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.
The mystery of abiding in Christ is widely accepted but clouded in mystery. It is conditional statement meaning that it is generally true in the present and probably realized in the future. It is active so it is something “we” need to initiate, we are responsible to abide. But the question is what does this really mean? It has an ethereal sense of connectedness to Christ but the practicality of this often escapes us. We need to remind ourselves that we often look for mystical or magical conditions when the reality is much more practical. Jesus indicates this is a critical component of the Christian life but what does that mean?
First, remember that having relationship with God is not the same as abiding in Christ. One speaks to our standing (or status) before God, the other about the quality of our relationship. One speaks to the nature of God’s acceptance while the other speaks to the level of intimacy. For example, a married couple is bound in a covenant relationship of marriage; this is the nature of their relationship. But if they are fighting with one another, have certain levels of animosity and avoid good communication, the quality of that relationship is very dysfunctional. However, when their relationship is healthy and when strong transparency and love motivates their activity, then they are empowered by each other’s presence.
Secondly, one might best describe “abiding” as the power of respect. We are pretty finite and dysfunctional as human beings. The old saying, “out of sight, out of mind” is how most of us operate. People think they can do things when other people are not present with them that they would never do if that same person was standing right beside them. If a child felt compelled to steal a cookie out of the cookie jar when mom gave specific instructions they were not to be touched, the child may be tempted to take a cookie, but he will only take that risk if he is alone. If mom walks in the room when the child is caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he would immediately recoil and pretend he was not really taking a cookie. This speaks to the power of someone’s presence. When we are very aware that a person is with us, the authority of their presence is very real and powerful.
Third, when Christ tells us we need to abide in Him, He is telling us we need to value His personal presence in our life. Since we don’t “see” Christ physically we are tempted to operate differently because we think we are alone. The truth is that the Spirit of God is always with us, and He is as “real” as if another person was with us in every activity of every day. When we “abide in Christ” we develop a conviction, a mindset, and an attitude that respects and values that Christ is personally present especially when we are alone (no other human person is with us). Our typical struggle is that of “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. We often treat God like He is not with us because when we indulge sinful thought or behavior in our private life (when no one else is around) we treat God like He is not with us; we stop abiding in Christ.
Fourth, the power of His personal presence is exactly the power we need. We are enamored by the power of God to create, do miracles, to intervene in human circumstances. We love the “special effects” of God to change water into wine, part the waters of the Jordan River, to raise the dead and heal the sick. We love this power because it changes the things around us. This activity of God is not always aimed at changing us, just our circumstances. The power that we need is the power of His presence because that power is aimed at changing our heart, our attitude and character. God wants us to live out of a love relationship with Him so that His presence is the primary motivation for us to live by. We often flee from His presence or pretend that He is not present so we can do what we want. We are afraid of heart change in our own life so we flee from it like Adam and Eve fled from God in the garden. The missing link in so many of our lives is embracing the power of His personal presence in us.
Pastor Brad Little