“I am the vine; You are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in Me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to My Father’s glory, that you will bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples.” –John 15:5-8 TNIV
Most doctrine hangs by the fingernails of small words: of, with, from, for, as, by, while, to. Prepositions, they‘re called. Whole theological counsels and camps, entire denominations and movements, the line between heresy and orthodoxy — all this, often, dances on the pinheads of prepositions. Prepositions are the eye of the needle that the camel of dogma must squeeze through. An example: the battle to forge the Chalcedonian creed, written to clarify the nature of the incarnation, raged over a single preposition: whether Jesus was “from” two natures or “in” two natures.
The power of tiny words is everywhere. Many of the conversations I have with leaders turn on a single question: “Are you leading up or leading down?” I assume the person is exercising leadership. That’s their gift. They influence others whether or not they want to or think they are. My question has to do with the direction of their influence. Up or down. Two radically different outcomes, yet separated only by the paper-thinness of a single word: a preposition.
Biblically, every preposition is important. It shades or tilts meaning one way or another. But if one preposition surpasses all the rest, I think that it’s in. You must abide in Me, Jesus said, and I must abide in you. The reality of in-ness, of being in Christ and Christ being in us, is the essence of loving, transforming relationship with Jesus incites us to enjoy. In the end, when it comes to knowing God, we are either in or out.
Over the past few months, as I was memorizing the letter to the Philippians, greater clarity about all this came to me. In that letter, Paul uses many prepositions to articulate the nature of our relationship with Christ. We do much through Christ, for Christ, with Christ, by Christ. But especially, our life is in Christ. In Philippians alone, Paul uses the phrase “in Christ Jesus” or “in the Lord” eighteen times, and means by it everything from who we are to what we have to what we’re called to be and do. In-ness defines the shape of our Christian identities, abilities, destinies. We are saints in Christ. We are confident in Christ. We are called heavenward in Christ. We stand firm in Christ, rejoice in Him, hope in Him, agree in Him, glory in Him, are found in Him, are guarded, heart and mind, in Him, have all our needs met in Him, and welcome others in Him.
Pondering that, I reckon this: the deep and simple answer to all of life lies here, hidden in plain sight. If we could fully embrace this life of in-ness, all would be well. Right now, I’m no better than halfway there. Much of my confidence, my rejoicing, my hope, my agreeableness, my efforts to stand firm, my attempts to guard my heart and mind — much of it is something other than Christ. I agree in things going my way. I rejoice in my health. I am confident in my proven ability to ride a bike without tipping, mostly. I hope in the strength of the local economy. I guard my heart and mind in the maintenance of carefully delineated boundaries.
And to the extent to which any of these things rest in something other than Christ is the extent to which they are rickety. My health could fail without warning. Things do not always go my way. I can’t even always stay upright on a bike — this summer, navigating around a fallen tree, I fell and injured myself. The local and global economies are shaky. My boundaries shift beyond my control, and the buffers and barricades I’ve erected, and decorated to look like something else, get breached.
And so life becomes precarious. In the face of that precariousness, I find myself lapsing into the very thing Paul wants to spare me from — anxiety. I become anxious about everything.
Life in Christ is the only life that bears fruit, or at least fruit that lasts, and you want to last. Every life, true enough, bears fruit. We all produce something. But it’s fruit that doesn’t last — good things we can’t sustain — or it’s fruit that does last, but we wish it didn’t — bad things we can’t get rid of.
I think of Lester, who’s had one relationship with a woman his whole life, only repeated seven times. They all start the same: a heady attraction, a sexual frenzy, a trumpeting of, “Finally, the one!” a decision to move in together. And they all end the same, though they are becoming, mercifully, shorter and shorter in duration: a growing irritable Ness, fights that intensify and lengthen, finally one wild blistering row that often concludes with neighbors phoning the police and restraining orders being issued. Lester sits in my office weeping, asking, “Why is this happening to me?”
Where do I start?
Of course, I want to moralize. I’m good at this, gifted even. My mouth drips with stern lectures with minimal prompting. I heap guilt and, subtly, enshrine my own example of “virtuous living” to be emulated. But the problem is always deeper than this, and the solution always other than this. Anything done without faith, Paul says, is sin. On that score, much of my virtue is just a gimmick disguise for my sin. Because — well, I’ve already said it: I hope and agree and rejoice and stand firm and etcetera and etcetera in many things other than Christ.
The only fruit that glorifies God stems from abiding in Christ, and He in us. It’s a life of faith and faithfulness. It’s a life of utter dependency and yet, strangely, daring initiative. Put another way, much and yet nothing depends on me. What depends on me is my tenacious dependence on Christ. I must do that thing which exposes my utmost bankruptcy of all my own doings. Apart from Him, He clearly said, “I can do nothing.” I depend on Him for exactly everything. If I fail in this one thing, this tenacious dependency, I fail entirely. And yet the other side of this is what Paul proclaims to the Philippians, the secret, he says, is being content in any and every situation: “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). I can do everything, or nothing, all hinging on one thing: being in Christ, or not.
I have a small confession: the kind of language — through Christ, in Christ — drives me a little crazy. Not because I don’t believe it, but because I struggle to know what it means in practical terms.
I find this helps: I find abiding in Jesus is almost identical to doing things in Jesus’ name. Over and over, the Bible tells us to pray, to ask, to heal, to speak, to worship, to have faith, to be baptized, to give thanks in the name of Jesus. Paul sums it up in this way: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17, emphasis mine).
The name of Jesus is His nature. It is His essence. It is His inmost self. When I speak or act in His name, I speak in His stead. If I’m to do that with much integrity, not duplicity, then I must take pains to make sure my actions and words align with His actions and words, that there’s a clear, unambiguous correspondence between the two. Otherwise, my body language gainsays my words, my tone betrays me. To be in Jesus is to act and speak His name, which means it is to align my acting and speaking with who He is. It is to conform my life to His life.
I know there’s more to that than this. There is the mysterious in working and outworking of the Holy Spirit. But as we’ve seen elsewhere, life in the Spirit involves a likewise alignment of my thoughts, my words, my deeds with the heart of Jesus.
It’s that alignment, the in-ness, that produces fruit that lasts.
~ Darren’s Comments ~
Quoting John 15:1-12 (one of my favorite passages of Scripture):
““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. 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 have kept my Father’s commandments and 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. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Now, just reading that, you will see there is an action between Jesus and you (that is a universal you, and it includes me too). You have to abide in Jesus, and He will abide in you. That is the only way to please the Father. I like the way that Jesus goes right for the jugular saying what it takes to be a part of Him, the Vine — “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He (the Vinedresser a.k.a. the Father) takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes” (which means that it is going to hurt for a time or a season). Jesus says this in verse 2 just after He says that I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Talking about direct! Jesus is the most compassionate truth-teller I know. He doesn’t mince words, and He tells you that if you so choose to become part of Him it is not going to be an easy life but worth every pain you went through in this physical life. How true that is because if I hadn’t gone through the accident which almost ended my life (Running With Christ) or an incident that happened a couple of years ago in which my diabetic blood sugar was cresting to 1,000 (During My Most Recent Scare At the Hospital).
Through those experiences, there was an urgency upon my soul to write although I found a platform in which I could do it through WordPress.com nearly 4 years ago.
Let go on:
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 (John 15:3-5). Woe to me if I do not take all the talents the Lord Jesus Christ has given me and use them to glorify God the Father by making and fulfilling the last command of Jesus. True enough, I can not speak to save the life in me. However, I am a care provider with direct personal experience and a writer. Woe to me if I don’t take the talents and use them for good — that is, fulfilling Jesus’ last command of “Going Into All The World” and make disciples. Yet, I am not going to do that if I do not abide in Christ, for Jesus is the vine and I am one of many branches in the Vine.
You see it in natural physical life where branches to any tree become lifeless when they are, indeed, cut from the tree or better yet, vine. 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 (John 15:6-7). Now these two verses are liable to cause confusion — “If I abide in Jesus Christ, then I get to ask whatever I want and it will be done for me.” Yes! No. Wait a second. It is true that whatever you ask then it will be given to you if you abide in Christ, but at the same time, you must not let the carnal nature rule you when you ask. Perhaps an illustration from my life will do?
When I was a teenager surrendering my life up to God to be a youth pastor, I remember several times why aren’t these two verses (John 15:6-7) apply to my life? It was not till my late twenties or early thirties that the Holy Spirit enlightened me on what those verses truly meant. It means if you are abiding in Christ you do as the Holy Father wants because your mind is stayed on Jesus which His ultimate purpose is to please the Father. You don’t get any chance to please your carnal self.
In fact, Jesus says it in the next verse, John 15:8:
“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”
Jesus continues on:
“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 have kept my Father’s commandments and 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. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
This is my takeaway from this whole passage (John 15:1-12) and the section of the book called In Christ: abide in Christ means that you don’t let your carnal, fleshly self try to do a coup in your own soul which belongs to Jesus Christ in that He may present you to the Holy Father whole and blameless.
To those who have an ear, let them hear.
~ Darren L. Beattie, The Soul Blogger ~