Abide in My Love (John 15)
- What stuck out to you most?
- What does it mean to be united with Christ?
- How is marriage similar to union with Christ?
- How would you describe your relationship with Jesus? Do you tend to view Him as aloof and critical, or warm and accepting?
Service video: https://www.facebook.com/QuinaultBC/videos/261497351610364/
Out of a desire to serve our parents (and our children) we have decided to try to shorten our service. Since I will be preaching a much shorter message, we thought it would be wise to take a brief break from the gospel of Mark. The elders encouraged me to focus on preaching a message that centered on contentment in difficult times, how a Christian should respond to frustration and suffering.
So I want to take some time to focus on the fountain of contentment: abiding in Christ. “Abiding in Christ” or “Union with Christ” is one of the biggest themes in the New Testament that we often totally overlook. It is found in all of those phrases “in Christ” in the New Testament—we have no condemnation because we are “in Christ” (Rom 8:1), we were predestined before the foundation of the world “in Christ” (Eph 1:4), redemption from our sins is found “in Christ” (Eph 1:7), and on and on we could go. Union with Christ is the conduit through which every blessing of the Christian life. But it is in John 15 where we see one of the most wonderful descriptions of what union with Christ looks like. Read it now with me:
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 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. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. – John 15:1-11
I want to read you something that I came across this week from the missionary Hudson Taylor. Taylor (1832-1905) was the founder of China Inland Mission, a pioneer missionary agency that was the first to penetrate the interior of China with the gospel. In a letter to a friend, Taylor recounts the many burdens he experienced by trying to start this endeavor, but above all he laments the lingering unbelief he senses in his heart. He mourns that he constantly struggles with anxiety, anger, and infrequency in prayer and devotion. Then, one day, the overwhelming reality of his union with Christ broke over him and it dramatically changes him. He writes, “As to work—mine was never so plentiful, so responsible or so difficult, but the weight and strain are all gone. The last month or more has been, perhaps, the happiest of my life.” Notice: Taylor’s work (which was considerable) didn’t go away—he comments that the work is more difficult now than it has ever been. But somehow, he is the happiest he has ever been in his life. How could that be? Taylor goes on to recount how the blessings of be united with, abiding in, Christ have given him all the resources he would ever need. Listen to this:
The sweetest part, if one may speak of one part being sweeter than another, is the rest which full identification with Christ brings. I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient. It little matters to my servant whether I send him to buy a few cash worth of things, or the most expensive articles. In either case he looks to me for the money and brings me his purchases. So, if God should place me in serious perplexity, must He not give much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength? No fear that His resources will prove unequal to the emergency! And His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me.
Friends, when I read that this week I felt like ten thousand pounds slid off my shoulders. Whatever circumstance I am in, whatever perplexity, however difficult, because He is mine and is with me and dwells in me, I can be confident that He will supply everything I need. Of course, I knew that before I read that from Taylor, but God graciously made that truth glow with a new light and heat this week. God has exposed functionally how little I actually trusted in Him and how abundantly He will provide for everything I need.
Friends, I am jealous for you to experience this joy.
So, I want to take some time over the next few weeks to meditate on John 15 and what abiding in Christ means and my prayer is that out of this passage, the truth’s Taylor describes would likewise glow with a new heat and a there would come over our congregation a collective sigh of rest.
Did you notice that last verse in the passage we read? Jesus said, “I have said these things to you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full,” v. 11. There is a big difference today between our world’s definition of “joy” or “happiness,” and the Bible’s definition of “joy,” and “happiness,” so much so that it can be confusing to read a passage like that because we are spring-loaded to interpret “joy” there according to the world has taught us “joy” means—that absence of difficulty and the presence of comfort. That isn’t the joy offered here. Whose joy is it? “My joy,” that’s Jesus’ joy! You can have the happiness of God in your life. The kind of joy that we see the apostles have when the religious authorities arrest them, beat them, and then grab them by the chin and say, “Don’t you dare talk about that Jesus ever again.” How would you respond to that?
The other week while I was playing with my son at a play ground I racked my ankle against a piece of the playground, just metal to bone, and my goodness it hurt; I fell down and just sat there for a minute till the pain went away. But, I had the thought: what if that didn’t go away, what if someone kept hitting me there, over and over again and threatened that it would be worse next time? I hate pain and I would do almost anything to avoid it. And yet, after the disciples are arrested, threatened with death, and beaten, we are told: “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus,” Acts 5:41-42. What kind of joy is that? That’s a joy from heaven that transcends any earthly comparison, and it is a joy available to all who abide in Christ. These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be full. What things? The things he just said: abide in me. The blessing of union with Christ.
So, let’s take the rest of our time in this introductory sermon just briefly consider what Jesus means by “abiding in Christ” here in John 15.
The language that is repeatedly used here is “abide,” which means to dwell in, stay in, or make your home in. We are, somehow, meant to live in Christ, and He is somehow meant to live in us. Jesus says in verse four, “Abide in me, and I in you.” Jesus clarifies this by his image of the branch and the vine: “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me,” v. 4. In the same way a branch “abides” in a vine, so too are we to abide in Christ. Thus our abiding in Christ is like a connection, a union with Him. Of course, this isn’t an isolated teaching. Paul famously tells us, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” Gal 2:20. Paul is so intertwined with Christ, so identifies with Christ that when Jesus dies on the cross, he sees himself dying; when Jesus rises from the dead, he sees himself rising. It is a full identification.
The analogy of marriage is actually very fitting. Paul tells us, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Eph 5:31 (Gen 2:24). When two people get married you take two separate lives and intertwine those two lives together so intimately—physically, emotionally, spiritually—that is as if they are now “one flesh,” one new person. Before my wife and I got married, I had a 2004 PT Cruiser with a cracked radiator, some student debt, and $50 dollar sofa with a hide-a-bed I got from Goodwill, but after we got married all of these many blessings became hers! This was now our $50 dollar sofa that smelled kind of funny. In marriage, what was once a division of two individuals and their accompanying lives, now unite together into one new life. But, what’s most shocking, Paul says that this is actually pointing to Jesus and His Bride: the Church. You. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church,” Eph 5:32. When you come to Christ, He takes all of your mess, all your problems, all your sin and says: this is mine now, I’m in this for the long haul. It is a full identification. And what does Jesus give you in this exchange? What do you get in return for handing him your junk? Here is what Ephesians 1:3 tells us: “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” So every blessing, every benefit there is to be experienced, is given to us through our union with Christ. Let’s name just a few:
Full forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7)
His own righteousness (2 Cor 5:21)
Adoption into the family of God (Eph 1:5)
A new heart that loves God and wants to obey Him (Jer 31:31-34)
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5)
The joy of being a member of the body of Christ, the Church (1 Cor 12)
The promise that everything is working together for our good (Rom 8:28)
The certainty that God will never abandon or forsake me (Rom 8:31-39)
The hope of living forever with God in the glory of the new creation (Rev 21-22)
On a first date, you are putting forward the best possible version of yourself imaginable. You spend an inordinate amount of time getting ready, doing your hair, going over interesting anecdotes to make yourself sound interesting. We do all of this because we want to put the best possible foot forward so that we can convince this other person that we are interesting, attractive, and worthy of a second date. I think that’s what a lot of us do with Jesus. We put forward the best possible version of ourselves imaginable to Him. Of course, we don’t consciously think that—if we did we would laugh at ourselves at how ridiculous it is. But, in the quiet of our hearts, deep down we really believe that to keep Jesus interested and committed to us we need to present to Him the best possible versions of ourselves, because if He were to find out how messed up, how sloppy, how bent we are, He might leave us to find someone godlier, someone more committed.
Imagine, you sit down on a first date with someone who is totally out of your league. And as they sit down they plop a manila envelope on the table. They tell you that inside this envelope is a catalogue of every shameful thing you’ve ever done. Inside is a record of web browser history, every text you ever sent, recordings of every conversation you’ve ever had, and every moment of compromise, selfishness, laziness, and anger written out. And they sit there and begin reading it all. What would you do? Date’s over! There’s not a chance anyone is going to read through that file will want to even be around me! But dear friends, don’t you see? This is but a dim parable of exactly what Jesus Christ has already done. Before you knew it, He knew all of your sin, down to the very depths, deeper than you even know. He saw your mess, He saw you sin, He saw your compromise, your lack of commitment, your divided heart, your selfishness and still said: I want you. I love you. I’m staying here and I’m not going anywhere. I will abide.
Friends, do you see the joy that should be flowing in your hearts from this truth? Do you see the resources now made available to you? Why should we be afraid, why should we be anxious? We have the love of our Savior in which we can make our home.