[Editor’s Note: This week Jake finishes the thoughts he began last week in the post, Grace vs. Legalism: Finding Balance.]Let’s lay a bit of ground work before we start. I don’t have all of the answers for what abiding means. Further, I have more questions than answers, so don’t take this as “Jake’s Perfect Formula for Living a Peaceful and Tranquil Christian Existence.” Consider it a diary entry for myself.
In John 15 Jesus talks a lot about abiding. In fact, in one way or another, He says it 6 times in verses 4 through 10. One of those times He says, “If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love.”
So it’s simple! Do everything that Jesus ever said—and do it perfectly—and you’ll be abiding!
But that sounds law-ish. I can’t help it. It sounds like marching orders and list-making, and that sounds a lot like busy work.
Abiding sounds more existential. The word also means “stay” or “remain” and has also been translated as “endure.” Sorry to go nerd-a-thon about it, but I suffered through 4 semesters of Greek and have flashbacks from time to time.
Jesus started out His monologue in John 15 by talking about vines and fruit.
The picture He gave was that He is the true vine and we are the branches that grow from Him. If a branch breaks from the vine it withers and dies, but if it remains attached to the branch it’ll flourish and bear fruit.
It wasn’t Jesus saying that I have to follow all of the rules and demands that He ever spoke or I’ll be cast out, but that my health as a branch is directly related to how I abide in Jesus. If I try to abide or endure in Him, but don’t follow the instructions He gave it’s nonsensical to think that I’ll thrive.
The big picture Jesus gave and the things He spoke of were to citizens of the Kingdom of God who happened to be living in a different kingdom at the time. Look at the Sermon on the Mount and see if that’s the normal rulebook for living on earth. So if we are supposed to be abiding in Him and He in us, it doesn’t make sense to orient our lives according to standards He doesn’t set or exist by.
And that’s why it’s not a set of rules.
It’s a set of resources—a set of resources to eliminate the difficulties and hindrances that would keep us from growing strongly and abiding well. Turn it into law and sin management, and you’ll be turning something organic into something mechanical. And Jesus pointed out how important it is to abide several times; He only said to keep His commandments once.
Looking at abiding while keeping grace in mind means it is completely to my benefit to bear as much fruit as possible, and that can’t be done apart from my connection to Jesus. So I embrace my imperfection and faults because what my life produces depends on my health as a branch.
I don’t fix my sinfulness by trying to clean myself up so I can be less ashamed when I try to abide.
It means by admitting what is shameful (repentance), I seek to abide and eventually see my life produce less sin and more good. After all, it says that God is the vinedresser and the one who prunes, so why would I put myself in the place to do God’s work for Him?
This abiding concept boils down to just living.
If you are a part of Christ, then seek that relationship out. After all, we say we believe He’s alive, right? Then treat him like it. Don’t worry about your mess-ups because you’re far worse than you think. I am too.
But the better I am at just abiding, the more I want to abide.
That’s how you get better. But you’ll be so busy enjoying the abiding that you may not even notice. That’s what grace means. Jesus’ sacrifice allows you to abide in Him.
Just so this post isn’t too fluffy, look at what John 15 says about not abiding. Between you and me abiding sounds a lot better than the alternative.
*Photo credit: Roberto Verzo