For several months now, we have been sharing on the subject of “Reflecting God’s Image,” which is the purpose of our lives. Reflecting and glorifying God is a topic that should dominate our lives. John 14:13 tells us that we are to make His glory the aim of everything we do. In short, our lives should continually reflect His person, His character and His Love and should cause others to look upon Him.
In order to do this, however, we must live in, be led by and abide in God’s Spirit. We must be controlled only by His Spirit and not be again entangled with the yoke of bondage (sin). We must stand fast and abide in the liberty that Christ has given us.
“And now, little children, abide in Him; that, when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” (1 John 2:28)
What does it mean to “abide in Him” or to “abide in the Spirit?” Abiding means remaining in, staying in, dwelling in or continuing in the Holy Place. It means staying in the Lord’s presence. It means continuing to worship Him and be fruit bearers to others. Psalm 91 tells us that “He who dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”
Simply speaking, this means the one who dwells in the Holy Place shall abide under His protection. It’s a promise of deliverance, protection, safety and a long life to those who remain in His presence, Wow! The only requirement to attain this is: “to make the Lord our habitation, to set our love upon Him and to know His Name.” (vs.9 & 14) Suffice to say, if we abide in that place of worship and adoration, then all the above promises will be ours. If we quench His Spirit, however, and cease to wait, dwell or abide in the Holy Place, we will lose His protection, His deliverance and open ourselves up to the snares of the enemy and spiritual attacks of all kinds.
Abiding in Christ
There’s a big difference between being born of the Spirit and walking in the Spirit. We are all born anew by the Spirit from the time we ask Christ to come into our lives and forgive us of our sins, but we only walk in the Spirit when we follow the Spirit’s leading and bear fruit. Galatians 5:25 exhorts us, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” And Colossians 2:6 confirms this: “As you have received Christ, so [now] walk in Him.”
Be aware that there is also a subtle difference between abiding in the Spirit and walking by the Spirit. These two can almost be interchangeable, with one small exception. Abiding means resting in, staying in, remaining in and waiting in God’s presence, bearing the fruit of love, joy, peace, etc. Whereas walking by the Spirit is taking that fruit and actually giving it out to the world. It’s doing, not just being!
Ultimately, these two steps—abiding in the Spirit and walking in the Spirit—must go hand in hand. We can’t give the fruit of the Spirit out to anyone if we are not first abiding in His presence to receive it.
John 15 is a wonderful chapter devoted to what it means to abide in God and bring forth fruit: “In this is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit...” (John 15:8)
What is the fruit spoken of here? Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that this is the “fruit of the Spirit”: Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance...” Fruit occurs when these attributes of Christ show up in our lives. Fruit is born when we begin to possess Christ-likeness and begin to pass that Love of Jesus on to others.
A dear friend of ours, who is also a Greek scholar, pointed out to me that the word to bear in John 15:2 could be trans-lated “to carry fruit from one location to another.” In other words, to be an open channel passing along God’s Life from the Father to others.
He also suggested that the phrase “abide in Me” or “remain in Me” could also be translated “rest in My Love.” Then, God’s promise to us in verse 7 makes much more sense. If we continue to “rest in His Love,” we can ask whatever we will, consistent with bearing fruit, and He will do it. Here is my friend’s translation of John 15:1-7:
“15:1: I [Jesus] am the true vine and my Father is the vine keeper. 2: He takes away each of My [Jesus’] branches that do not carry fruit, and He cleanses each [one] that does so that it may carry even more.
“3: You are already clean through the teaching that I have spoken to you. 4: Rest in my Love, and I will be with you. Just as the branch cannot carry fruit by itself [unless it remains on the vine], so neither can you [carry fruit], unless you rest in My Love.
“5: I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever rests in My Love and lets My Love rest within him can carry lots of fruit, because without Me you cannot accomplish anything. 6: If anyone fails to rest in My Love, he shall be cast out like a [withered] branch, and they shall gather them and cast them into the fire, and the fire shall burn.
“7: If you rest in My Love, and my sayings take root within you, ask whatever you want to happen, and it shall come about for your benefit. 8: My Father is glorified [when you do this]–when you carry lots of fruit, you demonstrate that you have become my disciples.”
As long as we are talking about grapevines, fruit and branches, let’s see if we can find any parallels to the Christian life. (God always has hidden meanings that are exciting to discover!)
Grape vines are unique. They tend to grow so vigorously that they often spread out in all different directions and do everything but bear fruit. In order to produce fruit, they must be pruned quite often. In the ancient vineyards, the vine dresser pruned the branches in two ways: he chopped off the dead wood that bred disease and insects, and he also cut away the living tissue so that the life of the vine would not be dissipated or the quality of the crop jeopardized. Sometimes the vine dresser would even cut away whole bunches of grapes so that the rest of the crop would be of a higher quality.
Well, Christians are very much like those grape vines. We tend to grow so vigorously that we often spread out in all different directions. And, just like those vines, we often have a lot of non-fruitful wood that must be cut away in order to pro-duce fruit. In fact, sometimes we can become so dense in our external leaf productions (ministry, work, family, busyness, etc.) that the Son (like the sun) cannot reach into the area where fruit is supposed to form. Left to ourselves, without the Lord’s help, we’ll tend to favor our own new expansion of territory rather than bear more fruit for Him.
What is the spiritual result of this? From a distance our lives might look incredibly green and healthy, but the Lord knows us intimately and He knows that there’s just a little harvest for Him. Thus, just like the grape vine that must be pruned in order to produce more fruit, the Lord takes His shears to us. Sometimes He cuts away the dead wood that prevents our growth, but more often He cuts away the living tissue that robs us of our spiritual vigor. This, obviously, is extremely painful.
Sin is like the dirt that covers the grape leaves. Air and light cannot get in and thus, the branch languishes and no fruit develops. How does the vinedresser lift the dirt and mud? The same way the Father deals with us. Again, by more washing and pruning.1
“My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou are rebuked of Him. For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, wherewith all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” (Hebrews 12:5b-8)
At the time, chastisement is painful. But, when a spiritual crop is produced, we can see the Lord’s hand in all of it and be confident that He knew exactly what He was doing. The Lord’s focus is always on the quality of the harvest, not just the quantity. He is glorified not only by a bigger crop, but by one that is also a better crop. The fruit we produce is not just to please ourselves, but to serve others.
The Fruit of Love
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:35) This Scripture says it all. If we have Love (Agape), others will know we are Christians. If we don’t, they won’t. Without Love, Paul says, we are nothing! (1 Corinthians 13:2) In other words, we will be spiritually corrupt. Again, carnal Christians.
Puritan John Owen once said: One may be capable of performance that benefits others publicly and yet be a stranger himself to the Spirit-wrought inner transformation that true knowledge of God brings. The manifestation of the Spirit in Charismatic performance is not the same thing as the fruit of the spirit in Christ-like character. Christ-likeness is what matters.2
So again the proof that we are, indeed, believers comes not through our knowledge of Scripture, from our spiritual gifts or by our church attendance, but only by showing God’s Love and Life to others.
To be continued next month: “Friends of God.” This article has been excerpted from Nan’s book Reflections of His Image: The Purpose of Our Lives.