Abiding in Christ is living out our Union with Christ
INTRODUCTION: God’s placing the sinner into union with Christ brings us into all the benefits of His representative death and resurrection (united with Him in the likeness of His death-united with Him in the likeness of His resurrection – Rom 6:6). Calvin said in his Institutes, “The flesh of Christ is like a rich, inexhaustible fountain that pours into us life springing forth from the Godhead” (Inst. IV, 17.9).
The legal imputation of Christ’s righteousness produces in every believer a total sense of indebtedness in the very depths of their being. Union with Christ produces sanctification. Our union with Christ also produces a social dimension of unity with other believers (Phil 2:1, 2), and it produces an ever increasing knowledge of God. Romans six unfolds the ethical ramification of union with Christ. Because of His vicarious work of becoming legally guilty in our place (exchanging His righteousness for our sin), Christ has liberated us unto new life in Him, and unto resurrected life in Him which (most importantly) is a shared life.
Sanctification means that we must not return to that which Christ died to destroy. The sin metaphors in Romans 6 are: sin as a king who reigns over us; sin as a general that uses the members of our body as his weapons; and sin as an employer that finally issues a paycheck of death. Under God’s moral government, no human can live a “master-less” existence. Once a person is saved, he completely rejects the satanic idea of “master-less” freedom. Union with Christ provides us with all of our resources for godly living. The new creature, now joined to Christ, is able to discern that he has been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s own Son (in Christ he is dead to sin, and alive to God – Romans 6).
Our text is John 15:1-11. In that passage we find the purpose of abiding, the priority of abiding, and thepromise to those who abide. (Abiding in Christ is the only way to bring glory to God and to have joy.)
READ JOHN 15:1-11
The meaning of ABIDE – (Grk. meno) – to remain, to continue, to stay on. To hold fast and to remain steadfast. In the Gospel of John, “abide” refers to the closest possible relationship – the believer’s mystical union with Christ. To “abide” is to be held by Christ; it is to allow oneself to be owned by Christ, right down to the depths of one’s being.
When we abide in Christ, we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14a, Gal 3:27). The believer has already clothed himself with Christ (being clothed with Christ is the “indicative” of Galatians 3:27). The imperative in Romans 13:14 commands us to keep putting on Christ; to do so is “to embrace [Christ] again and again, in faith and confidence, in grateful loyalty and obedience, Him to whom we already belong” (C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans, a Shorter Commentary, p 335). To put on Christ is to live in Christ as our sphere of existence. It is to abide in Christ as our soul’s prosperity. It is to love Christ; to live for Christ; to love the things of God. It is to cling to Christ and His gracious work as that which has delivered us from the remnants of the Edenic lie. When we abide in Christ we are kept from returning to the world as a source of security, significance, peace, prosperity, comfort, ease, and freedom from suffering. When we put on Christ, we draw near our identity, our purpose, and our direction – all from Him so that we are known by our love for Him.
I. The Purpose of Abiding in Christ (vv. 1-3).
A. The metaphor of the true vine (v. 1)
If a branch has life if joined to the vine and the Church has her unity, life, and fertility in Christ. We abide in Christ to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22, 23; Rom 7:4).
B. The Father’s work as “vinedresser” (v. 1, 2).
The vinedresser’s role is that of caring for the vine. He prunes it that it might bear more fruit. He takes away branches that bear no physical fruit. So also, the Father takes away vine shoots that bear no spiritual fruit. (Spiritual fruit includes words, deeds and motives that spring from faith in God and His Word). All who are brought into contact with Christ and the Gospel are compared to branches of a vine. The Father rejects those who bear no spiritual fruit. Those who bear fruit are cleansed (pruned) more and more so that their productiveness improves. Think of the pruning the disciples went through prior to the fruitfulness of Pentecost – especially Peter! – Luke 22:31-34; 54-62.)
C. The Father’s initial cleansing of the branches (v. 3).
Initial cleansing is by justification. We are cleansed by faith in the Word (Jn 3:16, 34; 5:47; 12:37, 48; 13:10). The Father gave the Son for that purpose—now being justified, we receive the daily grace of renewal and cleansing – they are made even more fruitful through progressive sanctification.
At salvation Christ took possession of you – you belong to Him (1 Cor 6:19-20). You are united to Him that you might abide in Him and bear fruit for God (Rom 7:1-4). There is nothing more precious than union with Christ. When your life ends, there is only one thing you will take with you but your relationship with the Lord. The Father knows best. He has a perfect way to make His child happy – it is by your abiding in Christ and bearing fruit. The Christian life involves the day by dayliving out of your union with Christ by means of abiding in Christ.
II. The Priority of Abiding in Christ (vv. 4-6).
A. The ability to abide in Christ is God-given (v. 4)
God took the initiative in our salvation. Now as “new creatures” in Christ, He has given us the ability to abide in Christ. The consciousness of that deep mystery of Christ in you and you in Him (mutuality) is produced by the Holy Spirit (Col 1:27). We abide by the power of the indwelling Spirit – but it is our responsibility to abide. The Lord keeps us on the narrow way by means of our Spirit-empowered faith, exertion, and diligence. (See Col 1:23; Heb 2:1; 3:14; 1 Pet 1:5.)
B. Fruit-bearing is a function of abiding in Christ (vv. 4, 5).
The vitality and life source of the true vine is stressed again as in 15:1 (v. 5). Those who are out of relation to Christ can do literally nothing whatever (lit. Grk.). Those who have not embraced Christ with a living faith produce no work that is acceptable before God.
C. Our relationship to Christ is one of utter dependency (v. 5).
The fruit that is acceptable to God is produced by our abiding in Christ. The branch can only be fruitful if it has constant unimpeded contact with the vine. Our relation to Christ is the source of our spiritual life and fruitfulness. The PRIORITY of abiding is addressed to our will or volition – it involves a decision to depend upon Christ as the condition of fruitfulness. Abiding maintains our connection to the source of life and fruitfulness.
D. A stern warning to those who do not abide (v. 6).
The unfruitful branches are those who do not abide in Christ. They are thrown away, they wither, and they are ultimately gathered for burning. Unfruitfulness is a mark of condemnation and impenitence: Jude 12; Is 40:24; Mark 4:6; 11:21; Matt 13:30; 41; Ps 1:4; Jer 17:5-6. The use of the singular here, “he is thrown away. . .” places the stress on each individual man. Every one who has been brought into close proximity to Christ and His Gospel has the responsibility to abide in Christ. The warning is this – he who rejects the light will ultimately find that a time comes in which God’s work on that individual will come to an end. By contrast the true believer has countless renewals and restorations. He finds that God by grace gives thousands of new opportunities and fresh starts. The Spirit is continually inclining him to will and to do what is pleasing to God – Phil 2:12, 13.)
III. The Promise(s) to those who Abide in Christ (vv. 7-11).
A. Effective prayer is promised to those who abide in Christ (v. 7).
Abiding in Christ means that the words of Christ are taken in and heeded. The words of Christ become the controlling dynamic in one’s life – so much so that they dominate exceptionally. Notice it is not just abide in My words, but My words abide in you. The one who abides believes Christ’s words and acts in accordance with them. That person has the promise of effective prayer (14:13;16:23). The person controlled by God’s Word will not ask contrary to God’s will – he will always ask in the spirit of “Thy will be done.” He receives what he asks.
B. Fruitfulness that glorifies God is promised to those who abide in Christ (v. 8).
Spiritual fruits or graces which adorn the life of the believer bring glory to God because these virtues reflect God’s character and His (communicable) attributes. When these fruits are bountiful in His children, it brings Him much glory. By grace we are His disciples – by fruitfulness due to abiding we become His disciples more and more.
C. The experience of Christ’s love and joy is promised to those who abide in Christ (9-11).
The Father’s love for the Son is a pattern of Christ’s love for us. Christ was the object of the Father’s love before the foundation of the world (John 17; Phil 2). How precious to the Son is the love of the Father (John 17:23, 24). Jesus’ earthly life was characterized by His abiding in His Father’s love – the Father’s will was His meat and drink – His secret “food.” (The pattern for us is a life of sonship before God. Sonship is the motive and meaning of Gospel holiness – 2 Cor 6:16-7:1.)
As His disciples surrounded by the cords of His love, we should exert ourselves to abide in His love (an imperative!). We must allow ourselves to be drawn closer and closer to the Savior. Our love to Christ is a reflex response of His love to us first (1 John 4:19) – we love, because He loved us first. Now, His love is ever active in our love. His love precedes, accompanies, follows, and creates our love. When we consent to it, abide in it, exercise it in return, we feel drawn ever closer to Him.
The life of love, enjoying God’s love in Christ produces joy. Christ did the Father’s will perfectly – He imparts His joy to us. He continues to perfect us in love – it increasingly crowds out all fear and dissatisfaction (1 John 4:17). The joy that Christ imparts is a “not of this world” kind of joy – not as the world “gives.” Jesus’ joy is based upon never ending peace with God – it is inner delight and rejoicing of the heart. Our Lord will not be satisfied UNTIL our joy is made full – ‘til our hearts are filled with His joy! (John 17:13, 24, 26; 16:24).
D. Readiness for Christ’s return is promised to those who abide in Christ (1 Jn 2:28).
“And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may greet Him in confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming” (1 Jn 2:28). To be perfected in love is to greet Him in confidence at His return (1 Jn 4:17).
E. We could add to this list of promises to those who abide: a sacrificial concern for the brethren (vv. 12-13); a radical identification with Christ’s purposes (vv. 14-17); a willingness to face persecution from the world for Christ’s sake (18-25); and a Spirit-empowered witness in our evangelism (vv. 26-27).
IV. Let’s take a determined look at the “how to” of abiding in Christ.
We abide in His love by keeping His precepts (14:15, 21; 15:10). When we live to please the Lord by obedience, we continue in the possession and enjoyment of Christ’s love to us. The obedient spirit of true discipleship cherishes and “attracts” the continuance and increase of Christ’s love. When Christ takes up residence (comes to abide) in a believer, He brings His love with Him-- your responsibility is to continue in His love. Jesus set the pattern; He kept His Father’s commandments; He lived under Father’s rule in relation. As a disciple, you are not above your Lord. (See Jude 21.)
When I think about the craving to be complete in ourselves to be complete in ourselves; a particular O.T. character comes to mind—Haman (Esther 5:11ff.).
Haman ran a verbal inventory of his wisdom, worth, and wholeness. He recounted his riches, the number of his sons, every promotion, advancement, and honor he had received from the king. In this regard Haman is so much like us – he leverages his personal value upon his accomplishments, his worth is the sum total of what he has and what he has done (if you do enough you’ll be significant—sound familiar?).
Haman made a log of his exponents in every area; not only was he healthy and wealthy and in possession of a prosperous family, he was a prominent man in a world empire. But Haman admits to all those gathered in his home that none of his achievements gave him satisfaction because of one grand obstacle; Mordecai the Jew would not bow down to him. Haman is a type of every worldling who will suddenly on Judgment Day be exposed as a thief of God’s glory and an enemy of the cross. On the last day those who love of the world, like Haman, will forever be hung on the gallows of God’s justice and will be displayed as objects of God’s eternal wrath (Is 66:24).
Consider Haman’s response to Mordecai’s refusal to bow: 1.) Haman engages in rage, 2.) he indulges in self-pity, 3.) he reviews his personal exponents of wisdom, wealth, and wholeness, 4.) he expresses extreme dissatisfaction, 5.) and then he plans the genocide of God’s people—the Jews. Mordecai’s spiritual integrity in refusing to bow to Haman was a prophetic act; it preached to Haman that God alone is ultimately and absolutely worthy of man’s honor. Haman was a thief of God’s glory like Lucifer. He was not jealous for God’s honor; he had no sentiment for God’s glory, his heart thought only of his own honor. Haman’s jealousy was wanton; he would have gladly murdered God’s chosen nation in order to retain his own sense of wisdom, worth, and wholeness. What a terrifying picture of fallen human nature.
Consider a lesson from the letter to the church of Laodicea. The letter to the church at Laodicea teaches us that when we seek to see without Christ as our wisdom, we abandon wisdom and become blind. When we seek to enrich ourselves without Christ as our true wealth, we impoverish ourselves. When we seek to clothe and cover ourselves without Christ, we expose ourselves to destitution, nakedness, and shame.
The flesh and the Spirit are at odds (Gal 5:17). The flesh says, “Let me weave something special to cover this part!” “Let me generate just a little merit in the name of zeal for God.” But the motive does not come from a subjection to the righteousness of God. The Lord sees our covert war against the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. At times our fruitfulness and the growth of our graces and virtues tempt us to pride. God sends the caterpillars and gnawing worms of affliction to knock down the weeds. Sometimes the humbling comes by way of our flesh asserting itself. We are surprised, even horrified that sins we thought we had mortified long ago have re-emerged and found new forms of expression.
Sins of the flesh raise disputes in the conscience about our eligibility for God’s love and favor. The guilt and defilement that issues from flesh sins make us feel more like beasts than citizens of heaven. In that state, we run the risk of seeking comfort by another bout of sensual indulgence, another swill from the world’s hog trough. The answer is cleansing by the cross and a renewed enjoyment of fellowship. The power of Christ’s blood breaks into the rotating flesh vortex of shame; it blasts light onto our true status as sons of God and our justified status in Christ. Faith in the Gospel is the key. For the message of the cross gives us renewed confidence to vacate the grey castle of self and step out into the warmth and comfort of His presence and fellowship again.
The cross is also necessary in our dealing with sins of the spirit. Bitterness, spiritual pride, self-righteousness, resentment, discontent, grumbling are not easily dislodged. The mind inflated by a false sense of its own importance keeps “building a case” for self-vindication, self-promotion, and self-assertion. The cross is necessary to bring down this pride. For the legal bent of our lower natures longs to move off of grace ground to a strict cause and effect system of moral reward and penalty. This “lust for law” gives the vortex its spinning momentum. The cross is needed to take us off of ourselves. The humiliation of Christ breaks into our pride cycle. It releases us from the pull of that vortex that demands we carry a portion of our worth, personhood, and standing before God and our fellow man.
CONCLUSION: We’ve seen that the benefits of abiding in Christ are nothing short of glorious: bearing fruit for God, glorifying God, praying effectually, experiencing Christ’s love, and experiencing fullness of joy. Abiding is a decision to exert yourself so as to enjoy Christ’s love. This is what God expects of you. Why settle for something less? Can’t you recall the times that you have you have pierced and wounded yourself by seeking your highest joy in things other Christ?