I want to tell you about John. John came from a family of 16, had hard upbringing during the beginning of the 1900s. John met a preacher’s daughter who he knew was too good for him. He left her behind when the second great war required his service. But by the grace of God that preacher’s daughter was set aside for John. By the grace of that preacher’s daughter and God’s Spirit, John became faithful to God throughout the rest of his. He owned a skating rink, where every once-and-awhile a kid couldn’t pay to participate, but John made sure they did. The winters where John lived were tough, and sometimes the churches in his area, churches he wasn’t an attender of, couldn’t afford to keep the heat on. Well God had blessed John and so he was faithful to God and helped keep those buildings warm so that the people could keep meeting throughout the winter.
John sought God from the big things to the small details of life. There was once a time, when John sold off enough furniture to fill a house, but instead of paying, the people took off and John never saw them again. John struggled with that, as we all would, and when he gave it over to God and forgave the thieves, God brought a blessing back to John and he recouped his losses.
John won’t go down in the history books as a titan of the world, but his faithfulness to the work of God makes him a titan of the faith. And through his faithful clinging to Jesus, he left a legacy of what it means to walk as a godly man for his children and their children. John passed away this past September, I didn’t know him well, but he is a beacon of what it means to cling to Jesus and not live our lives as if Sunday was the only day of the week where we have a relationships with the Lord.
John’s story is like countless other faithful men and women who have come to experience the new creation life Jesus saved us to live. One of the travesties of the modern Church is that we have regulated the life of God to a simple prayer, and experience on Sunday. Too long we as the Church have been okay with living for heaven on Sunday and hell for the rest of the week.
This duality in our relationship with God, I believe, has led to what our country is experiencing now. As people moved west, one of the first communal buildings that was built was the place where the Church met. It was then used as a seat of government, community gatherings, schools and a of course a place of worship. Yet as we have regulated our faith to Sunday, not only has the Church lost its influence in the communities we live in, we have stopped living the new creation life that Jesus has called his people to.
It would seem, when we look at men and women like John, who have a robust faith that permeates every part of their life, they must be more spiritual, or they have unlocked some deep held secret that those of monks and pastors could only achieve. But the reality is, the new creation life that God has called his people into, is for everyone of his children. So this week, we are going to look at the Gospel of John chapter 15 and look at what it means to go beyond Sunday’s fill up, and live an abiding life in Jesus, which is the basis for new creation living.
And as we open to John chapter 15, where we’ll start in verse 1, let us look back over the last two weeks and refresh our minds on where we are in this series we are calling Beyond.
In our first week of our Beyond series, we talked about what the beyond is. The beyond we’re talking about is that, if we have put our trust into Jesus as our Savior, then the Scriptures say that we are a new creation. In fact, Paul states in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
We who have put our trust into Jesus have had our old sinful lives put to death and now are to live in the newness of being a new creation. And so the first beyond we talked about was living beyond trusting in tomorrow. We must move beyond making plans that exclude God’s change. We talked about how making plans is fine, but trusting in those plans is where we can go wrong. Instead, God calls us to a daily trust in him, leaving all plans in his hands, and being willing to have those plans change as he directs.
Then last week we focused in on the idea of going beyond legalistic relationships. We tend to require others to meet a certain standard in our relationships to receive our love and attention. But God calls us to grace-filled relationships that loves without the expectation of getting anything in return. This doesn’t mean there is not correction or rebuke, but rather we are to have God’s desire that every relationship restored to full fellowship.
Now that we have those last two weeks clear in our minds, let us look at what it means to go beyond Sunday’s fill up, and live daily the abiding life.
As we open to John 15, we need to recognize something. Where the other three Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry give us a large overview of Jesus’ work, John gives us more a specific view. Unlike the other three Gospels, John begins to deal with the last week Jesus’ life almost halfway through his writing. John 13 gives us the last supper, which is right before the crucifixion, and then we are given several chapters of Jesus’ teaching prior to his arrest, that are singularly focused on following Jesus closely, even in the face of the suffering that was ahead. And within this teaching we have John chapter 15. Let us read through it together, starting in verse 1.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.”
With the imagery of the the vine, Jesus relays to us several aspects of how we are to live as new creations, and move beyond simple Sunday faith.
First, in verse 1-3, we’re told that God prunes those that are his. The Hebrew writer, reaching back into the book of Proverbs writes this in Hebrews chapter 12, verses 5 and 6, “And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.’”
Now no one likes being disciplined, but it is the discipline of God that brings in new creation living. Therefore we should welcome the discipline of the Lord. James writes about finding joy in hardships when he states, “2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).”
But why must we be disciplined in the first place? This leads us into our second aspect, which is the most basic reality of who we are created to be. We are created to live in full reliance of God. Paul notices that a couple of Greek poets see this reality, and quotes this poet in Acts 17:28, “'For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’”
This is why Jesus tells us things like, "As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me…apart from me you can do nothing… If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.”
We cannot hope to live in the new creation life, where joy, peace, patience, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are our default, if we are are trying to do things on our own. We must live fully in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why the New Testament writers write things like this in Colossians 1:27, “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Or one of the verses we started out this whole thing with, Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
The imagery of the vine gives us the understanding that apart from the active work of God in our lives, we will never experience the life he has called us into. And we will live struggling with the hurts of this life, constantly questioning, why me Lord?
But Jesus doesn’t just tell us that God disciplines us, nor does he just leave us with the understanding that without him we can’t do this new creation living. No, Jesus gives us actual application. The answer to the question, okay how to I live in reliance of God, comes in verses 9-17.
In verse 10 Jesus says, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”
Four times in the book of John (14:15, 21; 15: 10, 14) Jesus tells his disciples that keeping the commands of God, is how we remain in the life of God. Now I want to make a disclaimer here: We are not talking about salvation. There is a tension in Scripture that we must address. There’s this idea that either God calls us to a grace based relationship, or to a works based relationship. This is seen in comparing words form Paul and those from James. In Romans 3:28, Paul writes, “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” Yet James writes this in his second chapter verse 24, “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”
Old El Paso Tacos used to run a commercial years ago where these two siblings were arguing about what was better, soft or hard shelled tacos. That’s when a third, and younger sibling shrugs her shoulders and says, “Why not both?” She is then lifted onto the shoulders of her family with a hurray is heard. The reality is this, we are saved by grace through faith alone in Christ for salvation, yet to abide in Christ, to actively experience his new creation living, we must act on the commands of God. The trap is thinking, well I said a prayer I’m done, or, I went to church, I’m done.
No, we must implement God’s word daily into our lives. We must take the commands of God seriously, and go before him and say something like, “I know your grace covers me, now as I walk in your grace, help me follow closely your commands.”
And so we look to Scripture and say, God calls me to love him, how do I do that? We look at Scripture and say, God calls me to love my neighbor as myself, how do I do that? And then we seek God and rely on the Holy Spirit to achieve what he has saved us to achieve. And as we grow in it, we experience the new creation life he has for us, where we start seeing the old self truly die, and the new truly come into being.
Sometimes we take major strides, sometimes it’s half-steps, but God’s desire is that we move closer to him as he transforms us into the image of Jesus, one who abides in God as Jesus abides in the Father.
This is why I challenge you every week on what we talk about today. It’s not that I like giving you homework, no one likes that, but we need to implement the words of God in our daily lives to draw close to him. Sunday should be a catapult for the week, not simply a one and done experience.
In James’ 4th chapter he writes, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded ( v.8).”
To live beyond the Sunday fill up, to really start living in the new creation life that Jesus has saved us to live, we must accept his discipline, living in full-reliance on him, and seek to carry out the commands of God as he has called us to.
When we do this, we accomplish what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
So my challenge for you this week is this, take the 10 commandments as found in Exodus 20:1-17, move your way through them daily and ask of God, how can I abide in you today, by keeping your command? In the morning read the passage, seeking abiding in God, and in the evening, if you failed at anyone that you were challenged with that day, ask for forgiveness and strength, because then we are living in the restorative relationship of God, by seeking to abide, not for salvation, but because we love the God who has saved us, and want to follow him where he calls us.
Let us each move beyond using Sunday as a fill up for the rest of the week, and instead live daily abidingly which leads us to experience the new creation life of Jesus that we were saved and called to live. Amen.