Spiritual Growth: (3) Abide in Him

March 16, 2003 / No. 3141

Dear radio friends,

     In our last two broadcasts we looked at the truth of spiritual growth.  First, we looked into II Peter 3:18, where we were called to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Last time we looked at Ephesians 4:14, 15, where we were exhorted to be no longer children, but grow up into Christ in all things.

     I would like to bring our series of “Spiritual Growth” to its conclusion today by calling your attention to our Lord’s words in John 15:1 and 5, where our Lord again is speaking to us on the important truth of spiritual growth.  There He says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.  I am the vine, ye are the branches:  He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit:  for without me ye can do nothing.”  Here we are taught that Jesus Christ is the true vine and we, His disciples, are branches.  If we are united to Him by faith, says Jesus, we will be bringing forth much fruit.  In the context, Jesus goes on to explain that His heavenly Father, as the husbandman, prunes each branch, that is, He purges each branch so that it may bring forth more fruit.  He cuts away the fruitless branches, and He so works that each branch in Christ brings forth more fruit.  God, then, is desirous of growth.  He is desirous of fruit.  He is desirous of repentance in our life and holiness, and a walk with God, and a love for God.  Are you bringing forth much fruit?

     Jesus says to us that the tree is not known by its leaves, but by its fruit.  The child of God is not simply one, as we have stressed in the last two weeks, who externally takes on the trappings of a Christian life.  But a child of God is one who, from within (that life of Christ within), lives into Christ and out of Christ and produces much fruit to the glory of God.

     Jesus says to us today, “Abide in Me.”

     We must abide in Jesus Christ because, as Jesus says, He is the true vine.  When Jesus says, “I am the true vine,” He means to say to us that He is the source of all spiritual life.  Only by being united to Him in a true faith can we live and bear fruit.

     I need to talk to you a moment about the setting of our Lord’s words.  Our Lord, in John 15, is saying His farewell to His disciples.  He is going to go away from them.  That very night He is going to be betrayed and arrested.  And He tells them that they cannot follow Him now as He goes the way of the cross, the resurrection, and the ascension.  He is going to be leaving them.  This fills their mind and their soul with great sadness.  What had they ever been without Jesus?  Out of the sight of the Lord, they were only flops.  So the Lord says, “I am the true vine.”  And He said that for them and for us in order that we might soak in the comfort.  “I’m not going to abandon you.  I am the true vine.  You are united to me.  You shall still have me and draw your life from me.”

     But when He says, “I am the true vine,” He also means to warn His disciples at that time, and to warn us.  For He knew that there would be severe dangers for His disciples that very night and in the coming days.  The world would close in upon them.  The devil would come to tempt some of them.  And their own sinful nature would lead them astray.  So, the Lord says, “you must abide in Me.”

     He says that also to us today.  Abiding in Jesus Christ is not an option.  It is a necessity.  Abiding in Jesus Christ is not only our comfort that we cannot be severed from Him and that we, through faith, draw from Jesus eternal life.  We do that right now, by faith.  But abiding in Christ is also for our warning and our calling.  “Abide in Me!  You must be rooted, by faith, in Me as you are in this present world.  And you must do this so that you bring forth fruit.”  In other words, the Lord is saying to us that the church is not a flower garden.  The church is an orchard.  The church is not on earth simply to look nice.  The church is on earth to bring forth fruit to God.  The church is a vineyard in a desert, the only place where fruit is produced to God.  But this can happen only when we abide in Jesus Christ.

The church is not a flower garden.

     Now when the Lord uses that figure, He is using, of course, a very well-known figure, for there were many vineyards in Judea.  The landscape was covered by them.  He is referring to Himself as the vine, or the stock, with the roots, which would sprout.  Other branches would be grafted into that stock and draw their life from the root, from the vine.  Jesus is saying to us, “Just as in the earthly sense all of the life is in the vine, the sap is in the vine and it flows out of the vine into the branch, so I am the true vine.  I sink My roots eternally into God.  I am the Son of God.”  John says to us in John 1:4, “In him was life.”  Jesus Christ did not receive His life.  He possesses life.  He is the Alpha and the Omega.  He is the vine.  He is the eternal Son of God now in our flesh.  And in our flesh, He has been crucified as our Savior.  Therefore, He possesses all the reservoirs, all the life, all the sap of righteousness and life.  He is the risen Lord.  He is the living One.  He says, “I am the true vine.  Only by being united to Me does a person live.”

     When He says, “I am the true vine,” He also has in mind that there are many false vines, there are many who claim to do what He does.  There are all types of false religions.  There are those who would say to us, “Well, you can find life in pleasure. You can find the source of your life in your lust, or in money, or in drink, or in self, or in education.”  But Jesus says that these are false vines.  There is only one true vine.

     Let me make it plain.  You have a branch from your apple tree this spring.  You want that branch to grow.  What are you going to do — stick it into the dry dirt?  No, it will not grow there.  Shall you graft it into your wife’s broom handle?  No, there is no sap in that broom handle.  Shall you just erect it in the back yard with a cinderblock, a concrete block?  Will it draw its life from a concrete block?  No.

     So also the Word of God says, “You must be engrafted into the true vine if you are to live.”  Where are you looking for your life, for your satisfaction?  It can be found only in one place, in one person:  Jesus Christ, the true and eternal vine.  We must be united to Him.

     When Jesus says, “I am the true vine,” He is not just giving us a piece of information.  He is telling us that we must, by God’s grace, live out of Him or there is no life in us.  There must be a true faith.  A true faith, according to Scripture, is a faith that God gives.  It is something that is from God (Eph. 2:8) — the gift of God.  It is something that the Holy Spirit produces in us.  Faith comes from God (Eph. 6:23).   Faith, then, is not simply a human, emotional attachment to Jesus Christ.  Faith is not simply an intellectual acquaintance with Jesus Christ.  But faith is a living union that God makes between us and the Lord Jesus Christ whereby we believe in Him and receive from Him all things.

Faith is not simply an intellectual acquaintance

with Jesus Christ.

     Faith is a living reality.  Let me use another example.  Let us take a plastic branch.  The artificial trees and branches today are so much like the original that it is hard to tell the difference sometimes.  You have sometimes to go up and feel it, to find out if it is a real plant or if it is a fake plant.  Let us say that we get an artificial grape vine and we go to an orchard and hide that artificial branch somewhere in the orchard.  Could you find it?  Now, if you placed it there, you could find it.  But if you had not placed it there and someone said, “Go look for it,” it might be so well camouflaged that you would never find it.  It is plastic, not a living branch.  But you cannot find it until….  Until when?  Until it comes time for fruit.  Then you are going to tell that there is no life in that branch because it will have no fruit.

     The Lord is warning us, then, that we must be attached to Him by a true and living faith.  He is warning us of the artificial.  He says in John 15:2, “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away.”  That does not mean that a child of God can fall away, that the child of God can be in Christ one day and out of Christ the next day.  The Lord said in John 10:27, “No man takes my sheep out of my hand.”  But He warns us of this, there can be the mere outward profession of Jesus Christ, a mere plastic religion — everything looks right — but there is no living union to Jesus Christ.  It is just like a plastic flower.  And the difference between a real plant and a plastic plant is everything.  Sometimes with the eyesight you cannot see it.  Those who have a plastic religion are those who do not have a broken heart over their own personal sins.  They think that sin is great only when they see it in someone else.  They have no trust in Jesus Christ for righteousness.  They do not know what that means because they do not know themselves as filthy sinners.  They have no desire for a life of holiness.  They have no desire to know the living and the true God.  In brief, we can say that plastic religion is a life that has no repentance, no heartfelt repentance before God.  For that is the gift of God, the great gift of God through the vine Jesus Christ.  What is the fruit?  How do you know that you are a branch in Jesus Christ?  Do you repent?  That is what it means to be united to Christ.

     Jesus says, “I am the true vine.  I am the true vine for you.  Draw your life from Me.  I am your life.  I am the true vine.”  So the Lord is calling us to exercise our faith:  “Abide in me,” He says, “and I in you.”  That is the call to all of us, to every child of God.  Whether you are an elder or a minister or a deacon or a parent, aged, teenager, boy, or girl, you must abide in Christ.  Maybe you say, “How is that possible?  Didn’t you say that God must give us faith, God must graft us into Christ?”  Yes.  But God’s grace is not mechanical.  God works in us so that we desire Christ.  That is the activity of faith, the power of God within us, so that we draw out of Christ our life.  That is a very rich and wonderful idea.  Abide in Christ.  Take hold of Him.  Depend upon Him.  Grow in Him.  Recognize just how needy you are, how sinful you are.  Realize that apart from Christ you are worthless.

     To abide in Christ then means, as we have been emphasizing in these last weeks, that you are a member of a true and faithful church where you hear sermons mined from the Scriptures, built from holy Scripture, explaining, expounding to you the truths of the holy Word of God, and laying that before your conscience and your heart.  It means that you live a life of prayer and Bible-reading.  It means that you live in the fellowship of the church with other believers, that you have your children instructed by the church in catechism.

God’s grace is not mechanical.

God works in us so that we desire Christ.

     There are many dangers today, there are many threats to our life of abiding in Jesus Christ.  Sometimes instead of abiding in Jesus Christ we can be defined as those who dangle in Jesus Christ.  There is the threat of our pride.  What an awful thing pride is.  Then we say (in our pride), “but I’m not like so-and-so.  Look at so-and-so.  I don’t do that!”  We do the right things in the Christian faith but it is all an outward show then.  We must be aware of our pride.  We must be aware also of worldliness.  Things in this life become so important to us, more important than Christ, more important than the church.  And we must be aware of unconfessed sin.  That too.  We must beware that if we walk in sin then we cannot abide in Christ.

     This is why Jesus says that the heavenly Father purgeth every branch that abides in Him that it may bring forth more fruit.  The word “purge” means “prune.”  That is a very necessary part of spiritual growth.  If the branch is to grow and to bring forth fruit, it must be pruned.  That is the law in every orchard.  But that is also the law spiritually.  That is the reason why God sends to us chastisements and trials and difficulties.  Today there is much difficulty in the church in trying to understand why Christians suffer.  But the Bible is not unclear on that truth.  I think the difficulty is simply that Christians become more and more attached to this present life and want to use Christianity simply to have more enjoyment of the earthly rather than realizing that Christianity is the enjoyment of Jesus Christ.  So God brings chastisements.  He brings difficulties into the life of His children.  It is a heresy, it is a lie right from the devil, which says that if you have enough faith then you will never have any financial problems or any sicknesses or cancers.  That is not the teaching of God’s Word, the Bible.  That is a different Christ than the Christ of the holy Scriptures.

     The Bible teaches us that God sends chastisements for the same reason that the husbandman will prune the branch of his pear tree or of his apple tree.  That branch needs to be pruned.  The sucker branches must be cut away.  It must be pruned in order that the branch may draw more sap, in order that it may bring forth more fruit to God.  God will have us abide in Christ.  To do that, He comes with His divine shears and He begins to prune in our life.

God sends chastisements for the same reason

that the husbandman will prune the branch

of his pear tree.

     Have you ever seen an old orchard?  Perhaps now there is a sub-division up where the old orchard was, and one or two apple trees have been left.  But these apple trees are no longer cared for by the husbandmen.  They have been neglected.  The apple trees have not been pruned for many years.  Have you ever looked at that?  Oh, there are some apples up there.  But they are little, pitted, diseased.  And the tree is filled with disease.  Why?  Because it has not been cared for, it has not been pruned.

     So also for you, child of God.  What is going to happen to you if you are left for yourself?  You must be pruned.

     We say to God, “This is the way I want things:  I want health, I want this, I want that, I want this job, I want this income.  I don’t want my husband to die.  I want this home.  I don’t want struggles.”  Then the Lord does not give us what we want.  He cuts us back.  Why?  In order that we might abide in the vine, Jesus Christ, that we might draw all of our life out of Christ and abide more and more in Him.

     In order that we might bring forth much fruit.  That is why God has placed us into Jesus Christ, by His grace.  That is why He elected us to be in Christ.  That is why He bestows care upon us.  That is why He prunes us with His chastisements, in order that we might bring forth much fruit.  Jesus says, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.”  This is what pleases God.  This is why God has given His Son, Jesus Christ, in order that we, His children, might bring forth much fruit to His honor and to His glory — fruits of repentance, of faith, of a holy life, of good deeds, of a testimony of the grace of Christ.  That we bring forth much fruit.

     Is there fruit in your life?  Are you abiding in Jesus Christ?  Do you know what it is to have a broken heart?  Do you trust in Christ for righteousness?  Do you desire more and more to live no longer for self but for Him and out of Him?  Jesus said, “I am the true vine.  You are the branches.  Abide in me and I in you.”  In this way we shall bring forth much fruit to the glory of our Father.

     Let us pray.

     Father, we thank Thee once again for Thy Word.  We pray that it may be a blessing unto our hearts.  Give us that grace that we might abide in Him, through Jesus’ name, Amen.