“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.” (John 15:5, NKJV)
The front of my home is a riot of color, thanks to the work of my wife in selecting and caring for the array of flowers that comprise the palette. As the plants grow over the summer the garden becomes more lush and conspicuous to the passersby.
That patch of flowers gives us an idea of what God wants of our lives as His children. In contrast to pride, covetousness, sexual immorality, envy, rage, discontentment, and selfishness, we are to display love, joy, peace, patience, humility, righteousness, and mercy. In a fallen and wayward world, these characteristics of grace stand out. They attract the attention of others who will know we are Christians by our love and will enjoy our kindness, goodness, and gentleness. As Christ is formed in us we will bring beauty to what can be a dark and inhospitable world. The conduct of our lives will bring glory to our Father in heaven.
But how do we go about cultivating these blooms of blessing? Their seeds are resident in us by virtue of our new life in Christ. How do we develop them, especially if they are to grow organically from union with Christ rather than by sheer effort of the will and brute determination to try harder to be more loving, more patient, and the like?
Ultimately, the answer to growth is grace. It is of God. The Spirit who begins a work in us will continue that work the entirety of our lives, until we are made perfect in heavenly glory. The grace that brings salvation is the grace the produces sanctification. Grace is the instructor “teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:12).
Grace, of course, does not teach us self-reliance. It teaches us Christ-dependence. It operates not according to the principle of self-reformation but according to the animating life principle inherent in regeneration. We are children of light. Paul spells out what that means. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth)” (Eph. 5:8–9).
To be light in the Lord speaks to our union with Christ. We are united to Christ by the Holy Spirit and we operate in that union with Christ. Jesus describes it as abiding. “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” (John 15:4).
What that tells us is that our life, growth, health, vitality, and fruitfulness proceed from residing in Christ and relying on Him. Apart from Him we can do nothing. Through Him we can do all things. The essential skill of discipleship is learning to abide in Christ.
How do we abide in Christ? We grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. We cultivate a personal relationship with Him, growing to know Him intimately and depend upon Him absolutely. The prominent encouragement to beleaguered believers in the book of Revelation is a majestic portrait of Jesus Christ who died and lives and reigns on high for His church. That portrait is painted throughout the book in vivid brushstrokes that capture the glory of Jesus and nurture a love and a longing for Him. Abiding is the exercise of knowing Jesus.
Abiding is exercised through study of God’s Word and prayer. God’s Word, the Bible, instructs us in the way of God. It shapes our worldview. It nourishes our soul. It directs our steps. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus as they walked with a risen Christ, so a Savior-centric exposition of the Word will cause our hearts to burn within. We grow to know Jesus.
Prayer serves to cultivate that personal relationship with God as it communes with Him. Prayer is at its core fellowship with the living God. Prayer derives from dependence and draws upon promise. Jesus explained: “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7). Our Lord calls us to look to Him, to learn of Him, and to lean upon Him for all things, at all times.
- How is the skill of abiding essential to Christian discipleship?
- How does a believer abide in Christ?
Father, by the Holy Spirit fill me with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of Your name.
For study of the fruit of the Spirit through abiding in Christ see A Vine-Ripened Life (Stanley D. Gale, Reformation Heritage Books)
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.