The beauty of Christianity is that in order to become a Christian, one must admit and realize that he is desperate and damned to an eternity of Hell (suffering, punishment, fire and brimstone) because of our sin, but Jesus offers us salvation through His perfect life, death and resurrection. Jesus lived a life without sin and died and suffered our punishment in Hell so that we can be forgiven. Jesus paid our debt so that we no loner owe anything. He does not simply wipe away our sins or just let them slide by, He paid the penalty for us. This exchange is what happens at the moment when we are “justified” – this term literally means, “Paid off”. There is nothing we can do to pay off our debt, Jesus already did it, so we simply have to receive it. But when we receive it God makes us into new creatures who are being transformed progressively more into the image of Christ. We obey Him, in short. But what impact does obedience have in the long run?
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 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 15.4-6
Abide. What in the world does that mean? Every once in a while we hear someone call his house “my humble abode”. The noun form of abide. That is helpful: a house. A place where you live, where you reside, where you stay. The Greek word here can reference time: in the sense of endurance. It can also refer to place: to stay put, to not wander off. And it can lastly refer to a state of being: to remain of constant character, to not change. It is translated as “abide (61x), remain (16x), dwell (15x), continue (11x), tarry (9x), and endure (3x)”. But I think the most helpful insight to the meaning of the word is the picture that Jesus paints explaining it: He is the vine and we are the branches stemming from the vine. We derive our nutrients from the vine to survive, we receive our support that holds us up from the vine. We would wither and die without the vine. So to abide in the vine would be to remain connected to it. This would deal with time, place and state of being.
Remain in Jesus with your time. Have your quiet times every morning, but pray continually. Wash your mind with Scripture so that it is your first response to situations. Have the testimony of Jesus and the testimony of what He has done in your life so fresh that situations remind you of Bible stories or your own encounters with Him. Then the bridges are natural! Soak in Him, in His word, in praise, worship and prayer with Him.
Remain in Jesus temporally. No, I do not mean go to church and never leave. I mean establish yourself in such a way that your home, your office and those physical places you go you are able to focus on Him and rest in Him. Do not go places that by their very nature disrespect God, or that lead you to wander from Him in your heart or mind.
But the foundation of it all is to remain in Jesus in your state of being: your character. We will be sanctified (made more like Jesus) throughout our lifetimes, if we keep studying His word, praying and getting to know Him. Our character should be transformed into the character of Jesus. What does that look like? This is where obedience comes in:
If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 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. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.”
– John 15.7-14
Notice that Jesus says that bearing fruit is the proof of our discipleship. We do not earn our role as disciples by obeying, but we prove our discipleship through obedience. And it is our fruit bearing that glorifies God! Jesus did not earn God’s love by keeping His commandments, He proved that He loved (and ultimately that He is God) by keeping His commandments. And the branches that are not connected to the vine are kindling for the fire and thrown into the fire.
What, then, is the fruit? Growing up in a evangelism oriented Church, “just get them in the door” was our motto, I misunderstood “fruit” to be new believers. But Scripture is clear on the definition of the fruit that God demands and offers:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
– Gal 5.22-23
If we remain in Jesus, if we soak Him up in our minds, in our hearts and with our time and energy, the result will be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. It is by exemplifying these characteristics and keeping the commands of Jesus that we prove to be His disciples. And if we abide in Jesus we will exemplify these traits. Do you want to test yourself and examine your faith? Just ask yourself if your friends would describe you with those words. Do you keep Jesus commands?
You will not earn your salvation by obeying the biggies. You will also not earn your salvation by exemplifying love, joy, peace, etc. But you can be assured of your salvation when Jesus enables you and transforms you into that person. It is not believers who are cast into the fire to be burned up, it is those who do not abide in Him. Those branches that are not connected to the vine, receiving nutrients, support and strength. Remain in Him today.