Starting and Staying in Christ

How many times puns you heard about better vision in 2020? “Eye can’t wait to see them all.” “I can’t wait till New Year’s Day 2021, then I can say that hindsight really is 2020.” Haha. On a serious note, by God’s grace, we will see him and his truths more clearly, and others will see his fruit in us. I am devoting the year to a study of the Fruit of the Spirit based on Galatians 5:22-24: “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Perhaps you, like me, need to remember that Christ has already transformed our inner beings, desires, and characters to conform to his. We need gospel reminders to keep our true identity in Christ in mind as we navigate the year. So we’ll explore the power of the fruit growing in us, ripening to maturity for the strength and power we need to remain in Christ, to live for him and his kingdom—our mission on earth. Warning: gardening metaphors and parables will abound.

Before we delve into the particular fruit that the Spirit cultivates in us, let’s prepare the soil of our hearts and minds. No gardener worth her salt will plant seeds or shoots in unfriendly, hard ground. Nor will any fruit grow in us just because we decide it should. Israel tried and failed. “The Old Testament frequently uses the vineyard or vine as a symbol for Israel, God’s covenant people, especially in two’ vineyard songs’ in Isaiah (Isa. 5:1–7; 27:2–6)…Israel’s failure to produce fruit resulted in divine judgment…[But] the OT prophets envisioned a time when God’s people would ‘blossom and put forth shoots and fill the whole world with fruit.’” (1) Then, in the New Testament Gospel of John, we find Jesus applying the image to himself. “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. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 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. 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.” (John 15:1-8) Now the body of believers has fulfilled the prophecy of God’s productive, living vineyard.

What does this mean for us Christians? For one thing, the blessings of our Christian faith result from a continuous life lived in Christ. Secondly, our faith in Jesus is strengthened by remaining in his love and power; he is our life-giver. Third, God maintains our spiritual health to be productive because we are consecrated to him. And finally, we encourage others by our kingdom living, by abiding in Christ. Jesus Christ is the true vine, just as he is the true bread (John 6:32), and the true tabernacle (Hebrews 8:2). Here are facts of our faith: Jesus is the true vine; God is the gardener who maintains the branches to bear more fruit. And we are good (clean) because God has elected us in Christ. Calvin writes: “Can anyone who is engrafted into Christ be without fruit? ‘And every branch that beareth, fruit he pruneth.’ By these words, he shows that believers need incessant culture that they may be prevented from degenerating; and that they produce nothing good, unless God continually apply his hand; for it will not be enough to have been once made partakers of adoption, if God do not continue the work of his grace in us…When he says that vines are pruned, that they may yield more abundant fruit, he shows what ought to be the progress of believers in the course of true religion.” (2)

The blessings of our Christian faith result from a continuous life lived in Christ. Abide is a keyword of John 15:1-8, but is not a word we use in everyday language. Abide means “…to remain, abide…in reference to place: to sojourn, tarry…not to depart…to continue to be present…to be held, kept, continually…to continue to be, not to perish, to last, endure…of persons, to survive, live…to remain as one, not to become another or different…to wait for, await one…” (3) While most commentators consider “remain” to be the primary meaning of abide in our par passage, I think we might view our life in Christ as doing all of the above. Our faith in Jesus is strengthened by remaining in his love and power. He is our life-giver.

God stimulates our spiritual health to be productive after consecrating us. “There are two things that the Father is said to do in his care of the vine. First, he is said to ‘cut off’ every branch that does not bear fruit. The word ‘airo’ has four basic meanings…1. to lift up or pick up; 2. to lift up figuratively, as in lifting up one’s eyes or voice; 3. to lift up with the added thought of lifting up in order to carry away; and 4. to remove. In translating this word by the verb ‘cut off’ the majority of translators have obviously chosen the fourth of these meanings. But the verse makes better sense and the sequence of verbs is better if the first and primary meaning of the word is taken. In that case the sentence would read, ‘Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he lifts up,’ that is, to keep it from trailing on the ground…it is not at all strange to emphasize that the gardener first lifts the branches up so that they may be better exposed to the sun and so the fruit will develop properly…to translate the word ‘airo’ by ‘lifts up’ gives a proper sequence to the Father’s care of the vineyard, indicated by the verb that follows. Thus, he first of all lifts the vines up. Then he cuts off the unproductive elements, carefully cleansing the vine of insects, moss, or parasites that otherwise would hinder the growth of the plant.” (4) This is spiritual food for thought, is it not?

Finally, we encourage others by our kingdom living, by abiding in Christ. God has prepared our hearts, planted us in his vineyard and continually stimulates our growth. As our faith is strengthened it spills over into the lives of others, if we remain in Christ. “For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:15) As we employ God’s grace in our lives, others will see its fruit and give thanks to God. As a matter of fact, we will bear “much fruit” (vs. 5, 8)!

“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.” (John 15:4-5) Boice writes, “The key sentence in…[vs. 4-5] can mean one of three things. It can be a simple declarative…a promise…Or it can be a command meaning, ‘Remain in me and, thus, see to it that I for my part also remain in you’…we have the following: great work to be done, the possibility of attempting to do it, but without Christ, and the inevitable failure that must result from such effort.” (5) We have a truth, a promise, and a command to bear fruit by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only his healthy branches can produce the sweet food of eternal life. Will we embrace God’s maintenance plan for our spiritual health to be productive? Will our kingdom living in 2020 encourage others in their kingdom living? “…whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:5-6)

  • (1) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, John 15:1, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  • (2) Calvin, John, Calvin’s Commentary on John 15, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/john-15.html
  • (3) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, John 15:1-5, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  • (4) Boice, ibid.
  • (5) ESV Study Bible Notes, ibid

 

January 3, 2020

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