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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Abiding in Christ

Christians are divided in their understanding of what Jesus wanted us to do when He charged His followers to ‘abide’ in Him in John 15.

Soon after my conversion I read through a biography of Hudson Taylor; it told of his struggle to understand how this command was to be applied in his life. I read and re-read the story. I went on to read a number of devotional commentaries that dealt with this subject. Many seemed to be telling me to pray more fervently or read the word more diligently. This was good advice, yet the way to enter into this heightened experience of eternal life (that is what I thought it offered) still eluded me; I was trying to apply His words to my need in the 21st century before I understood them in the light of the situation facing His disciples in the 1st century. I saw it as something I had to learn to do, a level of Christian living which I hadn’t experienced yet.

Was abiding some state to which only the super-spiritual attained?

The Meaning of the Word ‘Abide’

The Greek word meno was commonly used in the days of the New Testament and appears in the text about 100 times but, when translating it for our versions, scholars chose to use different English equivalents in different contexts. Sometimes it seemed best to them to use ‘remain’. In other cases they translated it as ‘tarry’, ‘dwell’, ‘endure’, ‘stand’, or ‘continue’. The important thing to remember is that those disciples were to remain as they were when the charge was given; that is, in the enjoyment of the truth the Lord had passed on to them, especially as  it related to His person and work; He was about to be taken from them.

In my late teens I was given an Alsatian. This fine animal and I spent many hours together as I trained the dog to be obedient to different orders. First he learned to remain by my side when I threw a stick among the trees, then to fetch it on command. The most difficult test for Rex was when I would select an open area and the order was ‘stay’. I would then go some distance away and hide behind a tree. If I waited for what he thought was too long, Rex would easily be distracted by another animal or decide he needed to hunt for his master. It was difficult for him to learn that my word was to be obeyed when I was out of his sight.

The ‘Little While’

The Lord knew it was but a little while before his disciples would see Him again (Jn. 16:16). His teaching about resurrection was hard for them to receive; His prophesied death and burial would seem so final. It was written, “Smite the Shepherd and the sheep will be scattered” (Zech. 13:7), but to whom would they go if the One who had the words of eternal life was crucified? The lessons He had already taught them far exceeded anything other Rabbis had to offer. It might seem logical to them to return to secular employment, and Peter would suggest that, but the promise of becoming fishers of men made it a pale alternative.

Christ’s word to them was ‘stay’.

We know now that, following His resurrection, Christ would go on to spend forty more days with them full of instruction concerning the Kingdom of God. We know also His ascension to heaven would mean the Holy Spirit would come to lead them into all truth, that which they as yet were not in a position to receive. For the most part the disciples had been loyal to Him while they could see Him; now He called them to be loyal when they would not see Him. They were not Christians but Jewish believers who, without realizing it, were standing on a bridge between the Old Covenant and the New. He was going ahead to open the gate on the farther side. It would cost Him His life. He charged them to stay in the knowledge of who He was and what He had taught them to this point. In the 21st century we must stand in the shoes of those men to understand His word ‘abide’ as spoken in John 15.

The True Vine

We may find ourselves passing over the Lord’s claim to be the ‘true vine’ without being startled by it; the disciples could not. Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel had insisted that Israel was the vine. Hadn’t God brought their nation out of Egypt to bear fruit for His pleasure and their blessing? But its only product had been “wild grapes”. A new Root and Stem was needed, and a Vinedresser. Only in that way could the purpose of God be fulfilled. The disciples would be like branches but they must remain in Him; Judas would not. The immediate lesson for those who belonged to that nation was that only by staying “in Him” could they form the Israel of God.

Now we must not make the mistake of interpreting the Lord’s “in Me” in John 15 as though it was meant exactly the same way as the words “in Christ” in Ephesians 1. In John, the Jewish disciple’s responsibility is in view; he or she must believe and continue in order to be fruitful. In Ephesians, the readers are informed that both Jews and Gentiles who believe were chosen by God in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that they would be “holy and blameless before Him”. The same concept, being “in Christ”, is used in both passages, but in two very different contexts. “In Me” in John 15 is spoken to those close to Him on earth. “In Christ” in Ephesians 1 is written to those “risen with Him” (2:6), the One “who was delivered up for our offences”, and was raised “because of our justification” (Rom. 4:25).

Those chosen by God in Christ will never be cut off like those in John 15.

Abiding Today

The application of that word ‘abide’ is loaded with meaning, to the twelve disciples and to everyone who wishes to be a fruitful disciple. Abiding does not call for human effort. It is where we must begin if we desire to be spiritually fruitful, to lay aside the kind of energy we have been taught to exert in order to succeed in life. We may want to know what we “must do in order to work the works of God”. Christ’s answer is, “to believe on Him who He has sent”.

Paul’s life provides an illustration of this principle; his soul or inner man was at rest while he “laboured more abundantly than they all”. It was not “I”, he says, but “Christ that lives in me”.

“But”, we may ask, “how can we, who were never with Christ, ‘remain’ in One we never met?” 

The Lord’s promise to those who had been with Him (and so also to us) is profound but practical:
“A little while and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” (Jn. 14:19-21)
Who would not want to abide in that?

CFA

Republished by permission of the author

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