“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.” ~ John 15:4
Spirituality is a buzzword of our age. Everyone is spiritual. You don’t need to go to church anymore either. Aroma therapy candles and a hot tub are suitable sacraments for being spiritual. You don’t need God either. It used to be that some deity needed to be evoked – Zeus, Thor, Yahweh, anyone. Today a ten-minute meditation exercise while ocean waves roll in your earbuds qualifies as soul-enrichment.
Far be it from me to question the benefits of a good sauna or power nap. I frequently indulge in both. But let’s not get carried away and pat ourselves on the back for experiencing transcendence, when all we’ve done is boosted our endorphin levels. True spirituality is not relaxation any more than visiting Disneyland is riding the monorail. Spirituality is engaging in an activity that nourishes your actual spirit – the real you, the real core of your being. And for that, it requires God, the maker and keeper of your soul.
What sets Christianity apart from every other form of “spirituality” is that it promises its followers a real, personal connection with its Founder. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” Jesus promised his disciples (John 14:18), referring to the giving of the one Christians call the Holy Spirit. This isn’t the time or place to dive into the beautiful, life-giving waters of what Christians call the “Trinity”. But suffice it to say, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus promises to be a warrior inside our hearts to help us fight the battles we are in. Christ is in us, Paul would say (Colossians 1:27). True spirituality is therefore an actual, tangible relationship with Jesus, where there is real communication, time together, and a sharing of hearts.
If you and I are going to overcome our sin nature and all that is bundled with it, we need to know how to experience this relationship. Thankfully, Jesus didn’t leave us to guess how this happens. Track with me as we listen to Jesus in a teaching that John recorded in chapter 15 of his gospel.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 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.” ~ John 15:1-2
Jesus says without apology that he is the source of our strength. Like a branch, our life flows directly from his life. Jesus also explains here the purpose for our existence. God gives us life that we might bear fruit. A fruitful life, like a fruitful tree, would have real beauty to it. And a fruitful life, like a fruitful tree, would nourish others. (Quick question: Is a life overrun with lust a beautiful life? Is it a blessing to others? You be the judge.) Then Jesus says that God will help us grow in fruitfulness by pruning us. Pruning is a violent act. But the plant that is stripped, peeled, and broken actually becomes healthier. We’re as far from an aroma therapy candle as you can get, but this is what true spirituality looks like.
“Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” ~ John 15:3
Remember what we said on Day 12, how God accepts us first (through Christ), then asks us to be good? That’s what Jesus is on about here. When I come to God through faith in what Jesus did, not through what I do, God forgives all my wrongdoing, and with a word, pronounces me clean in his sight. This pronouncement (or imputation – a Christian buzzword) of righteousness is a great gift, like a breastplate over my heart to guard me from condemnation for my countless failures.
However, while I may be clean in a legal sense when I enter God’s kingdom, I’m still not clean in a practical sense. I’m still loaded up with evil desires, and hellish habits, and am so pitifully weak. How will I ever be rid of those? How will I ever change? Jesus is about to tell us.
“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. 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. 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.” ~ John 15:4-6
How will I ever change? Abide in me, says Jesus. The Greek word Jesus uses has several nuances. It means to travel with. To remain with as a guest. To lodge with or keep close. It’s a word that means you’ll not depart or leave, but you’ll continue to be present.
Look around you for a plant right now – houseplant, tree, flower, anything green and alive. Now look closely at a branch or stem that’s connected to the main shoot. This is how you and I are to be with Jesus, in that vital a connection. Whether you are fruitful in life or whether you wither in life depends on this one thing.
Jesus’ language though is still…well, flowery. I need something more specific to grab hold of. What do I do to connect with him? That’s next.
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” ~ John 15:7-11
“If…my words abide in you…” This is a huge hint. I connect to Jesus by connecting with his words, which become like life-giving sap flowing into me. Since Jesus endorsed all of the Old Testament as authoritative, and drew spiritual strength from its words – and since Jesus promised that he had other things to speak to us, later recorded in what we call the New Testament, his clear intent is that we will connect with him through regular, deep reflection on all of Scripture.
“…ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you…” Another huge hint. We connect with Jesus by communicating with him, through mastering the art and skills related to practice of prayer.
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” Your attitude entering into this pursuit of Christ must be one of humble submission, to go where he wishes to take you. If you go into this project with a mindset of this-far-but-no-further, or with an agenda to redefine or reimagine anything God’s Word says that you don’t agree with, then you should stop now. It won’t be Jesus you’ll be chumming with.
In my darkest days, Jesus not once ever signed off on my sinning. He never changed his mind for me. Not once did I hear him say, “Oh go ahead. Have fun! Dive in!” I heard those words, mind you. But it wasn’t him speaking them.
Seen from one angle, what Jesus is telling us to do seems ridiculously simple. “You mean that dusty Bible sitting across the room on the shelf is the key to me having a joyful, fruitful life?” Well, not the book itself. But what’s inside, yes. Then learning how to talk to God about what you’re learning from it (and listening a lot also). Oh…and there’s one other thing Jesus added that we need to have for our spiritual life to be in order.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you.” ~ John 15:12-14
Jesus commands us to do all of this work in community, with others who are also abiding, traveling, lodging and connecting with him. I can experience Jesus on my own, but I will experience him fullest with others.
Go ahead and light the candles. Have a soak in the tub. Quiet your thoughts. It’ll feel good. But it won’t tame your sin nature or bring your lust to heel. For that you have work to do. A daily appointment to keep. With a friend who longs to pour his heart out to you.
What ideas in this reading did you find helpful or challenging?
“I am the vine; you are the branches.” Write out at least 5 implications of this verse for your life.
Prayer and Worship
“Father, I thank you for…”
“Father, please help me with…”
“Father, please be with…”
“In the name of Jesus, who died for my sins, who rose from the dead and who is with me now through the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Today’s Worship Suggestion: “In Christ Alone” (Stuart Townend, Keith Getty)
This Week’s Memory Verses
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” ~ Psalm 51:10-11
“Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” ~ 2 Timothy 2:22