Foundational Frameworks Part 65 - Abiding in Christ


Being not without controversy, there are two dominant interpretations of Jesus’ teaching on the “Vine and branches.” First, those branches that do not “bear fruit” (John 15:2), who are “thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned” (John 15:6), are considered those who are pseudo-Christians, being without genuine faith, as those who had never truly believed.[1]The second view sees those who do not bear fruit and who are eventually burned as genuine believers, having a union with Christ, but who are failing in their communion with Him. Such believers are justified. However, their intimacy and fellowship with Him is not growing because they are not “abiding” in Christ. The idea of being “burned” speaks to discipline, and not the Lake of Fire.[2]

It is this last view that holds the greatest credibility, both in John’s Gospel and within the bounds of Scripture as a whole. Therefore, it is the viewpoint that will be endorsed and explained here.

John 13-16 finds Jesus teaching His disciples and encouraging them before His betrayal and arrest. Soon He would be gone, and they would need to carry on. But how? The Lord’s explanation of the indwelling Holy Spirit would certainly be of some comfort to them. But when a flood of emotions rush upon a person unexpectedly, much of what is valued can be quickly forgotten. When our emotional state has been heightened into a “fight or flight” condition, rational and steadfast truths can easily fade into the background. This is most certainly true for the eleven disciples of our Lord.

In troubled times, obedience is paramount. This is a theme that carries the reader into John 15, with Jesus stating “but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me” (John 14:31a). Obedience testifies to the world system about the love that we have for God. This was Jesus’ greatest desire, seeing that He was always in submission to the Father. In disputing the two possible viewpoints of this text, Jesus’ words bring clarity. Jesus “abides” in the Father. Therefore, believers should abide in Him as well. While further justification for the “fellowship/communion” view will be supplied as we work through the text, it is clear that Jesus has love on His mind, which He has shown to be demonstrated through obedience (John 14:15, 21). 

John 15:1-3.Jesus begins this significant teaching by stressing two designations in the form of an analogy. First, Jesus describes Himself as the “true vine,” with the surrounding context giving us little in understanding the necessity of Jesus using the adjective “true” in distinguishing Himself. Many have referred to the comparison made of the nation of Israel to a vine in the Old Testament (Jer 2:21). This is quickly followed up with the idea that Jesus, in His perfect obedience, is everything that Israel should have been unto God the Father. But this association seems forced, being without much merit when considering the context and the events that would soon follow. 

Since this pericope is focused on the importance of “abiding,” Jesus’ words may be a “setting apart” from other possible competing influences that would seek to draw away the devotion of the eleven. If the believer is to “abide” in anything, let their abiding be in Christ! 

The second designation refers to the Father as the “vinedresser.” This is geōrgosin the Greek, being a compound word with ge meaning “land, soil,” and ergonmeaning “work.” Literally, this word speaks of God the Father as One who is working with the soil, or in this case, a worker of the vine. 

The importance of the Father as the vinedresser is a designation that encompasses more than what might be readily understood by the reader. Jesus’ analogy is deliberate and no point of consideration is wasted. The weight of this description is captured well by Derickson and Radmacher: “A vinedresser is more than a mere farmer. His work is not like the typical farmer, who simply plows up a field, plants a crop, harvests it, and waits for next season (We are speaking simplistically here). Grapes are more than an annual crop. They are individuals. A husbandman must know all about grapes, how they grow, what they need, when they need it, and what produces the best health as well as production in the plant. But, to be effective, they not only must know the right things, but they must nurture their plants with loving care.

The vinedresser’s grapevines remain with him for decades. He comes to know each one in a personal way, much like a shepherd with his sheep. He knows how the vine is faring from year to year and which ones are more productive or vigorous than others. He knows what they respond to and what special care certain one’s need. Every vine has its own personality. And the vinedresser comes to know it over the years. The vinedresser cares for each vine and nurtures it, pruning it the appropriate amount at the appropriate times, fertilizing it, lifting its branches from the ground and propping them or tying them to the trellis, and taking measures to protect them from insects and disease.

So, when Jesus calls His Father the Vinedresser, He is describing Him in terms of His relationship and attitude as well as His actions in the lives of the disciples… To call Him a vinedresser is to tell them He cares for them personally and is wise to know exactly what to do to make them fruitful. With such a Vinedresser, the branches can experience complete confidence and security.”[3]

Thus established, the Father works through the Vine (Jesus) for the health and productivity of the branches in bringing forth fruit. In 15:1-11, we see the idea of bringing forth fruit of some kind (whether “much fruit” or “more fruit”) or not bringing forth fruit six times. From this we can conclude that the Father’s skilled and loving involvement in seeing that the branches are bearing fruit is a dominant theme.

In 15:2, Jesus addresses the product, or lack thereof, of the branches. He begins by stating “every branch IN ME” (emphasis added) demonstrating the location of the branches at the time of expected productivity. This argument alone should be enough to dismiss the notion that fruitless Christians are not really saved. While the comparison of the branches being representative of the eleven is not made clear until 15:4, the fact that the location of the branches being “in Me,” with Christ being the One speaking, does not change. Hart notes that “elsewhere in the New Testament, nonbelievers are never said to be ‘in Me (Christ)’ in any sense of the term.”[4]Jesus’ words are clear that both the productive and unproductive branches in 15:2 are in Him, dismissing the idea of pseudo-believers. 

One of the greatest evidences promoting the “pseudo-Christian” interpretation is that the branch that “does not bear fruit” is taken away (John 15:2a), which is the rendering of every major English translation of the Bible with “cuts off” (NLT) and “removes” (HCSB) being some of the variants available. However, this is not the onlyway to understand the Greek word airō, and most certainly not the way to understand how a vinedresser would initially deal with a branch that is not fruit bearing. It would seem that many of the presumptions that stem from the meaning of being “burned” in John 15:6 have controlled the decision to translate airōas “takes away,” as can be seen in the study notes of the NET translation.[5]Noting this bias, Boice writes “Undoubtedly, their translation has been made to conform to what they know or believe is coming in verse 6, but the translation is not the best or even the most general meaning of the Greek word airowhich lies behind it.”[6]

At this point, the deliberate nature of Jesus describing the Father as the “vinedresser” becomes essential to understanding the text properly. The word airōis shown to have the following meanings, which are mostly decided upon by the surrounding context of the passage in question. Note the following: raise up; raise from the ground, take up: stones, Jn. 8:59; serpents, Mk. 16:18; a dead body, Acts 20:9. raise upwards, elevate, lift up: the hand, Rev. 10:5; the eyes, Jn. 11:41; the voice, i. e. speak in a loud tone, cry out, Lk. 17:13; Acts 4:24, (also in prof. writ.); to raise the mind, i. q. excite, affect strongly (with a sense of fear, hope, joy, grief, etc.); in Jn. 10:24 to hold the mind in suspense between doubt and hope, cf. Lücke [or Meyer] ad loc. draw up: a fish, Mt. 17:27 (Hab. 1:15); Acts 27:17; anchors from the bottom of the sea, Acts 27:13, where supply; cf. Kuinoel ad loc.; [W. 594 (552); B. 146 (127)]. take upon one’s self and carry what has been raised, to bear: Mt. 4:6; Lk. 4:11, (Ps. 90 (91):12); a sick man, Mk. 2:3; Mt. 11:29 (Lam. 3:27); a bed, Mt. 9:6; Mk. 2:9, 11 sq.; Lk. 5:24 sq.; Jn. 5:8–12; Mt. [10:38 Lchm. mrg.]; 16:24; 27:32; Lk. 9:23; Mk. 8:34; 10:21 [in R Lbr.]; 

15:21; Rev. 18:21; to carry with one, [A. V.take]: Mk. 6:8; Lk. 9:3; 22:36. Both of these ideas are expressed in classical Greek. bear away what has been raised, carry off; more from its place: Mt. 21:21; Mk. 11:23, (be thou taken up, removed [B. 52 (45)], sc. from thy place); Mt. 22:13 [Rec.]; Jn. 2:16; 11:39, 41; 20:1. take offor awaywhat is attached to anything: Jn. 19:31, 38 sq.; to tear away, Mt. 9:16; Mk. 2:21; to rend away, cut off, Jn. 15:2. remove: 1 Co. 5:2 (cast out from the church; tropically: faults, Eph. 4:31, Jn. 1:29, [36 Lchm. in br.], to remove the guilt and punishment of sin by expiation, or to cause that sin be neither imputed nor punished; but in 1 Jn. 3:5 is to cause our sins to cease, i. e. that we no longer sin, while we enter into fellowship with Christ, who is free from sin, and abide in that fellowship, cf. vs. 6. carry off, carry away with one: Mt. 14:12, 20; 15:37; 20:14; 24:17 sq.; Mk. 6:29, 43; 8:8, 19 sq.; 13:15 sq.; Lk. 9:17; 17:31; Jn. 20:2, 13, 15; Acts 20:9. appropriatewhat is taken: Lk. 19:21 sq.; Mk. 15:24. take away from another what is hisor what is committed to him, to take by force: Lk. 6:30; 11:52; Mt. 13:12; 21:43; 25:28; Lk. 8:12, 18; 19:24, 26; [Mt. 25:29]; Mk. 4: (15), 25; Jn. 10:18; 16:22. take and apply to any use: Acts 21:11; 1 Co. 6:15. take from among the living, either by a natural death, Jn. 17:15 (take away from intercourse with the world), or by violence, Mt. 24:39; Lk. 23:18; Jn. 19:15; Acts 21:36; with the addition of Acts 22:22; of a bloody death inflicted upon one, Acts 8:33 (Is. 53:8).

i.of things; to take out of the way, destroy: Col. 2:14; cause to cease: Acts 8:33 (Is. 53:8).[7]

Notice that the idea of “taking away” (#3, b.) stems from the understanding “to bear away what has been raised” (#3), and does not assume a negative connotation. The instances before this speak of being “raised up” or “to take up or carry for one’s self,” all of which happen to fit the cultural, historical, and contextual implications of this passage in likening the Father to a vinedresser. 

Viticulture, being the cultivation and care of grapevines, is a meticulous calling, as described above in Derickson and Radmacher’s comments. But the specifics of bringing a branch that is not bearing fruit into a place where fruit can be produced is often overlooked or totally dismissed as a course of action that the vinedresser would take, opting instead to dismiss the branch into the Lake of Fire.

In viticulture, a branch of the vine that was not bearing fruit was usually due to the branch coming off the trellis and resting on the ground. Being on the ground, the branch now has a disruption in receiving the nourishment that is needed to be productive. Desperately in need, the branch develops sprigs that plug into the ground seeking moisture for nourishment. Now the branch is dependent upon the ground for its sustenance, and though inferior, has attached itself as the sole means of getting nourishment. That which is produced from this inferior source is worthless at best. The vinedresser must get involved personally in order to give the opportunity for maximum production to the fallen branch. However, this is not an easy, or immediate process.

Caring for the branch, and wishing to restore it to its greatest source of nourishment from the vine, the Father slowly begins separating the fallen branch from its inferior dependency. To do this, the branch is lifted only slightly without breaking the sprigs attached to the ground. He then places a small rock under the branch in order to keep it lifted, slowly weaning the branch from its inferior source of nourishment. Over the next few days, the separation of the branch from the ground becomes more gradual until all dependency is removed and the branch can once again be restored to the trellis where a maximum flow of nourishment can occur, being provided from the vine. This illustration shows the Father’s loving care in slowly separating the believer from inferior sources of nourishment so that they are fully dependent upon Christ alone.

This is not a novel understanding. Hart explains, “The verb translated takes awaycan just as easily be translated ‘lifts up,’ denoting the Vinedresser’s action in stimulating growth in a fruitless branch (God helping a fruitless believer to produce fruit). In the viticulture of Israel, late fall was the season for removing dead branches (v.6). The springtime (the time of the upper room message and Jesus’ death) was the season to ‘lift up’ fruitless branches from the ground to encourage productivity.”[8]Being on the move (John 14:31b), it very well could have been that Jesus and His disciples were passing a vineyard at the time of this illustration. They could easily see the difference between those branches that had fallen to the ground and those who had remained on the trellis and were bursting with production. 

The Father takes those who are in a position of fruitlessness and gives them the opportunity and provision to grow. This is an opportunity that should not be wasted, but is a grand invitation to draw near to the Father and to be used for His purposes, ones that will display a

striking testimony (John 14:31a), bringing Him great glory and honor before men.

The second point in John 15:2 speaks of those branches that are bearing fruit and being productive. Such branches are “pruned” in order to have a greater productivity. This word is kathairōand is an obvious wordplay off of airō(“lifts up”) in the previous clause. It means, “to cause something to become clean, make clean, literally of a place that has been swept,… to remove superfluous growth from a plant, clear, prune of a vine.”[9]This is similar to the English word “catharsis” and is understood as a cleaning that takes place. Some have associated this cleansing of the productive branch as divine discipline,[10]but this hardly makes sense. Why would the Lord discipline a branch that is properly plugged into the vine, remaining steadfast in where it was placed, and receiving the correct nourishment so that production is rightly occurring? 

Instead, this “cleansing” would be better understood as divine “testing” that is being introduced into the believer’s life. Trials are God’s means of developing His people into mature saints. Note James’ words when he writes, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jas 1:2-4). Notice that the outcome of letting “endurance have its perfect result” is that the believer becomes “perfect and complete” (“mature” and “blameless”), having all that he or she needs. Hodges notes, “James is referring to the way trial and testing apply ‘fire’ to our faith, so that it can come through the ‘furnace’ of trouble cleansed of any dross or impurity from the flesh. Like gold that has been refined, faith can be purified from the selfish motives and misguided perceptions that often distort and weaken it. God can use trouble to accomplish justthat.”[11]Such testing always asks the question of belief or unbelief of the believer. Trials can rid the believer of the self-life and move us into a greater dependency on Him. Those who choose to believe God’s Word in the midst of their trials are those who will “bear more fruit” (John 15:2b). 

In John 15:3, Jesus states that the eleven are “already clean” (katharos- “being clean or free of adulterating matter, clean, pure”[12]) and this is because of the word that He has spoken to them. This may seem to be an out-of-place comment, but it finds its connection in John 13:10which states, “Jesus said to him, ‘He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’” The following verse records John’s commentary that the one who is not clean is the betrayer, Judas (John 13:11). Having left the group in John 13:30, Judas’ absence allowed for Jesus to give a much more concentrated teaching to those who were justified. Their being “clean” in 15:3 speaks to their justification, having been declared righteous by God after responding in faith to Christ. Justification had placed them in a position of unconditional acceptance before the Father, connecting them to the Vine, Jesus Christ. Now their responsibility would be to abide in that Vine in order to experience Life to the full.

John 15:4-6.With 15:4 the word “abide” is introduced for the first of ten mentions in this passage. “Abide in Me, and I in you.” In Greek, the word “abide” is menōmeaning “to remain in the same place over a period of time—‘to remain, to stay.’”[13]That to which the disciples are told to “abide” is in Christ. This imperative draws theimmediate implication that abiding is not automatic, even though the eleven are “already clean” (15:3). Jesus clearly delineates between one’s justification and their sanctification. His call to abide “in Me” is to explain the means for having a beneficial experience in the here and now by bearing fruit that will give God glory. This nourishing communion is a means of total blessing to the believer in Christ, having the power of God’s provision flowing to them and producing fruit through them. Augustine writes, “The relation of the branches to the vine is such that they contribute nothing to the vine, but from it derive their own means of life; while that of the vine to the branches is such that it supplies their vital nourishment, and receives nothing from them. And so their having Christ abiding in them, and abiding themselves in Christ, are in both respects advantageous, not to Christ, but to the disciples.”[14]

In understanding what is meant by “and I in you” (John 15:4b), we should not attempt to understand this apart from the preceding context either. In the previous chapter, Jesus was clear about how to cultivate an intimate fellowship with Himself and the Father. John 14:21finds Jesus stating, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose (emphanizō-revealing clearly in detail; moving from the sensory to the cognitive in being fully known) Myself to him.” It is obeying that equates to abiding, and it is by abiding that one bears fruit. Such obedience is what cultivates intimacy with the Father and the Son. This is synonymous with “fellowship.” “To abide in Christ is, on the one hand, to have no known sin unjudged and unconfessed, no interest into which He isnot brought, no life which He cannot share,” states Scofield. “On the other hand, the abiding one takes all burdens to Him, and draws all

wisdom, life and strength from Him. It is not unceasing consciousness of these things, and of Him, but that nothing is allowed in the life which separates from Him.”[15]Such a view is in complete alignment with everything that the New Testament espouses in “walking in the Spirit” (Gal 5:16, 25), “walking in a manner worthy” of our calling in Christ (Eph 4:1), and “walking in love” (Eph 5:2). All known sin must be confessed and every hinderance must be laid aside to ensure that “abiding” is a constant condition of the branch. 

This example is seen again in Jesus’ response to Judas (not Iscariot) in John 14:23when He says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” In essence, abiding is the believer remaining intimate with the Father and the Son in obeying the Word of Christ, keeping what has been commanded (John 14:15, 21, 31). The Word of Christ is central and paramount to intimate fellowship with the Godhead. In abiding, the Word must abide in us (15:7a). When this happens, not only is greater intimacy experienced, but “more fruit” is produced!

The example that accompanies this truth in John 15:4b is plain: A branch cannot produce anything if it does not abide in the vine in order to receive the provision for such production. Neither can a believer produce anything of benefit if he or she is not abiding in Christ. A believer is not self-nourishing. As the Scriptures clearly state, the flesh profits nothing (John 6:63; Rom 8:8). Just as absurd as it is to expect for a branch to produce fruit while separated from the vine, so is it equally absurd to expect the believer in Christ to produce fruit when we are not operating in connection with Christ. Independence from Christ in any situation, at any time, is sin.

John 15:5 clarifies the intended parties in this analogy. Jesus is the vine, the eleven (and being that this is a truth that is true of the Church Age believer as well, all believers in Christ would be included) are the branches. By abiding in Christ, one produces “much fruit.” The opposite of this is very much true as well. Jesus states, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (15:5b). “Nothing” here is ou oudeiswith ou being a negative adverb and oudeis meaning “no.” One should expect absolutely nothing if they are not abiding in fellowship with Christ. Such disconnection leaves the believer in a barren state. Robertson succinctly concludes, “There is nothing for a broken off branch to do but wither and die.”[16]This is precisely what is concluded by Jesus in John 15:6.

Jesus unfolds the consequences of those who do not abide in Him. The analogy is consistent, seeing that branches that have been separated from the vine and are no longer “abiding” are not good for anything other than kindling. Their sole purpose is to bear fruit, and once that has been rendered obsolete, they are no longer able to be used. Those branches that are not bearing fruit, after having been carefully and lovingly separated from their inferior means of securing self-nourishment and given the grand opportunity to become exceedingly productive only to spurn it, eventually dry up. Since nourishment is no longer flowing through them, they are only a sad representation of what they could have been had they remained in Christ.

Again, it must be stated, fruit bearing is the sole purpose of the disciple of Christ. Having denied themselves that purpose by refusing to abide, they are gathered and burned, for that is the only thing that they are good for. With many, the analogy of being “burned” immediately conjures disturbing images of hellfire and brimstone, and forces a theological conclusion on many that the lack of fruit in abeliever’s life is grounds for eternal damnation. Such conclusions are unbiblical for two reasons. First, salvation is based on the finished work of Christ and whether one has believed in Him or not (John 3:16-18; 5:24; Acts 16:31). Second, if hellfire were the result of not bearing fruit, salvation becomes ultimately contingent upon one’s works or lack thereof, and the work of Jesus performed on the cross 

would have to be considered insufficient to save, which violates Romans 3:21-28, Titus 3:5, and 1 Peter 3:18, just to name a few.

Since damnation is not in view, how should we understand this? Dillow writes, “a fruitless branch is lifted up to put it into a position of fruit-bearing. This does not contradict verse 6, which states that a branch that does not abide is ‘thrown away,’ literally ‘cast out’ (ballō exō). This would suggest that the heavenly Vinedresser first encourages the branches and lifts them in the sense of providing loving care to enable them to bear fruit. If after this encouragement, they do not remain in fellowship with Him and bear fruit, they are then cast out.”[17]God does not force obedience upon His children. He will direct them, even lead them, educate them, implore them, exhort them, and challenge them, but He does not force them. 

When such beckoning and education is not met with a favorable response, the Lord has no problem disciplining His children (Heb 12:5b-11). As the Vinedresser, the Father is longsuffering with His children, desiring what is best for them and setting them up for maximum success with all that has been provided for them in Christ. But there are many Christians who spurn the Lord’s loving care by clinging to the self-life. Such consequences are disastrous and can range from loss of intimacy with the Father and Son (John 14:24), physical death (1 Cor 5:5; 11:28-30), and loss at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Cor 3:15). To be “cast out” and “burned” is not to lose one’s salvation, otherwise the promises of Jesus would be a lie (John 3:16; 10:27-30).

John 15:7-11.In v.7 we are given greater revelation as to what Jesus meant when He stated “I in you” in v.4. As stated previously, the Word of God is paramount. It is how Christ abides in us. Our abiding and His Word “dwelling richly” in us (Col 3:16) is followed up by a fantastic statement: “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7b). Jesus has just handed His disciples the keys to an effective prayer life; one that actually brings results with God’s fingerprints clearly shining along the way. The Word of God is the will of God, and when one is abiding in Christ and His Word is abiding in them the result is “the effective prayer of a righteous man” which “can accomplish much” (Jas 5:16b). The concept of abiding is now better understood as a life being marked by practical righteousness (sanctification) and not only positional righteousness (justification).

John 15:8 explains that the Father is glorified in the abiding disciple because they are bearing much fruit. Is this not the chief end of all of history? Ryrie notes that “Scripture is not man-centered as though salvation were the main theme, but it is God-centered because His glory is the center.”[18]Some have stumbled over Jesus’ words here in stating that one would “prove to be My disciples” (John 15:8b). The common approach is to conclude that the one who does not bear much fruit is not truly saved, with the absence of fruit being the deciding factor. The word “prove” is ginomaimeaning “to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being.”[19]The issue that is often overlooked is the difference between a believer and a disciple. This is plain because all that surrounds this teaching is with a strict emphasis upon those who are already believing. When the branch bears much fruit, the Life of the Vine is plainly seen by all. Thus God is glorified when the believer in Christ has forsaken thatwhich hinders his or her growth and has embraced God’s Word for living one’s daily life. No one can speak against the fruit with an honest conscience because it has its origin in the Vine!

Whereas the abiding of Christ’s Word was brought forward in John 15:7a, so now the theme of “love” is reintroduced in John 15:9. Five times in v.9 and 10 do we find the mention of “love.” Leading off this series is the example of the Father’s love for the Son. Divine intimacy is the first picture offered. Such an image draws the mind back to John 14:10 with the Father abiding in Christ, John 14:20 which speaks of the “already” loving communion that the Father and Son experience perpetually, and John 14:31 where Jesus speaks of His personal obedience to the Father’s will so that a testimony is promoted to the world. Every verse shows this communal love that is a daily experience between the Father and Jesus. In the same way, Jesus has loved His disciples, teaching them, leading them, bearing with them, guiding them, healing them, and demonstrating for them the sacrificial service that they are to have.

Jesus then issues the imperative to “abide in My love” (John 15:9b). Where else would they go? Where would be a better place than remaining in the love of Christ? Following up this command is the “how” of abiding in Christ’s love. John 15:10a states, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in My love.” This harkens back to John 14:15 and 21, showing that love is truly demonstrated because the commands of Christ are valued as being the ultimate truth, and therefore worth rearranging one’s life in order to experience a fullness of Life in the here and now.

The second half of John 15:10 draws the reader’s attention back to the truth of John 14:31. Jesus sets the tone for what it is to abide; to be walking in intimate fellowship with the Father. While the world has defined many things as “love,” Jesus defines it as obedience. To love the Lord is to obey Him. To demonstrate that one does not love the Lord is to not keep His Word (John 14:24). It is impossible to abidein Him if we are not keeping His Word. While obedience has no bearing on one’s justification, it has everything to do with whether a believer in Christ is experiencing the saving power of God in their daily life. This only comes about by pursuing intimacy with Him daily, moment by moment.

In John 15:11, Jesus gives the reason for this indispensable principle of abiding in Him. “Joy” is a word that is far fetched in this day and age. Few of us experience genuine joy. By and large it is a word that is absent from our vocabularies and our lives. Unless we are singing “Joy to the World,” we have little to do with “joy.” Abiding in Christ accomplishes two things. First, it establishes the joy of Jesus Christ in the disciple. It is a joy inexpressible. It is joy divine! Second, the joy of Jesus Christ makes our joy “full,” meaning that it is a supernatural joy that is abounding in our being. It is this truth that led John to pen the epistle of 1 John. In it he writes, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—

and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete” (1 John 1:1-4, emphasis added).

Notice the interplay between “fellowship” and “joy.” John was experiencing in his daily life the fellowship that exists between the Father and the Son, and such wonderous fellowship produces joy! John’s desire is that every believer would experience this great joy and so have fellowship together with them as they fellowshipped with the Father and the Son. The entire epistle of 1 John is written to tell the believer in Christ how they can have fellowship with Christ so that they would experience this inexpressible joy! This is seen plainly in John’s borrowing of the “abide” concept in 1 John stretching from 2:6 to 4:16. The call is to abide, for in doing so, sin become a non-issue and intimacy with the Lord abounds! 

Are we experiencing inexpressible joy; such that is radiating through us, where God is glorified and we are made full? 

Are we abiding in Christ? An uncertain response is confirmation that we are not. If this is the case, what have we allowed to move us out of the abiding communion that the Father has so gracious given to us? 

Where are the areas of unbelief that are keeping us from bearing much fruit?

In pondering all of this, J. Oswald Sanders offers a cogent statement for the Christian to ponder: “It is a sobering thought that we… are as close to Christ as we really choose to be.”[20]What better place is there to be than abiding in Christ?

Jesus’ call to “abide” is only made clearer in the use of the vine/branch illustration. Ponder this relationship for a moment: Contact is essential. Proper nourishment comes about from consistent contact with the Vine. The Vinedresser assures that every care and precaution is taken so that the greatest opportunity for fruitfulness can be experienced by the branch stemming through the Vine. When contact stops, nourishment stops. The flow is meant to encourage total dependency. This is what it is to abide in Christ; a total dependency on Him where whatever needs to be accomplished in our lives is accomplished because His supernatural nourishment is flowing through us with the Father helping it along. In this way, the branches are understood to be seamless with the Vine. This is Christ living His Life through us! 

Again, Sanders offers his thoughts, writing “It would seem that admission to the inner circle of deepening intimacy with God is the outcome of deep desire. Only those who count such intimacy a prize worth sacrificing anything else for are likely to attain it. If other intimacies are more desirable to us, we will not gain entry to that circle.”[21]

[1]See John MacArthur Jr., ed., The MacArthur Study Bible, electronic ed. (Nashville, TN: Word Publishers, 1997), p. 1615, and David J. Ellis, “John” in The International Bible Commentary,ed. F.F. Bruce (England/Grand Rapids: Marshall Pickering/Zondervan 1986), p. 1255-1256.

[2]See Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 7 (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1993), p. 3–6, and Joseph C. Dillow, “Abiding Is Remaining in Fellowship: Another Look at John 15:1–6,” Bibliotheca Sacra147 (1990): 44–53.

[3]Gary Derickson and Earl Radmacher, The Disciplemaker: What Matters Most to Jesus(Salem, OR: Charis Press, 2001), p. 152–153.

[4]John F. Hart, “John” in The Moody Bible Commentary, ed. Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham(Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014), p. 1649.

[5]NET Notes on John 15:2, “takes away” with emphasis added- “In Johannine usage the word occurs in the sense of ‘lift up’ in 8:59 and 5:8–12, but in the sense of ‘remove’ it is found in 11:39, 11:48, 16:22, and 17:15. In context (theological presuppositions aside for the moment) the meaning ‘remove’ does seem more natural and less forced (particularly in light of v. 6, where worthless branches are described as being “thrown out”—an image that seems incompatible with restoration).-Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible; The NET Bible(Biblical Studies Press, 2005).

[6]James M. Boice, The Gospel of John, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978), p. 227

[7]Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon, p. 16–17, with the Greek elaborations removed for ease of reading.

[8]Hart, “John,” Moody Bible Dictionary, p. 1649.

[9]BDAG, p. 488.

[10]See Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible(Galaxie Software, 2003), Jn 15:2.

[11]Zane C. Hodges, Arthur L. Farstad, and Robert N. Wilkin, The Epistle of James: Proven Character through Testing(Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 1994), p. 19.

[12]BDAG, p. 489.

[13]Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon,p. 728.

[14]Augustine of Hippo, “Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel according to St. John,” in St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. John Gibb and James Innes, vol. 7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), p. 345.

[15]C. I. Scofield, The Scofield Study Bible(New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), Jn 15:4.

[16]A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament(Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Jn 15:5.

[17]Dillow, “Abiding Is Remaining in Fellowship”: 51.

[18]Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Rev. and expanded. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1995), p. 48.

[19]Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon, p. 115.

[20]J. Oswald Sanders, Enjoying Intimacy with God(Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), p. 18.