The Gospel of John XXVIII:
Abiding in Christ
August 16, 2009
Main Point(s) of sermon:
· Those who are branches in name only will be cut off.
· In order to make us more fruitful, Jesus must prune not only the bad things but also the neutral things that we are not doing to God’s glory and are distracting us.
· Abiding is not mystical, it simply means staying attached to Jesus, to draw your being from Christ.
· We cannot do anything of eternal value without Christ.
Objectives of sermon:
· To help us understand what it means to remain in Christ and motivate us to do so.
· 082, 073
· Leftovers (esp. Vine),
· Lewis (war)
Scripture reading: John 15:1-6
Jesus liked talking in images, e.g. sticks and log in the eye. That one is clear, this one is not, it’s a bit enigmatic. I have heard a lot of mystical explanations for it, but I think “remaining” in Christ is easy to understand, if not to do.
There are several key questions to be asked:
Q Do we have to be worried about getting cut off and thrown in the fire if we don’t produce enough fruit?
Q Does pruning mean removing all “unspiritual” activities?
Q And what does abiding mean anyway?
· Open your Bibles: so you can follow if I jump around, look at context, take notes, and be more familiar with your Bible.
THE TRUE VINE
Jesus is still preparing his people for his departure, and explaining how they are to continue his mission after he leaves and how they won’t be left as orphans.
· He is also answering how he can be revealed only to them, and not all of Israel.
Part of what Jesus is doing is redefining what it means to be Israel. The vine was a typical metaphor for Israel both in Jesus day (it was the image on coins in 68-70 AD) and the OT.
· In the OT, they fail to bring good fruit and forget they are there to bring the nations to God, and so are cut off, but:
NIV Isaiah 11:1 ¶ A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
So in v. 1 when Jesus calls himself the vine and God as the vine tender, he is following OT imagery, but the surprising part is about more branches being cut off.
Who get cut off?
Verse 2 causes a lot of debate about if you can lose your salvation, but that it not the point: Those who are not true Israel will be cut off of the vine. True Israel are those who truly follow Jesus, not those who are national Israel.
Q Does this still apply today?
Absolutely! There are still many people who claim to be Christians, but for whom Christianity is a cultural or family identity, not genuine submission to Christ.
· “I am an American, therefore I am a Christian.”
· Truck with racing stickers, WWJD and “Follow me to Hooters.”
This faith will not save you. To be a Christian means calling Jesus Lord and Savior. As I said last week, you can’t call him Savior if you don’t call him Lord. The mark of obedience:
· Last week: Obedience motivated by love, empowered by Spirit.
· This week, same idea stated differently: Bearing fruit.
If you are not bearing fruit, it is clear evidence that you are a Christian in name only, and that won’t save you from being cut off as V. 6 says.
Q Does that mean if we don’t bear enough fruit we go to hell?
No, see verse 2. It doesn’t specify a quantity, but that you are bearing some fruit. If you bear any fruit at all, if there is any indication of the work of the Spirit in your life, God will cultivate you to bring greater and greater fruit.
· But if there is no fruit whatsoever (and only God can judge that), we can guess that there was no genuine heart change.
How do we bear more fruit? Verses 2b-4: By being pruned and remaining in Christ. Notice this is God’s part and our part.
Q So what does it mean to prune? Does it hurt?
The Greek word has two distinct meanings, and I think both are meant (a play on words).
1. To cleanse
God works to remove the sin in our lives that destroys us and dishonors him.
This doesn’t need too much explanation – we all understand that pride, selfishness, dishonesty, hatred, and a myriad of other things need to be cleaned out of us so we can bear more fruit.
2. To prune
But this word also means to prune. What’s the difference? Cleansing removes bad things, pruning removes things that fine.
· The purpose of pruning is to improve the fruit – too many clusters of grapes actually makes for lower quality grapes.
God may need to remove some good things as well as bad, in order for us to be focused. It is better to do a few things well than many things poorly.
· We are finite creatures with finite time and energy, and we must choose what we will put our lives into.
Q Does this mean we get rid of anything that is not spiritual?
If we only have so many years and so many resources, shouldn’t we devote all of it into winning souls?
I have had that fear (as I have mentioned before), that being a good Christian meant becoming a monk and devoting all of my life to God in ministry (how ironic I became a pastor).
· I’ve been relieved to find how normal the Christian life is.
Look at the Epistles, as Paul instruct believers how to live: He assumes they will more or less carry on in normal activities, but with a crucial difference:
1 Corinthians 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
A thing may be done if it is being done to God’s glory – if it causes me to value God more and if what you do (and how you do it) causes others to see God’s goodness.
It’s important to understand that the fruit we bear is more about attitudes and motives than actions:
Galatians 5:22-23 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
An activity’s “spiritualness” is not based on how religious it is, but if is done to God’s glory. Cleaning the house out of love and selflessness is far more spiritual than preaching to impress people with my knowledge.
· So the pruning of good things is not so much based on how “religious” the activity is, but if it is done to God’s glory.
But there are a lot of things that can be done to God’s glory, so another part of pruning is doing what God has gifted you for.
· I could work really hard and become a sub-par drummer or work really hard and become a good preacher.
Who’s the vinetender?
So the pruning Jesus talks about is both cleansing from sin that entangles and destroys us and pruning our efforts to the few things we can do well and to his glory.
Q Very important point: Who does the pruning?
God is the master gardener. Pruning is not “snip here, snip there,” it is a very careful and delicate process. His pruning, though painful, is perfect in timing and scope.
But when we try to “self-prune” the results can be disastrous. We make changes for all the wrong reasons:
1. Try to make God accept us.
2. Stop doing things that embarrass us.
3. Focus on surface issues, not heart issues.
But God’s pruning is perfect, done with complete love and acceptance, and reaching deep into our hearts, deeper than we can see, and with patience.
· God is far more patient with us than we are.
I have learned rely on his timing and have watched him change me in ways I didn’t even know I needed.
How? By simply (but honestly) seeking for God to work in my life and then getting on board with his agenda, rather than mine.
· There is the danger of complacency, but I prefer that over the dangers of legalism, self-righteousness, and discouragement.
So God’s part is pruning and our part is “remaining” (abiding).
Q What does that even mean?
I have heard a lot of explanations for this, some quite complicated and some rather mystic. I think Jesus explains more clearly than that:
Verse 4-5: You know how a branch has to stay attached to the vine to be alive? Same goes for you.
Remaining simply means “stay attached.” We need Jesus, we are completely dependent upon him. “Abiding” means becoming more and more aware of how desperately we need him. He is our only source of sustenance and life.
· Detached from him from him we shrivel up and die.
CAN’T DO NOTHIN’
Verse 5b: Apart from me you can do nothing.
· What do we tell our kids after they pick a flower from the garden - it’s already dead.
Once it is severed from the stem and roots, it may have some semblance of life, but it is no longer growing. In the same way, when we are no longer drawing deeply from Christ, we are dead, we can’t do anything of lasting value.
· We may be able to do a lot of good to make this world a better place, but only things done for Jesus and through Jesus last.
How to stay attached
So, understand, God’s part is to prune, and our part is to stay attached to Jesus, because without him we can’t do anything. As always, he has the lion’s share of the work.
And even the “abiding” is his job, it’s not so much holding on as remembering that we are being held. The work is really his, we need to remember that and lean into him.
Q So how do we “remain in Christ”?
I was going to preach all the way to v. 17, but there was just too much to cover well. But in those verses Jesus gives the two main ways. Verse 7: Prayer and the Word.
So, you’ll have to come back to find out how prayer and studying the Bible are key component of remaining in Christ, but both of those create a dependency upon Christ.
There are two other factors:
1. A daily, moment by moment choice to seek Jesus, depend on him, and follow his ways and methods, not “going it alone.”
2. Time: Like any relationship, greater interdependence (or dependence in this case) grows with time spent knowing, loving, and trusting.
Q & A
1. Ask God to prune you, in his timing.
2. Ask him to make you more and more aware of your dependency on Christ.