When he was in his mid-80's, the great cellist Pablo Casals kept practicing his instrument for four or five hours each day. Someone once asked him why, at his age, he still worked so hard. "Because," he said, "I have a notion that I am making some progress." We, as Christians, need to have Pablo's attitude in our Christian lives. No matter how long we have been a Christian, we can still make progress if we work at it.
I want to talk to you this morning about abiding in Christ. Turn with me in you Bible to John 15.
John 15:1-5 (NKJV) "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine dresser. 2 "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
This passage deals with discipleship. One of the most important and misunderstood distinctions in the Bible is that of a Christian and a disciple. Many see them as synonymous. But I think the Bible makes a distinction between them.
How does a person become a Christian? What do you have to do to be a Christian? The answer is one word-- believe! A person becomes a Christian by faith in Jesus Christ.
John 3:16 (NKJV) "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
John 3:36 (NKJV) "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
John 11:25-26 (NKJV) Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 "And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
John 20:30-31 (NKJV) And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
Now, with that in mind, notice what the Bible says about discipleship.
Luke 14:33 (NKJV) "So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.
Do those requirements sound different to you than the requirements for eternal life? Discipleship is a conditional relationship that can be interrupted or terminated after it has begun.
In our text Jesus is addressing his 11 apostles. It was not to unsaved people, not to a mixed audience, but to believers and believers alone, that he said this.
The central theme of chapter 15 is not salvation, how it is to be obtained or the danger of losing it. The theme is discipleship, fruit-bearing, and the conditions of fertility.
Jesus says that He is the vine, the Father is the vine dresser and we are the branches. The imagery of the vine underscores the importance of fruitfulness in the Christian life and the truth that this results not from human achievement, but from one's relationship to Christ. The vine is the source of everything for the branch. And in order for the branch to produce fruit all it has to do is to be attached to the vine.
What is your vine? It's amazing how many Christians have other vines in their lives from which they seek their fulfillment; bank accounts, education, popularity, skills, possessions, social relationships, or even another person.
"My Father," Jesus declares, "is the gardener." This is the Greek word which means, "earth worker." That is the Father's work -- he is the "vinedresser," the gardener who takes care of the vineyard. In Verse 5, Jesus clearly identifies that believers are the branches of the vine: "I am the vine, you are the branches." Further, he indicates there are two kinds of branches -- fruitless branches and fruitful branches. Thus, there is a clear indication that there are two kinds of believers.
The Father deals with the fruitless branches in verse 2; the Greek word used here can either mean, "lift up" or to, "take away." Here it is a reference to the gardener, "lifting up" (i.e., propping up) a weak branch so that it bears fruit again. Fruitless branches are first cared for and encouraged to bring forth fruit. The branches that are bearing fruit are pruned to bring forth even more fruit. God's pruning process is not always easy or pleasant but it helps us to be more fruitful.
In verse 3, Jesus tells the disciples that they are clean. To understand exactly what he means by this, we need to look back at chapter 13.
John 13:8-10 (NKJV) Peter said to Him, "You shall never wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me." 9 Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!" 10 Jesus said to him, "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you."
"Clean" here refers to salvation. Not all of them were clean because Judas was with them. In chapter 15, he simply says, "now you are clean." Jesus is talking to his children, they were believers. Now, look at what he tells them in verse 4.
John 15:4 (NKJV) "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
It is to those who are clean that he says, "Abide in Me." To be a Christian and to abide in Christ are two different things. "Abide in me" is the active voice. That is something we are expected to do. We initiate that. The word, "abide" is the simple word, "remain." "Stay with me," he is saying. "Keep close to me." In other places, it is the word, "Follow me," "do what I say," "obey my commands." Christians are exhorted to abide in Christ, because this privilege and duty may be neglected, and very often is.
"And I in you." The implication is, "Let me abide in you." That is passive. It is not something we can initiate, but something we can expect to happen and trust God for. It takes both to be a fruitful, Christlike Christian. One alone is not enough.
To abide is to have fellowship with Christ, to walk closely with Him, it is to walk in obedience to His Word.
John 15:10 (NKJV) "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.
Look at John 8 and notice its similarities to John 15.
John 8:30-32 (NKJV) As He spoke these words, many believed in Him. 31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
Again, in this text we see Jesus telling those who believe in Him to "abide" in Him. To abide in Him is to be His disciple.
The branches will produce nothing unless they remain connected to the vine, from which their life and sustenance flows. As far as the disciples are concerned, they will produce no fruit from themselves if they do not remain in a dependant relationship to Jesus. He is the source of all life and productivity for the disciple.
But notice in Verse 5, "He who abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." That does not mean you are unable to function. You can do many things without a dependence on Christ. You can raise a family without him. You can run a business without him. You can be very active, even as a Christian. You can fill your days with tremendous activity and busyness, but without dependence on him you will not become Christlike. You have achieved, "nothing" in God's sight. Here is the wonderful balance of the Christian life. Without dependence, discipline is barren. Discipline is necessary, but so is dependence. You need to expect God to work. There must be a sense of his presence with you, a consciousness that he is willing to work through you, and the patience to let him work in his own way.
It is not a question of your sufficiency, but admitting your insufficiency. No figure could more forcibly express the complete dependance of the believer on Christ for all fruit bearing than this.
What is fruit? Fruit is not something which is attached to the branch, fastened on from without, but is the organic product of the inner life. Too often attention is directed to the outward services and actions, or the results of these services. Fruit is a Christlike life produced by Christ through us as we abide in Him.
Isaiah 5:7 (NKJV) For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant. He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.
What God wants from our lives is justice and righteousness.
Genesis 18:19 (NKJV) "For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him."
Psalms 33:5 (NKJV) He loves righteousness and justice; The earth is full of the goodness of the LORD.
Proverbs 21:3 (NKJV) To do righteousness and justice Is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.
Justice is how we treat our fellow man, the way in which we deal with each other. We understand righteousness to mean, "uprightness" in the sense of, "adherence or conformity to an established norm." Righteousness is living in conformity to God's established laws. These are the fruit that God is looking for and they are produced through us as we abide in Christ.
In verse 11, we see a blessing of abiding:
John 15:11 (NKJV) "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.
Joy-- the world wants it, without it, it doesn't matter what you have, or what you are. Joy, true joy, comes from only one place, fellowship with Christ. The reason so many Christians are so often dull and despondent, the cause of our restlessness and discontentment is because we walk so little in fellowship with Christ. We fail to abide in Him.
I would like to give you some aids to abiding:
How much time do you spend alone with God? I mean just you, your Bible and a notebook. Studying His Word, praying to Him, writing down what you learn. It is impossible to have fellowship with Christ when you spend no time with Him.
Psalms 119:148 (NIV) My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.
Believer, you will never be able to abide in Christ if you don't spend time in solitude with God. That is so simple, so basic, but do you do it?
I believe that music is a tremendous aid to abiding. A big area of influence in our lives is music. Everywhere you go people are listening to music. Is the music you listen to helping you to focus your mind on things which are above? God has put music in the heart of man. Singing is an expression of the emotion of the heart. Music flows from the Spirit controlled believer.
Ephesians 5:18-19 (NKJV) And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,
Johann Sebastain Bach said, "The aim of all music is the glory of God." All through the Scriptures we see God's people singing. W. Barclay writes, "In the orthodox Jewish synagogue there has been no music since AD 70. When they worship they remember a tragedy." They cannot sing because the Old Covenant ended but we have much to sing about in the New Covenant.
Psalms 100:1-2 (NKJV) Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! 2 Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing.
As we sing songs that reflect God's person and work, we are brought into His presence through our songs.
Psalms 33:1-4 (NKJV) Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful. 2 Praise the LORD with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. 3 Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy. 4 For the word of the LORD is right, And all His work is done in truth.
Good music that exalts God lifts our hearts in worship and praise. Music can take us from a down and discouraged attitude to one of praise and adoration.
1 Samuel 16:23 (NNAS) So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him.
That is a powerful testimony to the effect of music. I believe that music can greatly enhance our worship and our fellowship with the Lord. I know in my own life whenever I get down, whenever I am struggling spiritually, I put on a good praise tape and my heart is encouraged and refreshed. It focuses our mind and heart upon the Lord and His goodness.
We saw an example of this just this past Wednesday night at our music practice. Tom was late for practice because of work, and when he walked in the door, it was evident that he was not having a good day. But by the time we finished music practice two hours later, his countenance had changed. The music had encouraged and strengthened him.
Music can change your attitude, and some of us need an attitude change. A woman was waiting in the check-out line at a shopping center. Her arms were laden with a mop and broom and other cleaning supplies. By her actions and deep sighs, it was obvious she was in a hurry and not happy about the slowness of the line. When the cashier called for a price check on a box of soap, the woman remarked indignantly, "Well, I'll be lucky to get out of here and home before Christmas!" "Don't worry, ma'am," replied the clerk. "With that wind kicking up out there and that brand new broom you have there, you'll be home in no time."
The secular world knows the effects of music. Music is used in the treatment of mental illness, music is used to increase productivity. The president of Musak said, "Unlike drugs music effects us psychologically and physiologically without invading the blood stream." Hospitals use music to speed up recovery time.
Give it a try. Try replacing your secular music with good Christian music and see if you notice a difference in your attitude and relationship with the Lord.3. Community:
If we are going to abide in Christ, we need each other. I believe that the power of Christianity is seen in community. When we are together encouraging one another, praying for one another, helping one another we are strengthened.
I talk to so many failing and frustrated Christians, and when I ask them if they are involved in a community with other believers, they say, "No." Believers, we need each other. It is extemely difficult to live the Christian life without the love and support of other believers. If you do not get together regularly with other believers for a time of accountability and encouragement, you are missing a vital aid to abiding in Christ.
Acts 21:3-5 (NKJV) When we had sighted Cyprus, we passed it on the left, sailed to Syria, and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload her cargo. 4 And finding disciples, we stayed there seven days. They told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem. 5 When we had come to the end of those days, we departed and went on our way; and they all accompanied us, with wives and children, till we were out of the city. And we knelt down on the shore and prayed.
Notice here that they sought out the fellowship of other believers. Can you picture this scene on the beach? The believers are all there with their families worshiping together. This is community!
2 Corinthians 7:5-6 (NKJV) For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. 6 Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus,
In the midst of trouble, God comforts the apostles, "by the coming of Titus." This is the power of community.
Is abiding in Christ a priority for you. If it is you will be willing to make the necessary changes in your life to see that it happens.
A few years ago Tom Bloch resigned as chief executive officer of H&R Block, the $1.7 billion tax-preparation and financial-services firm, to become a teacher at St. Francis Xavier middle school in Kansas City, Mo. His annual salary suddenly dropped to less than $15,000 a year, about three percent of his old salary. But Bloch knew his hectic schedule as CEO had been interfering with his top priority: his wife and their two sons. "The hardest part was telling my father." Bloch says of H&R Block chairman Henry Bloch, who co-founded the company in 1955. "But I didn't want to look back on my life and say, 'Gee, you had an opportunity to play a bigger role in your children's lives and didn't take it.' "--People Weekly
His priority was his wife and children and he made the changes necessary to spend time with them. Is abiding in Christ enough of a priority for you that you will make the sacrifices necessary to make it happen?
The joy, fulfillment, and peace that so many desperately seek, is only found in an abiding relationship with Christ. Why not make abiding in Christ a priority in your life?