The Prime Principle
The Prime Principle
Abiding in Christ is simply staying near a friend who loves you. But what happens to a person who abides in Christ? If I really walk with him, what will he do to, through, and for me? In John 15:17, the gospel writer identifies five grace gifts that flow directly from abiding in Christ.
The first gift is growth in Christ.
The first grace gift that comes from abiding in Christ is growth in Christ. John 15:2 says, "Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." When Jesus talks about fruit, he's talking about our becoming more like him. God promises to transform you from your own image into the image of Christ. That's fruit. Bearing fruit relates to Galatians 5:22, where Paul explains that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
How does a branch bear fruit? The branch simply stays connected to the tree, and the natural outgrowth of being connected to the tree is growth. Jesus says that the principle applies with a Christian. If you read the Bible two hours a day and fast three days a week; if you're good and pure and righteous and spiritual and honest and sweet and loving and kind; if you go to church every time the doors are open; if you have a big, black Bible that you carry everywhere you goit won't amount to a hill of beans. You'll wither if you're not connected.
One of the most dangerous lies that Christians have believed is that production produces acceptance. We have been conditioned to believe that if we hustle enough, if we produce enough, if we sell enough, then our bosses or our parents or our spouses will love us. To that God says: Production does not produce acceptance, because you can't produce. Acceptance produces acceptance.
John 15:2b tells us one of the ways God produces fruit in our lives: "Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." If I had written that, I would have said, "Every branch that doesn't bear fruit, he prunes so that it might bear some fruit." It doesn't say that. In other words, if you're abiding in him and you're growing, he prunes so that you might bear more fruit. What does that mean? It means that the Father must often cut in order to cure.
I grew up in a neighborhood where I had twenty fathers and twenty mothers, and I couldn't get away with anything. Up the street, there were beautiful maple and oak trees that grew up on either side of the street. It was a beautiful place for a tree house. It was a place where kids loved to climb and swing. You could hide from your parents up there because they couldn't see through the thick foliage.
Every few years a landscaping company would come and whack off the tree's big limbs. I used to complain about what had happened to our beautiful trees, and the man who was in charge told me, "Steve, do you really like the beauty of the trees? It's the cutting that causes the beauty." That's true for trees and for Christians. That's how God works in our life. He prunes that we might bear fruit. Abide in Christ and you will grow. You will be pruned, but you will grow.
The second gift is cleanness.
The second grace gift from abiding in Christ is cleanness. John 15:3 says, "You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you."
One of the things I loved most about my father was his total acceptance of his sons. He never once looked at us through rose-colored glasses, but he always accepted us. I remember the time some friends and I bought some cherry bombs. I had a 1949 Ford, which was falling apart and held together with chicken wire. We made our way through town in the old Ford, throwing cherry bombs into people's yards.
To our chagrin, there was an elderly woman in a rocking chair in front of one of the houses, and we decided to go back and make sure we hadn't blown her up. When we went back, a man in the house took down our license number and passed it on to the police.
I'd always thought my father was omniscient, and I found out that night he really was. When I walked in, he said, "Sit down." I thought, How could he know already? I just came home. I didn't know two detectives had visited him.
I remember that experience because my father stayed with me through it all. He didn't condone my behavior. But when I went to court, he went to court with me. When I went to face the people into whose yards I had thrown those cherry bombs, he went with me. Because he was with me, I was clean insidenot because I really was, but because he accepted me in that situation.
Similarly, Christ gives us the freedom to fail and be clean; but he never allows us to leave and be clean. Sometimes we sin, and then ask forgiveness. God forgives us; we sin again and we ask forgiveness again. Pretty soon we're so ashamed that we don't go to him anymore. We assume that because we've sinned so many times, God doesn't want to hear from us anymore. Yet to avoid God is to cut ourselves off from the very resource we desperately need. We find cleanness in the midst of our sin only when we abide in Christ. He doesn't say that whatever we do is all right. He doesn't stop pruning. Rather, he teaches us that our greatest sin is leaving.
The third gift is productivity.
John 15:45 indicates that the third grace gift that comes from abiding in Christ is productivity.
Whenever my wife and I vacation on Cape Cod, we always visit a tiny Baptist church in South Yarmen just to hear the pastor preach. He butchers the English language, and if he submitted his sermons to a homiletics professor, he would be kicked out of the class. He opens his Bible, reads a verse of Scripture, and then explains it to the congregation. Then he reads the next verse and explains it. When he runs out of time, he closes his Bible; the following Sunday, he opens to the place he left off and starts with the next verse. His presentation is horribly dull. Yet I've never sat at that man's feet and not been blessed magnificently. His congregation is full of the fruit of the Spirit. They are growing; they're excited. They exude the joy of Christ and are obedient to God's Word. What's the secret to that pastor's success? It isn't technique; it's abiding. He walks with Christ daily, and he experiences the productivity of abiding in Christ.
Do you want to talk about Christ in a way that others see and want to know him? Abide in Christ, and don't depend on technique. Do you want to be an effective, productive Sunday school teacher? Don't just get trained; go to the master teacher and abide with him. Do you want to be a successful parent? Don't read another book on parenting. Go abide with the one who created your children. Productivity is a grace gift of abiding in Christ.
The fourth gift is security.
The fourth grace gift that comes from abiding in Christ is security. Jesus makes this point negatively in John 15:6 when he says, "If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned."
Some people believe the doctrine of "perseverance of the saints" is the same as "once saved, always saved." I believe we must be careful how we articulate that doctrine, however, so that it doesn't sound too passive. When we persevere, the Holy Spirit perseveres with us. That's how we experience the security of our salvation.
Jesus said that if you don't abide in him, you become uselesslike a branch separated from the tree. However, if you abide in him, you enjoy the security of being attached to the tree. The way you become confident in your salvation is by abiding and persevering. When you are obedient, perseverance becomes your confirmation. Security is a grace gift from abiding in Christ.
The fifth gift is prayer power.
The fifth grace gift that comes from abiding in Christ is prayer power.
Mark Twain's Huck Finn makes a classic statement when he says:
Mrs. Watson told me I could get anything that I wanted by praying for it. She said if I go in my closet and pray, I'd get it. And I needed some fishhooks one time. So, I went into the closet and shut the door and I prayed, but it tweren't so. And I got to thinkin' about it, and I decided there was nothin' to it.
Many Christians have come to the same conclusion; they're simply not as honest as Huck. Often people will spiritualize their disappointment with God's silence. "In this particular incidence," they might say, "it was not a part of the ultimate will of a sovereign God to grant my prayer." That's true sometimes. But many times it's simply an easy excuse for people who aren't willing to pay the price for the kind of power they need in prayer.
George Buttrick, Harvard professor and pastor of Harvard Memorial Church, once told his seminar students:
There are some things you ought not to unload on a congregation for a while. There are some things you can't tell people until you've been with them a year. And there are other things you can't say to them until you've been with them five years. Gentlemen, there are some things you can't say to a congregation until you've been with them ten years, and they know that you love them.
It's the same way with Christ. You have to be with him a while before he can say some things to you. That's why abiding in Christ is so important. The longer you know him, the more you learn from him.
For the outline of this sermon, go to "The Prime Principle."
Steve Brown is president and radio teacher for "Key Life," professor of preaching at Reformed Theological Seminary, in Orlando, Florida, and author of Approaching God.