Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. – John 15:4
In the first eight verses of John chapter 15, Jesus reveals to us what measures we must take to be fruitful disciples. He also warns us of the danger of failure, that we all risk being ‘taken away,’ ‘cast out,’ and ‘thrown into the fire.’ Success or failure rests upon our willingness to ‘abide’ in Him. It is imperative then that we know what He meant by this, and that we practice it.
I intend to prove and explain the following:
- What it means to abide in Christ
- How we are to abide in Christ
- What will result if we abide in Christ
- What will result if we fail to abide in Christ
What it means to abide in Christ
The word ‘abide’ means to dwell in a place. Other translations use the word ‘remain.’ If someone were to inquire of the place in which you ‘abide,’ you would likely respond with the city or town that you live in. If someone told you to ‘remain’ in a certain place, it would mean that he intended you to go and stay there. In Luke 10:7, Jesus instructed his disciples to ‘remain (same Greek word as ‘abide’) in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house.’ In other words, He desired that they direct themselves to a specific house and to stay (abide) there throughout the duration of their mission. This is the meaning of the word.
With this in mind, we can ascertain what Jesus meant when He instructed us to ‘abide in Him.’ Of course, Jesus is not a physical place, nor is He with us physically as if He meant for us to be in close proximity to His person. It is clear that Jesus is not referring to any physical thing when He instructs us to abide in Him. Nor is Jesus referring to some mystical spiritual state, as if all who become saved automatically abide in Him. If this were the case, ‘abide in Me’ would not be prescriptive, but descriptive. But we see that Jesus’ statement is indeed prescriptive—it is command to obey, something we must consciously do.
Instead, by ‘abide in Me’ Jesus is referring to a mental state, a fixation of the heart. Just as we can move and direct our bodies to a certain physical location that we might ‘abide’ there, so can we move and direct our minds to certain thoughts and dwell on them. To illustrate this, Jesus uses the idea of a branch abiding in a vine, calling Himself the True Vine. The branch is connected to the vine so that the life of the vine might flow into the branch, and thus produce fruit. This illustrates how the Word of God flows from Christ to us, bringing us life by that word. His words are ‘Spirit and Life’ (John 6:63). And by this I do not mean a dry, ritualistic reading of the Bible, but Spirit-guided illumination of the scriptures and personal fellowship. For He is the Word, and to know the written word we must keep fellowship with Him by always doing what is pleasing to Him (1 John 3:24). Just like a wife seeks to please the husband she loves in all things, and thus maintains a connection with him, so we must also with Christ. For He seeks in all things to please us, as well.
I best came to understand this by using the word ‘connection.’ The branch must maintain a connection to the vine. This idea particularly helped me because I understand what it means to ‘connect’ with another person. When we ‘connect’ with another person, we are referring to the idea that we were able to communicate with that person freely and in a meaningful way. It refers to two minds that share a unity over a subject or way of thinking. And when we speak of ‘staying connected’ with someone, we mean to be in frequent communication with them. And when we speak of ‘reconnecting’ with someone, we mean to try to rekindle that communication. Ultimately, Jesus desires to ‘connect’ with us, and for us to stay connected to Him.
How we are to abide in Christ.
If ‘abiding in Christ’ is a mental state, a heart connection with the Lord, then it stands to reason that in order for us to abide in Christ, we must learn to keep our minds fixed on spiritual things, especially upon Christ and His Word. This, of course, is the teaching of the Bible:
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God – Colossians 3:1-3
that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is lifeand peace. – Romans 8:4-6
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. – Galatians 5:16,22-23
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:8-9
You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. – Isa 26:3
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper. – Psalm 1:1-3 (emphasis mine)
These verses both affirm the biblical command to keep our mind affixed to Christ and also the fruit that will abound from doing so, just as Jesus spoke in John chapter 15. In other words, the command to abide in Christ, the command to fix our minds on spiritual things, and the command to ‘walk in the spirit’ are all one and the same. They are different ways of telling us the same thing. If we are to abide in Christ, we must learn to keep our minds fixed upon Him as much as possible. To do this I suggest the following:
a. Live in perfect obedience to His commands. This should go without saying. However, it must be said in this age when so many seem to think that they have the prerogative to pick and choose how they would like to obey God. If we think we can harbor sin and yet abide in Christ, we are badly mistaken. The first step to abiding in Christ is to rid ourselves off the filthiness of sin in our lives by repenting thoroughly and giving our hearts up to God.
Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him… – 1 John 3:24
b. Regularly engage in distraction free prayer and study of the Bible. We all know what it is like to try to connect with someone who has a distracted mind. Many of us also know the frustration of someone trying to connect with us when our mind is distracted. We know that it is impossible to develop any kind of connectivity with a person whose mind is not engaged. If such things are true, how can we expect to connect with Christ with a distracted mind? If our mind is not engaged, our hearts are surely not engaged. And if we engage in spiritual exercises without heart, we have a dead form of religion. In such cases we are no better than Pharisees, who ‘draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me’ (Matthew 15:8). But God has not called us to dead religion, but to worship Him ‘in Spirit and in Truth.’
c. Maintain an attitude of prayer throughout the day. When Paul told us to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17) he did not mean that we should pray aloud all day, everyday, even while sleeping. Instead, he certainly meant that we were to keep an attitude of prayer, whether in word or in thought. Even while we engage in many of the activities of life, we can still maintain an attitude of prayer, speaking with the Lord inside of our hearts.
d. Replace activities that disengage the mind with activities that do not. The command of scripture is to fix our minds on heaven. This being the case, we must seek to refrain from things that hinder that and, instead, do things that help us stay engaged. For example, at one point, in 1 Thessalonians 4:11, Paul tells us to ‘work with our hands.’ I don’t think that Paul said this because working with our hands is intrinsically better than mental work, but because working with our hands frees our minds to focus on God. It may not be that all of us can avoid mental work, and I am not suggesting that all of us should. However, I do believe that all of us should work with our hands in some way, whether it be working in the yard, the garden, on the house, on the car, etc. And when we do, we should purpose in our hearts to focus on God. Doing these type of things are much more fruitful to our spiritual life than sitting in front of the TV, playing with our phones, video games, and the like–things that often take our mind off of God.
We need to be honest with ourselves and recognize the things in our lives that turn our focus away from God. We must mark those things and either minimize or erase them from our lives. And not just erase them, but replace them. Prayer and study is good, and should be a part of that, but most of us cannot pray and study all day. Instead, we can do host of other things that could be beneficial: – Read edifying books – Play an instrument – Build with earthen materials – Volunteer at the church or other worthy organization – Make clothing and other fabric items – Do art work – Garden – Exercise – Cook – Do updates to the house—decor or construction – Visit with brothers and sisters in Christ – Do evangelism work – Make Christian YouTube videos – Anything that genuinely allows your mind to stay on God while you do it.
I say these things, not to be legalistic, but to guide you as you grow in Christ. If you are a genuine Christian, God has already dealt with you, or is dealing with you, about cutting things away that are not fruitful. Be led by the Spirit as you seek to grow closer and closer to Christ.
What will result if we abide in Christ
Now I want to speak to what we can expect if we obey this command to abide in Christ. And I would like to remind you that this is a command, not a suggestion or simply good advice; but a command that carries weighty consequences, both good and bad.
First we will speak of the good. And first we must relate that to abide in Christ is a reward of its own. Having a great friend to be with is not about what that friend can do for you, but about the joy it is to keep company with him. And Christ does not desire us to be only servants, but friends. He said, ‘You are my friends if you do whatever I command you. I no longer call you servants..but I have called you friends’ (John 15:14-15). To know Christ and have Him as friend is the greatest treasure any man can have. Paul said that just to know Him was worth losing all worldly possessions and prestige. He called anything good in this world garbage compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:7-8).
And surely this would be enough, but it is not all. The scripture promises that those who abide in Christ will be fruitful. This means that those who abide in Christ will ultimately fulfill their purpose. The purpose of the branches of the vine is to produce grapes. Likewise, each one of us have a purpose, both generally and specifically. We are all called to the Christian fruit of love and joy and peace, etc. This fruit is a huge blessing to both ourselves and those around us. But we are also called to fulfill an individual purpose as a member of the body of Christ, whatever that might be. The joy of finding your place and being a blessing to the church and to the world will be realized as you abide in Christ. Life will be fulfilling and meaningful as you journey to your ultimate reward, til, on that day, when you finally meet Him, you will be ushered into His kingdom with loud shouts of joy, for the Bible says that such an abundant entrance will be giving to you into the glorious kingdom of our Lord and Savior (2 Peter 1:11).
What will result if we fail to abide in Christ.
But what if we fail in this? What if we give in to the distractions and temptations of the world that draw us into any and every activity and endeavor that moves us away from Christ rather than closer to Him? What if we get caught up with relationships or work or entertainment or video games or socializing, and get our mind so wrapped up in worldly things that any connection we have had with God is lost and fading? If these things happen we become as a branch that is disconnected from the vine. The life no longer flows into the branch and the branch begins the process of death. The branch doesn’t die instantly, of course, and can still be grafted in if quick action is given. But if it is not, the branch will dry up and die. And being worthless, it can only serve as fuel for the fire. It will be cast away forever.
Make no mistake, if you forsake Christ, He will forsake you (2 Timothy 2:12, 2 Chronicles 15:2). Don’t be fooled, this is a theologically sound statement and in perfect harmony with scripture. God is forgiving, but not a pushover. If you repent, He will forgive you, but if you go back to the flesh pots of Egypt, He will not go with you. You risk being cut off forever and cast away into the everlasting darkness where there will ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
It must be of first importance for us to abide in Christ as the scripture has instructed us. This is quite literally the most important thing that we can do as Christians. All other activities of service or worship should flow from this task. If we get away from this we will only have dead religion, and the church will resort to fleshly means to accomplish spiritual goals. Unfortunately, we have seen much of this already. But if we seek fruitfulness through abiding in the Vine, we will achieve spiritual goals by spiritual means. The difference is whether we spend our energy seeking to produce fruit or to spend our energy staying connected to Christ. If we do the former, we’ll lose the quasi-fruit that we obtain, building only a house of straw, but if we do the latter, fruit will come by course. I pray we all be people that do the latter, focusing on Christ, allowing His Spirit to do the work of bearing fruit.