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2008-10-25 (pm) John 15.1-17 Plugged In

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2008-10-25 (pm) John 15:1-17 Plugged In

            Why do good?

          Consider what doing good costs you.

          Once you do good, you’ll be expected to keep on doing it.  You’ll be known as a good person.  You’ll be constrained by that moniker.  You’ll be taken advantage of, and you won’t be able to tell people what you really think, because it won’t look good.

          Furthermore, if you do good, and by doing good choose to live your life in a certain way, you’ll be called a goody-two-shoes.  Then, if you try to encourage others to live a good life, they’ll snub you, and dismiss you for being legalistic.

          So, why do good?

          The simple answer is this.  We’re plugged into the living vine, Jesus Christ.  We can’t help but do good.

          Honestly, legalism, goody-two-shoes-ism, has nothing to do with it at all.  We might come across that way, but really, we cannot control what other people will think of us.  We might have the best goals in mind, the most careful attention to other people’s feelings, and still make people upset.  That shouldn’t deter us, though at times it might.  That’s not the issue.

          The issue is this.  Christians should be living in a certain way.  Christians ought to do good, Christians ought to be pure and holy, and obedient, on account of what we looked at this morning.

          Also, our passage tells us this very thing.  But before we get into that, I want to look at the Catechism for a minute.

          There are many people who don’t like to be told what to do.  They pass it off as having a problem with authority, and they say that with pride, as though having a problem with authority is a good thing.  It isn’t a good thing at all!  It’s a very, very bad thing.  Jesus Christ is our Lord!  We’re supposed to be slaves to Christ. 

          Anytime someone tells you they have a problem with authority, it means that they think they know the best way to live their lives.  Usually it means that they are proud, and in reality, they are slaves to themselves.  Pride, the selfish idea that they knew better than God is what encouraged Adam and Eve to listen to the serpent.  Pride and self assurance is totally incompatible with Christianity.  The apostle Paul says we’re to be slaves to Christ, slaves to righteousness.

          So, when it comes to the catechism, the people who don’t like being told what to do, grab a hold of the first two questions and answers of Lord’s Day 24, conveniently (for them) ignoring the last question.

          They say that how we live doesn’t really matter, because we’re saved by grace through faith.  That’s true.  That has to do with salvation.  Salvation is a gift.  You cannot earn it through any number of good works, nor can you destroy it or remove it by any number of bad works.  Salvation is totally won for us through Christ.

          People who loved works righteousness hated these two questions because they were concerned that it would lead to a Christian anarchy, where people do whatever they want to do.  And in some ways, that’s true today, in many churches, though it has less to do with these two questions, and more to do with the some in the seeker sensitive movement naming people as Christians without actually seeing any real conversion take place.

          So, today we have people who might be in churches but who really are not saved.  They say they believe in Jesus, and yet they drink to get drunk, they go to parties where they flirt, and dress seductively.  They engage in sexually charged conversation.  They might sleep around before marriage.  They might consider and engage in adultery even though they’re married.  They pursue financial gain over spiritual growth; they value owning things more than having Biblical wisdom. 

          By what you can see with your eyes, they are not producing much fruit.  Join Facebook, find your friends online, and look at their pictures.  It is an indication of what they value in life.

          But again, this is a result of shallow Christianity, not a concentrated effort to use and abuse the doctrine of grace, though of course there are some who do that as well.

          Allow me to reference a couple other passages that we could have looked at.  Jesus says we’re the light of the world.  The light shines in the darkness.  Have you ever been asleep in a dark room and had someone wake you up by turning on the lights?  It can be painful, it can take a while for the eyes to adjust.  We’re called by Christ to shine his light into the darkness.  Like cockroaches, people who don’t want their evil deeds shown, they shy away from the light.  If you get that kind of reaction, then you know you’re on the right path, even though you might have to put up with some serious abuse as a result.

          Another example Christ uses is salt.  Sometimes, salt is sharp.  It is salty.  Most North American Christians aren’t salty.  If anything, we’re more like MSG.  We enhance the flavour of anything people want to try out.  And we let them do it, giving them the blessing of Christ and the church.

          How many Christians do you know who lived together before marriage?  How many do you know who have cheated on someone or something?  How many do you know who have rebelled just for the sake of rebelling?  I was shocked at how many of my fellow employees at Calvin College were sleeping with their boyfriends.  I guess I was a bit naïve.

          Now, we say this with full humility, knowing that our own lives will not stand up to similar scrutiny, though we must allow scrutiny to happen, so that we can overcome temptations through Christ!

          Now, for all who are worried that God’s loving graciousness will produce licentiousness, lukewarm Christianity, we have this amazing passage in John.

          Jesus is the vine, we’re the branches.  The vine, the stem, the trunk produces the sap, the lifeblood of the branches.  If you cut a branch off a tree, does it not wither and die?

          But if you carefully remove a branch from a poor vine, you can, through the process of grafting, put that branch into a good stump, a good trunk, a good vine, and it will grow well and produce good fruit.  The quality of the fruit is not dependent upon the branch, but upon the trunk.  The wine growers in the Okanagan, realised that their vines needed to produce better grapes, so they grafted in varieties from other vines.  The result was some extraordinary grapes!

          Christians who truly submit to Christ will produce fruit.  It is inevitable.  But God will prune the branches that don’t produce good fruit.  If a person does not thrive and grow fruit, then they are not plugged into the vine, they are not plugged into Christ.

          So, what do we do?

          First, we must examine ourselves.  That’s the admonition Jesus meant when he said, pluck the log out of your own eye before getting all hot and bothered about the one itty bitty thing your fellow Christian is doing wrong.  Look long and hard enough at other people, and you will find something to find fault with.  This is not at all surprising considering the fact that we won’t be perfect in this life.

          But first examine yourself.  Invite the Holy Spirit to bring conviction of sin.  This is not how to do it.  “Hi God, please examine my heart, see if there is any offensive way in me (Psalm 139).  Okay, you’re done, good.  Thanks, Amen.”

          Meditate on God’s law.  Pray, pray earnestly, then listen to the Holy Spirit of conviction, not the evil spirit of guilt.  Can you discern the difference?  Sometimes it is hard.  Conviction says, “Hey, smarten up, you know better, now get to it.”  Guilt says, “Hey you loser, you’re a horrible Christian.  Do you think Christ really wants you?  You might as well go ahead and do it again, for all the difference it makes.”

          So, invite the searching of the Holy Spirit, confess, give thanks that you’re forever right with God through Jesus Christ, then, repent, resolve to avoid that sin in the future, but focus only on the present.

          Then, having done that, confess your sins to another person.  Let them know how you’re doing.  Find someone you can trust with this sort of information.  That might take a while.  You can feel free to call me.  I’m not perfect, and I might let some things slip, but I can hold confidences.  God has blessed me with a bad memory in some things, so that when I see people who’ve told me some of the evil they’ve done, I don’t dwell on it, I forget it, and I tend to look at them with an eye for their potential.

          Then look at your fellow Christians.  Examine their lives.  Consider their actions from all kinds of angles.  Then talk to them about it.  Sometimes we do things out of ignorance.  Sometimes we wilfully disobey, but we need to be called on it.  So, having looked at their lives, see if their actions show that they are plugged into the vine. 

          The catechism says that it is impossible for those who are in Christ not to produce fruits of gratitude.

          Now, lets unpack that for a bit.

          It is impossible.  This carries with it the theme of Psalm 1.  Psalm 1 describes the righteous.  And as you’re going through the Psalm, when you expect to be told what kinds of things the righteous people do, you find something else.  You discover that the reason why the righteous are righteous is because they are planted by streams of living water.  They bear their fruit in season.  They meditate on the law, the torah, the Bible. 

          So, we produce fruit because we’re connected to the vine.  If we’re really connected to the vine, it should show by what we do.  We will want to dig into God’s Word, every chance we get.  That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?  That’s why you listen to sermons during the week.  That’s why you read devotional books that help you understand yourself in light of scriptures.  That’s why you don’t have just one translation of the Bible, that’s why you read a study Bible.  It is because you love this book!   You see so much value in it, you can’t get enough of it.  Because it points you to your greatest joy, God Himself!

          And so you study this book so that you may demonstrate your pure joy in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, by doing what God commands.  You don’t do it for gain, because you know you can’t gain anymore than what you have.  In Christ, we have all the treasures in heaven, so what more could we want anyway?  You don’t do it to show off in front of others.  You do it because you’re so happy in Christ!  You do it do demonstrate your love.  You submit to Christ, trusting in Him, trusting that yes, His way is far superior to any other way you could ever think of.

          But those who ignore Christ’s commands, who try to find freedom for themselves, in what they do, in choosing to do different things, in ignoring prayer, Bible study, fellowship with believers, they don’t have freedom at all.  They face guilt and shame.  They face hollowness in their heart, because they are growing closer to themselves rather than closer to God.  There is no true joy in their hearts.  You can see it in them.

          So, if we’re connected to the vine, it should be a part of our new natures to do what Christ commands us to do.  So, do it, and who cares what other people think.

          In closing, how do we deal with the lukewarm sheep?

          How do we awaken people spiritually?  I think we have to be blunt.  I know I have to work on this.  I have to challenge people more, especially on visits.  But I don’t want to make people too upset.  Oh well, I really care for them, so I’m going to start pushing, but in the nicest way possible!

          I did hear a story about a guy who was part of a care group who was disappointed when he needed help, and the care group couldn’t give him the help he needed.  They stayed on the surface, but he really needed them to dig deeper.  He resented them for their shallowness.  But then it hit him like a ton of bricks.  They were responding to him in the only way they could, because he’d never been deep with any of them.  He’d never really shared the truth with them.

          So, he took a deep breath, and he opened up, and true transformation happened.

          Now, I’ve heard lots of comments about shallowness.  Deepness stars with us.  We can’t expect others to get deep if we don’t go deep first.  It is a frightening thing.  But as one of our songs goes, “Why should we fear man, when God made the heavens?”  No, the only one we’re told to fear is God.  Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:28-31).

          So, let’s dig a bit deeper.  Let’s challenge one another.  Confront one another when necessary, in a nice way of course.  And let’s really pull up the sap of Christ, so that we can produce succulent fruit. Amen.

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