Recovering Biblical Sanity - John 15:1-17

"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."
John 15:5


John 15 slows me down. I hate it. My mind is frenetic. My heart is busy. My inner world is urgent. But all of this is toward nothing specific. And the language of "abiding" is a broom stick in the spoke of my life as it speeds by Jesus.

To abide is to linger; to tarry. It's the idea of staying put. I don't have time for that. I have things to get done. Besides, what Jesus is calling us into in John 15 opposes all that Jesus has given us to do everywhere else, right?

Wrong. Jesus invokes this word "abide" 10 times in 10 verses. And 6 times, he directly connects it to bearing fruit. It's painstakingly repetitive. Jesus is not telling us not to care about productivity or meaningful impact on those around us. Jesus cares a lot about those things. So this is no rebuke for midguided ambition. This is a corrective to our misguided strategies.

The desire to be fruitful and have impact is indeed of God. Jesus wants our lives to count more than we do, and he's telling us as much in these verses. However, Jesus is also telling us that our instincts regarding what will make the most impact is out of step with His Spirit and in opposition to his Kingdom.

Jesus uses the imagery of a vine, a vinedresser, living branches, dying branches, fruit and fruitlessness. This is how we are to conceive of our lives in terms of our usefulness. "Apart from me, you can do nothing."

Apart from our lived union with Jesus, moment by moment, day by day, we will have no enduring impact. But if we just stay tethered to him; if we will anchor ourselves in him; if we will prayerfully, consciously, deliberately depend on him by faith and open ourselves to him by the admitted need of his Spirit; if we will make communion with Jesus our priority, then meanginful impact is inevitable.

Jesus' own ambitions for our lives are the driving force behind his command to abide, according to Jesus himself. He tells us three reasons why he is saying these things to us.

1) For the Sake of Jesus' Joy

"These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you..."
Jesus actually enjoys us most when we're enjoying him. He is telling us to abide in him because his heart is most full when we are most in touch with who he is. When we are receiving from him all that he's come to give us, he is deeply satisfied. Just like we feel most alive and fulfilled when doing things we most love, Jesus is most thrilled when we're clinging to him most desperately because that is when he is most himself. Our abiding in him, depending on him, and drawing life from him, allows Jesus to be the fountainhead of life for wearied sinners and sufferers that is at the very core of Jesus.

2) For the Sake of Our Joy

"...and that your joy may be full."
Jesus is telling us what we actually need to be most happy in life, and that's to be living in union with Christ. He knows that the freedom, forgiveness, belonging, security, safety, purpose, and renewal which we receive from him, is what our souls most need and long for. He knows that all of our attempts to make ourselves happy are distorted pursuits of that which is only available in his fullness.

So, by telling us to abide in him, Jesus is telling us to do that which we most want, that which we most need and that which we were created for. Jesus longs to see us deeply satisfied, and he is also the only one who can resource that. He wants more for us than a glimpse of joy, a token measure of joy, a brush with joy, or an intermittent joy. He wants us to have joy beyond our capacity or imagination, joy with staying power. He wants more for us than we want for ourselves and he knows that abiding in him is necessary because, again, he is the fountainhead of life and joy.

3) For the Sake of our Love

"These things I command you, so that you will love one another."
And Jesus circles back to the new standard of living he established for his disciples in John 13. He commanded them there to "love one another as I have loved you." John 15 is telling us how that can be done. It's only through the divine power drawn from Jesus himself that we can love in any way resembling Jesus. The love Jesus requires of us is a love only he can empower in us.

Abiding in Jesus. Jesus abiding in us. His word abiding in us. Abiding in his love. All these ideas are co-mingled in this section of Scripture. To abide in Jesus is to abide in the love of Jesus, and it's only in the receiving that we can participate in the giving. Our natural efforts to love have limitations. Loving like Jesus requires something outside of ourselves. We need the supernaturalizing power of Jesus if we are to love in ways that make Jesus visible. Abiding in Christ continually is therefore the strategy Jesus lays out for his disciples to love each other radically.

Jesus doesn't just give us the ends to which we are called in John 13. He also gives us the means by which we reach those ends here in John 15. We can't labor effectively in our own strength to bear fruit for Jesus. Abiding in Jesus is the key to bearing fruit for Jesus.

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