John 15:4-8 - Part 1 - Abiding In the Vine

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*Question: What is involved in having a vital relationship with Jesus Christ?”  How can we describe the union that a believer experiences between himself and Christ?  We talk about knowing Christ, being in Christ, walking with Christ, and loving Him.  But what does that union really involve? 

·         It's like the relationship of two people in love, especially like the relationship between a father and his son, where there's mutual love and respect.

·         Or it could be likened to the relationship between two close friends or between two brothers who would defend each other to the death.

·         Perhaps the most graphic illustration of a believer's relationship to Christ is that of a vine and branches, given by our Lord Himself in John 15.

There are many truths in the allegory of the vine and the branches that give us insight into the Christian life.  Our growth together with Christ is perfectly illustrated by a vine and a branch.

·         We are nothing in ourselves; we gather all our strength from Him--our lives are filled with His energy and resources.

·         By ourselves we can't produce fruit; we must be vitally connected to Christ, who produces fruit through us.

·         In the beginning of John 15, Jesus uses that allegory to teach His disciples about a believer's relationship with Him and the Father.  He also explains that the person who only appears to be connected to Him is not a legitimate believer and therefore will be cut off, thrown away, and burned in the fire.

In the last chapter, we met the Vine (Jesus Christ), the Vinedresser (the Father), and the two kinds of branches (the believers who bear fruit and the non-believers who don't).  Jesus continues the analogy in verse 4 by making a heart-stirring plea:

·         "Abide in me."  He envisions people who are superficially attached to Him--people who may go to church, claim to be devout, and even talk about their relationship to Him--but who aren't real believers.

·         He exhorts the unbelieving fruitless branch to remain in Him.  Jesus wants His superficial followers to become true believers, showing the legitimacy of their faith by remaining in Him.

·         That is not to say a believer must work to stay saved, but that he will remain in Christ because he is a believer.  To those who don't remain in Him, He gives a solemn warning in verse 6: "“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" (John 15:6, NASB95)

A.                 The Basic Meaning of Abiding (v.4, 8-10).

1.                  “Abide in Me and I in you… neither can you, unless you abide in Me…”  (v.4a).

a)                  The plea. 

(1)                 In verse 4, Jesus is saying to men like Judas, "Don't be superficial; be real.  Abide in Me and prove that your faith is real.
(2)                 It's tragic when people superficially line up with Jesus Christ but never become true Christians.
(a)                 There are some believing wives who bring their unsaved husbands to church.  They may appear to be Christians, but they really aren't.
(b)                Sometimes young people come to church only because they want to be involved in a youth program, but they don't know Jesus Christ as Lord.
(c)                 Jesus calls to all who have made a statement of faith or an apparent identification with Him to be sure they're real believers.

b)                  The meaning of abide.

(1)                 The word "abide" simply means "to remain."  Jesus is saying, "Be real, and give evidence that you're for real by remaining with Me" (cf.Philippians 1:10 sincere).
(2)                 It's not that remaining in Christ saves you, but is the evidence that you are saved.  People often know someone who used to be involved in various church functions, but all of a sudden disappeared and has never returned.  That individual proved he was not a true believer because he didn't abide in Christ.  He never was real to begin with.
(3)                 If a person really knows Jesus Christ, it is the character of the salvation experience for that man to remain in Christ.  The false will always leave sooner or later.

c)                  The exhortation to abide.

(1)                 People who may look like they have experienced a legitimate conversion show that they were never saved to begin with when they fail to remain in Christ and bear fruit.

Jesus said the seed that "fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity" (Luke 8:14, NASB95).

John talks about church attendees who did not stay involved in a Christian fellowship: "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, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us."  (1 John 2:19, NASB95)

The abiding believer is the only legitimate believer; John says "As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning.  If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.  This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life."  (1 John 2:24-25, NASB95)

(2)                 Jesus calls to every apparent disciple to show the reality of his faith by remaining in Him.  He makes a black and white distinction: The true believer abides; the non-believer--sooner or later--departs.

Speaking to the Jews who believed in Him, Jesus said "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine" (John 8:31, NASB95)

And He goes on to say in Chapter 12 that He has come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness” (John 12:46, NASB95)

Paul exhorted Timothy by saying that "evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  You, however, continue [remain, or abide] in the things you have learned" (2 Timothy 3:13-14, NASB95)

(3)                 Before the shipwreck in Acts 27, Paul warns the centurion and soldiers (Acts 27:31).

Other related passages (John 1:32-33; 3:36; 5:38; 6:56; 8:31, 35; 9:41; 12:46; Acts 27:31; 2Tim.3:14; 1Jn2:6, 10,14,17,19,24, 27,28; 3:6,9,14,15,17,24; 4:12,13,15,16; 2Jn2).

2.                  “Abide in Me, and I [will remain] in you…”  (v.4b).

a)                  The promise of abiding.

(1)                 Not everyone in the world can claim to experience the constant abiding presence of Jesus Christ; only the one who is constantly abiding in Christ.  The New Testament talks about Christians being in Christ and Christ being in them:

Colossians 1:27 says, "Christ in you, the hope of glory."

Paul said that "we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people."  (2 Corinthians 6:16, NASB95)

(2)                 We have a relationship with Christ, the Vine.  When by real faith we are truly saved, we will always abide and Christ will always abide in us.  Many people come to church thinking that just because they show up, the Lord is with them. 
(3)                 Being in a church doesn't mean the Lord is with you.  He lives in the person of the Spirit within the lives of true disciples.  An abiding relationship with Jesus Christ comes only with salvation--genuine faith in Christ.  It's a permanent, eternal relationship.

!! B.                The Expectation for the Believer

a)                  The ideal pattern for the believer.

(1)                 Walking in open confession before God – In other words, his life is an open book before God, he confesses all known sin, not allowing any sin to go unconfessed.

John says "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I f we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us."  (1 John 1:6-10, NASB95)

(2)                 Walking and fellowshipping with Christ – He communes and lives in a consciousness of God’s presence day after day.

John says "He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.”  (1 John 2:6)

He goes on to say that "the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.”  (1 John 2:27, NKJV)

I love what the Psalmist says about the presence of God "You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore." (Psalm 16:11, NKJV)

And we are exhorted to "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. " (Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV)

(3)                 Possesses unashamedness, in life that prepares him for eternity.

We need to be read when the Lord appears "And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming." (1 John 2:28, NKJV)

(4)                 Not walking in continuous sin.

He experiences victory over sin "Whoever abides in Him does not sin.  Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him…  Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God."  (1 John 3:6, NKJV)

(5)                 Actively surrendering himself to obey God’s commandments.

John says "Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him.  And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us."  (1 John 3:24, NKJV)

(6)                 Experiencing the indwelling presence and witness of the Spirit.

John makes it clear that "If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.  By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”  (1 John 4:12-13, NKJV)

(7)                 Dwelling in love, unity and fellowship with all other believers.

Speaking about the love of God, John says "we have known and believed the love that God has for us.  God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”  (1 John 4:16, NKJV)

However, "If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?" (1 John 4:20, NKJV)

(8)                 Not loving the world.

There are probably some things in the world you like very much. Is John saying you are going to hell because you want that new car?  No.  "Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  (1 John 2:15, NKJV)

!!!! b)                  The realistic perspective of the believer.

(1)                 John was aware, however, of the exceptions to the ideal.  John realizes the fact that sometimes, even as Christians we fail and even sin. 

1 John 2:1 says "My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin.  And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”  (1 John 2:1, NKJV)

(2)                 There are general patterns in the Word of God that distinguish a believer from an unbeliever.  But there are exceptions--times when a believer sins, hates his brother, disobeys, and fails to confess his sin.
(3)                 Therefore, is it reasonable to conclude there are times when a Christian doesn't abide in the fullest sense?  Of course! 
(a)                 But the general pattern of his life will be to abide in Christ.  A believer may have a temporary lapse in his relationship with Christ and may cease to abide in the fullest sense.  Therefore, the passage in John 15 is not totally restricted to the unbeliever; it could also refer to a believer.
(b)                Many times in the New Testament we can read commands to love our brothers even though John assumes a believer will always love his brother.  Such commands speak to the exceptions to the ideal.
(c)                 For example, Paul's epistles are full of exceptions.  The first part of Ephesians talks about a Christian's position--who he is in Christ--and the second part talks about a Christian's practice--what he ought to do.
(d)                If there weren't any believers who made mistakes, the Father could put away His knife because there wouldn't be any pruning to do.  However, there are exceptions in the lives of Christians when they fail to abide in the fullest sense.

c)                  The failure of the believer.

(1)                 Jesus longs for the believer to abide in Him fully.  You may wonder how a Christian could fail to abide.

One illustration is found in Galatians 1:6, where Paul, writing to Christians, says, "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel," (Galatians 1:6, NKJV)

(2)                 When the Galatians started believing legalistic teaching, Paul rebuked them for not abiding.

In Galatians 3”3 he said "Are you so foolish?  Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?"  (Galatians 3:3, NKJV)

(3)                 The Galatians had been saved in the energy of the Holy Spirit, but they were living as if they'd been saved in the energy of the flesh.  
(a)                 They believed they needed to keep a list of rules to retain God's acceptance.  They had stopped abiding in Christ and started trying to produce their own fruit apart from Him.
(b)                Legalism is one way a Christian can stop abiding; it is essentially the opposite of abiding.
(4)                 When Christians fail to abide in the fullest sense of the word, it doesn't mean they lose their salvation.  In John 10:27, Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them."  
(a)                 You may be a wayward sheep, but you don't turn into a goat (cf. Matt. 25:31-46).  When you stop abiding, it doesn't mean you're out of God's love and His Kingdom--your position is secure forever.  But when you wander a little bit and cease to abide in the fullest sense, you move away from the intimacy of a full relationship with Christ.
(5)                 To abide as a believer simply means to stay close to Jesus.  A branch is much better off if it's connected to the vine.  Being only a half an inch away from the vine doesn't do a branch any good.  To abide is to be totally connected to Jesus Christ in a loving and obedient relationship. As the vine sends its energy through the branch to bear fruit, so Christ can send His energy through you.

!!!! d)                  The feeding of the branch.

(1)                 How do I remain in a close relationship with Jesus?  A believer who is in God's Word is an abiding believer.  One who feeds on the truths of the Word of God stays in a close, living, energized relationship with Jesus Christ.   

The beginning of John 15:7 says "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you."  (John 15:7, NKJV)

Verse 4 says "Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me."  (John 15:4, NKJV)

(2)                 A believer should not operate independently of Christ.  At some point in their lives, most Christians cease to abide.  They independently try to produce their own fruit.
(3)                 Your gifts, accomplishments, and experience are worthless in helping you produce fruit apart from Jesus Christ.  Fruit not produced by Christ is like artificial fruit tied to branches.
(4)                 You abide by recognizing you're a branch and by keeping your position in the vine.
(a)                 If you want to get as close to Christ as you can, that will involve stripping out the things of the world; putting aside all sin, which distracts and saps your energy; and putting aside the kind of self-effort that operates independently of the Spirit.
(b)                All those things will rob you of a deep, personal, loving relationship with Jesus.  Get into the Word of God and you'll be an abiding branch.
(c)                 Don't even worry about fruit--just abide and Christ will produce it through you.  Stay close to Jesus, apart from sin and in the Word, and you won't ever have to worry about fruit because Christ will bear that in you as you abide in Him.

e)                  The expression of the branch.

Paul said "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me."  (Galatians 2:20)

Don’t even worry about the fruit, that’s not you concern "for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure."  (Philippians 2:13, NKJV)

(1)                 Have you ever tried to read the Bible and found it boring?  When you've witnessed, have you felt like you've had ashes in your mouth?  Maybe you've prayed in a superficial sense: "Bless the missionaries; now I lay me down to sleep.  Amen."
(2)                 You go through the motions but you don't sense any spiritual life.  If that's the case, let me encourage you to work on your relationship with Jesus.  
(a)                 Don't concentrate on the deeds because they will be the joyful result of that relationship.  God wants your life to be fruitful even more than you do.  But you can't do one thing yourself to produce it.
(b)                Just be close to Jesus by being in the Word, and by loving and obeying Him, and you will find His energy surging through you to produce fruit.

The result will be joy.  John 15:11 says, "“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.”  (John 15:11, NKJV)

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