith so that we can manipulate it or manufacture more of it! But in our attempt to harness the miracle faith seems to slip right through our fingers. And this is why you will continue to see new books or hear more sermons with more adjectives in front of the word faith. And the only reason we will buy these books or listen to these sermons is because we have been convinced that we just don’t have what they are selling us!
Now, if you were to read all the way through John you would discover many paradoxes before you got to the chapter on abiding. I could not overstate the significance of these contradictions in terms, for they have a space between them only as big as a mustard seed, which is about the size of a miracle. But when the miraculous is overlooked all that remains is tension. And this tension nagged at me for years.
For example he wrote,
He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him … John 1:10-12
Well, my question was that if THE WORLD didn’t know Him and HIS OWN didn’t receive Him, then WHO received Him? And then he records John, the Baptist, as saying,
What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony … John 3:32-33
Once again, I ask, if “NO ONE receives His testimony” then WHO “has received His testimony”?
John’s account is full of tension created from encounters with Jesus. Insisting “you must be born again” had Nicodemus asking if that meant he had to crawl back inside his mother’s womb. Telling the woman that He could give her the water of life produced a cynical remark about His inability to get water without a bucket. Refusing a meal with a word about having “food they didn’t know about” left His disciples asking each other where He could have gotten it. Claiming to be the bread of life and stating that by eating His flesh and drinking His blood didn’t make a bit of sense to the people, but offended them instead. Telling the Pharisees that He was going somewhere they could not find Him caused them to speculate that maybe He planned on going out to the remnants of Jews who lived among the Gentiles. Claiming that Abraham had seen Him only gave the Pharisees more fuel by which to discredit Him.
But the answer to the tension was always the same: the miraculous life of the Spirit of Christ. For NOT those born of man receive the testimony of God, but those who are born of the Spirit.
So, what does this have to do with abiding? Everything! For the Spirit of Christ is the life that flows through the vine into the branches producing the fruit. The Spirit is the CAUSE of the abiding. The Spirit is the SUBSTANCE of the abiding. The Spirit is the MEANING behind the abiding.
Okay, okay, so what about stuff like pruning, and getting cut off and thrown in the fire? How does all this fit in with my miraculous view of abiding? Put yourself in the disciples place. How would they have heard it? How would they have looked back on it? Don’t strain too hard now, I’m talking about the simple stuff. [I’m including a section of John 15 at the bottom of this page if you want to reference it.]
Their understanding of God was contaminated by sin-consciousness … for their religion DEMANDED it. They KNEW that God did NOT hear sinners, and every sacrifice for sin reminded them of that fact. They could not enter the presence of God; someone else had to do it for them. And those who entered the place of God’s presence were only doing so in a ritualistic sense. And yet here is Jesus describing an organic relationship where they are connected to God through Christ as branches to a vine!
First, notice who the vine-dresser is: God, the Father. Let’s see now, who does this remove from the list of potential pruners in your life? EVERYBODY ELSE! That means that other people do not control the snips. It also means that YOU don’t either! Most of our fears come from looking at ourselves and assuming there is no fruit, don’t they? The fact that others will also condemn us only reinforces what we thought anyhow. Don’t you think the disciples would have been remembering a vine-dresser they had watched? They knew that no one understood the vine like the man who cared for it day after day. Where do we get the idea that the vine-dresser consults with the branches so that he knows how to do his job?
Jesus spoke of branches IN HIM that do not bear fruit and are taken away by His Father and we jump to conclusions of how one might lose salvation, rewards or physical life. We have built whole doctrines around fragments of Jesus’ words instead of connecting the dots and getting the whole picture. I’m not referring to a systematic approach, but merely to viewing the full CONTRAST Jesus was making between branches that do and do not bear fruit. In doing so, He was distinguishing the counterfeit from the real.
There are two words I want you to take a look at: “prunes” in verse 2 (“purgeth” in the KJV) and “clean” in verse 3. Guess what? Same word. So if every branch that produces fruit gets pruned or cleansed and if the men He was speaking to were already clean then WHO are those in Him that do not bear fruit?
The fact of the matter is that there was only one disciple who was not there with them at the time because he had other stuff to do, like betraying Jesus. What are we to learn from this, that Judas was any worse than the rest? Not at all, for based on outward appearance Judas seemed to have a position of prominence among them since Jesus let him be treasurer. Here is what the disciples learned:
They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us1 John 2:19
This has nothing to do with people leaving groups or organizations, but with those who masquerade as being of Christ and can only keep up the illusion for so long. Church burnouts are quite often BELIEVERS who just can’t play the self-righteous game any more. The disciples had learned that you CANNOT judge based on what you see, but ONLY on the reality of Christ. Organizations will teach you how to spot dead wood so that later you can say, I always knew that guy didn’t fit it! But deceivers are the ones who seem to fit in the best. Why do you think Paul had DETERMINED to know nothing among them except Christ and Him crucified? It is THE FATHER who is the caretaker of the vine and its branches and is the one who cuts off that which has no life.
Anyone who does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up;John 15:6
The same contrast as above:
You are ALREADY clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.John 15:3
Realize that these guys didn’t really understand this until the Spirit was given. But they learned that Gods takes care of the vine and that they were WITNESSES of the miracle.
Jesus compares those who don’t produce fruit - those who are not really of Christ - to branches. It is merely a picture of a greater reality: those who appear as if they are a living part of the vine but are not. Even though we insist on filling out the picture by pointing out that dead branches used to be living ones Jesus did not incorporate that into what He told His disciples. He didn’t include it on purpose. He didn’t even say that those who don’t abide get thrown into the fire! He said that he is thrown away and dries up like a BRANCH that gets thrown into the fire. My point? Let the illustrations simply be illustrations of the reality without forcing the reality to match every possible speculation that can be derived from the illustration. After all, we are NOT literal branches on a grape vine and even though we whine a lot it will never be grape wine. :)
These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you. And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him (the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ that joins you in fellowship to God) ABIDES in you, and you have no need for any one to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it HAS TAUGHT YOU, YOU ABIDE IN HIM.1 John 2:26-27
The fact that you do abide in Him is the very thing that His Spirit has taught you. Don’t listen to those who are trying to deceive you about the miraculous reality of Christ in you!!
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 bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 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. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 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. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. This I command you, that you love one another.John 15:1-17 (NASB)
Until next time …..
the shovel (aka Jim)