What does it mean to abide in the vine?
You need to have a good answer to that question because Jesus warned that there are consequences for not abiding in the vine. He also said that those who do abide in the vine will bear much fruit:
“As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, 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, bears much fruit.” (Jn 15:4)
Many people interpret the words of Jesus as carrots and sticks. They think, if I fail to abide I will be cast out and burned, but if I do abide I will bear much fruit, so I’d better start bearing fruit. Read it like this and Jesus’ words will become a law for you: produce or perish! And that’s going to be a problem because the fruit Jesus is looking for you can’t produce. Apart from Him the only thing you can produce is Frankenfruit!
In this short series on the commands of Jesus, we have seen that Jesus expects us to do impossible things, namely, He expects us to do the same works He did and greater works still. Happily, He has promised that we will do these impossible things because He is in us and we are branches to His vine. Unfruitful branches are not chopped off, but are lifted up out of the dirt. This lifting up and the bearing of fruit in us is something that He does. So far, so good.
But what does it mean to abide or remain in Him? That sounds as if Jesus is putting conditions on us. It sounds like He is saying, you have to do something otherwise you’ll be tossed and burned. But what is the something we must do? I guarantee you that any list of somethings that man comes up with will include keep short accounts with God or confess your sins. This is a classic example of watering down scripture to accommodate human shortcomings. You want something to do? Try this:
“Whoever abides in Him does not sin.” (1 Jn 3:6, NKJV)
What does God expect of those who abide in Him? Zero sin! Yet many people believe, “whoever abides in Him may sin occasionally – after all, we’re only human – but as long as we quickly confess our sin God will be faithful and just and forgive us our sin.” Well God is faithful and just but you can’t use His goodness to wriggle out of 1 John 3:6. You can’t lower His standards to accommodate your less-than-perfect performance.
A line in the sand
I occasionally get emails from people who are opposed to the gospel of grace. They say we must do everything in the Bible or at least everything that Jesus says. Well Jesus said, “be perfect” (Mt 5:8) – how’s that working out for you? I might just as easily respond with the words of John:
“No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” (1 Jn 3:6, NIV)
I love this! This verse deals life to those who trust Jesus and utter condemnation to those who don’t. It draws a big fat line in the sand and shouts, “Choose your Savior!” To those who are trusting in their own good behavior this verse declares, “Your best is not good enough. God expects sinless perfection.” Either you must be perfect or you must put your faith in a perfect, representative. Guess who! Jesus is our perfect High Priest (Heb 7:28)! We stand on His sinless performance, not our own.
A promise, not a condition
Jesus told the disciples, you are in me (our imperfections are hidden in His perfection) and I am in you (we carry His sinless DNA). Jesus didn’t sin and He won’t ever sin. If you let Him live His life through you, then without any conscious effort on your part you’re going to start talking and acting just like sinless Jesus. This is a glorious promise for all who believe:
“Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” (1 Jn 3:9)
So what does it mean to abide in the vine? Here’s the answer we’ve all been waiting for…
“Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” (1 Jn 4:15)
Have you confessed that Jesus is the Son of God? Then God abides in you and you in Him. You may wonder, But how did this happen? All I did was confess. Well you could not have believed and confessed Jesus as Lord unless the Holy Spirit had led you to do so (1 Cor 12:3). The work and the glory are all His. Rest in that!
The trouble is, you can’t rest because somewhere inside there is a little voice that’s asking, Can I abide today and not abide tomorrow? Can I be in the vine one moment and cut off the next? Why would Jesus tell his disciples to abide if there wasn’t any danger of not abiding?
The problem, as usual, is found between our ears. Most of us have grown up with a slave mentality that says our value is determined by what we do. This was certainly true of the disciples who had been born and bred under the law. They were conditioned to think in terms of their performance. This works mindset is also evident in some of our English translations:
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” (Jn 15:4, NIV)
Again, that sounds like a condition. It sounds like Jesus is saying, if your abiding performance is up to scratch, then I will reward you by abiding as well. But it is not a condition to make us sweat; it is a promise to make us rest. In John 15 Jesus goes to great lengths to counter the law-mentality of the disciples. He does this by hitting them with promise after promise:
“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.” (Jn 15:9)
How does the Father love Jesus? Ask yourself this question: How many miracles or works had Jesus done when the Father declared from heaven, “this is my beloved Son?” None! The Father loves Jesus unconditionally, without any reference to His performance or fruit. That means that Jesus loves us unconditionally! He wants us to rest in His unconditional love.
Just to recap – if you think abiding is something we must do, then understand that the evidence of abiding is zero sin. This is humanly impossible. The only logical response to the command “abide!” is to trust in Jesus and His performance and quit trying to impress Him with yours. The word “abide” connotes “rest” and “surrender,” not “struggle” and “try harder.”
Trust God, the abiding issue is all settled from His side. “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him.” But it may not be settled from your side. You may still be struggling with that old servant mentality. Instead of rest there is insecurity. Instead of joy there is anxiety. Am I in? Can I be cut off? If this is you, let Jesus speak to your insecurity:
“I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (Jn 8:34-36)
The reality is, you are free indeed because Jesus has set you free. The reality is, you are abiding in the vine because you have confessed Him as Lord. But you may not be experiencing that reality. You may feel like you’re not free or you’re not abiding. Although you are a son with a permanent place in the family, you may still think and act like the slave that you used to be. There’s only one solution: renew your mind! Stop living by feelings and start walking by faith. You are abiding in fact, so start abiding in practice.
When Jesus said, “anyone who does not abide in Me is cast out as a branch, withers, and is thrown into the fire,” He was not referring to fruitless Christians. (They are lifted up.) He was describing those who refuse to believe to that He is the Son of God. He was describing those who are looking for life outside of the true vine. If you have confessed Jesus as your Lord, then walk in that the truth: You are free, God Himself abides in you, and as a son or daughter you have a permanent place in His family. Thank you Jesus!