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Abiding in Christ's Love & Word for Joy

November 2, 2014 Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: The Gospel According to John

Passage: John 15:7–15:11

Sermon from John 15:7-11 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on November 2, 2014

1I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2Every 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. 3Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide 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. 5I 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. 6If 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. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Two weeks ago, we encountered a significant image in the Bible describing a Christian’s union with Christ. A Christian’s union with Christ is like a branch abiding in a vine, a branch that constantly depends on the vine for its life and fruitfulness (John 15:1-5).

And we also saw that Jesus doesn’t pull this image out of thin air. He actually uses the vine imagery to connect his life and his mission with the Old Testament’s storyline. Israel was often called God’s vine (e.g., (Ps 80:8-14; Isa 3:14; 5:1-7; 27:2-6; Jer 2:21; 12:10; Ezek 15:1-8; 19:10-14; Hos 10:1; 14:4-7). It’s just that Israel kept bearing bad fruit that robbed God of his glory (Isa 5:1-7; Jer 2:21; Ezek 15:1-8). And so God destroys the vine (Isa 5:5-6; Ps 80:13).

But that didn’t mean God forsook his promises to Israel (Isa 27:2-6; Ps 80:16-17). It just meant that God’s dealings with Israel anticipated another vine, a superior vine, a vine that would always bear good fruit and bring God glory. Jesus completes that storyline. He is the true Vine (John 15:1). Everything Israel was supposed to be and wasn’t, Jesus is. And that means he is our only hope for life and fellowship with God. Jesus is our access to all God’s promises (cf. 2 Cor 1:20). And our lives won’t bring God glory and cannot bring God glory without constantly relying on Jesus for everything (cf. 15:4-5, 8).

That’s what we looked at two weeks ago. And we might call all that the Why of this passage. Why would we abide in Jesus and no one else? Because he, unlike Israel, is the true Vine. Why would we depend on Jesus instead of ourselves? Because only in Jesus do you obtain God’s promise of salvation. Why would we draw from Jesus to live the Christian life? Because only in Jesus is the grace you need to bring God glory in the world.

So we might say verses 1-6 explain why we would abide in Christ. Today, we look at how we abide in Christ. And Jesus mentions two ways in particular that we abide in him: word-based prayer and loving obedience. If you asked Jesus, “Jesus—I got all the vine imagery; you’re the real deal; I’ve got nothing without you—but how do I actually abide in you? What does this actually look like in my life?” His first two answers—from this passage at least—are prayer and obedience.

Now, please hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that prayer and obedience get you into the Vine, get you into a relationship with God. Jesus is speaking these words to disciples that he has already joined to himself by the word he has spoken. We saw that in 15:3. Other disciples have fallen away over time, proving they were never truly united to Jesus (2:23-25; 6:66; 8:31-59; 13:27). But that’s not the case for the eleven he’s speaking to here (cf. 6:67-69; 13:1-12).

Jesus has already joined these eleven to himself (13:10-11; 15:3, 16). There’s a life-giving union between them that Jesus already established by virtue of his word that’s going to be backed up with his actions on the cross. He’s instructing these kinds of disciples—the kinds of disciples already united to him by faith—he’s telling them what it looks like to abide in him. And it looks like prayer and obedience.

So, if you’re a Christian today, that’s where we’re going—abiding in Jesus through word-based prayer and loving obedience. You can’t expect to bear fruit and bring God glory with your life, when word-based prayer and loving obedience are absent. So, let’s look at both more carefully.

1. Word-Based Prayer for God-glorifying Fruit

First of all, let’s look at word-based prayer. Word-based prayer is how we continue abiding in Jesus. I get this from verse 7 primarily. But let’s look at verses 7-8 together, so that you see the bigger picture. These two verses fit together like an unbroken chain; and you’ll see from this unbroken chain how the word and prayer fit in with all the Vine imagery and bearing fruit and so forth.

Union with Christ: Neither Mechanical nor Mysticism

One thing to note before I read it, though, is verse 4. Jesus says, “Abide in me, and I in you.” Then again in verse 5, “Whoever abides in me and I in him.” There’s this reciprocal relationship between the Vine and its branches—when we abide in Jesus, so much of his life flows through us that Jesus himself lives in us.

That right there keeps us from reducing the relationship a disciple has with Jesus to being sort of mechanical—the idea that Christianity amounts to just reading a holy book, saying the right prayers, doing the right things without any spiritual vitality. That’s not at all what Jesus is saying our relationship with him is like. True Christianity is about a real, vital, intimate union with the person of Jesus—his real presence living in us by the Spirit. If he isn’t living in you like that, you don’t have a relationship with Jesus (Rom 8:9); you’re not connected to the Vine. But when you are by faith, he lives within by the Spirit.

At the same time, though, our real, spiritual relationship with Jesus should never slip into some sort of unintelligible mysticism—as if abiding in Jesus is some kind of esoteric experience apart from the way God reveals himself in the Bible. Some Christians fall into this sort of error—everything with Jesus becomes experiential and cut off from the word of God. Jesus’ point here is that for him to truly abide in you is to have his word abiding in you in a morally-transforming and prayer-compelling way. Write those two things down. For Jesus to abide in you is for his word to abide in you in a morally-transforming and prayer-compelling way.

Abiding Word & Prayer as Means of Fruit-Bearing

So, now verse 7: “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 [so he hasn’t left the Vine imagery; he’s explaining it] and so prove to be my disciples.” So here’s the chain I was referring to earlier. It’s on the screen, and let me work backwards in the diagram.

ABIDING WORD ? PRAYER ? FRUIT ? GOD’S GLORY

God gets glory when Jesus’ disciples bear much fruit; fruit comes by depending on Jesus in prayer (cf. 14:13); and prayer stems from Jesus’ words abiding in us.

So the whole goal of abiding in Jesus—and Jesus’ words abiding in us—is that we bear fruit for God’s glory. In fact, that’s what the fruit Jesus produces is. It’s all that we actively pursue by faith in Christ to bring God glory in the world. From pursuing individual holiness (Eph 5:9; Heb 12:11) to loving the saints (John 15:16-17) to winning converts to Jesus (John 4:36; 12:24; Col 1:6). This is the fruit Jesus produces and that brings God glory in the world.

But notice the fruit of bringing God glory comes through prayer, and in particular, word-based prayer. Here’s what I mean. We know from John 1:1 that Jesus is the Word. And that Word is now called the Vine. So, when you share a relationship with Jesus—when you’re connected to the Word-Vine by faith—you live off his Word-ness. You feed on God’s self-revelation in him and through him. When you’re in the Vine, the Vine’s words become your bread and the drink of eternal life (John 6:63, 68).

The Abiding Word Is a Transforming Word

And when these words become part of you—a branch—they begin growing you, transforming you, right? Having Jesus’ words abide in you doesn’t mean we simply know his words. There are plenty examples in Scripture where people know God’s word and yet Jesus still says it doesn’t actually abide in them.

I’m thinking in particular of the times Jesus calls out the Jewish authorities in 5:38-39 and 8:31-47. They know the Bible. They search the Scriptures as if life itself depended on it. And yet Jesus tells them, “You do not have [God’s] word abiding in you.” How can he say that? He can say it because of the fruit they were bearing: they loved the praise of men and they were trying to kill Jesus. In fact, the fruit of their lives, Jesus says, looked just like the fruit of someone else who knows God’s word really well, but twists it for his own purposes, the devil.

So having Jesus’ words abide in you can’t mean merely knowing it. It must also mean that his words live in you in a morally transforming way. They transform your rebellious soul into a soul that loves and wants to be like Jesus; they change everything about you, so that you follow Jesus and learn to want what he wants. This, of course, happens by the Spirit applying the truth of the word to us (John 14-16; 1 Cor 2:1-16).

The Abiding Word Is a Prayer-Compelling Word

That also means, the word begins shaping your longings and compelling you to pray for God to be glorified through you. One of the things the Spirit does with the word is make us more self-forgetting and more Christ-dependent. The word exposes our neediness before God, that our cup is totally empty without him. It reveals that a fruitless life robs God of the glory due his name, and so we cry out, “Father, make us more like Jesus, so that our lives brings you praise. I can do nothing without you. Help me. Fill me, so that the way I love my wife displays the way Jesus loves his; so that the way I care for my children reflects your holy-love; so that the way I endure this trial increases the volume of worship on earth; so that the way I sacrifice might move others at work to ask me about the hope found in Jesus.”

I was talking to a brother earlier this week and he was telling me about how he was fighting stinginess with money. And he’s currently studying Ps 112, which talks about what God’s sort of man looks like. And Ps 112:9 says, “[God’s man] has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” So, my brother then says that word not only called him to distribute his money freely; it also reminded him of Jesus, who is the ultimate picture of God’s sort of man. He gave up his life for us poor sinners in desperate need of grace. And because of that gift, we will live forever with him in a glorious inheritance that puts all earthly treasures to shame. This then informs his prayers for God to change him, for God to make him more like Jesus, for God to open his eyes to all he possesses in Jesus already; and that frees him to give generously to all.

This is what abiding in Christ looks like from day to day. It looks like Jesus’ words being so much a part of our being—so woven into the fabric of our lives—that prayers ascend from our lips for Jesus to produce God-glorifying fruit. J. C. Ryle once put it like this:

To abide in Christ means to keep up a habit of constant close communion with Him—to be always leaning on Him, resting on Him, pouring our hearts out to Him, and using Him as our Fountain of life and strength, as our chief Companion and best Friend. To have His word abiding in us, is to keep His sayings and precepts continually before our memories and minds, and make them the guide of our actions, and the rule of our daily conduct and behavior (John, 116-17).

Word & Prayer throughout the Bible

We abide in Jesus through word-based prayer. This shouldn’t surprise us really as we see God bringing together the word and prayer throughout the Bible. One of the longest prayers in the Bible is on the word of God, Ps 119. One of the ways the church finds strength to spread the gospel in Acts 4:24-26 is by praying the word. Also, the apostles always put measures in place, so that the church was led by men devoted to the word and prayer (Acts 6:4). Paul connects prayer with wielding the sword of the Spirit—which is the word of God—against the powers of darkness (Eph 6:17-18). So we shouldn’t be surprised to find Jesus bringing them together for us here.

Giving Ourselves to Word and Prayer

What this should do, though, is lead us to evaluate if this is how we abide in Christ. Many of us want spiritual vitality; we want to look more like Jesus; we don’t want our lives to be spent in vain; we want true transformation and to know the abundant life of following Jesus; we want healing in our marriages; we want a rich contentment in Jesus to overcome our loneliness; we want to overcome the temptations toward anger or sloth; we want to bring God glory. The only problem is that sometimes we want those things apart from giving ourselves to the word and prayer.

That’s not abiding in the Vine. Abiding in the Vine is letting God’s word take up residence within you and crying for him to conform your life to that word. To neglect the word and prayer is to pretend like you know of a better way to save yourself—a better way to change yourself—than through Jesus. We cannot claim to abide in Jesus and do an “end-a-round” the word and prayer (cf. Rom 12:12; Col 4:2). Letting the word transform us and devoting ourselves to prayer is how we abide in Jesus. The word reveals him to us; our prayers go up to make us more like him.

Reading the Word Regularly

So, are you reading the word regularly? Abiding in Jesus means having his words abide in you. How are his words getting lodged into your soul from day to day? Some of you need to take steps that make Bible intake a priority—setting aside time to read the word, establishing a Bible reading plan that fits the rhythms of your day. And if the word doesn’t fit the rhythms, then change the rhythms. If you’re married, husbands you must take the lead in serving your wife in this way (Eph 5:26). That includes taking the kids regularly, fixing dinner after her long day, so she can sit with the word alone. You’ll have to determine when is best for your household.

It also includes leading your wife and the family in the word through more disciplined times like family worship and through spontaneous God-given moments throughout the day. If you’re single and desire more accountability in your Bible intake, find a brother or sister to read the Scriptures with. All of us can even memorize Scripture together through the Fighter Verse plan that’s in place. Having Jesus’ word abide in us doesn’t happen automatically; it takes effort, especially when the enemy would prefer it not be in us.

Meditating on the Word Repentantly

And once Jesus’ words are in us, we have to ask, “Are we meditating on the word repentantly?” (Ps 1:2; 119:15, 97-98). Meaning, how are Jesus’ words driving us away from sin, and away from the idols of our hearts (1 Thess 1:5-10), and away from the devil’s lies (2 Cor 10:5), and away from our self-sufficiency (2 Tim 3:15-16), and into deeper fellowship with Jesus (John 6:68)? For his words to abide means for his words to transform. That means we must read not just to know; we must also read to obey, to repent, to turn from sin, to cultivate godly affections, to thrill our souls with Jesus’ glory.

Praying the Word Fervently

And then lastly, as we begin seeing the many ways the word should transform us, we should make those matters of fervent prayer (Eph 6:17-18). The word should shape our prayers and our longings. It’s as Jesus teaches us elsewhere: “Your kingdom come; your will be done.” Prayer isn’t about God doing what we want, but about us doing what God wants. His word sets the agenda for our prayers (1 John 5:14).

When Jesus says, “Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you,” the assumption is that his abiding word has already shaped your passions and your requests (John 15:7). God isn’t promising to give us just anything to accommodate our self-centered plans. He’s promising to give us anything we need to bring him glory with our lives. And that should come to you as both a challenge and an encouragement. It should come as a challenge to any foolish, self-centered desires in prayer. But it should also come as an encouragement in that God promises you everything you need to glorify him.

Whatever you need in any circumstance, in any relationship, at any time, God promises to give you all you need to bear fruit. His ears stand ready with loving attention to your requests; and his Vine is rich with grace to replenish you, to sustain you, and to grow you into what you need to be to bring him glory. Calvin described prayer as “the chief exercise of faith by which we daily receive God’s benefits.” What if we viewed our quiet times not merely as a discipline—though it is that—but as the way branches access the rich life that’s in the Vine.

So, those are some steps for us to take together as we abide in Christ: read the word regularly, meditate on the word repentantly, and pray the word fervently. And as we do, may God be please to bear much fruit through us.

2. Loving Obedience for Christ-Centered Joy

Second way Jesus says we abide in him is through loving obedience. Look at verses 9-10: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” Now, notice what Jesus has just done. He has just revealed the basis for our relationship with him. The basis of our relationship with him is not first our obedience. It is first and foremost a matter of the Father’s love for Jesus—because of who Jesus is and what Jesus does—and then stemming from that love is the Son’s love for us—which we know is most pointedly displayed in the cross.

Then he says, “Abide in my love;” and he doesn’t just mean the love I possess in and of myself, but the love I even direct toward you. What I experience with my Father, I give to you, unworthy as you are. You stay there; you rest there; you, as a branch, draw from that love. That’s really huge, because the obedience he talks about in verse 10 must be understood in that light—in the light of the love relationship between Father and Son and from the Son moving toward us. That’s why our obedience is loving obedience. Now read verse 10: “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.”

Father-Son Love Inspires Disciples’ Loving Obedience

So, he still hasn’t left the Vine imagery of abiding; it’s just that now it gets tweaked a bit to include Jesus’ love. To abide in Jesus is to abide in Jesus’ love. And how do we do that? Well, verse 10 says we keep his commandments, just like he kept his Father’s commandments. This is pretty remarkable: Jesus is saying that our love-relationship with Jesus is built on and patterned after Jesus’ love-relationship with his Father. The example and incentive of our abiding in Christ is the pattern of love we observe in the very being of the Godhead. As Son, Jesus always obeys his Father; and for that reason his Father always loves the Son (cf. Matt 3:15-17; John 5:20; 8:29; 10:17; Heb 1:9 [=Ps 45:7]).

The same with us: part of our love-relationship with Jesus includes obedience. As disciples, we abide in Jesus’ love through obedience to his commands. How could it be otherwise? In the same way we see the Father’s worth shining through the Son’s obedience, the world must see the Son’s worth shining through our obedience. It doesn’t say much about Jesus, if we ignore his words. It doesn’t say much about our love for Jesus, if we ignore his words. How can we truly love him without also loving what he calls us to do with our lives?

Jesus Speaks for Our Joy in Father-Son’s Love

It’s not like he commands us to obey for our disadvantage. He speaks only for our advantage! Read verse 11! “These things I’ve spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Why does he tell us to keep his commandments, to abide in his love, to lift our cries of dependence to him, to saturate our minds with his word? Because he knows where true joy flourishes! It flourishes in him and his relationship with the Father. Fullness of joy doesn’t come by listening to our fleshly lusts or to the world’s vanity or to the enemy’s sugar-coated lies; fullness of joy comes by listening to our sovereign Lord when he speaks.

There’s no other joy in the universe that’s superior to the joy of Jesus Christ, the Almighty God. None! You’re talking about the heavenly intense pleasure and uncontainable delight erupting from the love-relationship between the infinitely glorious Father and his infinitely pleasing Son. And he speaks so that we might gain that joy—that the joy he experiences through obeying his Father might become our joy in following him, in being united to him, in drawing from him.

Present & Future Joy in Christ, Even through Suffering

That doesn’t mean obedience will always be chipper and filled with cloud-dancing-double-heel clicks while singing “everything is awesome.” Jesus’ obedience took him to the agony of a cross. And Jesus will soon tell his disciples that their obedience will bring about persecution and suffering as well. And your obedience may cost you a relationship, a job; it may bring great sorrow between family members; it may mean you endure with difficult patience the sins of others; it may mean you make choices that hurt for a time.

But somehow, in this obedience, Jesus promises we’ll have a joy the world does not comprehend and cannot provide. It’s much like the joy we see in Heb 12:2, “For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross, despising its shame, and now sits at the right hand of the throne of God.” He knew that joy was found in the reward of his Father’s glorious presence; and so he made obedience to the Father his chief pursuit.

Same for us, brothers and sisters. One day the skies will be rolled back like a scroll and the joy of the triune God will swallow up every one of our sorrows and every pain we ever experienced in following Jesus. Obedience is worth it, because Jesus’ joy is worth it. Jesus’ commandments aren’t meant to make our days grey with guilt, but dazzling with present and future delight in all God is for us in Jesus.

The Most Joyful Place to Live is in Submission to Jesus

All he tells us to do is for our good. So, the most joyful place for you to live is in obedience to Jesus Christ. True joy doesn’t come when we follow our flesh into the comforts of this life. Joy comes when we embrace the way of the cross; and the way of the cross is death to our self-centered ways to live for God’s glory.

So listen, we cannot expect to experience more of Jesus’ love and joy while still clutching to our sin. And O how we need to hear that this morning, because far more common in our day is for church leaders to gloss over the necessity of obedience in the Christian life, and they’re cutting people off from joy. According to Jesus, the call to obedience is a call to joy. And it’s a call to joy, because it’s a call to enjoy being loved by the Son as he is loved by the Father for his total obedience. And here’s where I want to close and lead us into the Lord’s Supper.

Where Our Love Falls Short, Jesus’ Love Goes the Distance

Many of you are surveying your life right now. You’re looking at the perfection of Jesus’ obedience to the Father in verse 11. And you’re rightly comparing your obedience to the supreme standard found in Jesus, and it’s crushing: “That’s how I’m supposed to abide in Jesus’ love? How could I even come close? And if my obedience is imperfect, what does that mean for my experience of Jesus’ joy?”

Hear the good news embedded in verses 9-10 again. Jesus says that his love for you is grounded in the Father’s love for the Son—“as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” And throughout John’s Gospel, the Father loves the Son, because the Son is going to give his life for the people the Father gave him. The Father loves Jesus, because Jesus is always the obedient Son. Everything he does pleases the Father.

Then, notice how Jesus says in verse 10, “I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” Here’s why that’s good news. Where you don’t meet the conditions of obedience, Jesus already did. God’s Son became a man and lived in perfect obedience to the Father.

His obedience to the Father even led to his death on the cross, where you may find forgiveness for all your sinful shortcomings. More than that, God raised him from the dead and planted him at his right hand in heaven, and in him is all the strength you need to live as he’s called you to live. Jesus met all the conditions necessary for you to be joined to the Vine and he ever lives so that you enjoy abiding in his love.

Never once does he say to his disciples, “Keep my commandments,” without also telling them of his own work to give them everything they need to keep them—his love and forgiveness, a right relationship with him, and all the grace needed to obey. When you come to the Supper today—Yes, remember how far short your love for Christ falls—but then celebrate as you eat, knowing that everywhere your love falls short, his love went the distance. He loved you by obeying even to the point of death under God’s wrath. And this is why we can eat and drink today. This is why we can lift our voices to him in thanksgiving and adoration. This is why we’re in the Vine to begin with. Let’s draw from more of his grace and strength now.