Words and Abiding
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you…”
– John 15:7
In chapter 15 of John’s gospel, we find Christ’s wonderful extended teaching about the Vine and the Branches. The point of this analogy is that Jesus Himself is the Vine and His followers are the Branches. What I love so much about this imagery is the utter dependence that it teaches us to have on Christ! As Jesus Himself says, the branch can do nothing apart from the vine and in the same way we can do nothing of true and lasting value apart from Him. As the branch needs the vine for life, so too the Christian needs Christ.
But there is another wonderful implication to this analogy, and it is this: if we would be eternally fruitful people, then our focus must be on abiding in Christ and not on bearing fruit.
Abiding is the Focus
“Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit…”
The Christian life is not about being fruitful, it’s not about spiritual growth, it’s not about advancing in holiness and effectiveness in ministry….now, don’t misunderstand me, all of those things are necessary elements of a life in Christ (just as fruit-bearing is a necessary element of a healthy fruit tree), but they are not the focus, they are not what our life is about. Rather, the focus is abiding in Jesus Christ. He is our sufficiency, He is our fullness, He is our sustenance, from Him comes our soul’s vitality, from Him comes the spiritual nutrients by which fruit is produced….Jesus Christ is truly all things to the believer. If we would be fruitful and so glorify God (v.8) and enter the Life of eternal communion with Him (v.7), then there is to be one central pursuit in our life: Abide in Jesus Christ.
Well, that is wonderful and comforting news to hear…..but what does it mean? What does abiding in Christ look like? Of course, there is much that could be said about this, but today I want to focus on one element of this abiding relationship, namely, Christ’s abiding in us.
You in Me and I in You…
Notice that it is not enough for us to abide in Him, He also must abide in us (v.4-5). This points to the intimate and interpersonal relationship into which God invites the believer. He is not content to keep us “at arm’s length,” rather He intends to weave us–as it were–into Himself, to fold us into His own joy in Himself so that we are made glad with the very gladness of God (without becoming God ourselves). Ultimately this interpersonal fellowship is brought about by the indwelling presence of God the Spirit within us. However we get an interesting glimpse into a practical aspect of this divine/human intimacy in verse 7 of chapter 15.
Christ’s Word or Christ Himself?
In verse 4 and 5, Jesus has used the pattern, “you abide in me, and I in you.” But in verse 7 we see an intriguing change, here He says, “…you abide in me, and my words abide in you…” He has substituted Himself with His words. Why would He do that?
Well, all throughout John’s gospel, Jesus’ words are chiefly words that reveal His identity as the Son of God sent from the Father in order to make the Father known (3:33-34,5:47,6:63,8:20, 12:47, etc). Words, in this sense, do not refer to commands, but to witness, to testimony, to Jesus’ claims concerning Himself (of course, if his claims our believed, obedience will necessarily follow). His words include descriptions of Himself as:
- The one who bears witness to the realities He has seen in God’s presence (3:34)
- The one who is due equal honor as the Father (5:24)
- The one who must be received as true food and true drink and who gives His flesh for the life of the world (John 6:63)
- The one who, when lifted up, will reveal Himself to be God the Son who makes the Father known perfectly (8:31 and surrounding context).
- The one who alone can set someone free from sin (8:37)
- The only true light who perfectly communicates the Father to the world (12:47)
- The one who dwells in the Father and in whom the Father dwells (14:10)
So, when Jesus replaces Himself with His words, He is clarifying what He means and guarding us against error. It’s not enough to have some idea of Jesus within us, it’s not enough to have an emotional sense that “Jesus and me are ok,” we need to know Him according to His word, according to what He has said about Himself….and it is only when His words concerning Himself are dwelling in us–at home within us, received with open arms within us–that it can truly be said that Christ is dwelling in us.
Abiding Intimacy Depends on Words
There is often a divide between “word people” and “emotion people.” There are those who thrive on the nuances of biblical doctrine and word studies, and then there are those who just want to “feel” the nearness of their relationship with Christ (those are, of course, generalizations). However, this verse forces those two together. If we are going to have an intimate, vibrant, fruitful communion with Jesus Christ, then we must know and treasure His words. And, on the other side, Jesus’ words exist so that we might know Him and so enjoy relational communion with Him by His Spirit. Word and Abiding are inseparably bound together.
Often you’ll hear people say something like, “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship!” Yes, I agree. However, the primacy of “relationship” does not relegate propositions and doctrine to the periphery…..quite the opposite! Jesus says that our relationship with Him is all about His words. It is all about what He has spoken, what He has revealed, who He has shown Himself to be. If we try to have a “relationship with Jesus” that is disconnected from His words–that is, a relationship that is not anchored to the objective reality of His self-revelatory teaching–then we will find ourselves in some sort of relationship indeed, but not with the biblical Christ….and that’s a frightening place to be.
May the Lord open our eyes to see increasingly wonderful things in His words (Ps.119:18), may He unfold what He has spoken and so give us light (Ps.119:130), and may the indwelling Holy Spirit take from the glories of Christ–communicated through the words of Christ–and make them known to us (Jn 16:14), so that the living Jesus Christ might abide in us, and we in Him…for our joy, the Church’s good, the World’s salvation, and God’s glory–amen.