Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.
In John 15, Jesus told the disciples to abide in him, to remain in him. He explained this with a word picture, in which God is a gardener, Jesus is a grapevine in God’s garden, and the disciples are branches growing out of the vine.
The branches have two choices: stay connected to the vine so life will flow into them and they will produce grapes. Or disconnect from the vine, in which case they will fall off, dry up, and be burned as rubbish.
I have never connected strongly with Christ’s gardening metaphor. I don’t think of myself as a branch waving in the wind trying to produce grapes. I’m more on the consumer end of the food chain–I like grapes that have turned into wine, beside a small plate of appetizers and a good book.
In God’s garden, the branch is permanently and organically connected to the vine. Jesus wants his disciples to have a similar relationship to him. Here are two things I notice about this relationship.
First, unlike the branch and the vine, our connection to Christ is invisible. We don’t see him, we don’t see the Spirit he sends as advocate, and we don’t see a joint where our branch grows out of his vine. Remaining in him is an invisible process.
Many people say about world religions, “They’re all basically the same because they all say ‘Do to others as you want others to do to you’.” But that’s not what Jesus says in John 15. He does not tell us we need a visible standard of moral behaviour. He says we need an invisible connection to him so his life can flow into our life and produce fruit. He tells us to remain in him, to sustain the connection, to persevere in our relationship. Fruitfulness is not the goal, it is a byproduct of the relationship.
A second way in which the garden picture can play out is if the vine and the branch terminate their relationship and go separate ways. A branch disconnected from the vine will die. If we disconnect from Jesus, we lose the flow of his life him into us that makes it possible for us to bear fruit and behave well.
Author Larry Crabb in his book, “Inside Out” (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2013) says the only way to achieve true and lasting change is to change on the inside first. Jesus wants to do an inside job on us, to connect us to himself in a way that changes our inner motivation, our thinking, our heart.
Notice, however, that Jesus doesn’t avoid the topic of moral responsibility. He goes on to say, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Does it sound like he is promoting love as the means by which we remain in him? Or is love the fruit of remaining in him? Jesus doesn’t give us a scientific formula to explain this. Nor does he give instructions on how to manage our relationship in a way that guarantees the fruit of love. Jesus just makes two simple suggestions: abide in him and love one another.
Jesus, we have often set out to love our neighbor–perhaps our spouse or children or colleagues or others. But our good intentions founder on the rocks of our selfishness, our hurts, our likes and dislikes. We seem to be conditioned against long term, faithful love for these fallible and wayward humans around us. How quickly our grand plans reduce to “Don’t do to others what you don’t want others to do to you.” Is this a golden rule? Don’t be a jerk. Don’t promote evil against others. Maintain a nice, negative morality that requires only a grudging willingness to behave moderately well, that doesn’t aspire to love.
Jesus, we need to be changed on the inside. We need a new capacity to become lovers–lovers of God and others. We need a new source of strength to enable us. We need an abiding connection to you, so your life will flow into us and bear fruit.
I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.