Abiding In Christ
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. John 15:1-8 Read the whole chapter.
So in our text this morning, the Gospel of John, Jesus spends a significant amount of time talking to the disciples. In this section of John 13-17 is called Jesus' farewell discourse. And he gives a lot of instructions, a lot of images, much like this one of, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” He’s trying to help the disciples to understand his relationship to God, their relationship to Jesus, and what all of this means, for the things that are to come. Now, honestly, I have to think that while these images would have connected with them because they're wonderful images, even if we've never spent time tending a garden or working in a vineyard, I think we understand the concept of these branches being connected to the vine. His audience probably would have been even more familiar with it than us, because grapes were a significant part of that culture. Even biblical references, and throughout that Mediterranean region, it's known for its wine. Even in Jesus day, there were places where they would press the wines throughout the region, and so it was a staple of their society, they understood what it meant to grow into 10 the vines and the branches that bore the fruit.
So we look at this text this morning though, and think, ‘Alright, so what does it have to do with us?’ And honestly, coming from our context, from our American culture, often our first question is, ‘What does this have to do with me?’ Because we live in a society that really emphasizes individual accomplishment, individual achievement, and we talk about self-made individuals. The thing is, it's such a misnomer, because no matter how hard or successful a person has been in business or athletics or whatever, we're praising them for, they have not done it all themselves. They've had other people in their life that have supported them, encouraged them, educated them, trained them, worked with them, supported them and motivated them. While they may be the one that gets the credit for all of that, they did not do it themselves. We're so driven by this idea of individuality that sometimes we forget that Jesus said, “I am the vine and you're just the one branch.” This concept in our society translates into our lives that we think, ‘Well, it's just about me and Jesus and nothing else matters.’
But in Jesus’ context, they were much more communal, that really the question for them probably would have been first and foremost, what does this mean for us collectively together as a community of people? And the illustration of the vine depicts that much more accurately because the vine has many branches that come off of it, and those branches draw the nourishment and the things that they need to survive and to thrive and to bear fruit from the vine. But those branches also benefit one another, that as much as the vine needs a trellis to support it and something for it to grow on, those branches also helps support and lift one another up. What's more, all of those leaves that are on the branches actually help draw in sunlight and nourish the whole.
So this idea that Jesus is talking about is one that is a mutual indwelling, abide in me as I abide in you. It's not that Jesus is saying, ‘I'm going to come and I'm going to stand really close and I'm going to point and tell you what to do and where to go and how to do things.’ But rather almost this idea that Jesus is going to abide or dwell or remain within us. But Jesus also then invites us to dwell, to abide, to remain in him. There's this mutuality, that it's a give and a take where both are benefiting. Sometimes I've seen children's messages where they use a lamp as the illustration for this passage and say, ‘Well, why is the lamp not working well? It's not plugged in.’ But that becomes a very consumerist approach to what this life in Jesus is. That we plug into Jesus, we draw what we need out of him, we offer nothing back, that Jesus is just there to supply and be used by us, but that's not the type of relationship that we're called into.
Abiding in Christ means becoming a part of something bigger. Of offering ourselves, not just to receive the benefits of that relationship, but offering ourselves fully and completely to participate and to give of ourselves in that relationship. Jesus says, ‘Apart from me, you can do nothing.’ Not much like the branch off of our lilac bush, its future is not very bright. Apart from Christ, Jesus says it pretty clearly, we can do nothing. So Jesus continues, and this word abide is a wonderful one. It's not just, ‘Well, I'm going to keep in touch. I'm gonna stay in contact. I'm going to do all of this from a distance.’ This idea of abiding and remaining has the implication of being close, of moving in and setting up house, and planning on being there. And Jesus uses this word again and again and again, abide, remain, be with me as I am in you.
Now, Jesus makes some promises in this that we will bear that fruit. He also makes a statement that is sometimes confusing. We talked about it this week in Bible study, where it's almost as if Jesus is handing us a blank check because he says, “Ask anything in my name, and it will be given to you.” Well, a lot of people say, ‘Okay, I want a new car, a bigger house, a million dollars.’ But the thing is that Jesus prefaces this statement of ask anything with this whole idea of abiding in Him and of being intimately connected with Jesus. If we say, ‘Jesus, I want that car, that house, that money.’ We're saying that, ‘You're just there to serve my wants, my wishes, and my whims. You're the outlet and I'm plugging my cord in. I'm drawing everything out of you that I possibly can because it's about me.’
But that's not abiding. When Jesus says, “Abide in me and I abide in you.” The thing is, when we do that, we begin to take on the characteristics of Christ. That the mind of Christ begins to become the mind of us. The purpose of abiding is truly revealed in that, Jesus says, ‘Don't just abide in me so that life will be nice and easy and comfortable,’ he says, ‘Abide in me, and you will bear fruit.’ The end, the purpose, the intention is not simply abiding in Christ. God's purpose in this relationship is that our lives individually and collectively will bear fruit. So the things that we ask of Jesus shouldn't just stop with us the branches. The things that we ask of Jesus should move us toward producing more fruit, producing the fruit that God desires, the fruit that will bring God glory. As Jesus says, “This is what will glorify my father, that you become my disciples and bear much fruit.” So disciples are the ones who are connected with Jesus, abiding in Christ as Christ abides in us. So what then is this fruit? It's not apples, but rather, it's fruit that God intends. How do we understand and know what that fruit is?
First off, in the ministry of Jesus, what did Jesus do? He came to seek. He came to bring hope to hopeless people. He came to love the unlovable. He came to make known the grace of God that is abundant. He came to bring repentance and salvation to the world. The fruit that our life should bear should be the things that move this world and other people into experiencing those things that Jesus came to offer. To be a light in the darkness, to be those people we need to share ourselves. As we say in our communion liturgy, “To give of ourselves for others.” The fruit of the life that is abiding in Christ is one in which it doesn't exist for itself. The branches don't exist so that people just simply say, ‘Oh, look what wonderful branches.’ Rather that we can say, ‘Look at the fruit.’ And there are times when God the gardener does some pruning. Not as a judgment, not to be vindictive, not to punish people that aren't doing what they're supposed to. The purpose of the pruning is again, to create a situation that allows for fruit to be produced or even to enhance or expand the production of the fruit.
And so when we as the branches think about, what is our role in this generation in this production of the fruit that God desires to see in this world? Do we seek after the fruit, do we pursue doing those things? Well, I'm pretty sure, and I don't think they talk or anything, but branches don't sit there and think, ‘Make more fruit. Make more fruit. Make more fruit.’ It'd be like you or I sitting here sweating and concentrating trying to make our hair grow. It's just not gonna happen. Jesus is pretty clear about what it takes for the fruit to be produced. Jesus doesn't say, ‘So you need to work harder. You need to try harder. You need to be a better person. You need to do this, that, or such, and if you do all of those things, then you'll produce more fruit.’ No, he says, ‘It's very simple. We don't focus on the outcome. We focus on the connection.’ Jesus says, ‘Abide in me as I abide in you, and you will bear much fruit.’
We can also talk about the fruit of the spirit that we have written on the back wall here love, joy, peace, patient kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. I think most of us in this room and in our congregation watching from home, going down that list could probably say, ‘You know, there's one or two of those that I feel like I do a pretty good job. And yeah, then there's that one or two that we're not gonna talk about because I know that I'm not very good at it.’ Well, when it comes to bearing fruit, whether it's the love of God abounding in this world, us helping to bring hope and encouragement and salvation to this world, or simply manifesting this fruit that Paul talks about. Well, I could beat myself up over the fact that I'm not very patient. And I could try and work hard at being more patient and be confounded with my frustration at how unsuccessful I would be. Focusing on and trying to bear fruit seldom bears fruit. But abiding in Christ, seeking to grow in our connectedness to Christ, he's already said, ‘If you abide in me, you will bear fruit.’
So how do you bear more fruit in your life? It's pretty simple, you abide in Christ. We abide in Christ through growing in that relationship, nurturing that connection, growing in our love of Him and experiencing His love poured out into our lives. We do that through the disciplines of our faith: through prayer, worship, study, and reading of Scripture. We seek to grow. It's much like those relationships that we have in our lives, when young people are falling in love and discovering who the other person is and wanting desperately to know everything they can about this person. It's that new friend you've made that you can talk to for hours on end and not run out of things to share and learn those relationships that are mutual, where you offer of yourself and you receive of the other person. That's the relationship that Christ has called us to. That's what abiding in Christ is all about, of learning and discovering and loving Christ with all that we are, and discovering that He loves us with all that He is as well. When we abide in Christ, we bear fruit. Abiding in Christ is the best and really the only way for that fruit to happen. So may we abide in Christ and witness the way that God will work in our lives, in this community of faith, for the good of this world.