Abiding in Christ (John 15:4-5)

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If you are destroyed because you don’t bear fruit (15:2,6), and the only way to bear fruit is to abide in the vine (15:4), you better abide in the vine (15:4). Therefore, we need to understand what it means to abide.

We read, in John 15:4, “abide in me.” John uses meno, which is the underlying Greek word that is translated as abide in this passage (ESV). The New Testament authors use this word 118 times. The synoptic authors employ this word twelve times. Paul uses this word 17 times throughout all his epistles. Luke uses the word 13 times throughout Acts. But John uses this word almost 70 times (67 times) throughout his gospel and epistles, and of those, eleven are used in this chapter. All to say, John considers the idea behind meno as particularly important and chapter 15 appears to be the primary chapter in which the idea is developed.

Jesus states that we are to abide in a relationship with him, which implies that a relationship already exists. Translators use other words in translating this word, such as stay, continue, endure, wait, and remain. Each of these implies that you are already present within something that is to continue. Your already existing relationship is to be continued. This ongoing relationship begins, from our perspective, at the moment of our genuine belief.

Defining & Describing Abiding

We believe in Jesus. Abiding begins with belief. Abiding becomes much more than belief, but abiding is never less than genuine belief. Even the branches, not bearing fruit and taken away, are said to be “in him” indicating minimally a surface level of belief. Therefore, to abide includes belief that Jesus Christ is God and that he provides salvation and the forgiveness of sins through his death, burial, and resurrection. This belief as well includes the acceptance that the Bible, in which Jesus Christ is revealed, is true. This genuine belief in Jesus and the Bible that reveals him anchors the branch into the vine.

We care what he says. Abiding includes ongoing acceptance of His words. In verse 4, Jesus says, “abide in me.” Just a few verses later, Jesus says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you” (Jn 15:7). In this statement, Jesus connects our abiding in him to his words abiding within us. We remain in fellowship with Jesus by observing his teachings. Additionally, John writes in his first epistle, “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father” (1 Jn 2:24).

We do what he says. Abiding includes ongoing adherence to Jesus’ commands. Jesus continues a few verses later, “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” (Jn 15:10). Therefore, those who abide in the vine, obey Jesus’ commands. Earlier in the gospel, Jesus told a group of Jews that are characterized as having believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (Jn 8:31). “[I]f ‘remaining’ in Jesus is a metaphor for continuing in fellowship with and loyalty to him, then obedience to his commands is clearly important.”[1]

Jesus abides with us. Abiding includes Jesus abiding with us. With these last three, we offer descriptions more than further definition. When we continue to believe in Jesus, continue to care what Jesus says, and continue to obey what Jesus says; Jesus remains with us. The connection to the vine endures. Jesus had been physically present with his disciples but had just informed them that he would be leaving them. He encourages them with the promise, that even though he would leave, he would not leave them alone.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (Jn 14:15–17).

Jesus continues in verse 23, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14:23).

I want to be careful about adding to the vine analogy, but I think it is fair to consider that if Jesus is the vine in which we are connected, the Holy Spirit is the sap that brings us strength, nourishment, and produces fruit in our lives. In so doing, God abides with us as we cling to the vine.

We bear spiritual fruit. Abiding is evidenced by our fruit. Many commentators acknowledge that the “fruit” spoken of in this analogy either refers to (1) the fruit of the Spirit or righteous living (Galatians 5) or (2) the results of sharing the gospel. I would propose that Jesus does not intend to limit fruit to one specific understanding. I see no reason why we should not understand “fruit” to refer to all the manifesting results of Jesus and the Holy Spirit working through the life of a believer. Evangelistic fruit would be included, and so would the fruit of the Spirit in one’s life. Paul writes of this fruit in Galatians, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:22–23).

Abiding is for the glory of God. In verse 8, Jesus states the purpose and end goal for all the abiding happening in this chapter. “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (Jn 15:8). Let me offer two ways by which the Father is glorified. (1) The Father’s plan to redeem people back to himself becomes manifest. All of life falls within the grand story of redemption. God created all things and sovereignly rules over all. Despite his rule, and under his allowance, man sinned, resulting in division between mankind and God. Christ came, lived a perfect life, died as our substitute, and gloriously rose defeating sin and death. Christ humbled himself to this work in order to redeem people. When we bear fruit and reflect the character of Jesus in our lives, God’s purpose throughout his redemptive story becomes real. And in this, God is glorified. (2) Also, God’s character is revealed as Jesus, the vine, produces the fruit of godly character in the lives of believers. People, having no ability inherently to produce Christlike character in their lives, are transformed by abiding in the vine. In so doing God is glorified.

Purpose Statement. Abiding is persistent adherence and ongoing development of a way of thinking. Therefore, abiding in Christ, involves our ongoing pursuit of a knowledge of Christ, as revealed in His Word, and a persistent adherence to his expectations.