Archive for July 18th, 2022

Sermon: Abiding in Christ – John 15:1-11

I preached again!

I once again covered for brother Paul at Paulden Christian Fellowship.

As usual, I offer the reminder that these are my rough notes. In fact, I added about double the words verbally this time!

Also, there is no video this time around.

Branching Out: Abiding in Jesus: John 15:1-11

“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.”

John 15:1-11

Intro

Here are some interesting things about grape vines:

  • The ground beneath a vine needs to be perfectly clean: no weeds, no fallen branches or fruit. It is hard work to keep the ground clean for a vine to grow strong and healthy.
  • Vines are creeping plants, so they want to spread out across an area. If they stay on the ground, they do not grow good fruit. Therefore, grape vines are usually help up off the ground on trellises (woven/netted fences) or forked stakes.
  • New vines are allowed to grow for three years before they can grow fruit, being pruned once a year to keep the ground clear and conserve growing energy.

  • In the winter (usually December-January) of the third year, the vine is extensively pruned to prepare for fruit growth.

  • There are two kinds of branches that grow on the vine: those that produce fruit and those that don’t. Again, to help those that produce fruit get the most energy and food, the fruitless branches are cut off, to help keep them from robbing the good branches of sustenance. They are not good for anything (except maybe some artwork) due to being too soft for construction and burning too quickly to be used for useful fires. They are at best kindling and even described in Ezekiel 15 as only good for being burned in a bonfire.

  • Israel was often described as a vine (Isaiah 5, Jeremiah2, Ezekiel 15-19, Hosea 10, Psalm 80), and for much of its history Israel used the vine as its national symbol.

Why talk about this? Because it has everything to do with our passage today! We will see what the fruitless branches look like, what a fruitful branch looks like, and we will look from the beginning of history all the way to the end of history.

The Vinedresser and Fruit

The first thing we must think about is our Father in heaven.

God created the heavens and the earth in six days. During that creative work, He made a Garden in which to place Man, giving the Man dominion over the Creation to tend it and cultivate it, to care for animals and plants, yet to enjoy the fruit and rest of that Garden.

There was only one rule established at the beginning: don’t eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

I find it interesting that Adam is not told to not eat the fruit of the Tree of Life. Is this because God Himself is that tree? It is possible, as Christ told us in the previous chapter of John that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

But our focus is that Adam – and via him Eve – was commanded not to eat of this fruit.

“Every branch that does not bear fruit, He takes away.”

Well, let’s discuss for a moment the nature of vines: that the bad branches need to be pruned off so that they do not take sustenance from the good fruit.

Adam and Eve took fruit that was not theirs. When we give in to temptation or blatantly sin, we join with them in taking fruit without permission.

When people in church are living in unrepentant sin, they are robbing the fellowship of God’s goodness.

They are fruitless and deprive those with good fruit of sharing in all goodness, because they must then share their good fruit without the benefit of return. (Not that we do good things expecting good in return in this life!)

Galatians 5 explains the works of the flesh – the lack of fruit, which leads to immorality, sensuality, idolatry, hatred, rage, divisions, and wild living. When people live this way, we perpetuate the curse of sin and draw away others from God’s goodness and fellowship.

So God cuts them off.

The bad branches are cast into the fire.
This sounds harsh. It may even sound like people can lose their salvation.

Let me share my understanding, based on the whole council of God’s Word and historical orthodox understanding:

The bad branches are not those who once put their faith in Christ and fell away. These are those who tried to be good on their own power. They may be those who were raised in church, and even believed much of what they were taught and maybe even taught themselves. Just like the parable of the soils (Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8) explains, some believe and even immediately take root, but the cares of this world, worries, fears, and even greed get in the way and they die.  

These are people who like God’s grace, but they take issue with other teachings in the Bible. The word translated as divisions in many modern Bibles is adequately translated in the KJV as “heresies”: different or false teachings. Those who fall away often believe false teachings.

Today it is the people who love God’s grace but hate the Bible’s “homophobia and transphobia.” After all, love is love, and God is love. So stop hating.

Today it is the people who love God’s grace but hate the Bible’s teachings on slavery and how it was used to keep the US in slavery for so long.

Today it is the people who love God’s grace but hate that the Bible seems to keep women down.

In truth, God does love all people, but He does have His standard on what love looks like. We do not hate people, but there is a best way to live, according to God.

In truth, none of these teachings are in the Bible the way these people understand them (or they understand them correctly and hate it all the same.) It does not condone slavery as seen in the 19th Century and before, but it set a standard for protection (that today looks more like the employer-employee dynamic). And the Bible is the reason women were elevated as much as they were historically, to the point that women could eventually own property, run businesses, and have a say in society.

No, these are people who take the good things from God and only keep what they like. They try to steal from God and His People while claiming they have the real goodness.

So, God cuts them off of the Vine, for they were never really a part of the Vine. (As Jesus points out in Matthew 25.) They are unable to do any truly good work (v. 5), so they are cast into the fire.

And God prunes those with good fruit.

Good branches

What does it mean that He prunes us?

It means He cuts of the parts that are not helpful. And yes, it hurts. We have to give up the things that get in the way of God in our lives.

It can look like the hard circumstances in our lives (though, yes, the hard circumstances could also be a direct result of our sinfulness.)

It can look like having something lost, taken from us, or being out of reach, like a job, a car, or a dream.

It can look like being corrected, as much as we like doing what we’re doing or as much as we would rather no one knows what we did.

But we are able to endure it if we abide in Christ.

What does abiding look like?

It is regularly attending church.
It is regularly reading the Bible.
It is regularly (and often) praying.
It is regularly helping others.

It looks like seeing the fruit of the Spirit as shown in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

These are not separate fruits, rather they are attributes of the single fruit of the Spirit. If one of these nine is missing in our lives, we are out of step with the Holy Spirit, not fully abiding in Christ. We should take a moment to examine ourselves, possibly with the help of others, to see what God wants to prune from us to keep us in step with the Sprit, abiding in Christ.

And we see the patience, joy, and self-control to go through that process.
We see the love, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness to want to help bring others into that same joy and peace.

We seek to want to help till the ground of the hearts of others to be ready to accept the gospel of Christ, understanding that it is the Holy Spirit using the Word to change their hearts.

Maybe, like Jude tells us, we are able to snatch some from the fire, to help them, as Paul says, to be truly grafted into the True Vine, Jesus.

Jeremiah called out Israel for becoming a wild vine that produces bad and even rotten fruit. But Jesus is the True Israel, the True Vine, in whom we are grafted and see the good works that can flow through us to glorify God.

As Jesus said …

Glorifying God

Abiding in Christ – being grafted in to His Vine – means we seek the glory of the Father. Our will is being conformed to His will, such that we will want to ask for things that bring Him glory and draw others to Him.

As even Pastor Paul preached, we show we are abiding in Christ, loving God, when we obey His commandments.

What are the greatest commandments?

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; Love your neighbor as yourself; and the new commandment from John 13, love one another (the Church).

When we love God, we obey His commands to keep Him first and foremost in our lives, to love other people sacrificially and in truth, and we love His Church.

We are born into a world that rebels against God, and that includes our thoughts. We must realize that we naturally want to rebel and believe what the world teaches us is truth.

We believe that God literally created the world in six days, but the world teaches the universe began on its own and gradually progressed to produce every better (fitter) life. That we get better as we go along. That as a people we are smarter than in the past.

We let this sink in to our understanding today: We must know more than Christians in the past. It may be true for some things, but here we are 2000 years after Christ lived, died, and rose again still disseminating meaning from what was written in this book.

We ask for God’s wisdom through His Holy Spirit to realize where our world is influencing our understanding rather than Him and His Word. We ask for the change in our hearts and minds that only He can give us to be transformed to be more like Christ.

As James reminds us, this is the kind of thing that delights God and that He wants to grant. (See Solomon, after all.)

But what else do we ask for?

That He helps us abide in Him and bring Him all glory.

We see that the vine spreads. Likewise, Christ the Vine spreads as His Church cleans the land through the spreading of the gospel.

We do the good works of pointing people to Christ that they may be drawn near to Him. It may look like feeding and clothing the poor, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and being kind to those the world has forgotten.

Most importantly it is sharing the gospel.

Abiding Toward the Future

As we see, Christ wants us to abide in Him as He abides in the Father, and we are abiding if we are obeying His commands.

And this brings us all joy.

It is because we remember that humanity was invited to abide with God in the Garden of Eden, but through Adam (and our own sin) we rejected that.

The gospel shows us that Jesus was born to faithfully obey, and His greatest fruit was being put on a tree in the place of Adam and Eve and all of us.

The gospel shows that we can one day be with Him in Paradise, as intended.

That is the hope that we have.

If we abide in Christ, we have the hope of eternal glory in the presence of The Glory.
No more pain. No more suffering. No more want. No more tears. No more difficult labor (double meaning here).

But we are to follow in His love as Jesus followed the love of the Father.

That means that we are to live sacrificially for others for the sake of the gospel.

The Father loved Jesus, yet the love was displayed through the crucifixion.

God loves us, so we will see pain and trouble in this life for His sake.

Abiding Today

I could give a list of “this is what it looks like” to abide in Christ.

In a way, I did: attend church and small groups, read the Bible, pray, encourage each other, be a servant.

The thing is, abiding in Christ is all of this, but it also can look different for everyone.

It can be serving the hungry. (Which the food bank here does well!)
It can be listening to someone hurting: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.
It can be giving money or things to help someone in need, even to the point of wondering how all the bills will be paid this month.

Without the love of God, the fruit of the Spirit guiding our every decision and action, it does not much matter.
Therefore, we keep meeting together to encourage each other in Christ, reminding each other of the hope that we have in Christ, and … how about we let the Word tell us:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrew 10:23-25, ESV

The pastor is supposed to help us understand the Scriptures, and I pray I have helped with that today. But it takes all of us working with Christ to encourage each other to abide in Christ. It is that whole living life together thing.

How do we abide?

We trust in Christ for our salvation.
We rely on the Holy Spirit and the Church to grow us and change us.
We encourage each other and ask for the wisdom God offers.
We spread the good news of Jesus Christ throughout our community and the world by doing good works and sharing the gospel.

And we do it together, joining God in this great mission of love, grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

VerseD: 1 Corinthians 3:16

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

1 Corinthians 3:16, ESV

God guides us in all of life. We do not need to ask the Holy Spirit into our lives over and over. He is in us at all times.