Abidng in Christ
Abiding in Christ
November 6, 2005
Most of you abide with a spouse. You live with them. You know them. Scripture says we are to abide in Christ – live in Him. If I abide in Christ, what happens to me? If I really walk with him and abide with a friend who loves me and hangs in, what is that going to do to, through, and for me? Abiding in Christ results in wonderful gifts of grace!
In these seventeen verses of John 15, there are thirteen significant grace gifts that flow directly from abiding in Christ. Let’s read this text and then take a closer look at five of these gifts today.
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that doesn't produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned for greater fruitfulness by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful apart from me. "Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who parts from me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.
But if you stay joined to me and my words remain in you, you may ask any request you like, and it will be granted! My true disciples produce much fruit. This brings great glory to my Father. "I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.
When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! I command you to love each other in the same way that I love you. And here is how to measure it—the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends. You are my friends if you obey me. I no longer call you servants, because a master doesn't confide in his servants. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn't choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. I command you to love each other.
I. Growth in Christ
The first grace gift that comes from abiding in Christ is growth in Christ. John 15:2: “Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
When Jesus talks about fruit, he’s talking about our becoming more like himself. God gives you a mirror to see yourself the way you really are, but he doesn’t stop there. He gives you an image of Christ, and he says he’s going to take you from the first (that is the branch that bears no fruit) and make you like the second (the branch that bears much fruit). That’s fruit. Bearing fruit means sharing your faith in Christ and seeing others come to know him the way you know him. Bearing fruit relates to Galatians 5:22, where it mentions the fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
The point is this: How does a branch bear fruit? How does it grow?
Does a branch say, “Oh, I have to grow and grow”? Of course not.
Does a branch say, “I’m going to see if I can turn and get those rays of that good old sun just in the right way so I can grow”? Of course not.
Does a branch say, “I’m going to grow if it kills me”? Of course not.
The branch simply stays connected to the tree because the natural outgrowth of being connected to the tree is growth.
Jesus is saying it’s the same thing with a Christian. If you read the Bible two hours a day and fast three days a week, if you’re good and pure and righteous and spiritual and honest and sweet and loving and kind, if you’re a good husband or a good wife and a fine father, if you really go to church every time the doors are open, if you’re the kind of person who really puts on a good show because you have a big, black Bible and you carry it everywhere you go—it won’t amount to a hill of beans. You’ll wither unless you’re connected.
A pastor relates the following story, “There’s a precious new Christian in my church who has a fantastic mind, and she’s been involved in all of those self-help kinds of things. She’s really a person who motivates other people and herself. She became a Christian about three months ago, and this whole thing is about to drive her up a wall.
She comes to me and says, “Tell me what I’ve got to know. I’ve got to know all of these things. I’ve got to work at them, and then I want to get out, and I really want to change the world tomorrow. Tell me what I can do.”
I always say to her, “Listen. Sit down. Just be still, and let him love you.”
One of the most terrible lies that Christians have believed is that production produces acceptance. Everything we’ve been taught has said that if we hustle enough, if we’re good enough, if we produce enough, if we sell enough, then our bosses or our parents or our pastors or our churches or our elders or our spouses will love us. God comes and says, “Production does not produce acceptance, because you can’t produce. Acceptance produces acceptance, and I accept you.”
You know what God’s real surprise is? God’s real surprise for us is that he’s not going to do it the way the world does it. He accepts us. Isn’t that beautiful?
Production doesn’t produce acceptance. Acceptance produces acceptance.
I can’t leave that text; I have to teach it the way it says it. Let’s look at one of the ways fruit is produced in our lives. John 15:2b: “Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
If I’d been writing that, I would have said, “Every branch that doesn’t bear fruit he prunes so that it might bear some fruit.” It doesn’t say that: “Every branch that does bear fruit.” In other words, if you’re abiding in him and you’re growing, he prunes so that you might bear more fruit. What does that mean? It means that the Father must often cut in order to cure.
Here’s another pastoral account: “I grew up in a neighborhood where I had twenty fathers and twenty mothers and just couldn’t get away with anything. It was a family neighborhood. When you looked up the street, there were beautiful maple and oak trees that grew up on either side of the street. It was a beautiful place for a tree house. It was a place where kids loved to climb and swing. You could hide from your parents up there and they couldn’t see all through the thick foliage.
Every few years the tree men would come and whack off the big limbs. It was just this old hunk of wood sticking up in the middle of the thing. I used to go and complain about what had happened to our beautiful trees, and the man who was in charge of that in our neighborhood told me, “Steve, do you really like the beauty of the trees? It’s the cutting that causes the beauty.”
That’s true for trees and for Christians. That’s how God works in our life. He prunes that we might bear fruit.
Someone asked Roger Staubach, former quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, about football injuries. “How do you keep on keeping on if you’re playing professional football?”
Roger said something important: “If you’re not playing hurt, you’re not playing football.”
It’s exactly the same way with the Christian faith. If you’re not living it hurt, you’re probably not living the Christian faith.
I recently read the following anecdote in a magazine, “I have a friend who has a problem with booze, and he’s now established a world’s record, for him, for being on the wagon. Those of us in the church who know about it are really upholding him in prayer and are so proud of his doing that. He’s really hanging in. He called me a couple of weeks ago and said, “I’ve just spent the most miserable three days of my whole life.”
There’s no way I can tell him now, but he’ll know later that what God is doing in his life is pruning. God is cutting away so that the fruit that will be produced in this man’s life will be more delightful and more plentiful.”
Abide in Christ and you will grow. You will be pruned, but you will grow. You want to be a mature Christian? Abide in Christ. You want to see the fruits of the Spirit in your life? Abide in Christ. You want to be a different person tomorrow than you are today? Abide in Christ.
Someone pointed out to me not too long ago how people who have been married for a long time like people and there pets get so they look alike. They start having the same kinds of expressions on their faces. They start actually having the same kinds of physical characteristics. I didn’t think that was true. Then I started to look, and it really is true. Have you ever considered why that happens? Well, that’s because people have abided with one another, and they begin to be like one another. It’s the same way abiding with Christ. We become more Christlike. We begin to take on the characteristics of Christ as we abide in him
The second grace gift from abiding in Christ is cleanness. John 15:3: “You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you.” One of the great things I loved about my father was his total acceptance of his son. My father wasn’t perfect, but he had perfect a son! He never once looked at me with rose-colored glasses, but he always accepted me.
Another story from the internet makes this clearer, “I remember the time a couple of friends of mine and I bought some cherry bombs (like fire crackers, only bigger and more dangerous). I had an old ‘49 Ford which was about ready to fall apart but was held together with chicken wire. We made our way down some of the streets in the city and started throwing these cherry bombs into people’s yards.
To our chagrin, there was an elderly woman in a rocking chair in front of one of the houses, and we decided to go back and make sure we hadn’t blown her up. When we went back, the man in the house got our license number and passed it on to the police.
I’d always thought my father was omniscient, and I found out that night he really was. When I walked in, he said, “Sit down.”
I thought, How could he know already? I just came home. I didn’t know two detectives had visited him.
I remember that experience because my father stayed with me. He didn’t say what I did was wonderful. He didn’t pat me on the back and say I could do it again whenever I wanted to. But when I went to the law, he went to the law with me. When I went to face the people into whose homes I’d thrown that cherry bomb, he went with me. No matter what I did and had to suffer as a consequence of that experience, my father went with me. As I was with him, I was clean inside—not because I really was, but because of his acceptance of me in that situation”.
It’s the same way abiding in Christ. Christ gives the freedom to fail and be clean but never the freedom to leave and be clean. What we do is sin and then ask forgiveness. God forgives us, and when we sin again, we ask forgiveness. As 1 John 1:9 says: “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.”
Pretty soon we get so ashamed that we don’t go to him anymore.
We say, “I’ve asked him to forgive me for the same sin about 20,000 times. I don’t go any more. I’m ashamed. He must not even want to talk to me any more.” The very resource that we need to abide in Christ, we don’t get. We don’t go to him.
When you’ve sinned, you have to keep on abiding, and asking for His forgiveness because it’s here that we find cleanness. When we go to him and keep abiding, he doesn’t say, whatever we do is all right. He doesn’t stop pruning. He doesn’t call sin something other than sin. He teaches us that our greatest sin is not in sinning but in leaving Himout of our lives..
Have you ever watched a little girl get her new dress dirty just before church? Little girls get their dresses dirty sometimes when they really don’t mean to, and then they’re faced with a number of options. They can try to hide the dirt by folding the dress over and walking close to their mother. Or they can pretend that they don’t know about the dirt: “Dirt? I didn’t know there was any dirt on me!” Or they can just try to stay away from mother so that mother can’t see the dirt. If mother comes into the living room, the daughter goes into the bedroom. She’ll try to get in the car before her mother gets in.
Or she can do what she ought to do if she has a mother who reflects the grace of God. She can go to her mother and say, “Look, my dress is dirty.” If her mother is right on, she does something about the dirt but not the daughter.
God’s that way. You can’t stop abiding when you sin. That’s when you need to go to him. That’s not the time to run.
The third grace gift that comes from abiding in Christ is productivity. John 15:4-5 reads, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, 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 it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Last week a young woman said to me, “Pastor, you really mean that you can’t do anything for Christ unless you’re abiding in Christ? You really can’t do anything?”
I said, “That’s right.” Anything done for Christ without abiding in Christ is counted as “hay, straw and stubble” and will have no eternal rewards. For more, read 1 Corinthians 3:12-15
There’s an old sermon illustration about a young painter who had purchased his master teacher’s brush. After he did his first painting, he went to his teacher, who said, “You don’t need the brush. You need the spirit.” You don’t need the brush, you need the Master’s Spirit.
A story about a pastor on Cape Cod illustrates this well, “Cape Cod is a wonderful place to be in the summer if you’re a connoisseur of Bible teaching. Everybody in the evangelical jet set goes to teach in churches all over Cape Cod. Whenever Anna and I are on Cape Cod, we always go to a little tiny Baptist church in South Yarmen because of the pastor there.
Let me tell you about that pastor. He butchers the English language, and if he submitted his sermons to a homiletics professor, he would not only not pass, he would be kicked out of the class. He opens his Bible, and he reads a verse of Scripture, and then he explains it to the congregation. Then he reads the next verse and explains it. When time runs out, he closes his Bible. The next Sunday he opens the same place where he left off and starts with the next verse. His presentation is horribly dull.
I’ve never sat at that man’s feet—and that’s what I do—that I haven’t been blessed in an absolutely magnificent way. I look at that man’s congregation, and I see the fruit of the Spirit manifested in their lives. I see them growing. I see them excited. I see the joy of Christ and obedience to God’s Word taking place in their lives. What’s happening? I’ll tell you, it isn’t technique. It’s abiding. I know that man, and I know how he walks with Christ on a daily basis. God honors him.”
Some years ago I met a young man who seemed to have a real gift of one-on-one evangelism, and I said, “You must have the gift of evangelism because so many people are receiving Christ. You must love doing it.”
He said, “First, I don’t have the gift of evangelism. Second, I don’t love doing it. It scares me to death because I know so little. What I do is get on my knees, and I just pray all the time because I’m so scared.”
That explains it. Productivity on the basis of abiding in Christ.
Have you ever seen those old Volkswagen commercials where this rather sophisticated, erudite man is buying a painting, and a voice says, “I have a picture like that.”
He says, “My good man, that’s not a picture. That is a painting!”
Then they go out to a Volkswagen Rabbit and put the painting in the back. The man says, “This looks like a lot of other cars. Why do you drive a Volkswagen Rabbit?”
He hits the hood of the car and says, “Because I don’t want an imitation. Why drive an imitation when you can have the real thing?”
You know, a lot of people are imitating abiding in Christ, but it’s not the real thing. You can imitate Christian love, but nobody is going to feel loved. You can imitate Christian joy, but nobody is going to sense that radiant joy that comes from Christ. You can imitate the Christian life, and it won’t be the same thing. It’s only when you have the real thing that it produces.
You want to talk about Christ so that others see and want to know him? Abide in Christ, and don’t depend on technique. You want to be an effective, productive church school teacher? Don’t just get trained, go to the master teacher and abide with him. You want to be a successful parent? Don’t read another book on parenting. Go to be with the one who created your children and just abide with him. You want to have a witness in the place where you work? Don’t talk; pray.
Productivity is a grace gift of abiding in Christ—not from hustle, from him.
The fourth grace gift that comes from abiding in Christ is security. John 15:6: “If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers. And the branches are gathered and thrown into the fire and burned.” The point is made in a negative way by Jesus, but it’s also a positive point when it applies to those who are abiding in Christ.
Some time ago Christianity Today ran the following letter to the editor: “This past week we had a presbytery meeting where some young men were being questioned as part of the process for ordination. One young man was asked to give an exposition of the five points of Calvinism.
The five points of Calvinism are as follows because I think you ought to know them: (1) radical and pervasive depravity; (2) Christ’s calling of his own from the foundation of the earth; (3) Christ’s atonement for his own—he came and was willing to die for us; (4) Christ’s effective grace for his own—in other words, his grace is so strong that when he draws you, you do come; (5) the perseverance of the saints.
When this young man was talking about the perseverance of the saints, he said, “It’s once saved, always saved.” He went on to expound what that meant.
After he was done, one of the interviewing pastors stood up and said, “I have a problem with the way you expressed that. It expressed too much passivity. We call it ‘the perseverance of the saints,’ not ‘once saved, always saved,’ because we have to persevere, and the Holy Spirit perseveres with us. That’s how we’re secure.”
I thought, He’s just trying to split hairs. Then I got thinking about it. He really has a good point. In the perseverance comes the security.”
Jesus said that if you don’t abide in him, you become useless—like the branch separated from the tree. If you abide in him, the converse is true, and you become secure.
Someone told me this story about a couple who adopted a teenager who had been kicked out of a number of foster homes and had a horrible background. He looked like a scared rabbit, so afraid to make a mistake, always trying to smile at the appropriate times and be good so that he would be accepted. I saw this teenager just a couple of weeks ago, and the change is so fantastic you wouldn’t believe it. This boy is just bubbling. He’s so excited and so happy, and he’s so free. Why is that? Because he persevered until the security came.
People are always saying, “How do I know that I’ve been saved?” You abide. You persevere. You are obedient, and pretty soon the confirmation comes in terms of the perseverance.
Abiding in Christ is a pretty scary thing at first. If you’re a new Christian, remember that, because you’re so afraid you will let go that you hang on with white knuckles. When it gets so bad you’re afraid you just have to let go, you find out he was holding you all the time. It reminds me of Margaret Fishbacks famous “Footprints” story – if your not familiar with it, come upstairs after service, a copy is hanging on my office wall. Security is a grace gift from abiding in Christ.
V. Prayer Power
The fifth grace gift that comes from abiding in Christ is prayer power. John 15:7: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.” John 15:16b: “Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he [will] give it to you.”
Mark Twain’s Huck Finn makes a classic statement when he says, “Mrs. Watson told me I could get anything that I wanted by praying for it. She said if I go in my closet and pray, I’d get it. And I needed some fish hooks one time. So, I went into the closet and shut the door and I prayed, but it tweren’t so. And I got to thinkin’ about it, and I decided there was nothin’ to it.”
A lot of Christians have come to the same conclusion, but they’re not as honest as Huck. They use something spiritual like, “I had a season of prayer, and God always answers. In this particular incidence, it was not a part of the ultimate will of a sovereign God to grant yes to my prayer.”
That’s true sometimes, but lots of times that’s simply a cop-out because people aren’t willing to pay the price that it takes to have the kind of persistance that they need in prayer.
Conclusion: Faith, Willingness, and Fellowship
When you abide in Christ, what happens? You begin to see his awesome power. When you see that power you file it under faith.
What happens when you abide in Christ? When you abide in Christ, you begin to see his awesome love. What about that? You file that under his willingness.
What happens when you abide in Christ? When you abide in Christ, you begin to really know him. Where do you file that? You file that under fellowship.
Faith plus fellowship plus willingness equals power.
George Buttrick taught at Harvard and was the pastor of the Harvard Memorial Church. Many of today’s Christian leaders went to Boston for graduate school because George Buttrick was there, and thought if they lived in the area, they’d get a chance to hear him preach.
He told his seminary students, “There are some things you ought not to unload on a congregation for a while. There are some things you can’t tell people until you’ve been with them a year. And there are other things you can’t say to them until you’ve been with them five years. Gentlemen, there are some things you can’t say to a congregation until you’ve been with them ten years, and they know that you love them.”
It’s the same way with Christ. You have to be with him a while before you can say some things to him. Someone has said, “Prayer moves the hand that moves the world.” That’s true, but you don’t move the hand that moves the world unless you’ve held it for a while. That’s abiding in Christ.