Who Died On The Cross?
Scripture for Meditation: I Peter 3:18
We are about to begin a study of spiritual growth in the Christian life. What does it mean to grow spiritually? How does spiritual growth take place? What is God’s plan? There are lots of different methods of sanctification floating around Christendom today. We want to see what God says about the subject in His Word. Simply put, God’s method of sanctification (like His method of justification) is by grace through faith.
Substitution: Christ Died for Me
We want to begin by asking the question, “Who died on the cross?” I am sure we all know the answer. Each one of us would say that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. That is exactly what Peter tells us in I Peter 3:18. The Just One died for the unjust. We were guilty, unjust, unrighteous, and worthy of death, and Jesus died in our place. That is the doctrine of substitution, a doctrine found throughout the Scriptures. The entire Old Testament sacrificial system was designed to teach this very truth – an innocent victim died for the guilty. Adam covered himself and tried to hide behind the skin of a slain, innocent animal. When Abraham was about to offer his son unto God as commanded, he found a ram stuck in the thickets and offered it as a substitute for his son. In the Old Testament, every sacrifice consisted of an innocent victim that died as a substitute for the guilty. It all pointed ahead to the cross of Calvary, where Jesus would die, the just One for the unjust.
Consider Romans 5:6, 8. In verse six Paul says, “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” And in verse eight we read, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” as our substitute. Paul tells us in I Corinthians 15:3, as he explains the basics of the gospel that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.” The substitutionary death of Christ is a basic but wonderful truth. The result of this fact is salvation. It means that the believer can be right before God, because the Just One died for the unjust. How can a guilty sinner like you or me be declared just or righteous before a holy God? How can that ever be? It is because Christ died for us. He paid the debt of our sin in full. In fact, Paul tells us in II Corinthians 5:21, that in some mysterious way, Christ became sin for us. Our sin was placed upon Him and His righteousness was placed on us. That is the only way you or I could be right in the sight of an infinitely holy God. His death for us resulted in justification and provided forgiveness of sins. In I Corinthians 15:3-4, when Paul describes the gospel, he said that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” and the proof of His death was “that he was buried.” His death was real, and so was His resurrection. The fact that Jesus died on the cross for me means that I now can have forgiveness of sins, because the debt of sin is paid in full. There is nothing left to pay. Because Jesus died for me, I also have eternal life. He gave His life as a substitute for my life. John 10:11 tells us that the Good Shepherd gave His life for the sheep. My life should have been lost. I should have been slain for I was the guilty one. But, Jesus offered up His life on the cruel cross as my Substitute.
All the benefits of the wonderful truths relating to Jesus’ substitutionary death are ours by faith. The facts of justification, the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, are all by grace through faith. Consider Acts 13:38-39: “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” Luke tells us very clearly that we have justification and forgiveness of sins by believing on Christ. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).
John ends his gospel by stating that it was written for the purpose of explaining who Jesus is and how we can obtain eternal life. He said, “these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (Jn. 20:31). We must believe who Jesus is and what He has done. What did He do? He died, and the result of it is that my sins are forgiven, I am righteous in God’s sight, and I have eternal life. It is entirely based on what Jesus did on the cross 2,000 years ago. The benefits of that sacrifice must be appropriated by faith. There is no other way. You cannot be saved apart from knowing and believing that Jesus died for your sins. You have to know the right facts. You have to trust in it completely. Salvation is obtained no other way.
This is a wonderful truth – Jesus died for me. And when He died for me, He dealt with the penalty and the guilt of my sin. My sins are gone – they are paid in full. Every true believer who has known these things and has trusted in this can now say, “There is therefore now no condemnation” (Rom. 8:1) because Jesus died for me. Praise God!
Identification: I Died with Christ
It is wonderful to be saved, forgiven, born again, redeemed, and to be justified. The fact that Jesus dealt with my sins on the cross is marvelous, but it is only the beginning. There is much more to this great salvation!
The birth of a baby is wonderful, but birth is just the beginning of a new life. So too, the new birth is not the end in itself, it is just the beginning. There is much more to eternal life than merely possessing it. We are to lay hold of eternal life! Living the abundant life is what Christianity is really all about. After the new birth a wholly new and marvelous process begins, called spiritual growth.
When Jesus died for me, He dealt with my sins. But, that did not change me one bit. I am still the same vile, wretched sinner that I ever was. I am forgiven and my sins are gone because Jesus died for me. His death for me dealt with the guilt, penalty, and condemnation of my sins, but it does not change me.
Consider Romans 6 carefully. Here Paul tells us what God did with me. In order for the new birth to take place, in order for someone to be saved, one must know and believe that Jesus died and rose again. In Romans 6, there are some other things God wants the believer to know. We have already been born again and have had our sins forgiven. We have entered into eternal life, but there is so much more! Romans 6:3 says, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” Here is something God wants us to know – we were baptized into Jesus’ death.
What does it mean to be baptized? The term baptism does not refer to a sprinkling or a pouring. It means to be immersed and enveloped in a new atmosphere. Here Paul tells us, that when Jesus died, in some sense, I was baptized into that death. His death became my death.
In Romans 6:4 it says, “therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death…” Not only did I die with Jesus Christ, I was also buried with Him. In verse 6, there is something else God wants us to know. If we are ever going to enter into the process of spiritual growth, we have to know truths relating to spiritual growth. If a sinner is ever going to be saved, he has to know the facts of the gospel. If the saint is ever going to grow, he must know the facts about spiritual growth as recorded in the Bible. There is one important truth in Romans 6:6 that God wants us all to know. “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him…” When was our old man crucified? Now, I can not explain this. I was born in 1952. I do not know how it could be that I was crucified 2,000 years ago with Christ, but that is what the Bible says. In God’s mind, I died with Christ. By faith I was united to Christ, and in a very real way, I shared in His death. I was crucified with Him.
God says that He wants us to know this. Why do we need to know that our old man was crucified? Look again in verse 6 where Paul states the purpose of this death: “that the body of sin,” (our physical body dominated by sin) “might be destroyed.” The end result is that “henceforth we should not serve [be a slave to] sin.” God does not want us to be a slave to sin anymore. If we are ever going to have victory over our sin nature, we have to know something – that we died with Jesus Christ.
The Bible is full of this truth. This is a truth that the Apostle Paul emphasizes over and over again in his epistles. Galatians 2:20 is one of the most important verses in the New Testament relating to the subject of spiritual growth. Here Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live.” We will be looking at the words, “nevertheless I live” later on, but let us consider the crucifixion now. Paul says that he died. He was crucified with Christ. That is a co-crucifixion. Paul experienced death when Jesus died on the cross.
In Galatians 5:24, Paul says, “they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” If you belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, this is what has happened to you. Your flesh was crucified on the cross when Jesus died.
Look at Galatians 6:14. “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Here Paul says that he was crucified unto the world with Christ. His flesh was crucified, with its affections and lusts. Somehow God wanted Paul to know and believe that when Jesus died on the cross, Paul too was there. This is what Paul means in Ephesians and Colossians when he repeatedly mentions that our old man has been put off. He is gone; he is dead. In some way, when Jesus died, my old “I” died. The unregenerate me, (that old man who was previously dominated by fallen, corrupt, human nature), was crucified with Jesus Christ. He is gone. And, God says, I want you to know this. You have to know this if growth is ever going to take place.
Jesus died for me. That results in salvation. We have to know it and trust in it to be saved. But as a believer, I also died with Christ. That results in sanctification. We also have to know it and believe it, and reckon it to be so, in order to grow. Spiritual growth is based on the fact that I died with Him.
In Romans chapter seven Paul describes a frustrating experience that every one of us, (if we are honest) have faced over and over again in our Christian lives. All too often, spiritual growth begins with an awful period of frustration, such as Paul describes. “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not…” Paul describes here the awful frustration he faced as a Christian, trying to produce spiritual fruit in his own power under the Law. All of his efforts to produce spiritual fruit led only to defeat. He said in Romans 7:21, “I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.” He observed a principle occur so often that it was like a scientific law. Every time he wanted to do that which is right, evil was right there to drag him away! Sound familiar?
Romans 7:22 says, “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” Paul’s heart was regenerated. He knew he was saved. His inward man genuinely delighted in the things of the Lord, and he wanted to obey. However, he observed another law operating in the members of his body. His mind wanted to do that which is right, but there was something warring against the law of his mind which brought him into captivity (slavery) to the law of sin. At times, Paul experienced defeat and frustration in his Christian life. He experienced the agony of defeat until finally, in Romans 7:24, there was nothing left for him to do but to cry out in desperation as a defeated man. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Paul struggled trying to produce fruit on his own, and discovered that it was all in vain. He had to come to the place where he realized that it was impossible except through Jesus Christ. Paul had to come to the end of himself. He had to come to this realization through this painful repetition of defeat and frustration, until finally he agreed with God’s estimate of his flesh – in me dwelleth no good thing. The self-life cannot produce fruit! Lord, help me, was his cry.
In Romans 7:25 he says, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Notice those words, “through Jesus Christ.” That was what Romans chapter six was all about. Paul just explained how the believer died with Christ, was buried with Christ, and was raised into the heavenly sphere in Jesus Christ. In Romans chapter seven Paul writes of the significance of this truth. After his initial frustration and defeat, he finally realized that his only hope for victory was through Jesus Christ, and not through the efforts of self! The old self-life hinders us from producing good fruit.
“Knowing this, that our old man,” (the unregenerate individual that we were when dominated by our sin nature), “was crucified with Christ.” God commands us to know this. We need to know this truth, because it sure doesn’t seem to be true. It does not seem as if my old man is dead. It feels like he is very much alive. I still get angry. I still covet. I still lust. I still say things I should not say. I struggle with the same old things. It seems like I am the same old man. But, God says, I want you to know something – You are not the same old man! Paul wrote in Romans 6:11, “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin.” In other words, I want you to know this. Get these facts in your mind. I want you to count this as a reality, even when it doesn’t seem to be the case- even when it feels contrary to your experience. That is what faith is all about. Believing what God says even though my feelings are telling me something different. God says, I want you to know this, and I want you to believe it, rest in it, and count it as a fact. In Romans 6:6, Paul states that he wants us to know why we were crucified with Christ, so “that henceforth we should not serve sin.” The whole purpose of knowing and believing these truths is so that in our daily experience we will not practice sin.
What is God’s answer to the self-life? It is death! In Romans 6:7, God says, “for he that is dead is freed from sin.” Look in Romans 6:14, “For sin shall not have dominion over you.” Spiritual growth and victory are the result of one fact – I died with Christ. My salvation, my justification, my new birth are due to the fact that Christ died for me. But my growth is due to the fact that I died with Christ. It was a co-crucifixion. Paul says that my old man is dead. In Galatians 2:20, he says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live.” The following is a very difficult fact for us to accept. Note Jeremiah 17:1. It is not very flattering to our Adamic nature and human pride. Look at what God says about us. We need to know what we are like, what we are made of. Jeremiah is speaking of the hearts of his countrymen (and by the way, they were no different than us). He says, “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart.” Here God gives us His estimate of the human heart. He says it is deeply etched with sin. Sin is engraved in our hearts so much that it is our nature. Look also in Jeremiah 17:9. The flattery continues, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” The NIV translates this, “The heart is…beyond cure.” The NASB translates this as, “the heart is desperately sick.” That is not very complimentary. God looks at the old me. He looks at the old you. He looks at us in our unsaved condition and He says there is no cure. The heart of man is beyond curing. Nothing but death will suffice.
Look at Jeremiah 13:23. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin”? No! It is his nature to have dark skin. “Or the leopard his spots?” Can the leopard suddenly decide he wants to be striped? No! It is his nature to be spotted, and there is nothing he can do to change that. Then “may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” Just as a leopard cannot change his spots, so too, our heart is incapable of doing good and we are incapable of changing our nature. Paul learned that in Romans 7. God wants us to know it as well. Our old man with his Adamic nature is incurably sick. Now, can a leopard change his spots? No! You could shave them off, but they would grow back. You could paint the leopard, I suppose, but eventually the paint will chip off. No matter what you do to a leopard, he is going to have spots because it is his nature as a leopard. Because we are sinners by nature, sin is naturally produced. God looks at the sinner and declares that he has no chance of rehabilitation. Nothing but death can change him. God does not try to fix up the old man. God does not try to make the old man religious. God does not encourage the old man to turn over a new leaf. You see, man’s way of ‘changing his spots’ is by attempting to suppress sin. God’s way is to remove the sinner. God gets the sinner right out of the way. He crucifies the sinner so that the indwelling life of Christ can begin to manifest itself through the new nature of the believer. It is no longer I, but Christ. That is the way of spiritual growth. That is the only way of victory. Just get out of the way! Know that we were crucified. We must reckon ourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, and, allow God to work.
The Bible says that the wages of sin is death. Death is what my sin really deserves. Jesus paid that debt for me on the cross. He died for me and dealt with my sin, but that does not change my heart. It changes my sins. They are taken away. They are gone, but it does not change my incurably sick heart. God has another way of dealing with me,and His method is death. Co-crucifixion is God’s answer to me in my wretched condition. God looks at me and says there is no cure. There is no way to fix him. Let him be crucified! Religion tries to fix up the sinner. Remember what Paul learned in Romans 7. As he struggled and agonized through this he came to the realization that “in me, that is in my flesh dwells no good thing.” It is not that the old man is weak and he needs a little help. He is incurably sick. Only death will change that condition. It is kind of hard to swallow, but it is God’s way. God’s way of spiritual growth begins at the cross, where not only Jesus died, but I died with Him. At the cross, the sinner is slain. The cross is where the old man is crucified, buried, and removed. Before we can ever begin to grow, before spiritual fruit will ever begin to be manifested in our life, the sinner must be slain. This happens to every believer at the moment of saving faith. We need to recognize it as such and believe it. “Likewise, reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin…” (Rom.6:11a). The old man needs to be completely put out of the way so that Christ can live through us.
This is a far cry from what we hear from modern psychology today. Some believers (who seem to be dazzled by modern psychologists), are telling us that what we really need is to feel good about ourselves, to be puffed up with self-esteem, and that if we are going to love our neighbor, then we must first love ourselves. Phooey! Where in the Bible does it ever say we are to love ourselves? Now, Moses did say, love your neighbor as yourself, but he did not say to love self. He meant, love your neighbor as you already selfishly love yourself! Paul says in Ephesians 5:29, “No man ever yet hated his own flesh.” We take excellent care of our body of flesh. We are experts at loving self. We treat ourselves very well. God says to treat others that way. Our problem is that we love self too much. As a result, we have a hard time accepting and believing God’s estimate of our old man!
What is God’s cure for the old man? Death! That is God’s answer. Before we are ever going to enter into the process of spiritual growth we need to know and believe this. God sets us free from the dominion and the power of sin, not by strengthening the old man, but by crucifying him. Any other method of trying to produce fruit is doomed to utter failure. This is what Paul learned the hard way in Romans seven. Romans seven is a lesson in futility: flesh trying to cure itself, when God says it is incurably sick. The Law cannot improve the flesh; it can only impose the death penalty! We are not going to improve the flesh through self-discipline or self help. Over and over again, believers with good intentions, who in their minds want to serve Christ, find themselves falling into sin, frustrated, and never producing fruit.
Men have tried all kinds of methods to produce spiritual fruit. Men have invented many religious systems. Some have turned to hypnotists to get the power of sin broken in their lives. Some have turned to superstition, psychology, self-help groups, meditation, even to the occult. But all of man’s efforts to produce freedom from the bondage of sin are hopelessly doomed to failure. The flesh is incurable. They that are in the flesh cannot please God. It must be crucified, and we have to know this, and believe it. We have to reckon it to be so – count it as a fact. We need to believe it so deeply that these truths become our experience. That is what faith is all about. Trusting in what God said to the place where we finally rest in it, and it becomes an actuality in our life. By faith, our earthly condition is gradually transformed (from glory to glory) closer to our heavenly position. Faith is the victory!
In Romans 6:11, Paul says that we are to reckon ourselves to be dead indeed unto sin. Sin refers to the fallen nature that previously had enslaved us. But since we died with Christ, God says we are now free (Rom.6:7). The fact that we are crucified may sound depressing to some, but there is something wonderfully liberating about death. Well, for one thing, you do not have to pay taxes any more! Death frees us from all obligations to the IRS! Death also frees us from both obligation to, and dominion of sin. I once was sin’s slave, but no more – even though it doesn’t always feel that way. To me it does not feel any different. At times I still feel like I am under the dominion of sin. But, God says I am freed from it, and I believe Him! As I grow in my faith and lay hold of these truths, spiritual growth takes place. These truths become a reality in my life by faith.
In Galatians 2:20, Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ.” In that context he meant that he was crucified to the Law. Death also has a liberating effect from the Law of Moses. As long as you are alive, the law can dictate things to you, but the law has no power over a dead man. It makes no more demands. It can exact no more punishment. So, when we died with Christ, it was a liberating experience. It freed us from the bondage and obligation to the Law. The sin nature has no more dominion over us. The Law has no more dominion over us. When Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ,” he meant that his old self-life was crucified.
I am my own worst enemy, how about you? But God said that I was crucified with Christ. That means that my old nature does not have the power over my life that he once had. At the end of Galatians 6:14, Paul wrote, “the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” That means that because of death, (my co-crucifixion with Christ on the cross) I have been set free from the world system that once had a grip on my life. Death accomplished that for me! Death is God’s answer. It is the only way for the sinner to really experience freedom. When our old man was crucified, we were freed from self, from sin, from the law, and from the world system. The cross is liberating! Out of the ash heap of death arises a new creature in Christ that is able to walk in newness of life (see Rom. 6:4). Praise God!
We MUST know these truths, and really believe them, even when it does not feel true. We are to keep on trusting and resting in what God says. If we do not, we are doomed to the same frustration and failure that Paul describes in Romans seven. Because we are saved, we are going to want to do what is right, but if we do not know what to believe, and are not resting in Christ, then we are going to experience frustration. When we came to Christ for salvation, what was it that we had to do? All the work was done already. God wanted us to cease from our dead works. We think that somehow “I” can do something. “I” can add to His work on the cross. Yes, Christ died for me, but “I” have to be good and DO my part too. Together, we can make it. That is salvation by faith plus works. You will never be justified that way (Eph.2:8-9). God wants us to cease from all trust and confidence in our own efforts. We came to Christ as Savior by faith. We are to continue walking by faith! “As ye have therefore receive Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him” (Col.2:6). God wants us to completely cease from trusting in that old man to do anything good, because God says there is nothing good in him. He is incurably sick. Let him be crucified. We need to cease from our own efforts to produce spiritual fruit. The branch does not produce the fruit. It bears fruit as it yields to the Vine. Our job is to water, weed and take care of the plant, but only God can give the increase. Spiritual growth is what God does in us when we get out of the way and rest in Christ.
God desires for us to come to the end of self. Read Romans seven and be reminded of just how frustrating it is for the flesh to produce anything good. Get a good glimpse of just how wretched our old man really is, and agree with God. Yes, the old man deserves to be crucified. Believe it and rest in that. Then God is able to work in us to will and do of His good pleasure.
True victory, spiritual growth, and sanctification come in the very same way that justification comes – by faith and faith alone in what God did on the cross. Do you know what religion offers man? Religion offers man a life of frustration, unending toil, effort and work, vainly trying to produce something that will please God. Religion demands an endless series of good works that ultimately results in death. In contrast, consider what Jesus Christ offers man in Matthew 11:28-29. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden,” (all you that have tried so hard to produce righteousness and have found nothing but futility) “and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” In other words, God wants us to quit trying to fix the unfixable. Quit trying to cure the incurable and to simply yield our members unto God by faith. Just allow God to work in our hearts. Recognize that if anything good is going to be produced through our lives, God has to do it. I have to reckon myself to be dead, and get SELF out of the way. Yield unto the Lord. Then God is free to produce His fruit in our lives. You see, the work has already been done 2,000 years ago. When it comes to being born again, that realization has to sink into the heart of man or he will never be saved. He has to know that Jesus died for him and rose again and he has to trust in that. As a Christian, if we are ever going to grow spiritually, we also have to know that our old man died with Christ and was raised up a new creature. Trust in that. Believe it. That is God’s way of victory. As we grow and mature in the faith, and as we learn to trust more and more, we discover that it is no longer I, but Christ. He is my life and He wants to live through me. His life, His character, and His grace are manifested as I reckon the old man to be dead. When I think that my old man is dead, all I can say is praise the Lord! Now Christ lives in me. That is God’s method of sanctification. It starts with my old man being crucified with Christ. Death with Christ makes me free at last! Free from the law of sin and death! Free to walk in newness of life! Positionally, our old man died with Christ. In our daily walk, faith keeps that old man on the cross! Faith is the victory.
Who Rose From the Dead?
Scripture for Meditation: I Corinthians 15:1-4
How do I mature in the Lord? There are lots of different theories and views. In charismatic churches believers are told that suddenly, almost without warning, you get zapped by the Holy Spirit. Instantly, you are mature and spiritual. It doesn’t happen that way in the Bible. Then there is the method of sanctification taught in many of the Reformed churches in which the believer is told to produce godliness through self-discipline. We saw earlier from Romans 7 that that does not work. The Bible records God’s method of how spiritual growth really does take place in our lives. We will see that it all points back to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus provided for it all.
Substitution: Jesus Died and Rose Again
We asked the question, “Who died on the cross?” If you answered Jesus Christ, you were half right. We saw that Christ did die on the cross, but Paul tells us that we also died with Him. Now we ask the question, “who rose from the dead?” If your answer is Jesus Christ, your answer is correct. But, it is only half right, because Paul also tells us that we also rose with Jesus Christ. We want to make a distinction here in the finished work of Christ on the cross. One has to do with substitution that results in our salvation or justification. The other has to do with our identification with Him (in His death & resurrection) and that results in sanctification or spiritual growth. Paul tells us in I Corinthians 15 that Jesus rose from the dead. That is the heart of the gospel message. That is the good news – life comes out of death. There is no other way for salvation to take place. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the proof that God the Father accepted His shed blood as the final and only payment for our sin and that the work is finished (see Rom. 4:25). Therefore, there was no need for Him to remain in the grave. He rose from the dead because His work was finished!
As we consider the subject of salvation in the Bible, it is always based on faith plus nothing. The gospel message is that Jesus died for our sins and that He rose again. If we know these truths, and believe them, (trust in Him) we will be saved. We will be justified. The Bible tells us that human flesh, human efforts, human works, human merit, play absolutely no part whatsoever in our justification. It is entirely the supernatural work of God on behalf of undeserving sinners like you and me. The work of regeneration, the work of justification, and the work of redemption are finished. Jesus paid it all! It is not a mixture of His work on the cross plus our feeble human efforts. Jesus did all the work and it is finished. We should not assume that Jesus died on the cross and in conjunction with our own efforts, God now helps us to be saved. God does not help anybody to be saved. God saves us! There is absolutely nothing we add to this process. Faith and faith alone in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross is the only means of our salvation. God does not even consider our efforts. We will see in the writings of the Apostle Paul, that while these things hold true for the doctrine of justification (how we become saved), they are also equally true for the principle of sanctification and spiritual growth. Remember that sanctification is part of God’s overall package of salvation. There are three tenses of salvation:
- The past tense, justification–that day when I first believed on Christ and was saved;
- Then there is that future element of salvation, glorification–that final day when my body is redeemed;
- There is also the present tense of salvation–that is called spiritual growth or progressive sanctification.
All of it is part of God’s package of salvation. All of it is by faith. It is the supernatural work of God, and God designed it that way so that no flesh could ever glory in His presence. When Jesus died and rose again, He dealt with my sins. The penalty and payment for my sin was paid in full. Because Jesus died for me, because Jesus rose again for me, I can be justified, saved, regenerated, reconciled to God. The fact that Jesus died and rose again deals with my sin, but it does not change my heart. It does not deal with me. It does not deal with my old man. It dealt with my sin, but not with me.
Identification: I Died and Rose Again with Christ
Now we want to consider what God did with you and me. It is not very flattering. Paul says in Romans 6:3-4, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Here the Apostle Paul is speaking about Spirit baptism. It is not water baptism, but Spirit baptism. The moment we put our faith in Jesus Christ, God immerses us (baptizes us) into the body of Christ and we become one with Jesus Christ. Because the believer has been baptized into Christ, we are now “In Him” and become identified with Him in His death and burial, and also in His resurrection.
Faith unites us to Christ. In God’s plan, when Jesus died and rose again, “I” died and rose again. This baptism changes me. I am no longer in Adam. Now God sees me as a new creature risen in Christ. The fact that I died with Christ and rose again changes my nature. This is what we want to consider here.
Every believer was as Paul describes in I Corinthians 15–in Adam. In Adam we were dead in our trespasses and sins. In Adam, we partook of his nature, the Adamic nature–fallen, corrupt, sinful human nature. Adam begat sons in his own likeness and in his own image. Every one of the sons of Adam (including you and me) were all born with that fallen, corrupt, Adamic nature. We shared in his condemnation as well. Yet we discover in Romans chapter six, that God says we died to sin. That is good news. We died with Christ by virtue of our identification with Him. We died to sin; we died to the sin nature. That son of Adam (I used to be) was crucified. He is buried; he is gone; he is dead. We saw before in Romans 6:7 that “he that is dead is freed from sin.” Again, that is good news. That means I do not have to sin any more. I have been freed from the bondage and shackles of sin. My identification with Christ in His death freed and delivered me from sin. Therefore Paul is able to say in Romans 6:14, “sin shall not have dominion over you.” That is good new, indeed!
We have been set free. We have been delivered from the bondage of sin. And, get this point– God is not asking you or me to break the power of sin in our lives. He is not telling us that we are committed to an endless cycle of frustration by trying to break the chains of sin. What God is telling us is that it is done! That it is finished. He wants us to believe that what Jesus accomplished on the cross has already provided redemption. It has already delivered me from the power (dominion) of sin in my life. God does not ask me to break the power of sin, rather He asks me to believe that Jesus did it already, and that the work was finished on the cross. He just wants me to believe it and to rest in that fact. We sing that song, “He broke the power of canceled sin, he set the prisoner free.” That is exactly what Paul is speaking about here. When Jesus died on the cross, I died with Him. That broke the power of sin in my life, and it set me free. The former slave to sin is now free! God does not tell me to break or smash the power of sin. Remember that our flesh is incurably sick. There is no way we are going to free ourselves. What God really asks us to do is to believe in the work Jesus accomplished 2,000 years ago.
Our death with Jesus Christ is only half the story. As wonderful as it is (in that it broke the power of sin, that it set the prisoner free), there is more. In Romans 6:7 Paul says we have been made free from the bondage of sin. In Romans 6:14 he says we are no longer under the dominion of sin. Again, that is only half the story. That tells me that now that I am redeemed, I do not have to sin. But, how can I ever do anything good? Remember what Paul says in Romans 7:18, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.” Nothing is good in my flesh. Now Paul tells us in Romans 6:4 that in the very same way we were buried with Christ, we also rose from the dead with Jesus Christ. We are in Him by means of this Spirit baptism. We have been united with Him. We are no longer in Adam. We are now in Christ. Paul tells us often in his epistles, (in various ways) that we are now in Christ. We share in His death and resurrection.
This is an exceedingly important principle in the Bible. Let me share an illustration I once read. Just suppose that there was a liver taken out of a debased criminal. It was then transplanted into a man who was one of the most upright citizens in the community. We would no longer consider that liver to be a criminal. That liver has now taken part in the nature of that new man. This liver now functions in the new man in a very new way. He is not that criminal any more. He has been brought into this new relationship with this new man–an organic union with this new man. That is exactly what Paul says happened to us when we put our faith in Christ. We have been made part of the body of Christ. We have been united to the Lord Jesus Christ and that changes everything about us. That means we died with Him because we are in Christ. When Jesus rose from the dead, we also rose as new creatures in Christ. God looks at us in a totally different fashion now than He did before. What does Paul tell us in Ephesians 1? Where is Christ by the way? He not only rose from the dead, but He ascended into Heaven. And now the Lord Jesus Christ is at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly realm. Do you know what Paul tells us over and over again? We too are seated in the heavenlies! If we are born again, that is how God views us. We are already citizens of Heaven. It is just as if we were there already. We are told to walk worthy of that high calling, because we really are a new man.
When we came to Christ and were saved, our salvation was much more that just receiving forgiveness of sins. I do not mean to minimize or belittle that. It is a wonderful thing to have our sins forgiven. But there is much more to this salvation that God has given us. Not only has God buried my sins, but also He has changed me. I have a whole new relationship to Him. It is all because God now sees me in Christ Jesus.
In that position, I am able to do things I was not able to do before. Now I share in all that Jesus Christ is, and in all that Jesus Christ has done. It is all mine. It is all part of me now and I am part of Him. Christ dwells in me and I live in Him. I am His and He is mine!
In Adam, we were united with Adam. But in Christ we are now united in Him. Look in Romans 6:11 where Paul says, “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin…” Now that is only half the story. We are dead to sin. We do not have to sin any more. We have been set free. Here is the good part… “But alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” He rose from the dead. Now we are alive in Him. In Romans 6:4, Paul talks about the fact that we are now able to walk in newness of life because we have been resurrected with Jesus Christ. Sometimes we see these truths in the Bible and skim over them, failing to see how central they are to our faith and to our relationship to the risen Savior.
Let us look at Colossians 3. This is right before Paul exhorts the Colossians to put on bowels of mercy and kindness and humbleness, and meekness, and longsuffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another. Before he mentions any of those commands–he says in verse one, “If ye then be risen with Christ.” And that could be translated equally as well, “since you have been risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” That is our new position. We are in Him in the heavenlies. He says in verse three, “For ye are dead.” Your old man was crucified. Yet, of your new life he says, “your life is hid with Christ in God.” So, even though I died with Christ, I still have a life and that life is hidden with Christ in God. It is a new kind of a life. Look in verse four. He tells us even more what our life is like. He says, “When Christ, who is our life…” This is absolutely central to Christianity. This is what is unique in this dispensation. Jesus Christ dwells within us. He is our life.
Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ…” The old me was formerly in bondage to sin and had no other recourse but to live in sin. Of that old man, Paul says “I am crucified with Christ…” “Nevertheless” in another sense I am still living, Paul says. Yet, it is not I. It is not the old “I.” He is crucified, “but Christ liveth in me.” The “life which I now live in the flesh,” I live not by the ways of the old man, but I live now by the faith of the Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself for me. That old self is gone. He is crucified. He is buried. Now there is a new “I”, and my new life is so closely related to Christ, Paul says, that Christ is my life. “For to me to live is Christ…” (Phil. 1:21).
In Ephesians 2:1 Paul said that we “were dead in trespasses and sins” but God “who is rich in mercy, for the great love wherein he loved us” (Eph. 2:4) saved us and He raised us together and seated us in heavenly places with Jesus Christ (vs. 5-6).
We want to note that these truths that relate to this close, unique relationship to Christ are found most often in the writings of the Apostle Paul. He was the man God chose to deliver these unique Church truths. Paul, in a very special way, was God’s messenger for these wonderful mysteries about our relationship to the risen Savior. Paul spoke often in his epistles about our identification with Jesus Christ in His death, burial, resurrection and ascension. He tells us that we are complete in Him.
The Lord Jesus gave an illustration of how growth takes place in God’s program, God’s plan. It is different from what we might assume. Jesus said in John 12:24, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone…” Consider that little seed, that little kernel of wheat. Until it is planted and dies, it abides all alone. It is nothing but an insignificant little kernel. But if it dies and is buried in the earth, it brings forth much fruit. The Lord Jesus was using that as an illustration of His entire ministry. He was about to die, and out of death came new life. Out of death came a new life that was filled with fruitfulness. That is the very same principle by which we are to grow as well as believers.
Remember, in Romans 6:6, Paul said, “that the old man is crucified, that the body of sin might be destroyed.” This old body, this frail human body that has been captivated by sin is rendered inoperative through our death with Christ. Here is the purpose of my death, the crucifixion of the old man–“that henceforth we should not serve sin,” that we might not be slaves to sin anymore. I died to sin that I might become freed from its bondage and power. In Romans 6, Paul also tells us that once we died with Christ, we are identified with His death and burial. We are also resurrected with Him. We are identified with Him in His resurrection so that we can walk in newness of life. The purpose of being identified with Christ in His death and resurrection is that on the one hand we will stop producing corrupt fruit, and, on the other hand, we will start producing good fruit. That is totally impossible apart from the work of God in us.
We are going to see that just as justification is by faith, so too sanctification is by faith. The fact that Jesus died for me and Jesus rose again for me means that I can be saved. The fact that I died with Him, and I rose with Him, means that I now can live the right kind of life. I am now able to walk in newness of life. The Bible tells us that because of our relationship to Jesus in His resurrection, some wonderful things are true. II Corinthians 5:17 (a verse most of us have already memorized), says, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ…” That is our new position. Because we are in Christ, we share in His death, burial, and also His resurrection. We are raised with Him as new creatures.
How many of us can create something? None of us can. That is something only God can do. We can make things. A carpenter can take previously created materials and make something useful out of them. But, a carpenter cannot create wood. We cannot create anything. That is the supernatural work of God and God alone. Yet, the Bible tells us that by virtue of our identification with Jesus Christ, we are new creations. God did something in me the moment I was saved. It is a wonderful thing. He made me a new creature, a new creation. The old me is dead. Praise the Lord! God has made me new. I could not make me new. I tried and failed. God had to do it.
It is not that the old life is changed. It is that the old life is exchanged for an entirely new life! It is not that our old self has been improved. Our old self has passed away as Paul says. It is not the old creation with some improvements made. It is not the old man that has been fortified with a little extra strength. It is not the old self with a face-lift. Paul says we are new creations.
Look at Ephesians 4:24 where again Paul tells us what God did the moment we put our faith in Christ. He wrote, “And that ye put on the new man…” This is not a command. Rather Paul was telling them truths they had already been taught. You have put off the old man already at the moment of saving faith. That is what we taught you. And, you have put on the new man. This has already happened. And notice, this new man, “after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” That is hard to believe. I am so accustomed to my own personal day by day experience, and it does not always seem that I am righteous. It does not always feel like I have been created in true holiness. But, God does not want me to live by my feelings. God wants me to live by the facts. These are the facts–God said, I created you. You are a new creature whether you feel like it or not, whether is seems like it or not.
Look at what Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10. Right after explaining in verses 8 and 9 that our works have nothing to do with our salvation, Paul says in verse 10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.” Notice how God views us. We are His work. We are His masterpiece. We were created in this position in Christ Jesus. You see, all the way through, it is not our work. If we are saved, God is at work in every one of our lives. God is active and He wants to bring His will and His work to fruition in our lives.
II Corinthians 3:18 says, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord…” As we open the Scriptures, and meditate upon the Person and work of Jesus Christ and see the glory of God, what happens? We are changed into the same image from glory to glory. And who does this? Are we to be constantly struggling to discipline the self-life and change the old man? No! The Spirit of God is working in me. My job is to meditate on Christ and behold His glory. God’s job is to change me to bring that transformation about. I could never do it. It is a supernatural work. It is the work of the Spirit of God in the hearts of yielded believers. Jesus puts it this way– We are like a branch in a vine, and a branch on its own is useless. He said, “without Me you can do nothing.” However, every branch that abides in Christ will bear fruit. What is the responsibility of the branch? We don’t manufacture fruit. We don’t produce fruit. We bear fruit. Our responsibility as a branch is to make sure that we are abiding in Christ. He is our life. Stay close to Him. His life will change us. It is not that we are to struggle and try to make these changes. Instead, we are to develop our relationship to Him. He is everything– He is our life! When that is a reality in our moment by moment, day by day living, fruit is naturally going to take place. Jesus said that “without me ye can do nothing,” and He was not kidding. Paul said that in our flesh dwells no good thing and he was not kidding, either. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:13, “it is God who worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” So, when we have this inner desire to do that which is right, thank God for it. When we are actually doing things that are right in God’s sight, praise God. It is God working in us.
In II Peter 1:4 we read, “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature…” In Adam, we were partakers of the Adamic nature. He is dead. That old man that was united to Adam has been crucified. He is buried. Now that we have new life in Christ, we are no longer enslaved to the Adamic nature. Death with Christ set us free. We now have a new nature, a divine nature. That does not mean that we become little gods. But, it does mean that we have been made like Jesus Christ. It is our nature, as we are yielded to Him, to bear fruit. It is a new nature that delights in the things of God, that wants to do what is right, that wants to please God, that wants to be yielded and surrendered to the Lord. God has inclined this new nature to obey Him. This is all because we have been raised with Jesus Christ from the dead. It really is a new life. God never asks us to reform the old life, to try to cure the incurable old man, or to try to fix up the old nature. Rather, God says, I have given you a new nature. What is that new nature like? It is like Jesus Christ who lives in us. I was crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live, yet not I, not that old I, but Christ lives in me. The life I am now living in the flesh, I live now, not by the old man, but by the faith of the Son of God who loves me and gave Himself for me. You see, we as believers have an entirely new system of life, once we have entered into new life with Christ. The Christian life is not the old I trying to do my best to please God. That is what Paul struggled with in Romans 7:24 until he finally shrieked out in horror, “Oh, wretched man that I am!” I cannot do it. Lord, help me remember what Jesus did on the cross, I died with Him. The struggle is over when we come to that realization and rest in it. It is not self trying to do its best. It is not the old self life trying to discipline itself. It is rather Christ living His life through me. The life of Christ is manifested in us and through us.
We were identified with Jesus Christ in His resurrection. We have been raised into heavenly places in Christ and are new creations. We have a new nature. We have a new life, and here Paul tells us we have entered into a new sphere. He said in Ephesians 2:5-6, “Even when we were [previously] dead in sins,” (God) “hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in…” Where? In this new position, in “Christ Jesus.” Our faith has identified us with Him and we have been baptized into Him. We are like that liver transplanted in a new man. We now partake of all that the new man is and has. It changes us completely. We enter into a new realm, a new sphere. Here, Paul tells us that now because of our identification with Christ, we have been elevated, ascended into the very heavenlies themselves. That is where the believer is to live and to dwell. In this new sphere, sin has no more dominion over us – not in the heavenlies! The Devil has no more dominion over us – not in the heavenlies! And, neither does our own fallen nature have dominion over us. We have been delivered, rescued, redeemed, ascended and are now entirely new creatures in Christ. The good news is that this has already been done. God does not ask us to do anything when it comes to salvation. All the work that is necessary for spiritual growth, sanctification and Christlikeness has already been completed 2,000 years ago on the cross.
So, by means of our union with Jesus Christ, the power of sin has been broken. God dealt with my old nature. When Jesus died and rose again, He dealt with my sin. When I reckon myself to be dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God, when I realize that I died and rose again with Him, God deals with me. In the song, Rock of Ages, we sing “Be of sin, the double cure, saved from wrath…”–that is justification. “And make me pure…”–that is sanctification. The songwriter knew that when Jesus died on the cross, His death provided not only salvation and justification, but also for sanctification and spiritual growth. It can save me and make me pure. It is a double cure. It is the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross that accomplished all aspects of salvation. It is His work for us.
Romans chapter six is a central passage where Paul explains how it all works. He tells us we died with Jesus Christ. What are we supposed to do with those facts? In Romans 6:6 he says he wants us to know this. If we are going to grow God’s way, we have to learn. We have to open up His plan book. The Bible is His book. He has told us how growth takes place. If we ignore His method, no matter how hard we try, (with hypnotists, or self-discipline or psychology) we are doomed to failure. Here is God’s way. God says our old man died, and in Romans 6:6, we need to know it. We need to get this information into our heads and into our hearts. We really did die with Jesus Christ.
As a result, I do not have to sin. Romans 6:7 says that “he that is dead is freed from sin.” God wants me to know it, to reckon it to be so, to believe it. In Romans 6:4 he says because of my identification with Christ and His resurrection, I am also able to walk in newness of life. In the very same sense, in Romans 6:11 Paul says “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God…” I died with Christ; I do not have to sin. I rose with Christ; I am able to walk in newness of life. I can obey God. I can have a holy life. I can manifest Christ’s likeness in my life.
But, it sure does not always seem like it. I seem like the same old man I always was. I still struggle with sin. Yet, God tells me that my faith is to rest on truth–not on my feelings or experiences. When I approach a temptation, or a struggle or a trial in my life, a difficult situation, I need to be conscious of the FACT that my old man really is dead, because God said so. I do not have to sin, and I really can have victory. I really can walk in newness of life–because God said so. It is no longer I. There is not a trace of self-confidence in this. It is confidence, but confidence in God, because now I know that Christ lives in me. As I yield myself unto God, Christ’s life and power is manifested through my yielded members.
God wants us to know these truths, to walk in them, and to believe them, no matter how hard it is to believe them. It is true because God said so. We are to reckon it to be true in our daily experience, moment by moment, and to keep on believing these things, because victory is through faith.
God has dealt with the power of sin over my life by identifying me with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a new life entirely. I rose as a new creation. Now my life is hidden with Christ in God. It is safe. It is protected and it is able to walk in newness of life. God says it is a new creation, created in righteousness and true holiness. Not the phony kind of holiness that religion offers, but true holiness, the kind that God creates.
This is all true, not because I was good, not because I tried real hard, not because I am stronger than the average Joe, but because I reckon myself to be dead indeed unto sin and alive unto God and because I allow Jesus Christ to use my yielded members. He manifests Himself through me. That is how growth takes place. Victory is based on faith and faith alone.
These facts are true. I really did die with Christ. I really am a new creature in Him. This is true of every single born again believer, whether that believer understands it or not. However, these truths do not do us any good unless we understand them and follow God’s plan of sanctification. We absorb these truths in our minds and hearts and they become ours. In time they become our experience. God wants us to know that our old man is dead, that we do not have to sin, even when it seems that he is still alive and kicking. God wants me to believe what He says, trust what He says, and rest in Him. Then, victory is ours.
Here is a good description of faith. It does not feel like my old man is dead. But that is what the Bible says. Faith rests in that. Faith takes comfort in that. Faith stops trying and toiling and simply rests in what God says. As I consider some of the commands God has given me, I may not feel like I am able to walk in newness of life, but God says that I am able. I am responsible for my new life. I have to walk. I have to take that step, not in self-confidence, but in confidence that God is true and that He will work in me. We can rely on what God has said. Paul prayed for the Ephesians that God would open the eyes of their understanding so that they would know their high calling in Christ and the exceeding greatness of His power. The power that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power that is available for us and indwells us in the Person of the Holy Spirit, every moment of every day. That is the fact. Faith rests on that fact. The fact is that the Holy Spirit lives in me, and He is never going to forsake me. Faith rests in that fact. The fact is that God said we can do all things through Christ. Anything God calls us to do we can do through Christ Who strengthens us. That is the fact. My faith rests on those facts. The fact is, that as I am yielded to Him, it is God working in me both to will and to do of His good pleasure. My faith rests on that fact. The fact is that the shield of faith is able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. My faith rests on that fact. The fact is that God says sin shall no longer have dominion over me. My faith rests on that fact, and I take one step of faith after another. Behold–I am now WALKING in newness of life, yet not I (the old I) but Christ!
You see, faith is different from feelings. Our feelings are like roller coasters. They can take us far away from God. True faith does not operate on the basis of our feelings. Faith rests upon the facts. Faith does not go by my experiences–my past failures or my past successes. Faith does not rest on anything but God’s truth. And, do you know what Jesus said? Faith can do what seems impossible. By faith, we can live a victorious Christian life. By faith we can walk with God because Christ lives in me. Is anything too hard for the Lord? He lives in me. He wants to manifest His life through my yielded members. We struggle with anger, with jealousy, with lust. We seem unable to forgive, unable to deal with bitterness in our life, unable to have victory over cigarettes, or alcohol, or sex, or drugs, or what ever it might be. But, is anything to hard for the Lord? God wants us to live by faith, to walk by faith, not by sight or experiences or by feelings. God wants us, by faith, to attempt the impossible. What the New Testament commands us to do really IS impossible in the flesh. They that are in the flesh cannot please God. Without faith it is impossible to please Him. But true faith can move mountains! It can even control my temper! It can tame my tongue! It can cause me to be content! It can even enable me to love as Christ loves! It can enable me to forgive others as Christ forgave me! As we take that step of faith, the indwelling Holy Spirit enables us to walk in newness of life, and to manifest the indwelling life of CHRIST through our yielded members! There is not a trace of self-confidence. It is not a matter of self-discipline. It is a matter of reckoning self to be dead and alive unto God. It is nothing but pure faith in GOD and His ability to transform us into the image of His dear Son… as we surrender and yield ourselves to Him. He will keep His Word. Trust Him! “Walk in the Spirit and ye SHALL NOT fulfill the lusts of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). When all else fails, try God’s method of victory: Quit struggling and trying to reform and improve the old self… the flesh. It’s incurably sick! In my flesh dwelleth NO good thing. Quit trying to produce spiritual fruit on our own. Without Christ we can do nothing! Branches on their own can do nothing. Quit trying to conquer sin… you’ll never win! Come to the end of self by reckoning self to be dead, crucified. BELIEVE that you died with Christ and rose again with Him! Believe that Christ lives in you and you are a new creature. HE is able to produce spiritual growth in you as you yield to Him. Yield yourself to God as one who is ALIVE from the dead and let Him do a work in your heart. Surrender, yield, submit, and bow before Him. Divine life and power are available to produce in us what we could never produce on our own– bring forth fruit unto the glory of God! Instead of struggling to tame the untamable… striving to cure the incurable… vainly toiling to draw something good out of the flesh… why not REST in the finished work of Christ and walk by faith?
You weren’t SAVED by the efforts of the flesh. You will never be SANCTIFIED by self-effort either. Victory is through Christ–through faith in His work on the cross.
Let Not Sin Reign
Scripture for Meditation: Romans 6:12
God gives us a simple command in Romans 6:12. “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body.” I suppose we could loosely paraphrase this command as don’t sin! It sounds so easy!
In the very next chapter, Paul makes another statement, and I am sure this is true of every single one of us. We do not want to sin. If we are born again, God has given us a new heart. God has really changed us. Paul says in Romans 7:18, “for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” Now, I am sure that we all could say amen to that. We do not want to sin. If we are born again, there is a genuine desire not to sin. But, our trouble is this– how to perform it. Notice once again the command in Romans 6:12, “Let not sin therefore reign.” That little word, therefore, connects this command with the immediate context, and that is what we want to see. God has told us not to sin, and not only has he given us the command, He has also told us how it can take place in our day to day lives.
Too often in Christian circles and Bible believing churches, this is the scene. Men are told that Jesus died for them and that He rose again. They believe those truths and are genuinely saved. God has changed their hearts and they want to do what is right. To will is present with them. Yet, from many pulpits, the only message they ever hear is how to be saved. Week after week after week, all they hear is John 3:16 and truths that deal with justification and the new birth. They hear much about the fact that Jesus died for me. Then week after week the appeal is made to come on forward after the service. They are begged and pleaded with to come forward after a service and consecrate themselves to the Lord that they might stop sinning. Many are made to feel guilty. Jesus died for you! The least you could do is live for Him. The result is often the kind of frustration that Paul describes in Romans 7. To will is present, but how to perform is not known. Very often we discover in these services, where people are pleaded with to come forward, you see the same folks coming forward to consecrate themselves, and re-consecrate and re-re-consecrate themselves. It is a very frustrating kind of existence. It is nothing more than self attempting to avoid the death penalty. The Bible tells us that the fruitful, victorious life of a believer comes through death – reckoning self to be dead indeed unto sin. This is God’s plan: life, growth, and fruit take place after the seed dies, is planted in the ground and is buried. That is the principle of Christian living. First and foremost we need to reckon that we died with Christ. Yes, He died for me, but I died with Him. God wants us as believers to move beyond those truths that deal simply with how to get saved and to go on to truths that deal with how to live. Getting saved is wonderful. I do not want to minimize the new birth, but it is only the first step in a life of faith. The new birth introduces us into a whole life of walking in that very same kind of faith. “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him” (Col. 2:6). How did we receive the Lord Jesus? We received Christ by faith! How are we to walk in our Christian life? The very same way – by faith. The believer needs to go beyond those birth truths. Regeneration, reconciliation, redemption, and all those wonderful truths stem from the fact of Christ’s death for us. However, we need to mature and to go on to those truths that relate to the fact that I died and rose with Him.
Victory is through faith. If we are not reckoning ourselves to be dead indeed unto sin and alive unto God, then we are doomed to a life of fruitlessness and frustration. God’s method of victory is by faith. As we look at the study of spiritual growth, there are two extremes we want to avoid. These were mentioned earlier, but they are worth repeating. On the one hand, we want to avoid the extreme of the Charismatic Movement, which basically encourages the believer to let go of all of his faculties and the Holy Spirit will “zap” you and instantly you will be mature and fruitful. On the other hand, we have the teaching of Reformed theology in which the believer is commanded to crucify himself daily, to discipline himself and practice godliness. They claim that as you practice it, you discipline yourself, deny yourself, and you work on self-control, striving and struggling day after day, that eventually this kind of self discipline will result in godliness. The Bible tells us that the opposite is true. Self-discipline, temperance, or self-control is not the root from which sanctification comes. Rather the Bible tells us that temperance or self-control or self-discipline is the fruit of a sanctified life. Self-control is the fruit of the Spirit. God’s method is to avoid these two extremes. There is on the one hand the Charismatic extreme where I just let go of everything and God will take over. And on the other hand, there is the other extreme of legalism in the Reformed circles in which they claim that it is my responsibility to discipline self… I have got to change myself… I have to struggle under the law.
In the Bible we discover that in one sense, spiritual growth is passive. It is God working in me both to will and do of His good pleasure. It is His work. On the other hand we discover that we have a responsibility and we must never let go of our faculties. I am responsible to control my mind and my heart, my intellect, my emotion, and my will. I need to be actively engaged in the process. Here is the key that links the two together. It is no longer I, the old I, but it is that new man that has been raised from the dead.
In the last two chapters we looked at two important truths that relate to the cross. The cross is the center of it all. We saw in Romans 6, that Jesus died, and I died with Him. Because of the fact that my old man was crucified with Him, we should no longer serve sin. I died with Christ, my old man is dead, therefore, I am no longer a slave to sin. I am free. On the other hand we saw that I was also raised from the dead with Jesus Christ. That means I am not only free from the bondage to sin, but now, because of the resurrected life of Christ, I am able to walk in newness of life. What we want to see here is that sanctification or spiritual growth is not based on what “I” do. It is not how hard I struggle. Sanctification is based on what Jesus did on the cross. Christ’s work on the cross and my identification with His death and resurrection, means the cross not only saved me from wrath (justification), but it makes me pure (sanctification).
Paul tells us in these chapters that we need to KNOW these truths. We need to reckon them to be true in our lives. In other words, we need to really believe it even when it does not feel that I am free from sin. It does not seem like I am able to walk in newness of life, nevertheless, God says something happened when I put my faith in Christ. He simply wants me to walk by faith, with my faith resting upon His Word. What He said is true and I need to act as if it really were true in my life.
When our faith rests upon these facts in God’s Word, we are able to walk because the resurrection power of God is unleashed in our lives and the indwelling life of Christ will manifest His fruit. I suppose we could liken this to Peter walking on the water. Peter was in the midst of a storm and he said, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water” (Mt. 14:28). Do you know what Jesus’ response was? He said, “Come” (Mt. 14:29). Peter acted in obedience to an impossible command. (And that is what Christianity is all about. God has given sinners the impossible command to be holy!) In response to an impossible command, with his eyes on the Lord, trusting in Jesus, believing that what Jesus said He was able to perform, Peter took a step of faith and he walked on the water. A miracle took place, something Peter was incapable of doing on his own. The flesh has no power to do that. But as his eyes were on the Lord, and he was trusting Him, Peter placed his faith on what Jesus said, and took a step of faith. And God’s power held him up until his eyes turned to the storm. In a very real sense, that principle of faith is how we are to live day by day.
Let Not Sin Reign in Your Members (Rom. 6:12)
Paul said in Romans 6:12, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body.” This phrase, “let not sin reign” is one word in the original and it is the verb form of the word for king. And Paul is telling the Romans (and us as we read this), that we are not to allow sin to reign in our body. Before we came to Christ as our Savior, sin did reign. Look at Romans 5:21, where Paul says, “sin hath reigned unto death…” That is the life of an unsaved man, and if you are reading this, and are not born again, you are a slave to sin. You are subject (enslaved) to the sin nature within your breast, which is corrupt, and you are totally at its mercy – but it has no mercy. Our identification with Christ in His death and also in His resurrection changes all that for those who are born again. In Romans 6:14, Paul states, “sin shall not have dominion over you.” We are free from sin. Romans 6:7 says, “he that is dead is freed from sin.” Now, these are wonderful truths, but we do not always experience that in our day to day lives. Let us be honest. Sometimes we do submit to sin. Sometimes we do cave into the evil monarch, the sin nature. The principle of sin that reigns in our mortal bodies speaks and we bow before it and sin. What Romans 6 tells us is that we do not have to sin any more. There was a time before we came to Christ as Savior we had to do sin’s bidding. We are free now! Now Paul says, do not allow sin to reign any more! We really ARE free because God made us that way through salvation. Our new heart’s desire is to obey God, “for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Rom. 7:18).
Neither Yield Ye Your Members (Rom. 6:13a)
Paul tells us what the real problem is in this chapter. Look at Romans 6:13. Here is how, by God’s grace and mercy, we are able to NOT yield ourselves to sin, and we are able to yield ourselves unto God. Notice the first part of the verse which states, “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin.” Remember that sinhere (singular) is not the individual act of sin, but it is the principle of sin. He likens it in this chapter to an evil king who used to have utter dominion over us. Paul says, we are not to yield to him the members of our body: our eyes, our ears, our tongues, our hands, our feet, our hearts, or our minds. Here, Paul refers to the members of our bodies as potential instruments of sin. Instruments are tools that our fallen, sinful, human nature is able to use for his evil purpose. The principle of sin wants to use my body, (and your body!) to accomplish his evil deeds through us. Paul says here, do not yield your members unto him. Why? His reign is over. Death has separated us from that evil king. We died with Christ. We do not have to listen to his evil bidding any more. Death changes everything – I died with Christ. Yet, this old king does not want to go away. This old king did not die. We died to him, but he did not die. The principle of sin still lives in our members and tries to convince us that we have to obey him. We need to be reminded that he has no more authority over us because God said so. I do not have to submit to him any more because God said so. When I believe that and refuse to yield the members of my body unto the principle of sin, that evil king is utterly powerless. He can do nothing through me unless I, through an act of my own will, voluntarily yield my tongue to him, or my eyes to him, or my heart to him, or my mind to him, or my hands. His authority is ended. He is utterly powerless unless we say yes to him and yield our members as instruments for him to use.
You see, everything really has changed since we came to know Christ. Death changed everything. We died with Christ and we rose again. We are new creatures. It is wonderful that Jesus died for me. That is how we become born again, by believing those facts. But, after that, God wants us to go on and mature by remembering, and believing, and reckoning that we died with Him. Therefore, we are free. The sin nature that still dwells in me is just as powerful as ever. However, the chains have been cut asunder, and I do not have to render allegiance to him any more. His dominion has been broken! Praise the Lord!
This puts us in the driver’s seat, so to speak. You see the Christian now has two natures. We have that old nature that delights in sin, and we have a new nature that delights in God. Naturally there is going to be a desire for holiness. The will is present with me to do what is right. But there is also another nature, another principle warring in the members of my body dragging me into sin. I need to be aware of what my constitution is as a believer–how I am made up. We need to know that we are free. Now we can, by God’s grace, have victory over our old nature. We can render sin, (the principle of sin in our body) to be completely inoperative by an act of our will. That is what Christian freedom is all about–being free from bondage to self and sin.
Notice that these truths are in light of the fact that we died with Jesus Christ. On the cross, Jesus not only died for my sins, but He died for sin. Paul makes a big distinction in Romans 6 and 7 between sin in the singular, (which is my sinful nature, the root of all of my troubles) and sins, the fruit, the individual acts of sin–stealing, lying, swearing, cursing, adultery, and all the rest. Those are acts of sin. There is a big distinction between the root, (the sin nature) and the fruit, (the acts of sin).
Paul writes in Romans 8:3, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh.” There is no point in struggling under the Law anymore, for “God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” God does not forgive sin, (the nature, the root). The nature, the principle of sin, God did not forgive. It is always corrupt. It is always vile. It is always opposed to God. There is no good thing in that principle of sin, our sin nature. He condemned it to death on the cross. Just as God does not forgive Satan, but instead, He conquered him. God conquered our sin nature when Jesus died, and we died with Him. He condemned our old man (the kind of person we were when we were enslaved to that sin nature) to death on the cross. God did not forgive our old self-life – He crucified him. My old man was crucified with Christ. God does forgive my sins, the individual acts of sin. He will forgive every one of them. It does not matter if there are 10 trillion of them. God’s grace is big enough to cover every act of sin I have ever committed. And, this is the gospel, that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that He rose again. We need to know that on the cross, God not only dealt with the fruit, but He dealt with the root of the problem. The root of the problem was my sin nature and it was condemned on the cross with Jesus Christ. The cross not only deals with my personal sins, it also dealt with me and my sin nature. The sin nature was forever condemned on the cross. It is always contrary to the Spirit. In the flesh, there is no good thing. There is nothing redeemable about it; it is incurably sick. God says it was to be crucified. Sin is condemned. It has already been judged. It is a defeated foe in very much the same way that Satan is a defeated foe. When Jesus died on the cross, He defeated Satan and all the powers of darkness. He rose from the dead triumphing over them in it. They are a defeated enemy. Although defeated, our sin nature and Satan are very much alive and active today. The good news of the gospel is that we can have victory because of what Jesus did. He has already provided victory over Satan. He has already provided victory over the world system. He has already provided victory over my old nature. And, that is good news. Do you know why? God has said that we are not to let sin reign any more (stop sinning). Nothing could be more frustrating than trying to conquer or cure the sin nature when God says it is incurably sick. We will never do it. There is no good thing in it. We will never reform it. It will never be “fixed.” Therefore God says do not even bother trying.
Our old man was crucified. The sin nature was condemned to death on the cross. Our responsibility as Christians is not to try to conquer the nature of sin. Jesus already did that. He condemned sin on the cross. It is a defeated foe. My death with Jesus Christ separates me from that sin nature. The chains have been torn asunder! And, I no longer have to be a slave. I no longer have to submit to this evil monarch. God says in Romans 6:12, “Let not sin THEREFORE reign in your mortal body.” “Therefore” (in light of the fact that our sin nature has been judged and is now defeated), we do not have to allow sin to dominate our bodies any more. The context tells us exactly how that can take place. In Romans 6:11, Paul says, “Likewise RECKON ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God.” This is faith in God’s Word. We are to know and believe what God said. He said that we died and that we rose again with Christ. We trust in what Jesus accomplished on the cross–that He really did victor over my sin nature. I am now free, and simple, childlike faith applies the cross to my daily walk. Faith applies the cross to my personal experience, to that temptation I am facing, or to that test I am facing. Faith enables me to appropriate this truth in my daily walk, moment by moment.
As time goes on and we mature in the Lord, faith has a transforming effect in our lives. It transforms the condition of my daily walk and it transforms it from glory to glory–closer and closer to my position in Christ. That transformation is the result of God working in me by faith, and is not the result of self struggling in the flesh. Faith is the victory. Now, doubt still listens to that evil king, our sin nature. Doubt still listens to him saying, you HAVE to obey me. Doubt trembles before our sin nature. It causes me to remember all my past failures. It causes me to see myself as a hopeless sinner totally enslaved to this sin nature. It causes me to cave in. It causes me to believe sin really does have dominion over me–even in spite of the fact that God says his dominion is over! Faith enables me to believe God. It is as simple as that. Faith enables me to believe that I am free in Christ Jesus. The truth shall set you free when your faith rests on the truth of God’s Word. We are free indeed. When I face that temptation, when I face that trial, when I face that difficult situation, my knees may be knocking together. It may not feel like I have any strength whatsoever. But, if I take a step of faith, (however feeble it may seem) God’s power is right there to hold me up, as I obey Him and walk in faith. (Like Peter walking on water!)
We need to understand that God always honors His Word. That old man will be rendered inoperative by the principle of faith. When he has no instrument to use, no member of my body yielded to him, he can do nothing through me. He is powerless. This is extremely practical truth.
Just say for example, your boss is having a bad day (again!). He starts yelling at you for no good reason. What is your immediate reaction? Get him back! Strike back! But, if we have been abiding in Christ, if we have been yielding to the Lord moment by moment, having communion and fellowship with God, if we have been reckoning ourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God, we have the power of the resurrection available to us not to yield our tongue to sin. We can say no to sin by God’s grace. Without a yielded tongue, our sin nature is inoperative. He can do nothing through us. He is unable to say anything.
Just suppose a brother in the Lord has been stabbing you in the back. That happens sometimes. He is gossiping and spreading all kinds of dirt about you, and you just happen to have some pretty good dirt about that brother. What do we do? The old man will give us 1,001 excuses why it is OK to spread dirt about him. But, if we have been abiding in Christ, if we have had a heart of submission to God, surrendered to Him, we can refuse to yield our tongue unto sin. If our old nature has no tongue to use, then he is powerless. The only thing that is going to be manifested is Christlikeness through our life.
That old king (sin nature) is telling you that you need to go on line and open up some pornographic web site, or open up a bottle of Jack Daniels, or perform some other evil habit. What do you do? Well, we could yield the members of our body unto sin. Or, we could believe what God said. God said that I do not have to submit to sin because my death with Christ has separated me from his former bondage. I am no longer under the authority of the old sin nature. I have been raised into the heavenly spheres with Christ. I am able to walk in newness of life. My faith rests on these facts. I take this weak and wobbly step of faith and God holds me up by His infinite power. Things are different now that we are saved. As we trust in the living God, the power of the Holy Spirit is unleashed in our lives. The power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to us now.
Yield Yourselves Unto God
In Romans 6:13, Paul not only says that we should not yield our members unto sin, but he goes on in this verse to say, “but yield yourselves unto God.” Here is the positive side of yielding. The negative side is do not yield your members unto sin. The positive side of yielding is yielding self unto God. Notice the contrast here between the members in the negative side, and self on the positive side. God wants more than just our body. God wants me. He wants all of me yielded to Him. He wants my whole life. We are to present ourselves unto God, and to yield ourselves unto God. The very nature of this word, yield, means there is nothing held back. There is no such thing as being 99% yielded. If you are 99% yielded, you are not yielded. If we hold back just one little smidgen of anything that we are unwilling to turn over to the Lord, then we are not yielded. It has to be our all on the altar. Only then will the peace and rest of God be manifested in our life. God deserves that. He purchased us with His own blood. He died for us. We belong to Him. We are no longer our own. It is our reasonable service to put our all on the altar. In Romans 12:1, Paul uses the very same word when he says, “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God.” There he is talking about yielding or presenting the members of our bodies as a priest would serve God by offering a sacrifice unto Him. However, here in Romans 6:13, he is not just talking about service, he is talking about life. My entire life belongs to God. My life is to be hidden with Christ in God. “I” died, remember? Only when we have done that, (surrendered, yielded) will the power of the resurrection life in Jesus Christ be manifested in our life.
You see, all we are and all we have belongs to God, not just Sunday morning, not just Wednesday night. All of us belongs to God all the time. It is a new kind of life altogether. It is a life in which it is no longer I, but Christ. This can be observed in the lives of godly, mature saints, who serve faithfully and minister in the local church. God has given us examples of what it means to live for Him, and more importantly, Christ living in us! That is exactly what Paul was talking about here.
Notice also in Romans 6:13, Paul says we are not to yield ourselves unto sin, but we are to yield ourselves unto God. Christ is everything now. He is our new life. He is our new authority. He is our new King. Whereas before, when we were unsaved, we yielded the members of our body unto the evil king, the principle of sin which dwelt in us. But, now we are changed. Now we are to yield our self, our life, and everything we are unto God. He is our new King. In II Corinthians 11:2 Paul likens himself to a father who is presenting his young daughter to her new husband to be married. In that illustration, he speaks of the church at Corinth as his daughter. He is presenting her to Christ. He wants to hand over this church to Christ, the Groom. That is the same word as yield in Romans 6:13. When a father yields his daughter over to her new husband, he is yielding his position of authority over that young girl to another. Now she has a new authority. That is exactly what Paul is talking about here. We are to do that with ourselves. We are to yield ourselves unto God. The old self-life no longer has any authority over my new life. That is over. We relinquish, we surrender our rights to another. We acknowledge a change of authority in every area of our life. We acknowledge that it is God who has authority over us now. As we enter into this new relationship, it is a joyous, abundant life.
Granted, it is a fearful thing to turn over the entire authority of one’s life to Another. We might do it with fear and trembling, because we like to maintain control, but God says yield unto Me. When we come as Christians to the place where we are finally willing to yield ourselves, all that we are, and all that we have over to God (absolute surrender, holding nothing back), then and only then, will the power and life of Christ be manifested through us. That is how sanctification takes place.
When we are fully surrendered and yielded to God, the abundant life begins to become our daily experience. Then and only then (when we surrender everything unto God) are we able to walk in newness of life. But if we hold back just a tiny little bit, then we are not yielded–we are not serious with God. There is no such thing as reckoning yourself to be almost dead. There are no degrees of death. Either you are dead or you are alive. Either we reckon ourselves to be dead, or we are just playing religious games.
Spiritual growth (the resurrection life of Christ) arises out of nothing short of death. When we are serious about wanting real spiritual fruit and growth, the first thing we need to do is to acknowledge that we died to sin and we are alive unto God. Notice in Romans 6:13, Paul says that we are to “yield yourselves unto God.” How? “As those that are alive from the dead.” God says stop sinning, and start yielding yourselves to God. Why? Because something happened, you are alive from the dead. Salvation really did change us. It broke our bondage to sin and it made us new creations in heavenly places. Do not ever underestimate what God can do. His power will work through us if we will let Him. We have to yield. It is wonderful that we can stop sinning. But that is only half the good news–we do not have to yield our members unto sin. The rest of the good news is that we can yield ourselves unto God. That is a fact to be believed: God can even use a sinner like me to manifest the life of Christ to the world!
We need to know this. We need to believe that God can manifest His love, His grace, His mercy, His compassion through me and to others. And it is all because we were raised with Christ. I am identified with the cross (death) and the resurrection. I really was raised from the dead. I really am different, even if it does not seem like it to me. Sin has already been judged and defeated, condemned at the cross, and there is new life. I can live by the power and grace of God. It has nothing to do with me struggling under the Law. It has to do with me yielding my members unto God. Then the power of the Holy Spirit produces the fruit of the Spirit in my life. Victory has already been provided. All God wants us to do is believe it and to appropriate it by faith. That is how we came to Christ. As Paul says in Colossians 2:6 “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him.” We receive Christ by appropriating Him by faith. But receiving Him is just the first step of our new life. It is not the end of the road. We are to walk in the very same way by appropriating Christ, by identifying ourselves with Him, in His death and in His resurrection. He is life to us. He is new life to us. Believe that we are able to walk in newness of life. By faith the power of the resurrection is released in our life, and as we yield, we can experience victorious Christian living. This truth is the foundation of it all. Our faith is to rest on the truth of what God says. God says He will be working in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. God’s Word says that we are not the same old sinner, but are changed now. We have a new nature! God’s Word says that Christ lives in me. God’s Word says that by faith all things are possible. This is how God wants us to live. Just like Peter stepping out of the boat. The Lord said, “Come.” I am asking you to do something that is impossible in the flesh, but if you will take a step of faith, with your eyes upon Me, believing in Me, trusting in Me, resting your faith on what I said, then I will hold you up by MY POWER. That is exactly what happened to Peter when he stepped out of the boat. And, in a sense, that is how we are to walk.
We will fail as Peter also failed, when we take our eyes off the Lord. When we begin to look at the storm, obeying God seems so impossible, and we begin to sink. God has to reach down and pull us up again… and again. The kind of walk Paul is talking about, the kind of victory we ought to be experiencing in our lives day to day, has already been provided for us on the cross. Sin (the nature) has already been condemned on the cross of Jesus Christ and is a defeated foe. All God wants us to do is believe it, to yield our members in light of that fact, and to be conscious of the fact that we do not have to sin and that we are able to walk in newness of life. And so, we yield our tongue to God. Do you know what God can do with a yielded tongue? He can use someone as insignificant as me or you to praise Him. He can use our tongue to share the gospel message and tell someone how they can be saved and go to Heaven! He can use our hearts to love and to forgive and to restore. He can use our hands to serve. He can use our wallets to give. He can use our ears to listen. And when people see us, they will see Christ in us. For me to live is Christ! In other words, when we (the new man in Christ) are yielded to God, the end result is fruit. Fruit of the Spirit, a Christ like character is being formed in us and we are changed from glory to glory. Others are seeing a supernatural life, something that is totally foreign to them. This will attract people to Jesus Christ.
Our yielding self to God is an attitude of faith that unleashes the power of the Holy Spirit and it enables the indwelling life of Christ to be manifested and magnified in our mortal body. That is what it is all about. That ought to be our highest goal and purpose in life: to manifest Christ in the way that we live to the glory of God. And it is not something we do; rather, it is based on something He did. Just believe it. Reckon it to be so and yield our members unto God. Trust Him and He will do wonderful things in our lives far beyond what we could have ever dreamed. Unto Him be glory!
If you are not a born again Christian, then you are still a slave to sin. You are the unwilling subject of an evil king, the sin nature that dwells within. The Bible tells us that there is only one way to be delivered from bondage. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6). And God’s answer for your problem (both your sin nature and all of the sins you have committed) is the cross. Jesus died for you and He has already paid for all the sins you have committed. If you will put your faith in Christ, God will GIVE you eternal life. And fear not, He will enable you to live that life. You do not have to worry about coming to Christ saying, Oh, I could never live the Christian life. Of course you cannot. No one can on their own! It is impossible to live the Christian life without Christ! Before you can ever live the Christian life, you first need to enter into it. Jesus said, “I am the door; by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved…” (Jn. 10:9). You need to take that very first step of faith in coming to Christ as your Savior. You must enter into life. Jesus says you must be born again. If you will take that simple step of childlike faith, God will give you eternal life, (new life, abundant life) and as you grow and mature and develop, God will give you all that you need to have a victorious Christian life. You will never break the chain–the power of sin–the bondage to your own sin nature on your own. You need a Savior. Jesus said just believe on me and I will give you life. “BELIEVE on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be SAVED!” (Acts 16:31).
Union and Communion
Scripture for Meditation: John 3:6
In this chapter, we want to look at a very important distinction in the Scriptures – the distinction between our union with Christ and our communion with Him. Some theologians use the expression, “our position in Christ” in contrast to “the condition of our daily life.” This is an important element in God’s plan for sanctification. If we want to be holy, if we want to lead lives that are pleasing in the Lord’s sight, then we need to know these things.
Being In Christ: Union
First of all, we want to look at our union with Christ–the fact that we have been made one with Him. Recall how we looked at Romans 6, where Paul tells us we have been united with Christ in His death, resurrection, and also in His ascension. We are in the heavenlies. God sees us united together with the glorified Savior. Here we want to look at how that happened.
First of all, consider the new birth. How is it we became united to Christ? How is it that we have a new position? Well, Jesus said in John 3:6, that when you are born in the flesh to your earthly family, there is an earthly family resemblance. (That which is flesh is flesh.) But, when we are born again, when we are born into God’s family, and there are new family traits that will be manifested in our lives. Living or dwelling in our position is what God wants for us as Christians. When a new baby is born into a family, he is a new creature. There is a new life in that family. That is irreversible. When that child is born, it can never be unborn. No matter how that child turns out, whether he turns out to be a missionary serving the Lord, or he turns out to be a drug addict, if he is your son, he is still your son. It is irreversible. Position cannot be altered.
However, the condition of our life changes radically from day to day. Our position never changes. As Christians, we have been born into God’s family and that is irreversible. We are the sons of God. We are new creations. Just like every son born to his father, there are going to be certain traits that that son takes on like his dad. He may walk like his dad. He may talk like his dad. The same thing is true when we are born into God’s family. We become like Him. We become partakers of a new nature, the heavenly nature, God’s nature.
When Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (Jn. 3:6), He was emphasizing the nature of the flesh. In Romans 7:18, Paul said, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.” Nothing good dwells in my flesh, my old nature. On the other hand, our new nature, (we have been born into God’s family with a new nature) has nothing but good. This new nature has a heart that loves God, a will that desires to please God and obey Him, and a mind that knows God. There is nothing good in our old nature. In our new nature there is nothing but good. These two opposing natures cause great conflicts to arise in our mind and hearts! (See Gal. 5:16-17.)
In Ephesians 2:10, Paul tells us more about our position in Christ Jesus. What we want to see is that our position should have a radical effect on the condition of our day to day life. Paul says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” That is our new position. And what is the purpose of this position? Why is it that God changed us? We used to be in Adam, in his sin and in his condemnation. Now through simple childlike faith God sees us in Christ and in His righteousness, and possessing His life. What is the purpose of God revealing to us this change in our position? Ephesians 2:10 says that we have been created in Christ Jesus, “unto good works.” This new creation in Christ has a purpose. Our position in Christ should have an effect on the condition of our lives. We should be producing good works/fruit. This is what Paul wants us to know. Remember back in Romans 6, he said that I want you to know that your old man died with Christ and that a new man has been resurrected. I want you to know this and I want you to believe it, reckon it to be so. God has designed the Christian life in such a way that by faith, our position in Christ (how God sees us) will transform the condition of our lives. How is it that we find ourselves in Christ? This new position is ours by means of the spiritual birth, by being born into God’s family. Through faith we became a child of God, and that is irreversible. There is something else God does to us at the moment of salvation. In I Corinthians 12:13 Paul says, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” Spirit baptism places us inside the body of Christ. We may not realize it, but the moment we put our faith in Christ Jesus, God did a miracle in us. We do not feel it. We may not know it–sometimes for many years. The moment we put our faith in Christ, God baptized us into the body of Christ. He immersed us into this new position in His Son.
Spirit baptism really changes our position. We were in Adam and in his condemnation. Now we are in Christ and we have His life and His righteousness. This is our new position. It is unalterable. When a person becomes a member of the Body of Christ, that can never, ever change. Nothing can alter it.
Note this. The position we have in Christ should have an effect on the condition of our daily life. That is God’s plan for sanctification. As new creations we are exhorted over and over again to seek things above. Why? Because in reality we have been raised with Christ into heavenly places. That is our position. God’s exhortations to us as Christians are based upon our new position in Christ. “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy…” (Eph. 4:1a). Walk worthy of what–? Our high calling in Christ Jesus. God has designed it so, that our position (when understood and believed, and reckoned to be so) will eventually have an effect on the condition of our life.
In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul describes how God sees us – our position in Christ. Ephesians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places.” Where? “In Christ.” In Christ we have already been blessed with all spiritual blessings. That is why Paul says in Colossians 2:10 that you are complete in Him. There is nothing that is going to be added to our salvation other than the resurrection of our body. We are already complete in Christ.
Ephesians 1:4 says, “According as he hath chosen us…” Where? “In him.” We are in Christ Jesus, and we are chosen to be in Him.
In Ephesians 1:6 he says, “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted.” And on what ground are we accepted? “In the beloved.” That is how God sees us, and that can never, ever change. No matter what a wretch I may have been in my Christian life, my position never changes. I possess everything. I am complete in Christ. He has chosen me and I am accepted. Praise God!
In Ephesians 1:7 Paul wrote, “In whom.” There is that expression again. Our position is in Him, and what do we have in Him? “We have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” No matter what happens in my life, I can know that God accepts me and my sins are forgiven.
“In whom” (here is our position again) “also we have obtained an inheritance.” (Ephesians 1:11) We are rich in Christ. We are in Him, therefore we possess all things. We are heirs of all things.
Consider Ephesians 2:6. “And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places.” Where? “In Christ Jesus.” How does God see us? He does not see me with my feet of clay. Rather, God sees me as one who is in Christ–in the risen, ascended, and glorified Christ. God sees me as if I were already in Heaven.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:10) He sees us as new creatures.
In Ephesians 2:13 we read, “But now.” What is our position? “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” God sees us as being near to Him.
In Ephesians 2:22, “In whom” or in Him “ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” God sees believers of this age corporately as a building, His dwelling place. When God looks down on us, He sees individuals, (if we are born again) who are complete in Christ, who are totally and forever accepted by God, whose sins have been washed away and forgiven. He sees us as His heirs. He sees us as His sons. He sees us as those that are near to Him, the dwelling place of God upon the Earth. These are all found in just two little chapters. Read through the rest of Paul’s epistles and the rest of the New Testament. We find that in Christ we have redemption. In Christ we have wisdom and righteousness and sanctification. In Christ we have His righteousness as our garment. We are one body in Christ, and there is no condemnation for anyone in Christ. We have forever been brought together with the love of God.
It is very humbling to see how God sees us. This is not a spiritual wish list. We do not simply wish all these things were true. This is spiritual reality whether we feel it or not. Feelings have nothing to do with our relationship to God. God says that my old man is dead. Reckon it to be so. I am a new creature in Christ. Believe Him. The cross really did change us totally and forever. The cross accomplished more for us than we will ever begin to imagine in this life. God sees us as holy ones. God sees us as righteous. God sees us as near to Him, His dwelling place, forgiven. He sees us in His Son. God is not saying that this is how you are going to be when you get to Heaven. God is saying this is how we are right now. This is our position in Christ. Just believe it.
But, how do we see one another? Our problem is that we do not dwell in the heavenlies. We do not consider these positional truths, our union with Christ. We so often get dragged down out of the heavenlies and into the earthly realm and start living as if we were under the Law. We judge one another by appearances. We are looking at the condition of the lives of others, and our own selves. When I look at the condition of my life, all that seems to come to mind are my failures. We judge one another and ourselves by things we said and wish we had never said, or by things we did and wish we never did. We look at the Church and we see nothing but spots and wrinkles. We look at the Church and we see the divisions: I’m of Paul; I’m of Apollos; I’m of Cephas. We see the Church and we see people who stretch the truth like Ananias and Sapphira. We see others who get involved in false doctrine like Hymenaeus and Philetus. We see women that cannot get along like Syntyche and Euodias. We see worldly people like Demas. We see proud men like Diotrephes. We are totally absorbed by the condition of things as we see them from an earthly prospective. Therein lies our big failure. When we dwell on the earthly, when we dwell on the external condition of things, when we dwell on conditional truth, we end up not living by faith. We end up living by feelings and sight. As we concentrate on the conditional truths, we become absorbed with our self. We become self-conscious, self-centered, and discouraged because of our failures, maybe even depressed. We are ready to throw in the towel. Not only so, but as we dwell on conditional truth, we become quite judgmental one of another.
What would you say if I said I knew of a church down the street in which some folks were coming to communion drunk? Why, they were even hiring lawyers to sue one another! Incest, backsliding, division, and cliques were in that church. You know what I am talking about. The Bible tells us that Corinth was such a church. All of those horrible conditions really existed in Corinth. Read the opening chapter. How does Paul address that group of wretches? He said, to the saints in Christ Jesus, “to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus.” Amazing! They sure did not seem very sanctified. Later on in I Corinthians 6:11 Paul said, “ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus.” The condition of their life was terrible. But, it did not alter their position as saints one bit!
The condition of a genuine believer’s life does not have any effect on his position. It can not change it. No matter how miserable the lives of the Corinthians were, their position was that of a saint. They were in the heavenlies. They had already been blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ. Their condition did not change their position. However, their position in Christ (if they dwelled therein, meditated on it) ought to have a dramatic effect on the condition of their lives.
We do not see ourselves as God sees us. God sees us in our new position in Christ. We often see our earthly condition. But, what the New Testament teaches us is that we need to change our thinking. We need to change our attitude toward others and ourselves. We need to see ourselves as God sees us. We need to learn to see ourselves in Christ, accepted, forgiven, complete. We need to know this. That is what Paul said in Romans 6. I want you to know that your old man was crucified and that a new man has arisen. You have to know these facts. Ignorance never helped a Christian do anything.
Do you know what Peter commands us? He said in II Peter 3:18, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Grow! Mature! Grace is the rule of life for this dispensation. Knowing who the Lord Jesus Christ is and what He accomplished for us on the cross is absolutely essential for growth. It is faith that makes them real. Faith produces spiritual growth in our lives. “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him” (Col. 2:6). How did we receive Him? By faith. That was the first step on entering into life. God wants us to continue in that same kind of faith. So “walk ye in him”–with the same kind of faith, trusting and believing everything Godsaid.
Ignorance of who we are in Christ will produce spiritual retardation. In Hebrews 5:12-14, the writer says, “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age,” (those that are mature) “even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Here, the writer tells us that ignorance of our position in Christ, ignorance of our union with Him, and ignorance of all of our spiritual blessings will hinder our spiritual progress. Here are believers who stopped growing–because they stopped knowing. They stopped trusting. They stopped filling their minds and hearts with these truths. They became retarded and actually went back to immaturity. Ignorance of God’s truth will stunt our spiritual growth. Yet, even backsliding does not change our position in Christ.
Do you remember how Paul addressed the Corinthians in I Corinthians 3? I wanted to speak to you as spiritual, but could not. I had to address you as babes in Christ. They were in Christ but they were immature. Paul wanted maturity in their lives. If they were ever going to get it, they had to know who they were in Christ. The epistle of I Corinthians is full of a rich description of their position as saints, as holy ones, and justified, and washed, and cleansed. A babe in Christ possesses all the life he is ever going to get. A babe in Christ possesses all the spiritual faculties he is ever going to receive. He has a new mind and a new heart. He has all the power of the resurrection available to him. He is not going to get any more, but he has to know how to use it. He needs to know how to appropriate it by faith. Ignorance of truth will always hinder our spiritual progression. God wants us to know who we are in Christ and count it as a fact. We are to believe that we really are in Christ, that we have been forgiven, that we are already accepted in the beloved, and that there will never be any condemnation for us. We should not be dwelling on our failures. We should be dwelling on Christ.
When I look at myself and the condition of my daily walk, I am painfully aware of my shortcomings. It is hard to believe that this wonderful positional truth is true of me. But, faith says it is true. Do not go by feelings. Do not go by past failures. Believe what God says and walk that way. Faith is able to transform what I am in Christ and make it a real experience in my daily living.
II Corinthians 3:18 says, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” What is the responsibility of the believer in this verse? Is it to grow? No. How do you command somebody to grow? God does that. It is the Spirit of God that transforms us. What is our responsibility in this verse? It is to be beholding the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Open up the Word and there we ought to see God on every single page. There we ought to see the glory of God in the Person of Jesus Christ. As we dwell there, as our minds are taken up with Christ, as we dwell in that place, He is our life. Meditating on Him will have a transforming effect on our hearts.
Our minds should not be focused on the fluctuating, ever changing condition of our daily life. Rather, we should be concentrating on Christ. We are in Him. He is our new position. He is our life. Our life is hidden in Christ. II Corinthians 3:18 tells us that as we do that, God works in us. God’s Holy Spirit does a miracle that we could never duplicate. God changes us from glory to glory–to the image of Christ. He changes the condition of our daily life bit by bit, step by step, until it is closer and closer to our position in Christ. We will never get there completely in this life, but progress toward that goal is what spiritual growth is all about. God’s plan is this: Jesus Christ is everything to us. He is the source of everything. He is our life. He is the source of all our spiritual blessings. Faith enables us to make this real. Faith enables us to experience the blessings that we have in Him. Faith enables us to walk worthy of this high calling that we have in Him. Faith is a hand that receives a gift from God. Just as we received eternal life (by faith), so are we to receive all the other blessings. Just keep holding out our hands by faith and they will be filled. Faith begins a transformation process of new life. Faith continues that transformation process of spiritual growth.
Abiding In Christ: Communion
Our position is in Christ. It is hard to believe that God is really talking about me when He says that: I am chosen; I am forgiven; I am washed; I am cleansed; I am righteous; I am accepted; and there is no condemnation for me. It is hard to believe He is talking about me. But, that is my position, and if you are born again, that is your position. That is how God sees us–and this is not just a wish. This is what we really are because the cross changed us. But that is only half the truth. That is our position. Now we want to talk about our condition. I John 2:28 says, “And now, little children, abide in him.” There are no commands in the Bible for the believer to be in Christ. God never says, get in Christ. That is because we are already in Him. Being in Christ (our position) is God’s work. So, God never tells us to do that. But, He does tell us many times to abide there.
We are told to abide in Him. Abiding has to do with the condition of our life moment by moment. Abiding in Christ has to do with our communion with Him day by day, minute by minute. All true believers have been united to Christ. This union exists whether we are aware of it or not. We are in Christ if we are born again. But, not all believers experience communion with God. We all possess the union, but we do not all experience the communion. We are all positioned in Christ, but the condition of our life fluctuates radically sometimes. Spiritual growth is directly linked to our union with Christ–abiding in Him. Spiritual growth is just a natural product of abiding in Christ. Apart from abiding in Him we can do nothing. But, when we abide in Christ, spiritual fruit will always be the result. The word abide means to remain. It means to dwell. It means to tarry or to wait. For example in John 1:38, the Jews said, “Rabbi… where dwellest thou?” That word dwellest is the same word as abide. It means where we live, where our hearts are.
In Acts 27, there was a storm at sea. Paul told all the men, “abide in the ship” (Acts 27:31) and no harm would come to them. They were told to just stay there and not to go anywhere. He said remain right where you are. In Acts 20, the disciples were on a journey and it says that they “tarried for us at Troas” (Acts 20:5). That word for tarry is the word abide. It means to wait. So, abiding in Christ means living somewhere, dwelling somewhere, being at home somewhere, not leaving, continuing there, being comfortable there, waiting, and remaining where we have been placed.
John 15:4 says, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” Here Jesus commands us to abide in Him. Let me ask you a question. If our position in Christ is irreversible and unalterable, why then does Jesus say “abide in me”? I thought we had no choice if we were in Christ. Well, the distinction is this. The command is not Get in Me. We are already in Christ if we are born again. The command is to dwell there, be comfortable there, abide there, wait there, tarry, rest. As we abide in that position and as we get comfortable dwelling in Christ, having Him fill our minds and hearts, and as we really feel at home there, fruit is going to begin to be produced in our lives.
Jesus tells us the secret of a fruitful life in this passage. In John 15:4 He says you “cannot bear fruit… except” you abide in Me. Fruit does not happen any other way than by staying close, and waiting on the Lord and trusting in Him. In the next verse He says, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” So, without Him we can do absolutely nothing. But, when we abide in Him, we not only will bring forth fruit, we will bring forth fruit abundantly! So, what is the responsibility of the branch? In this illustration in John 15:1, Jesus is speaking of Himself as the Vine. We are the branches in that Vine. God’s purpose is for there to be fruit. So, what is our responsibility? It is not to produce fruit. A branch cannot do it on his own. Our responsibility is to abide there, to stay there, to wait upon the Lord, to remain close to Him. Do not jump ship when the storms of life hit. Do not wander away to the world. Remain right there. Do not get puffed up and think you can produce fruit all on your own. You will wither away. Just stay right there. As we wait, and as we rest in Him, and as we yield our members unto Him as a branch in the Vine, then He will produce fruit through us.
Christians never produce fruit. We bear it. Fruit is the work of the Holy Spirit, produced in us as we behold the glory of God. We are going to be bearing the fruit of the Spirit. So, Jesus tells us here simply to wait, rest, abide. And there is something wonderful about this Vine. The Vine has absolutely every thing we need. The Vine supplies every possible need that a little branch could ever have in order to produce fruit. The life of the Vine flows through the branch. The nutrients of the Vine flow through the branch and it produces fruit. You see, this is what God wants us to learn, and it is a hard lesson: that I cannot do anything, that in my flesh dwelleth no good thing. My flesh is incurably sick. But, Christ is all. He meets all my needs if I will just stay there close to Him. I am not dependent on the other branches to supply my needs. I am dependenton Christ. He is the source. There is nothing outside of the Vine that can meet my needs. They are only met in the Vine–in Christ. We are complete in Him. We have nothing in ourselves and everything in Him. All that the Vine possesses belongs to the branches as well. If we will just stay there we will experience His life, His love, His power, His strength, His mercy, and His compassion. We are channels only. He will do the work in us if we will just stay there and wait upon Him.
Gradually we will be conformed from glory to glory into His image. But, it does not happen over night. Fruit takes time. As Americans we hate that concept. We like instant everything. Remember when the microwave came out? Oh, this was awesome. It was just what we had been waiting for–instant hot. Now it has been out for a while and we are impatient with the microwave. It does not heat things fast enough. Spiritual growth is not instant. That is not how God works in our lives. God’s method is this: a seed goes into the ground and that hard, dead, outer crust rots and it falls away and it dies. Out of that death springs forth a little sprout of life. First the blade and then the ear… but it takes time for fruit to appear. Growth is a long process and it cannot be rushed. Yet, in the flesh we have such a hard time sitting still. Waiting is the hardest thing God has called us to do–resting, abiding. You see, the flesh would much rather do something. The flesh would much rather get busy and produce something on its own. I get tired of waiting. God’s plan seems so long, so drawn out. It seems I will never be like the Lord. The flesh has a mind of its own.
Before we came to Christ, our flesh had this attitude: Salvation? I can do that! I will just try harder if I need to be saved. I will put forth my best effort. (The sinner needs to learn that he has nothing good to offer God!) But after we become saved, the flesh has not changed a bit. The flesh still has that same old attitude. Spiritual growth? Oh, I can do that! I will put forth my best effort in. I will try real hard to be holy, and I will be good. I can produce fruit! Yet the Bible says “that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Rom. 7:18). The flesh is incurably sick Jeremiah says. The carnal mind is enmity against God. The flesh is always contrary to the Spirit. It does not matter how good our intentions are. It does not matter how hard we try. Sadly, so often, new believers are urged, pleaded with, prodded and poked– Get out there and produce fruit. It is such a frustrating exercise because the flesh can never, ever do it. In the flesh we can never produce God’s love. Oh, we can manufacture some human love that might look on the surface quite similar. We can never produce the joy of the Holy Spirit that exists even in trials and tragedies. We can put on a phony smile and make it look like it is the same thing. The flesh cannot produce real spiritual fruit. Only God can do that.
God wants us to arrive at the place where we will genuinely believe Him when He says that our flesh is vile! It is useless. There is nothing good in it! Let it die. Reckon it to be so. Come to the end of self. Stop struggling to try to produce this fruit on your own. And, start resting in Jesus Christ. We need to stop struggling in our frustrating condition–our helpless condition, and start resting in our glorious position. Fruit will be borne. It is a hard lesson, but Jesus said at the end of the verse in John 15:5, “without me ye can do nothing.” We do not like to think of ourselves as being totally incapable of doing anything good in God’s sight, but we are. Notice also in this verse He says of the one that abides, “the same bringeth forth much fruit.”
Here is God’s plan. Stop concentrating on trying to produce fruit, trying to manufacture something in the flesh. We can never produce, “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal. 5:22-23). This is the fruit of the Spirit. It is phony when we try to do it ourselves. God’s method is to concentrate on Jesus Christ. Keep your heart right with Him. Abide in Christ. Our job is not to produce fruit; our job is to abide in the Vine. It is to wait on the Lord. Let Him work in our hearts. Commune with Him. Stay in fellowship, and remain there. Abide in Him. Stay yielded. As we do, God works in us. We may not see anything happening. Did you notice yourself growing today? Probably you did not. It takes time to see the results of growth. We want instant growth, instant gratification, and instant fruit. We are in a hurry and God is not. Do you know what the natural bent of human nature is? We perceive that spiritual growth is taking so long that we decide to take matters into our own hands, and to do it ourselves! That is what Abraham did. God said you and Sarah are going to have a son. Sarah laughed. Abraham waited and waited, but it did not happen. He was an old man, and he said I can’t wait anymore. I cannot abide any more– I cannot just trust in what God says. I am going to have to take matters into my own hands and DO something. And, he did. He had a son, but that son became a thorn in his family’s side for many years. You see the big temptation is to manufacture something that looks like the real thing. Hence we see in some churches endless altar calls. Men are continually called to come forward because they cannot stand having the service end without seeing something.
The flesh takes over, often with good intentions and a desire to please God. “For to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Rom. 7:18). Fleshly methods always result in the kind of frustration that Paul describes in Romans 7.
God’s method in this age is grace. It is a different principle all together than Law. Whether we speak of justification, becoming saved, or sanctification, growing in the Lord–it is all by grace and it is all through faith. The Law and the flesh say, get out there and DO something. The Law and the flesh say–work. But grace and faith say–rest. The work is finished. Just believe it. Believe that God has changed you, and walk on that basis, with your faith resting, (not on your feelings, or on your past failures) but on what God has said.
The end result is fruit that brings honor and glory to God. Paul says in II Corinthians 3:18, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” We are to concentrate on Christ, and focus on Him. He is our all. He is the source of everything we need. If we will concentrate on Christ, God will do the work of changing our hearts and making us like Him. We need to give God time. We need to let God work. We need to learn to wait upon the Lord. We need to learn to rest in Him, to abide in Christ, and believe that His life really is in us and changing us. Believe that when Jesus said, “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit” (Jn. 15:5), is real even for me! That is faith, (resting, trusting, waiting, abiding, believing) and that is God’s plan for sanctification! We are justified by faith AND we are sanctified by faith, too. Faith is the victory!
Abiding: “In Christ” Or “In Sin”
Scripture for Meditation: I John 1:9
The epistle of I John is full of the subject of abiding: abiding in the light, abiding in the truth, and abiding in Christ. In this chapter we want to see the relationship between abiding in Christ and our spiritual growth in the Lord. In the Old Testament when sin broke the fellowship between a believer and his God, a sacrifice had to be offered. We do not live under that system. Animal sacrifices are not part of our relationship to God. I John 1:9 is to us what all the Old Testament sacrifices and sprinkling of blood were to the Old Testament Jew. I do not think we appreciate nearly as we ought the wonderful relationship to God that we can have through faith in this age of grace!
Two Alternatives and Two Results
There are only two alternatives when a believer sins. In the beginning of the Bible, God reveals how man fell and what human nature is like. In Genesis chapter three, what was the first thing that Adam did after he sinned? Did he come running to the Lord and say Father forgive me? No! He went running, but it was in the opposite direction. He ran and hid, and tried to cover himself up. God reveals this to us right in the beginning of the Bible to give us a glimpse of what human nature is like. When a believer sins today, he also runs and hides from God. We stay away from the Lord. We have been looking at the illustration of the branch and the Vine. The branch may stay away from that Vine perhaps for days, perhaps for months, sometimes for even years. Do you know what happens to the branch while it stays away from the Vine? It withers up. It dries up. It becomes absolutely barren and unfruitful–worthless. The withering process may take time. Any time we spend away from abiding in Christ is time lost, and it produces no fruit. Over time a believer will wither spiritually. That believer will degenerate, perhaps, to the place of spiritual infancy as we see in the book of Hebrews in chapter five. That believer may even forget he was purged from his old sins as Peter tells us in his second epistle (II Pet. 1:9). What we are describing here is a branch that has been broken away from the Vine for sometime. It is not a good condition to be in. It is called backsliding.
We can run away and hide from God when we sin, but what should we do with our sin? Sin is going to take us away from the Vine. It is going to take us away from the place of fruitfulness, and restoration, and growth and strength. The writer of Hebrews tells us an immense blessing that we have as Christians, one which is often neglected. In Hebrews 10:22, the writer says, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” It is possible for a believer to sin and stay away from the Lord. Because of guilt and a defiled conscience, we might feel unworthy to come back to fellowship. We might feel the shame and guilt of our sin. That defiled conscience will keep us away from where we really belong as a branch. The writer of Hebrews tells us that when we understand the value of the cross of Calvary to God the Father, then we understand that what Jesus did there really provided for forgiveness of sins (Heb. 10:17-22). That believer has his conscience completely purged. When you believe that, you will believe your sins are really gone because God said so. When you believe that there is absolutely nothing between you and your Savior (because you have confessed your sin), then that you have a perfectly purged conscience. If so (and it IS so!) then there will be nothing to prevent us from coming right back to abiding in Christ. It is the cleansed conscience that enables the believer to come back to the place of fellowship and restoration immediately. It is the believer that knows and believes these things, who understands that when he sins, fellowship need only be broken momentarily. He sees the horror of his sin. He confesses it. He believes that God has cleansed him from all unrighteousness and he comes right back to Christ, where he belongs. In fact, he is right back to that place where spiritual restoration and growth and progress are going to take place.
Thus, there are two different responses to sin as a believer. We can practice unbelief and refuse to believe that God really does forgive our sin when we confess it sincerely. (I John 1:9 is a promise to be believed!) If we remain in that kind of unbelief, we will continue with a guilty, defiled conscience, feeling the guilt and shame of our sin, and will continue to stay away from the Lord. Or, we could confess our sin, and believe God and then come right back to where we ought to be, abiding in Christ!
Two Views of the Savior
These two responses to sin stem from two different views of the Savior. To one Christian who has fallen into sin, God is a Judge. This believer may sin and confess his sin but he does not really believe that God is gracious enough to forgive him. He reasons that it cannot be that easy, not after all he has done! He says, God is not going to restore me back to fellowship and close communion with Him, not after my sin! In this believer, even though his sin was confessed, his conscience is not pure. It is still guilty and defiled. His unbelief will keep him from coming back to Christ. He really does not believe I John 1:9. If he did, he would realize that Jesus paid it all on Calvary and there is no reason not to come back. It stems from a faulty concept of Who God is, and the infinite, marvelous grace of God that is able to forgive us and cleanse us from all sin.
Now, it is not entirely wrong to view God as our Judge. In one sense, He is a Judge. He is the Judge of all the Earth and He does right. But read God’s judgment: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). We all know that verse. That is the judgment (judicial decree) of a holy and righteous God. That is what God the Judge has said.
Next, we have a second concept of Christ. In I John 2:1, John says, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.” He is not talking about a lax view toward sin. He is writing about God’s method for the believer dealing with sin. What should we do as a Christian when we fall into sin? The first thing He tells us is that “if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins” (I Jn. 2:1-2). In other words when we sin, God is on our side. God is our defender. Hebrews 9:24 says, that He appears “in the presence of God for us.” If God be for us, who can be against us? The Bible tells us that even when we sin, we are still God’s sons. The Bible tells us that He will never, ever leave us or forsake us. The Bible tells us that Christ has already paid the full penalty of our sin. The Bible tells us, that if we confess our sin, God is faithful, He will forgive all of our sins. That is a right concept of God and His grace.
The risen, glorified Savior is at the right hand of the Father appearing in Heaven for us. He is on our side. As a Christian, even when we sin and fall away, we ought to view God as someone Who is on our side. He is our Father. Jesus Christ is our Advocate. He is in Heaven as our great High Priest. That has nothing to do with paying the penalty of our sin. That took place 2,000 years ago on the cross. That is finished. It is over. The penalty has already been paid. But, as our Advocate, Jesus Christ appears in Heaven to restore us to the place of fellowship with the Father. When we confess our sin and trust that what He said is true, our Advocate brings us right back into the place of abiding.
Two Methods of Dealing with Sin
Men have developed different concepts of our Savior. We can see Him as our Judge or our Advocate. Men have devised different methods of dealing with sin. This is the dispensation of the grace of God. We do not live under the Law. We do not live under any legalistic system. The grace/faith way is God’s way for the believer to walk and to live. In I John 1:9, God says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The believer, who lives under the system of grace and walks by faith, is going to believe what God said. That believer is going to believe that when he confesses his sin, God actually does cleanse him from all unrighteousness. There is nothing to prevent him from coming right back to that place of abiding with Christ. He believes what God said and therefore his conscience is thoroughly purged.
It is kind of hard to believe, but it is what the Bible says after all. It says in Hebrews 10:2, “For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.” Oh, what infinite benefit and blessing we have in this age! The writer of Hebrews tells us in chapter ten that under the old covenant there was a yearly Day of Atonement, a sprinkling of blood. There was no end of the sacrifices for sins of the people. They had to keep offering them year after year, and the fact that they were unending meant that their consciences were never fully purged from the guilt of sin. They knew the blood of bulls and goats could never really settle the sin question. Their consciences were never fully purged. There was always the nagging thought in the back of their minds that sin has not yet been “put away.” The writer of Hebrews tells us that once sins are purged by the cross of Calvary–once we know that and believe that, there is “no more conscience of sins.” There is no reason for a believer to walk around with a guilty, defiled conscience if he believes that the promise of I John 1:9 is real. This believer is not going to dwell in his sin. He is not going to dwell on the changing condition of his life. Rather, he is going to dwell on the position he has in Christ. As a son of God, he is eternally accepted in the Beloved. After he confesses his sin, he is not going to lie around licking his wounds. He is going to come right back to where he belongs – abiding in Christ–the place of restoration and strength!
When we sin as believers, we are painfully aware of our sin nature. That is good! We cannot ignore the fact (read in I John 1:8-10) that we are sinners. We commit sins (vs. 10) and we have a sin nature (vs. 8). If we do not think that is the case, then John says that we are lying to ourselves. The believer who sins and confesses his sin, is not treating sin lightly when he comes right back to abiding in Christ. He is aware that sin (the nature) dwells in us. It is our nature–and in our fallen human nature there dwells no good thing. The believer who sins is like a branch broken off from fellowship with the Vine. There it will wither and dry up. Awareness of this truth makes the believer THIRST for nourishment that only the Vine can provide! It makes him aware of his need of Christ. As a drying, withering branch, the believer recognizes there is no other place for him, but right there, dwelling, abiding in the Lord. So this thirst that we experience, this guilt, this hunger, is the right response from a believer who sins–that is, to come back to the Savior. Only He can meet that need. Only He can give us the strength and vitality we need in our spiritual walk. But, in addition to the hunger, there is something else equally important, namely a purged conscience. The believer who has sinned and is away from the Lord recognizes that sin dwells in him and he hates it. It makes him hungry for righteousness. It makes him hungry for that fellowship with the Lord. Also, he is aware that when he confesses his sin, it is gone! His conscience is purged. Once he knows this and his heart believes it, then he has the confidence to come back. He has the boldness to come unto the throne of grace because he knows God has righteously dealt with his sin on the cross. He is hungry and he believes God, and has the boldness and confidence to come back to the place where growth and restoration and fellowship will take place. Do you know what then happens? Soon the guilt and the shame of our sin will be replaced by the joy of the Lord. Where else can we go when we sin, but to the Savior? That is God’s grace way.
There is another way of dealing with our sin. That is the Law/works way, the way of the flesh. As believers we can fall from the grace way of living into legalism. One believer might sin and fall away from the Lord. He does not fully believe I John 1:9–that if he simply (but sincerely) confess his sin, then God will forgive. Ah! That is too easy. God cannot be that gracious, he reasons. Because he does not believe God, his conscience is not fully purged. He feels guilty. There is shame. He feels dirty. He does not feel eternally accepted in the Beloved, so he stays away. He is not believing God. He is not resting in Jesus Christ. He cannot get himself to believe that God’s grace is so wide, so deep that it covers even his sin. The flesh is very uncomfortable with the grace way of life. Instead of believing what God has said, we start living by our feelings. When we have fallen away from the Lord, we experience guilt. We say, I am a failure. I have sinned against God. Instead of returning to our glorious position in Christ, we dwell on our miserable earthly condition. Now the legalism begins to surface. Because we do not believe that all we have to do is confess our sin, the flesh reasons that we must DO something. We reason that there must be a penance to pay before God will receive us back into His favor. The flesh loves “to do.” It does not like to believe and to rest in what is already done. It likes to do.
In Hebrews 10:17 God says, “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” This too is hard to believe. Hebrews 10:18 says, “Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.” We should believe what God said–that 2,000 years ago on the cross, Jesus paid for my sins, and they are remitted. They have been removed as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). And “there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). If I see myself in Christ Jesus, my unchangeable position, then I am going to stop trying to pay for my sins or earning His favor. Instead of working and doing and striving, I am going to rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ. It is hard to believe that God is so good, but He is!
The other sinning believer also is aware of his need for Christ. But, he does not believe I John 1:9. His guilty conscience keeps him away from coming back to the place of full restoration. He is torn. In his heart he knows that he is a sinner. He needs to be abiding in the Savior– He belongs there and knows it is the right place to be. However, because he does not trust in what Christ did, (because he is not looking to the cross, he is looking to his own miserable condition) he does not feel cleansed. He feelsunworthy. Instead of walking by faith in what God has said, he is walking by his feelings and he cannot come back. He is reluctant to draw nigh unto God. He is not experiencing the BOLDNESS of faith that causes us to draw near.
Consider the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. We should not read the story of the prodigal son as a story of how to become saved. The Lord is talking about a sinner, any kind of sinner coming back to the Father. Begin reading at verse 17. Here is the story of the prodigal son after he had sinned, squandered his goods, and wasted precious time in loose living:
And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry (Lk. 15:17-24).
There is something we want to note about the prodigal son here– He wanted to come back to the father but he was afraid. He was torn. He came to his senses and he wanted to come back to his father but he wrongly assumed that because of the miserable condition of his life, that somehow his father would not receive him back as a son. He wrongly assumed the condition of his life changed his position. He thought that perhaps his father would at least accept him back as a servant. He was hungering to come back. He remembered his father. He remembered his father’s house and he hungered to be filled. And there is nothing healthier for the Christian than to hunger after righteousness and fellowship. A branch that is broken away from the Vine, wilts and thirsts for what the Vine has to offer. We should never be reluctant to return Christ, no matter what we have done. When the branch is away from the Vine, its condition does not and cannot improve. A wilting process begins to take place almost immediately. You know how the flesh thinks! When I am away from the Savior, I am on my own to deal with my sin. Now I have to do it in the flesh. Now it is self-discipline, self-effort, self-help, self-this, self-that, and all that the flesh tries to do. This is futile. Jesus said without Me you can do nothing. The branch on its own is doomed to perpetual failure. That branch is going to feel the full weight, burden, guilt, and shame of sin on his shoulders. He is going to feel shackled by his sin, defeated and discouraged. He will feel just like the old man. He may even begin to wonder if he was ever saved. Faith and confidence in God and His Word begin to erode even more. It is a vicious spiral downward. Instead of abiding in Christ in His glorious position he is dwelling in his miserable condition. The Devil has us right where he wants us, focused on self, focused on the condition of my life rather than on Christ. Somehow the devil convinces us that we must live under the weight, burden, guilt, and shame of sin instead of believing I John 1:9. God says our sins are GONE when we confess them. Trust Him!
Two Means of Receiving Forgiveness
What is the means of receiving this forgiveness? What does the Bible say in I John 1:9? “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Do you know what the legalistic way (law/works way) of looking at this says? Many times we as believers (with good intentions), face I John 1:9 this way. We think that we have to pray and plead with God for forgiveness. Wrong! That is not what the verse says. Should we pray and ask God to forgive us for our sins? Perhaps if we are earnest enough, maybe if we include a few tears in our prayers, maybe then God will have some sympathy and will answer us. This too can be a form penance. It stems from a wrong concept of God–as if God were not already inclined to forgive us. He is! Christ’s blood is already the propitiation for our sins. Christ has already satisfied God’s wrath toward our sin, once and for all. God does not have to be propitiated, or satisfied, or appeased any more. Jesus did it 2,000 years ago. It is finished!
The Bible does not tell us in I John 1:9 to pray for forgiveness. Besides, if we prayed for forgiveness, how would we ever know when our prayers had been answered? Should we wait until we feel forgiven? Then the Devil has won another battle, for instead of relying on God’s Word, we are relying on our feelings! Should we wait until we feel right with God? Should we wait until we feel like God has forgiven us before we come back? What if we do not feel forgiven? Do we stay away forever? Then we begin to resort to the works of the flesh. We begin to feel pressured to do something to satisfy God so that He might receive us back into His favor. All this is based on works, a Law-relationship to God. It is dead wrong. How could we ever do enough to satisfy God? How could we ever pray enough? How could we ever do enough good works to provide forgiveness for even one sin? God does not want us to do something to get right in His sight. He wants us to believe something. He wants us to believe that what Jesus Christ did on the cross really worked–it satisfied the Father forever! If we are relying upon our works or our feelings to get the conscience cleansed to the point where we feel comfortable enough to come back to Christ, we will never get there, because works will never do it. How many works are enough to cleanse our conscience? That guilty, defiled conscience will hinder us from returning to Christ and keep us in the place of spiritual withering.
However, there is another way of receiving this forgiveness: the grace/faith way! Do what the Bible says! John says, if we confess our sin, God will forgive. He does not say to beg and plead with God to forgive us. He says confess. That word simply means to speak the same thing. It means to agree with God. Acknowledge our sin before Him. Admit we have sinned. Admit that the convicting work of the Holy Spirit is true and right. I am guilty. I have done wrong. How do we speak the same thing as God with respect to our sin? We recognize and hate it. That is God’s view of sin. God hates sin, and so should we. It is impossible to confess our sin unless we agree with God that this sin is so vile it is worthy of condemnation. Thank God for His grace.
When we sinned, we really disagreed with God, did we not? We said, I can do this and it will not bother me. When we sinned, we are disagreeing with God by saying this sin is not so bad. Yes, it is! God wants us to agree with Him. When we confess our sin, we agree with God. That implies repentance. We have changed our mind about our sin. A genuine repentance will ultimately result in the fruit of repentance, namely, a change of action. Interestingly in I John 1:9, John uses the present tense, “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” if we confess. This confession is to be an ongoing attitude. We are not going to say, OK I have sinned, and I have confessed it. Now I can go right back to my old worldly ways! That is not agreeing with God! Instead, we will agree with God and hate sin. We are to remain in this attitude of agreeing with God–that this sin is vile.
Also, confession must be very specific. Don’t pray this way: Oh, God, if I did anything wrong today forgive me because I probably did. That is not confession of sin. Confession takes place when we point our finger at a particular word or deed or an attitude that we had and say Lord it is sin, and I did it. I was wrong. Confession of sin offers no excuses and no rationalizations. You cannot say the Devil made me do it. Rather, we should say, It was my fault.
The first words out of the mouth of the prodigal son were, “Father, I have sinned.” He didn’t say, I couldn’t help it, or You do not understand all the pressure I was under, or Somebody else influenced me. He said, Father, I have sinned. It was sin and I did it. Confession is acknowledging what God already knows. It is agreeing with God that we are wrong. God is right about human nature. Paul says, in my flesh dwells no good thing and we need to agree with God. Believe that and reckon self to be dead. Faith takes God at His word. Faith not only believes that sin is evil, but faith also believes I John 1:9–that God has done something about it–that I am forgiven, that I am cleansed, that all my sins have been washed away as far as the east is from the west. That kind of faith enables me to have an absolutely pure conscience before God. Now I can draw near with confidence and boldness because I know that my sins are gone and that God remembers them no more. There is nothing between my Savior and me. There is no need for browbeating. There is no need for penance. There is no need to carry around the weight, and guilt and the shame of sin. It is gone. There is no reason we cannot come right back to the place of fellowship with the Savior, abiding in Christ, experiencing all that the Vine has to offer–right where we belong. You see, believing what God has said will take away the sense of guilt over our sin. By faith we can experience a purged conscience–and it feels great to be clean!
The penalty was paid 2,000 years ago, but faith in God, (believing what He says) will take away the feelings of guilt today. It will purify our conscience, enable us to draw near with boldness “that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). Why stay away from the Vine?
There are different ways of understanding God’s forgiveness. We can approach it the legalistic way wherein we think we must do something because we refuse to believe that God would accept us back simply by confessing sin. How much better is it to take God at His word by faith, accept and marvel over His grace, and come right back to the Savior.
Two Concepts of God’s Grace in Forgiving Sin Freely
The flesh also raises another issue for us. Men have devised different concepts of God’s grace in forgiving sin freely. Some believe that if all we have to do is confess our sinand God will receive us back into the fellowship, then God is not righteous. They reason that it is too easy. This man argues, You mean, if I go out and make a mess of my life (like the prodigal son), I can then come back to my Father, confess my sins and expect Him to receive me? Yes–that is exactly what the Bible says! Some men say that that is not fair. If God allows that, He is too lenient with sin. Evidently in their concept there must be some probationary period before we can go back, or maybe a kind of purgatory. Perhaps, they argue, the sinner has to pay something for his sin. They assume that he cannot get off scot-free, or God is not fair. That is man’s view of God’s grace. Men refuse to believe that His grace is as deep and as wide as it really is. For that reason, the thief on the cross is an enigma to may folks. They say, You mean he lived his whole life as a wicked scoundrel and in the last moment of his life he believed on Jesus and he went to Paradise? Yes! That is exactly what the Bible says, because getting into Heaven or possessing the privilege of communing with God has nothing to do with how good we are. It is entirely based on God’s grace. To suggest that God is not righteous when He forgives sins on the basis of mere confession is a high insult to Almighty God. It represents an exceedingly low concept of the value of the precious blood of Christ to the Father.
Was God really lenient with sin? Did God treat sin lightly? Read the gospels where Jesus was smitten, beaten, whipped, had thorns driven into His head, was pierced with nails. He was pierced with the sword. He shed His blood and died for the sins of the world. No, God was not lenient with sin. The full weight, guilt, shame, and burden of sin fell in full force on Jesus Christ. Do not ever say God was lenient with sin! He is gracious with us, but He is not lenient with sin. He condemned sin on the cross. He spared not His own Son, but He delivered Him up for us all. Salvation, (being brought into a right relation to God) and the privilege of abiding in that glorious position are free to us–but it certainly is not cheap. Look to the cross!
Sure there are consequences to our sin. David sinned and the prophet said the sword would never leave his house, but he was restored back to fellowship with God. Remember the illustration of the branches and the Vine? The Husbandman has to prune and cut the branches back sometimes. That certainly is going to hurt, but they are still branches. Do not ever forget this: sin breaks our fellowship; confession restores it. Do not complicate God’s plan. It really is that simple. He really is that gracious. When God says that He cleanses us from all unrighteousness, it is most unwise to question His justice!
What is the grace way? We are simply to believe what God says. God wants believers to believe. That should be obvious. God wants believers to believe what He said with respect to our sins– they have been washed away. Do you know what Peter said when God’s plan did not make much sense to him? Jesus said that He was going in to be crucified, and Peter said, “Not so, Lord!” How dare we as believers say not so to the Lord? In I John 1:9, John suggests that it is because God is faithful that He forgives us. It is because God is righteous (just) that He forgives us on the basis of grace. I John 1:9 says that if we confess our sins He is faithful–to His own character. It is His nature and His character to be forgiving. He is faithful to His Word. He said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5). He that has begun a good work in you “will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). He “ever liveth to make intercession” for us (Heb. 7:25). God is faithful to His Word. Not only is He faithful, but He is also righteous. When God forgives the believing sinner simply on the basis of confession of sin, it is an expression of God’s righteousness and justice as the Judge of all the Earth. How is this an expression of His righteousness? It is so because the penalty has already been paid in full, and Divine justice has been eternally satisfied with the work of Jesus on the cross. God is perfectly fair. He is perfectly faithful. He is also perfectly righteous when He forgives our sin on the basis of the finished work of Christ.
Does God treat sin too lightly? Does the grace way of walking by faith create a license to sin? Does it produce a sense of lawlessness? Does it make us lax in our walk with the Lord Jesus Christ? These are legitimate issues. You see, when a believer sins, he is like a branch broken away from communion with the Vine. That branch needs to repent, confess his sin, and return to the place of abiding in the Vine. He is then abiding in the place where full restoration takes place. He is abiding in the place of holy communion with God. He is abiding with the Lord Jesus Christ. The believer that is close to Christ is never going to have a lax view toward sin. There is never going to be a sense of license to sin. Away with the thought! The believer who sins and confesses his sin REPENTS… changes his mind about sin, and chooses to return to the Lord and abide in Him. The one communing with God will never take sin lightly.
In I John 3:5 we read, “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.” When we are abiding in Christ, where are we abiding? In Him! This is where God sees us, in Christ, His Son. In Him is no sin. In I John 3:6, John says, “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not.” It does not help to lean on a false sense of humility (Oh, I am too unworthy to come back to Christ!). Why stay in the place of withering? Why stay in the place where the flesh is doomed to utter failure? Come back to the place where there is no sin. Abide in Christ and you will not sin. It is a holy place of close communion and fellowship with the Lord. Sin and failure will cause us to loathe self. It will cause us to hate self, to have no confidence or trust in self. It will cause us to get to the place where Paul found himself when he said, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Rom. 7:18) and “who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24). After learning to loathe the flesh, Paul is then ready to reach out to Christ. The guilt and misery of sin should lead us to hunger and thirst for what the Vine offers to the branch. Instead of licking our wounds and feeling guilty when we sin, we should confess the sin and come back to Christ, where life-transforming power is available to us. We return to the place where Christ is everything, meets every need, satisfies the heart, and restores the soul.
No, God does not treat sin lightly when we confess it. I know some are going to say that it is too easy. You mean all I have to do is confess my sin no matter what I have done, and God will receive me right back into fellowship? What does I John 1:9 say? No matter how many sins were committed, the promise of I John 1:9 does not change. He will cleanse us from all unrighteousness. As believers, we sometimes have a hard time believing that God is as gracious as the Scriptures declare. We assume, I am too unworthy to come back… He will never receive me back, not after what I have done. We feel sorry for ourselves because we do not allow our guilty conscience to be cleansed by faith. We fail to believe that what Christ has done was sufficient. We fail to believe what God’s Word says about forgiveness. Therefore, we stay away from Christ and wither up spiritually.
It is a wrong attitude – the thinking of the flesh. Not only do believers stay away from returning to fellowship, but how many countless unsaved men who have heard the gospel message and refuse to come to Christ for salvation for the same twisted reasoning? They say, Ah, that is too easy! All I have to do is trust in Christ? I cannot. I have to DO something to be saved. Surely there is something the flesh can do. I have to offer something as a payment. You see the flesh always thinks the same way. It always wants to do, rather than rest in what has already been finished. The Devil does not want anyone to come to Christ. If they are lost, he does not want them to come to Christ and be saved. When believers have fallen away from fellowship, he does not want them to come to Christ and be restored. Yet, Jesus says “Come unto Me all ye are heavy laden and I will give you rest!” (Mt. 11:28). The Devil is busy convincing us that God could not possibly be that gracious. Not after what you have done. He is not going to forgive all your sins. It is too easy. You have to do something to earn your way back. Maybe pray a lot. Maybe crawl on your knees back to God. When we think that way, the Devil has won. Our concept of God’s grace is diminished, and our concept of the flesh is exalted.
All God wants us to do is to believe Him and come to Christ. There are only two alternatives. We can run away from God and hide or we can believe what God did on the cross 2,000 years ago and by faith make it ours. Appropriate it and come to God. Not only can we come to Him–but we can come with boldness and confidence knowing and believing that our sins really are gone.
If you are not saved, God wants you to come to Christ. Jesus died for your sins and He rose again. The Father accepted His payment. The work of paying the debt of your sin is finished. There is no reason for you not to come to Christ–other than your own self-righteous pride, or a false sense of humility that says, Oh, I am not worthy. Who is worthy? No one is worthy. That is what grace is all about. God saves undeserving sinners IF they will come to Christ in faith. All God wants us to do is come. He will save us on the basis of simple childlike faith in what Jesus Christ has done. Once we come to Christ, He desires us to remain there, abiding in Him, and partaking of all that He is.That is the way of salvation and sanctification–all by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Praise God! Christ is all we need!
Abiding And Service
Scripture for Meditation: John 15:4-5
In this chapter we want to look at the relationship between abiding in Christ and our service for the Lord. Service is the fruit of our hands. We want to keep in mind that in John 15, Christ is the Vine and we are the branches. Fruit is the natural result of abiding in the Vine.
Fruit Comes in Many Varieties
In Romans 7:4 Paul says, “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.” We began this study by noticing how Paul relates Jesus’ death and His resurrection to us. When we became a Christian (when we first put our faith in Him), we died with Christ and we were also raised as a new creature. That changes everything. Paul tells us here that when we died with Christ, we also died to the Law. We died to the legalistic way of living. This passages states that we died so that we can be married to another, to the Lord Jesus Christ. That is our new relationship. We are married to Him. In John 15 we are the branches on the Vine. It speaks of that close, intimate, personal relationship with Christ. Paul tells us at the end of verse four what the purpose of that relationship is. We are married to Christ so that we should bring forth fruit unto God. We always hear the expression “we are saved to serve.” Well, not entirely. We are saved to bring forth fruit. Not all service (the works of our hands) is necessarily spiritual fruit. Not all fruit necessarily appears as outward service (Gal. 5:22-23). Fruit is primarily inward, Christlike character.
In the very next verse, Romans 7:5, Paul says, “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit…” This is obviously not good, spiritual fruit. It is rotten fruit, the fruit of death, the fruit of the flesh. As believers, we are all producing something in our lives. We are building on the foundation. Our building materials are wood, hay and stubble (worthless), or they are gold, silver, and precious stones– something quite valuable! The illustration Jesus gives in John 15 also speaks of either good or rotten fruit, which is good for nothing but burning. It is either the fruit of the Spirit or it is the fruit of the flesh.
In Philippians 1 Paul states that his goal in life is to produce fruit for the Lord. In Philippians 1:20 Paul says, “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.” It does not matter what kind of circumstances we are facing; God’s purpose for us is that Christ be magnified in our bodies. He dwells within us, if we are saved. Paul says in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Our life is no longer our own. We died to self, and now Jesus Christ is our life. He writes in Philippians 1:22, “But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not.” Paul was in a quandary whether to remain on Earth (alive physically and serving God with his hands) or to go to be with Christ in Heaven. He says that if he stayed and continued to serve the Lord with his hands that would be considered fruit, the fruit of his labor. How does that fruit come about? Well, he told us in the previous verses the reason spiritual fruit is produced in our lives. It is when Christ is our life. Real fruit is produced when Christ is being magnified through the yielded members of our body. Every one of us, if we are born again, is producing fruit. Read Galatians 5:22-23. Either we produce the works of the flesh (and what miserable fruit is it!) or we produce the fruit of the Spirit (“love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance”).
Sometimes our friends misunderstand us. Paul experienced that very same thing often in his ministry. In I Corinthians 4:5, Paul said to the Corinthians, who were misjudging and wrongly accusing him, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man [every believer–at the bema seat] have praise of God.” There were some things that Paul had to do and say as an apostle (stern rebukes, warnings, etc.) that were misunderstood by believers. Paul refers to his attitude towards them as the hidden things of the heart. Nobody could see his heart attitude, his intentions, or his motives – except God and Paul. Paul knew that he spoke out of love, even though people often put a wrong construction on his words. Men observed Paul’s ministry and wrongly assumed that they saw rotten fruit. They wrongly assumed that when Paul exerted his authority it was because he was proud and egotistical. They hurled all kinds of accusations at him. Paul knew that when he stood before the Lord, he would be exonerated because there were no evil motives or intentions in his heart. That is what Paul longed for. Even though men misjudged his words and his works, he knew that he would be exonerated at the judgment seat of Christ. So too, God will one day give us all a proper evaluation of the fruit of our lives. Ultimately, Jesus Christ is the only fruit inspector that counts. Spiritual fruit is not always visible to men. Sometimes we think we see things in the lives of others, but we can be deceived. We are not well equipped to judge others. We do not know anybody’s heart. God does, however, and He will one day inspect the fruit in each believer’s life. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
Read II Timothy 2:5. “And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” If a man is working for God, even if he is striving hard to produce fruit, real fruit is not always produced by those labors. God says that it is not fruit unless he strives according to the rules, striving lawfully according to the Bible. There are times when we think we see fruit in someone. Lots of things seem to be getting done–people are busy–but it does not necessarily mean that it is genuine, spiritual fruit. Remember what Jesus said, “for without me ye can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5), nothing of any value. Men can build lots of things. Men can get involved in lots of activities, but those efforts are not crowned, (it is not honored by God) unless it is done according to the Scriptures.
Remember when David brought back the Ark of the Covenant? (See II Sam. 6.) He brought it to Jerusalem so that God would be worshipped. When they came back with the Ark, men were singing, dancing, and praising God. There was joy in their hearts. They were doing it for God. What was God’s reaction? He struck Uzzah dead! They were doing a good thing, but they did not do it the right way. They were not crowned by the Lord. God was not happy with their efforts. It is very possible for us to be involved in lots of religious activity, and even do it in the name of Jesus. We might even see the apparent results. However, the results of our efforts are not fruit unless the source of it all was a close, obedient, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, the Vine. For “without me ye can do nothing.”
Fruit Is the Result of the Branch “Abiding” in the Vine
Fruit, the labor and character for which we are going to be judged, is the result of abiding in Christ. Some fruit is open and evident, the works of our hands, the physical things that people can see. That is all going to be judged. Also, there is inner, invisible fruit: Christlike character, motives, intentions, and the fruit of the Spirit. This fruit is growing in us when we demonstrate love, joy, peace, gentleness, and longsuffering. This also is fruit that is not always easily seen by others, but God sees it. If it is fruit, (if it is realfruit), it has to be the result of abiding in Christ. In John 15:4, Jesus says, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” Unless we have a close personal communion and fellowship with Jesus Christ, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much effort we put into our religious activity, it is worth nothing. It is wood, hay and stubble. It is not the fruit of the Spirit. No real fruit will ever be produced apart from abiding in the Vine. There are no exceptions to this rule. It is possible to do lots of work for God, to work our fingers to the bone. We can sing a beautiful solo in church, but that does not mean it necessarily was motivated by a personal relationship with Christ. It could stem from a “here I am, aren’t I great” attitude. It is possible to preach a wonderful sermon, but that does not necessarily mean it stems from a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It could be done for selfish reasons. Sadly in recent years we have seen too many examples of this from the televangelists. Men who have been involved in what seem to be very fruitful ministries with lots of people getting saved, lots of buildings going up, and lots of activity taking place in the name of God, only to discover down the road that they had been living in sin all along. None of it was built on a close personal relationship to Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “without me ye can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). You can build buildings. You can sing songs. You can preach sermons. You can teach a Sunday school class. Oh, we can do lots of things, but there is no fruit unless it stems from an abiding relationship to Christ. If that is not the case, then it is the fruit of the flesh. It is possible for us as believers to harbor sin in our hearts for years. Maybe we are cheating the IRS and nobody knows… We come to church with a big smile and a nice suit. We appear to be a pretty good Christian. God knows what we are doing on our tax forms. Maybe we come to church and we look pretty much like everyone else, yet we have not spent any time in prayer. We have spent no time reading the Bible and no time communing with the Lord. Yet, we might be a busy beaver in the church. Jesus said, “without me ye can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5), nothing of any value to God. There is no fruit in those labors–not one tiny bit. Notice in John 15:4, Jesus said the branch “cannot bear fruit.” That word “cannot” means that we are not able. It does not matter how hard we try or how sincere we are. Apart from Christ we can do nothing. That is a hard lesson to learn. We cannot abide in Christ unless our heart is right with God and one another. Sin separates. If our hearts are not right, then there is no abiding. If there is no abiding, no matter how hard we work for God, it is worth nothing.
We repeat Jesus’ words at the end of John 15:5, “without me ye can do nothing.” It does not mean we cannot be busy. It does not mean a lot of activity cannot take place. It does not mean we cannot serve in the local church. It does not even mean that we cannot produce anything. Maybe some good things will come from that activity. But, when God looks down on such a life, there is no fruit at all apart from Christ.
We look out over Christendom today and we see lots of activity, lots of events taking place, but it does not mean it is spiritual fruit. Even in this local church we can run programs; we can conduct evangelistic services; we can start churches and ministries and all kinds of things, but if it does not stem from a personal heart relationship to the Lord, there is no fruit. There is nothing of any value. Remember what we looked at earlier. How does God judge the works of the flesh? Paul says, “in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Rom. 7:18). God is only glorified when our labors for Him stem from a relationship to Christ. You see that is what Christianity is. It is not doing, doing, doing. It is not activity, activity, activity. Christianity is a relationship to Christ. It is personal. It is close. It is intimate. It is abiding resting in Him moment by moment. Apart from the personal, intimate relationship with the Lord, everything we do is sounding brass and tinkling cymbal. Men may stand in awe of all that was accomplished in the flesh, but in God’s sight, it is wood, hay and stubble.
It is pretty humbling when we discover God’s method of producing fruit. Notice also in John 15:5, Jesus says, “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” On the one hand, apart from the Vine we can do nothing of any value to God. We can be busy and do things, but it is of no value spiritually. On the other hand, when we abide in Christ, (when our sin is confessed and our hearts are right with the Lord), Jesus says that not only will we produce fruit, but we will produce much fruit. I am encouraged by this. Jesus is not talking to Paul and all the apostles and all the important people. This verse was not written just for the D. L. Moodys and the Spurgeons and the John Knoxes of the world. It was written for all of us, you and me! If we do that very simple thing, (keeping our heart relationship to Christ right), then Jesus Christ will bear much fruit through our lives and our ministries. That does not mean that we are going to lead thousands to the Lord. That does not mean we are going to establish mission boards. That does not mean we are going to make it into the Christian hall of fame or anything like that. In fact, it does not even mean that anyone will see or acknowledge the fruit that is being borne. And, you know, it does not even matter if other people do not see it. God does. Christlike character is being produced in us! That is the ultimate work God is doing in our lives today. He is making us more like the Lord Jesus Christ. Consider that humble believer who walks into church and is barely noticed. Perhaps he never gets elected to any of the committees or never gets voted in as a church officer. It may be revealed at the bema seat that that believer has borne more fruit than anyone would have imagined!
God does not judge fruit the way we do. Matthew 6:1-4 says, “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.” There is something important that the Lord wants to communicate to us in this section. Good works, (the fruit of our hands, the fruit of our ministries) are not something that ought to be done with the sounding of a trumpet to get everybody’s attention. Hey, look at me! The godly believer, who is dead in Christ and who reckons himself to be dead, is out for the glory of Christ, not self. To him, Christ is everything. He is not going to be sounding a trumpet so people will see how great he is. He is not going to tell everyone how much he reads the Bible, how long he prays, how much he gives, or how many good deeds he has done. He does it in secret. Maybe nobody knows what he does in secret, but God. Ultimately He is the only one that matters.
For fruit to be genuine, it has to arise out of a close personal relationship to Jesus Christ. Everything else, no matter how much we do, no matter how hard we try, no matter how sincere we are, if it is done apart from Christ, is the work of the flesh and is all going to be burned up. Abiding in the Vine and spending time with Jesus Christ has an effect on us! It cannot help but have an effect on us. Spending time communing with Him, fellowshipping with the Lord we love changes us–from glory to glory! That is what spiritual growth is all about. Christ is being formed is us. His life is being manifested in and through us. We are being conformed more and more into His image–less of self, and more of Christ. That is a life long process.
Fruit Is the Product of the Vine, Not the Branch
Jesus makes it clear in John 15 that fruit is a product of the Vine, not the branch. It is only from the Vine, the Lord Jesus Christ, that divine life and power flow through us, as we yield to Him and abide in Him. It is the life and nutrients from the Vine that produces real fruit. That is why Jesus stressed over and over again in John 15 that the responsibility of the branch is not to produce fruit. The responsibility of the branch is to abide in the Vine. I love that because it takes all the pressure off self, does it not? We are not under the gun to produce, produce, produce. Rather, we are to abide in Christ. Our job is to abide in Him thus allow God to work in and through us. We can really rest in the Lord, for the production of fruit is His work. We can wait upon Him, for fruit is borne in His time. If it takes a whole lifetime to produce the kind of fruit He wants, so be it. Let God be God. Not only does it take all the pressure off, it also changes my whole outlook and focus. I am no longer focused on all the things I have to do and all the chores I have to get done. Take your eyes off of all those busy, busy activities and put your eyes on Christ. We need to learn that our will is nothing and His will is everything. Then, it is no longer I, but Christ. I am no longer absorbed with my own self, with my own problems, my own struggles, and my own desire to get things done. I can truly rest in Him. He is Lord.
Once we learn to quit struggling and trying to produce fruit on our own, something supernatural takes place. In Galatians 2:20, Paul wrote, “I am crucified with Christ” and Paul probably thought in the back of his mind, Good, Saul is dead! Praise the Lord. “I am crucified with Christ nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Paul saw himself in the Vine, abiding in the Vine. He was reckoning himself to be dead. He was crucified, yet the life of the Vine was flowing through him. As he lived, it was in fact, Christ living His marvelous resurrected life through a yielded Paul. Do you know what the end of that life is? Fruit! That is something worthwhile from eternity’s perspective. Christ’s life flows through us and manifests itself through us. Do you know what is going to be manifested? His love for the Father. How much does Jesus Christ love His heavenly Father? How can you put it into words? Infinity! When we are yielded to Him it is His love that is going to be manifested through us. We are going to love God in a way that we could never love Him on our own, apart from Christ.
When we are yielded and abiding in the Vine we are going to have Christ’s love for the lost. Too often we hear of believers who are badgered, almost bludgeoned by preachers to get out there and save souls! Very often the implication is that we have to go out and do something and try to produce fruit on our own. It results in frustration because Jesus said, “without me ye can do nothing.” Rather than badger believers to get out there and produce, I would much rather encourage us to draw closer to Christ. Love Him more. Yield to Him more. Do you know what is going to happen when we are surrendered and yielded to Him, and our hearts are right with Jesus Christ? We are going to be more like Him. And, Jesus went about seeking to save the lost. That was on His mind all the time. If we are yielded to Him, His love for the lost is going to be manifested through us. Self does not love the lost that much. Self loves self. But when we reckon self to be dead, and we abide in Christ, His love for the lost is going to be manifested through us. Do you want more evangelistic zeal? Open your Bible and learn to love the Lord Jesus with all your heart!
How about love for the brethren? Right after explaining the important relationship of the branch abiding in the Vine, in John 15:12, Jesus said, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” We might wish that Jesus stopped in the middle of this and said, “Love one another” (period). But instead He said, “love one another, as I have loved you.” This is how men will know a genuine disciple: they love one another. To love the brethren as Christ loves us is not always an easy thing to do. Self does not love the brethren that much. Self loves self. But, when we are yielded, when we reckon self to be dead and alive unto God and yield and surrender to Him, His love for other people will be manifested through us.
I heard a wonderful illustration years ago in a marriage class. The speaker drew a picture of a triangle with God on the top. The wife was down on the bottom of one side of the triangle, and the husband on the bottom on the other end. This husband and wife were butting heads and having a hard time getting along. His point was that instead of trying to work out all the tiny little details (and they will never ALL be worked out in this life), concentrate on the One above. As the husband and wife grow closer to God on the top of that triangle, they will be getting closer to each other! What a perfect illustration of how we ought to be seeking God first in our lives. In our relationship one to another, if Christ is first and we are seeking to please Him, and are abiding in Him, then we will be drawn closer to each other too! God will be working in us. Not only so, but when we are yielded to the Vine, Christ’s willingness to serve others will be manifested in our lives. He left Heaven to become a servant of men and to die the awful death of the cross. He did it all because He loved us. It was the ultimate expression of selfless service for others. When He was here on Earth, washing the disciples’ feet, guess who was present? Judas. Self does not like to serve others. Self likes to be served.
If you or I attempt to do this in the flesh instead of abiding in Christ, we will be like that withering branch trying to produce fruit. Just try to produce this kind of fruit–selfless service. It will be the most frustrating, unhappy experience of your life. At the end of it all we are going to say, “After all I did for them, look at what I get in return.” Do you see self right in the center of that? Was that act of service done selflessly or were you doing it for something in return? When we are yielded to the Lord and are resting in Him, it does not mean we are going to be lazy. Read Acts 10:38. There Luke said of the Lord Jesus, He went about everywhere doing good (deeds). Resting and abiding in Christ, and spending time in communion and fellowship with Him, will make us like Him. It does not mean we sit in the corner and read our Bible and pray all day and never do anything. Rather, this kind of abiding is going to make us like the Lord Jesus Christ. He never ceased from doing good works. When self attempts to produce good works on our own, it will produce nothing but frustration and weariness. You see, here is an important principle: on our own, doing good works, (trying to be good), is never a substitute for abiding in Christ. Religious activity does not equal fellowship and it certainly is no substitute for communion.
In II Corinthians 4:10 Paul says, “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” What an amazing thought. The life of the resurrected and glorified Savior is to be manifested in our physical body! In II Corinthians 4:11 he says, “For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.” Paul gloried in even the worst of circumstances. He saw them as opportunities for Christ to be manifested through a yielded body. We are members of the body of Christ, channels of His life, channels of His love, channels of His goodness, His forgiveness, His tender heartedness–channels only, but channels. Spiritual growth never, ever occurs by means of self attempting to defeat sin on its own. It never occurs by self trying to improve itself. God has never called self to muster up enough personal strength to live the Christian life. On the contrary, our goal is not to build self up. Our goal is to reckon self to be dead. By faith we are to believe our old self-life is dead, and live that way, so that Christ is everything to us. Self does not have what it takes to love the lost the way God loves them. Self just does not have what it takes to forgive as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven us. Self does not have what it takes to conquer anger and lust and bitterness and resentment. Self cannot possibly selflessly serve others. Spiritual growth comes in only one way–abiding in Christ. Surrender. Yield to Him, and when that is the case, the excellency of the power is of God and not of us.
There are two views men might take. When we do not see enough results in our labors, the flesh says, work harder; dig in deeper; do more, more activity. The flesh loves activity… more pressure to produce.
The view of the Spirit is this: if we are not seeing enough fruit in our lives, if we are not seeing results in our ministry, then maybe we need to rest more! Maybe we need to draw closer to Christ, the Vine. Perhaps that’s the problem. Maybe we need to learn more of what it means to abide in Him and to allow Him to work in us. D. L. Moody used to say, “I have so much to do today I’ll have to spend twice as much time in prayer.” Is that the way we usually look at life? What God wants is a constant attitude of not I but Christ. That is a selfless humble attitude. When the flesh goes to work, self is exalted. When God works in us, self is abased and Christ is exalted. The branch that hangs down the lowest is the one most laden with fruit.
Fruit Attempted by the Flesh and by the Spirit
We have a perfect example in the Bible of two individuals who were trying to produce fruit, trying to serve God. But they approached it in two very different manners. Do you know what happens when the flesh tries to produce good fruit? Even with the best of intentions, it ends up producing rotten fruit, for in the flesh dwells no good thing. In the flesh, we can try to get involved in many activities for God–thinking that the more we do, the busier we are, the more spiritual we are. Wrong! Very often when we are busy doing so many things for God we can easily become disgruntled and frustrated at other people. (How come they are not helping me?) We look down at other people, and then pride sets in. (Look, I am doing all the work around here!) Then we can become resentful. (Boy, nobody else has any love; nobody else has any zeal around here. I am doing it all, and no one appreciates it.) Eventually we are going to be judgmental, and finally we are going to be burned out and quit. Here is the most bazaar thing of all–in an attempt to produce fruit, we are actually taken away from the Vine. This is entirely illogical spiritually… but it happens all too often!
Fruit bearing ought to be the result of resting in the Vine. Let us look at a passage in Luke 10. Starting in verse 38 we read, “Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, [with her complaints] and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.” Here are two women. Mary was concerned with abiding, sitting, remaining, resting at the feet of the Lord Jesus and communing with Him. Martha was busy, hectic and stirred up over doing – cleaning the house and cooking the meal. It says in verse 40 that Martha was “cumbered.” That word means to be drawn apart, to be torn in every direction. And, she was cumbered about serving. She was trying to produce fruit for Jesus, and her intentions were good. It did not result in rest, but rather it resulted in anxiety. Her ministry was for Jesus, but there was no joy in it. Is not there joy in serving Jesus? Is not that the song we sing? That is not necessarily so – not when we do it in the flesh like Martha was evidently doing. Her motives were good. She wanted to serve the Lord. Service is good, but her service caused her stomach to be tied in knots. She was cumbered about and not only so, but she was serving and doing all these things for Jesus on her own. Notice the attitude she demonstrated toward her sister. She began to judge her sister. Lord, look at her. She is doing nothing. I am doing all the work and she is sitting down. Bitterness set into Martha’s heart. She had the “poor me” attitude. In addition, she even dared to accuse Jesus. She said, Lord don’t you care? She began to question if He cared for her or not. Here was a branch broken away from the Vine trying to produce fruit on its own. She was becoming worried and anxious, cumbered, torn into different directions. She began to be judgmental against her sister who was not working as hard. She even pointed an accusatory finger toward the Lord! She was separated from the Vine. It says in verse 41 that she was careful or anxious.
You see something was missing in Martha’s ministry–communion and fellowship with Jesus Christ. He was not given the preeminence at this moment! Jesus was kindly pointing out to Martha that her service for Him did not arise from a close, personal, intimate fellowship and communion with Him. That was what was missing. She was busy. She was doing for Jesus, but she did not spend any time with Jesus.
Now on the other hand we see Mary communing with the Lord. Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, a position of resting. She was not running around like a chicken with her head cut off. She was resting at Jesus’ feet, listening to His Word, communing with Him. Relationship was most important to her, not activity! She chose to abide with Christ. When a branch abides on the Vine, the life and strength of the Vine flows through that branch. The end result eventually will be real fruit. If Mary spent time communing with the Lord Jesus, loving Him, talking to Him, fellowshipping with Him, then of course if He asked her to serve Him she would. That service would be based on relationship.
In John 12, we have another account of this woman, Mary, when Jesus came to her house. Do you know what John tells us about Mary, the one that spent time at Jesus’ feet, resting, communing, and fellowshipping with Him… the one with whom relationship was everything? When Jesus came to her house the next time, she took out a most valuable bottle of ointment and poured it on His feet. She washed His feet with this precious ointment and the sweetness of the aroma filled the house. Jesus was so impressed with her service that He told the disciples that wherever the gospel is preached, this story was to be told as a memorial of her.
Communion and fellowship always result in service and real fruit. Busyness on Martha’s part resulted in doing lots of things. The dinner did get cooked, but it was done in bitterness and a judgmental spirit. Mary’s fellowship and communion resulted in service and it did not fill the house with bitterness. It filled the house with sweetness. Communing with Christ and abiding in Him results in selfless, sacrificial service. It results in a sweet smelling savor that is a blessing to everybody involved, and it produces the joy of the Lord. That is what service ought to be about.
If we want to produce fruit, what is our responsibility? Do not say, get out there and do it! If we want to produce fruit, we have to work first and foremost on our relationship to Jesus Christ. This is Christianity. Fruit may take longer. It may take our whole life to produce the kind of fruit God wants in our lives. Be willing to rest in the Lord and wait upon Him. Our nature is to want to see so many things done now or even sooner! We need to be more like Mary. Jesus said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). It is our choice. Abide in Christ and bring forth much fruit or try to do it on our own, and produce anxiety, bitterness and frustration. Does it not make sense to abide in Him?
Are We Abiding In Him?
Scripture for Meditation: I John 3:24
In this chapter we want to go down a little spiritual checklist to make sure that we are abiding. Anybody can say, yes, I am walking with God– Yes, I am abiding in Christ. The Bible gives us a little checklist to make sure we are truly right with God.
Abiding In Him Means Keeping His Commandments (I John 3:24)
I John 3:24 says, “And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” The first thing we want to note from what John tells us in this verse is that if we are abiding in Christ, we will be keeping His commandments. There are not any exceptions to this rule. John says very plainly, “he that keepeth his commandments,” is the one that dwelleth in Him. The word “dwelleth” is the same word in the original as “abideth.” The one who is abiding in Christ is the one who is obedient to Christ. John tells us that Christ also abides in us. There is a wonderful relationship between the Vine and the branch. As that branch abides in the Vine, the life and vitality of that Vine is in that branch. John speaks here of a mutual abiding, the branches in the Vine, and also (in a wonderful and a supernatural way) the life and the character of the Vine are also abiding in that obedient branch.
Our abiding in Him is contingent upon obedience. If we are not keeping His commandments we are kidding ourselves. We are not abiding in Jesus Christ. Disobedience in any form causes that branch to be (conditionally) broken away from the Vine. That is a horrible condition for any branch to be in. Disobedience breaks fellowship. Disobedience breaks communion with the Lord Jesus Christ. When we have broken communion with the Vine, that branch is going to wither. There is nothing else it can do on its own. Jesus said without me you can do nothing… but wither away. Yet, when we abide, when we are obedient, when we are doing what God wants us to do and our hearts are right, then His strength flows through us. His love is going to be manifested through us. His character is going to be revealed through us. That is exactly what Christianity is all about. It is about a relationship to a Person.
John makes it clear here that if we harbor sin in our hearts, our fellowship is broken off, even if we might consider it to be a little sin. God does not measure sin in small, medium and large. Sin is sin. Any sin is infinitely short of the glory of God. God is infinitely holy and perfect, and any sin (no matter how tiny we might think it is) is infinitely away from God’s holiness. Any sin that we hold on to, any sin we harbor in our heart breaks off our fellowship from the Vine. John implies here that it is the written Word of God that we need to be obedient to. It is the commandment of the Lord. Look what Jesus said in John 15:10, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” That abiding relationship that we have to Christ is contingent upon obedience to His Word. Failure to do so means that we are no longer abiding in Christ. It means we are no longer abiding in His love. It means that His strength, His character, and His Power are no longer flowing through us as a branch. That is an exceedingly dangerous condition to be in. It is the place where we wither. It is a condition where we lose spiritual strength and vitality. Growth is stopped and even reversed.
The book of Hebrews gives some serious warnings to believers along these lines. When growth is not taking place, horrible things can happen to believers. A reversal of our spiritual condition can take place. Those that were once enlightened can become like ignorant babes. Therefore, we need to take care of what our heart attitude is, even towards what we might consider to be a little sin. It is not little in Christ’s sight. When that branch is broken away from the Vine, we start becoming less and less like Jesus Christ, our Savior, and more and more like our old man. God looks at disobedience very differently than we do. He sees every sin as exceedingly sinful. We might say, OK, so I cheat a little on my income tax. I do everything else right in God’s sight. I read the Bible. I go to church. I pray with my family at night. I do every thing else. So what is this one little area? That one little area means that there is no fellowship with God. That one little area breaks our fellowship and our communion. We are no longer abiding in Him. We have no more access to His strength and vitality. One little sin will separate us from fellowship with God (see Isa. 59:2).
James put it this way, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (Jas. 2:10). If we have broken one of God’s commandments we are a lawbreaker. That is our heart condition. We are a lawbreaker. It does not matter which commandment we broke. Abiding in Christ is a condition of obedience before Him. It means that if we want a right relationship with the Lord, we have to be obedient. We have to trust and obey. Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15). It is very simple. If we do not keep His commandments then we are not abiding in His love. There is no fellowship or communion.
It says in I John 2:4, “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” This is not just a head knowledge he is speaking of here. He is talking about knowing Him in a deep, personal, intimate relationship. If anybody says that he has a relationship to Jesus Christ, and is not keeping His commandments, John says he “is a liar.” It just cannot be. This abiding relationship depends on our obedience to His Word.
If we really know Christ, if we love the Lord, if we are abiding in Christ, then we are going to be yielded. We are going to be surrendered. We are going to have a heart that is turned over to Christ that He might fill us and use us in any way He wants. Do you remember what Jesus said about the Vine? In John 15:5, “I am the vine, ye are the branches.” You are cleansed by My Word (John 15:3). It is the Word that sanctifies the branch. What Jesus wanted to communicate to us in this section was that if something is wrong in the life of a branch, if I as a branch am abiding in Christ, and something is not right in my life, then God uses His Word to point it out to me. It is the Word of God that the Spirit uses and He puts His finger right on my heart, right on my sin, and He says that is not right. That needs to change. That is how God cleanses us. God purges the branch so that it brings forth more fruit. It is a good thing that God’s Word convicts us. It is a good thing that God’s Holy Spirit puts His finger right on the problems in our lives that need to be resolved.
Obedience has nothing to do with our position in Christ as a Christian. Obedience has everything to do with the condition of our every day life. It has everything to do with our communion and fellowship with Him. If we say we abide in Him and are not obeying His commandments, John says we are a liar. There is no fellowship with Christ when we are holding on to sin. John says in I John 1:6, “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie.” You see, there is no possible way that we can walk in darkness, harbor sin in our life, and on the other hand say that we are abiding in Christ. Do you know what John implies in I John 1:6? He implies that it is human nature to cheat. When a person is saved and born again, we all like to think that we are walking with God. We all want to put up a good front. We all want people to think that we are spiritual. We all want people to think we are walking in the light. John knew that some of us would say that we have fellowship with Christ, but at the same time walk in the darkness. The believer harboring sin in his heart does not want to appear to be out of fellowship before his brethren. Because he still wants to look spiritual, he will attempt to produce fruit on his own. It is nothing but the works of the flesh, because apart from the Vine we can do nothing of any value before God. No real fruit will ever be the result of the flesh. There is no substitute for a relationship to Christ.
Abiding In Him Means ‘No Sin’ (I John 3:6a)
In I John 3:6, John says, “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not.” The one who is abiding in Christ, having that deep, intimate, personal relationship to Him, “sinneth not.” The one who abides in Christ and is abiding in that condition of communion and fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, does not continue to sin. He is not going to linger in sin. He may fall into sin, but he will confess it and make it right with God and come right back to the place of abiding and communing with the Lord. He will immediately return to that place where the life and the strength and power of God is found. This is so because he has confessed his sin and has returned to the place of blessing and growth. He is right with God again. Spiritual growth can continue.
When John says in I John 3:6, “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not,” he refers to sin in a broader sense. It is not just keeping the written commandments. It refers to any kind of sin. It is missing the mark in any way. The Bible says thou shalt not steal. If I steal your wallet, that is violating the Scriptures. There is no doubt about that. But there are other ways we can come short of God’s glory and can miss the mark that God has for our lives. If God wants me to share the gospel with my neighbor, there is no verse that says Christian, I want you to witness tomorrow at 9:00. But God’s Holy Spirit may prompt me to share the gospel, and if I say no, (when I know the Spirit is leading me), it is the same kind of heart rebellion against God. It is missing the mark. It is sin and I have grieved the Holy Spirit. I have resisted the leading of the Spirit of God. I have violated my conscience. Thus, I am no longer yielded. That too will cause our fellowship with Christ to be cut off.
God has one requirement for the branch to be receiving all the nutrients and benefits of the Vine: yieldedness, or total surrender to Jesus Christ. There is no other way. God requires an attitude of yieldedness, a willingness to do what God wants, a heart that is fully surrendered. Whether the Holy Spirit leads me or the Word of God convicts me to do something, my heart attitude ought to be willing. Speak Lord. Thy servant heareth! We cannot say we are abiding in Christ unless our heart has a yielded attitude to Him.
Abiding Means Rejecting Doctrinal Error
There is another important matter when it comes to abiding in Christ: truth or doctrine. In I John 2:21-24, the apostle writes, “I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth. Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain [or abide] in you, ye also shall continue [or abide] in the Son, and in the Father.” Here John makes it real clear that if we are going to be abiding in the Son, dwelling in His presence, dwelling in that place of fellowship and communion, then we also have to be abiding in the truth. John states that if his readers resist the lies of the false teachers and submit to the truth of God’s Word, then they are abiding in Christ. You see, in order to be abiding in the Son you have to remain in the truth. Jesus said, “I am …the truth” (Jn. 14:6). When we wander off into darkness, reject the truth of God’s Word, and knowingly depart from truth and enter into a lie, we are leaving the place of fellowship and communion. Yes, even believers can do this! A young man may fall in love (or so he thinks) with a woman from a liberal background that does not believe in Christ, and he ends up attending her church. Sometimes a believer might not get along with people in the local church, therefore he goes to some unbelieving liberal church down the street because the people there are nice. There are lots of ways we can depart from the truth. Satan lures some branches away from the Vine with physical attractions. It might be sexual sins. It might be putting sports or money above God. It might be any number of physical things. But the Devil also uses mind games. The Devil also lures branches away from the Vine by seducing them into some trap of logic in their mind, by painting them into some philosophical or theological corner, or by luring them into some false system of doctrine. Jesus says that in order to remain in Him you have to abide in the truth. When we wander away from the truth we are wandering away from Jesus Christ. He IS the Truth.
Remember what John says in I John 1:6, “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness,” (darkness there pictures lies, error, immorality, any thing that is contrary to holiness and truth), then we are lying. Growth only takes place in the light. Test it out. Take some seeds and try to plant them in the dark corner of your cellar. I will take some seeds and plant them outside in the sunlight. See which seed grows the biggest and the strongest, the healthiest, and produces fruit. Growth requires light. That is God’s point here. When we wander away from the truth, the light of God’s Word, then we are wandering into a dark place where spiritual growth will not happen. We have to abide in Christ who is the truth, or we will become like that branch broken away from that Vine. Jesus is life. We need to abide in Him so that the vitality of His life will be flowing through us. Jesus is the Light of the world. As we abide in Him, we abide in His light. All these things are absolutely essential if we are going to experience spiritual growth in our lives.
Abiding In Him Means Abiding in Love
There is something else that is equally important. Jesus mentions that in John 15:9, “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue [abide] ye in my love.” This passage is quite striking. Jesus says that in the very same way the Father loves Him, He loves the disciples. That is quite a thought. How does God the Father love the Son? He loves Him infinitely. He loves Him eternally. God the Father loves the Son to a degree that is beyond our ability to understand. The love of God is described in the New Testament as incomprehensible. The only thing we can say is that it is broad and wide and deep. We cannot know it fully. Jesus said that that is the very same way He loves His disciples. The Father said of the Son, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 17:5). That is amazing. We are in Christ. God sees us in His Son. God has the same kind of love for us that He has for His Son because we are in Him. Jesus commands us here to continue (abide) in that love. Who would want to abide anywhere else?
The love of God is hard to grasp. It is beyond hard, for Paul tells us in Ephesians that it is impossible. But now, in light of the fact that Jesus, the Vine loves the branch as much as the Father loves the Son, John says in I John 4:16, “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” Here is another difficult passage in the Scriptures. John says in this verse that we have known the love of God. He does not mean that we know it fully. Paul tells us we can never know the love of God in all of its depths. But we can know it. We can experience it. We can know something about the love of God. We can experience part of it. John says we have known it (and here is the hard part) and we have believed it. Believing is the hard part when it comes to abiding in Christ. Believing (faith) is the basis for our whole relationship to the Lord. Here God states that He wants us to know how much the Father loved the Son, and He wants us to know that the Son loves us in that very same way. Then He says believe it! It is really hard for me to believe that Jesus loves me to the same degree that the Father loves Him. That is hard to grasp, because I know what a sinner I am.
However, God’s love is not based on human merit. God’s love is not granted according to what we deserve, for we deserve condemnation. God’s love is given to us freely, on the basis of grace. God loves me because He chose to do so. He determined to do so. It has nothing to do with human worth. The very same kind of love the Father has for the Son, He has for me and He has for you, if you are born again. We will never understand all the depths of this. The love of God passes knowledge Paul tells us. But what God does expect of us is this: He wants us to believe it. We will not grasp it all. We will never understand the depths of God’s love for us, but He says–believe it! Trust in it! Even when it seems improbable, yea, even impossible that God could love a sinner like me. Believe what God says.
Abiding in Christ requires faith. It does not require brilliance. It is by faith that we are able to understand and experience something we do not fully grasp.
I John 4:16 says, “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” Here John tells us that God wants us to dwell in His love. That is where we should live. We should abide in His love. By faith we genuinely can experience the love of God. We are in fact commanded to abide in God’s love. Live in it. Bathe in it. Breathe it. Allow it to flow through our yielded members to others. As we abide in Christ, as we dwell in His love, as we bathe in it, we are living in a love that knows no limits. Then God’s love will be manifested through us to other people. That is what it is all about. God is in the business of revealing His character to the world through the body of Christ today. God wants us to be yielded to the Vine in such a way that His infinite love can be demonstrated (proven to be a reality) through our yielded members. God wants to make known His love to undeserving sinners and He wants to use us as a channel of that love. This is “bearing” fruit–His fruit!
You see, this is not anything we could do on our own. If we refuse, if we say no Lord, I do not want to show Your love to that undeserving sinner, then you cannot say that you have fellowship with Christ. Do not pretend that you are abiding in Him.
Read I John 2:10. “He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.” If we say that we are abiding in the light, then that means our relationships are to be right one with another as well. Notice that John says here that “there is none occasion of stumbling.” In other words, that is a safe place to be. When our hearts are right with God, and we are abiding in His love. When we are yielded to Him so that His love can be manifested toward the brethren, (even those ornery brethren that are hard to get along with!) then we are in a very safe place. We will not trip up. John says that we will not stumble. That is a place of spiritual safety. But in the very next verse, he says, “But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.” The one who hates his brother, might say he is walking in the light, but he is a liar. He might say that he loves the Lord, but he is a liar. He is not in a very safe place spiritually because he is going to stumble. Do you know what Paul says in Ephesians 4:26? He says, “let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” Make things right today. Do not let them linger on and on and on. If we allow wrath to continue unresolved, then we are no longer abiding! In the very next verse Paul tells us why it is so dangerous. He says, “Neither give place to the devil.” When our hearts are not right, we are opening up the door of our heart and allowing Satan to create as much havoc as he can. We are wide open to Satanic influence. You see, when our hearts are not right, we give place, (place means an opportunity) to the Devil, and that is exceedingly dangerous. Abiding in Christ means that we are abiding in our position. We are in Christ. We are eternally accepted in the Beloved. We are beloved sons of God. That is our position. As we abide there and meditate on our position in Christ, we are able to love the brethren–all of them! Those believers that are agreeable to us are easy to love. But, God’s love (the same kind of love that the Father has toward the Son and the Son has toward us), is more fully manifested when it is shown toward a brother who is difficult to get along with. We just yield ourselves to Him and His love flows through our yielded members to another sinner. Real love is manifested when we demonstrate it toward those who are not so agreeable toward us–even toward our enemies!
Anybody can say that he loves God. Anybody can say that he is abiding in His love. Anybody can say he is abiding in Christ. God puts us to the test. When we say we are in the light, and we harbor thoughts of anger, resentment, bitterness, or if we are holding grudges in our heart, then we are not abiding in Christ in reality. John says we are lying. We really are like that branch that is broken off from the Vine, and the more we harbor that sin, the more withered and shriveled that branch becomes. Being off the Vine is a very dangerous place. We are going to stumble. We open up the door for all kinds of satanic activity. In fact John questions how we can say we love God whom we cannot see if we do not even love the brethren we do see! That love is a sham… just words.
How do we know we really love Jesus Christ? We love His Body. We will manifest His love toward the members of the body of Christ. Every time we meet together for fellowship and worship, God is demonstrating either the reality of our love for Christ as demonstrated through a love for His Body, or a lack thereof. The point is that Christ is the root of it all. The fruit of that is love manifested toward others. When we are plugged into the Vine, when we are abiding in Christ, then we are a conduit for God’s love to be manifested to whosoever He will.
Ephesians 3:17-19 says, “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” Paul tells us here that the love of God passes knowledge, and we will never entirely grasp it. We have eternity to learn about the love of God. Even in Heaven we are not going to fully grasp it because God’s love is infinite and we are finite. We will spend eternity learning how much love God has. But until then God wants us to be rooted and grounded in that love. As we are rooted, (like that branch rooted in the Vine), as we abide in the love of God, guess what happens? We are filled with the fullness of God! All the fullness that belongs to God, all the character of Christ is going to be flowing through that branch. In this context Paul is talking particularly about the love of God. When that is our root, the fruit will be left for others to enjoy and to benefit from. There will even be enough for our enemies to enjoy! The Spirit of God will cause the love of God to be shed abroad in our heart, and will be overflowing to others. When we are yielded, when we are surrendered, when we are in harmony with God and our heart is right, it is a delight. There is nothing more joyous, or more exciting than to see God demonstrate His power in loving somebody that is hard to love. Try it in the flesh and this will be an unspeakable burden. In the Spirit it is a delight. We will learn, as Paul says here, that God is able to do abundantly above all we ask or think, when we allow His love to be flowing through us.
John wrote in I John 4:12, “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” This is what God wants to do in our lives. God is working in us and through us to both will and to do of His good pleasure. He is the sovereign God and Lord. Our job is to be yielded and surrendered. God wants to use me. He wants to use you. He wants to work in us. He wants to work His will, His good pleasure through us as yielded members of His body. What is He doing? He is perfecting His love. He is making it whole. He is making it full-grown. His love is so big we will spend eternity on this project. But, He wants to manifest it right now. God’s love is so big that it is able to cause us to lay aside all desires to hurt someone that may have hurt us. His love is so big that it can enable us to refuse to offend others with our tongue. God’s love is so big that it can cause us to refuse to take offense at the words of others. His love is so big that it can cause us to not seek others’ harm but to seek their good, even at a sacrifice personally.
Abiding In Him Means Walking As Christ Walked (I John 2:6)
I Corinthians 13 is a description of God’s love. It is not theological theory, but it is a fundamental doctrine in the Bible. The love that God desires to manifest through us is Hislove. God puts ‘people problems’ in our lives all the time. Why? Is it because He is a mean old bully and wants to make our lives miserable? No. They are opportunities to practice real Christianity. Does anybody have a life void of people problems? Car problems you can deal with. They are a pain in the neck. But people problems, they are another story all together. We all have to deal with them, whether it is in the home, at church, in the workplace, or in our neighborhood. It is hard living in a world with 6 billion sinners, all banging heads, with so many opposing wills, all going in different directions. But God allows these kinds of problems for our good. He allows them to show us that perhaps we are not as yielded to the Vine as we should be. What is love if it is not practiced? God wants to perfect His love in us, and that is a life long process! It is infinite love that knows no bounds. It is the character of Christ that God wants to manifest through our mortal bodies. That is what Christianity is all about–manifesting God to the world through the body of Christ. And by the way, it is going to take the rest of our lives for this to be perfected in us. Nobody reading this can say Oh yes, I have already done that. I have manifested God’s love. It has already been perfected in me. It takes forever. I am convinced that it is not only going to take this life, but it is going to take eternity for the love of God to be manifested. We will always be learning more of His love. We will always be learning more of His holiness, more of His awesome character. Our job in this life is not to go off on our own and get busy, busy, busy, work, work, work, trying in vain to produce fruit. Trying to love people on our own will lead to a life of frustration. Our responsibility is not to produce the fruit of the Spirit on our own. Our responsibility is to have a relationship to Jesus Christ and to let God use us. It is a life yielded to Christ. It is a life of rest.
Notice that John says in I John 4:13, “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.” We can know that we are abiding in Christ. We can know our hearts are right with God. There is an inner witness of the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit convicts us of sin, we know it. When the Spirit convicts us that things are not right with God, we know it.
I John 2:6 shows what an effect this will have on our life. John writes, “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.” Here is another way we can discern if we are abiding in Christ. If we are abiding in Christ our life is going to be like that of Jesus Christ. In other words, if we have that deep, intimate, personal relationship with the Lord every single day, we will dwell there. We dwell in His love. We abide in His love and in His truth. We have fellowship with Him. We are in the Word. We spend time in prayer. If there is that deep inner abiding relationship, it is naturally going to have an effect on our walk. You cannot spend time with Jesus Christ without it having an effect on you!
Abiding In Him Is the Work of the Holy Spirit In Us
If we say we abide in Him, it should change the way we live. Is not that what Paul said in II Corinthians 3:18? “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” When we open up the Word of God and behold the glory of the Lord, when we are meditating on the glory of Christ in the Scriptures, then the truth of Christ is filling our minds and hearts. As we do that, the Holy Spirit works in us and transforms usinto that same image from glory to glory. That is how spiritual growth takes place. It is our relationship to the Lord.
What does it mean to walk as Jesus walked? Well, there are two key factors here. Jesus said I do always those things that please My Father. His life was characterized by obedience. He also said I dwell in My Father’s love. If I am disobedient and refuse to demonstrate God’s love then these are the proofs to my own heart that I am not walking as Jesus walked. This is not recorded so that we can judge one another. It is a proof to our own hearts. The Spirit of God will witness to us whether we are abiding in the Lord or not. Notice that John says in I John 2:6 that we can walk, “even as he walked.” Real change will take place when we spend time with Christ. It revolves around a heart that is surrendered. That is the essence of Christian living. It is a heart that is yielded and surrendered to the Lord.
We are not talking about how to become a Christian. You do not get saved by surrendering. You do not get saved by yielding or doing. Obedience is the fruit of the new birth. When a person has accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, then God expects something of that person who is now His son. He expects us to be surrendered. He expects us to abide in His love. He expects us to constantly abide in His love. As we do, God changes us. Christianity is a life long process of growing from glory to glory into the image of Christ. We are never going to be finished, until we get to Heaven. Until then, when we yield, when we surrender, when we abide, the natural result of that is going to be fruit. The natural result of a branch yielded to the Vine is a changed life, a fruitful life.
So, how do we walk? Do we walk to please self? Or do we walk as Jesus walked to please His Father? Abiding in Christ–there is not anything more important than your heart relationship to the Lord. It is not what we do. It is not what we know. It is the attitude of our heart towards God. If that is right, God can change anything in our life. If we are yielded, if we are surrendered, if we are like that branch abiding in the Vine, God does not demand brilliance on our part. He does not require talents. However, if we will just stay close to Him, then His life and love and power will flow through us and the result will be “much fruit.” Rest in the Lord.
If you are not born again you will never produce fruit on you own. You must be born again, Jesus said. “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” (Jn. 3:7). We have been talking about spiritual growth. Do not confuse this with God’s plan of salvation! If you are not born again, you need to be saved. You need to enter into that life first. We enter into new life by simple childlike faith. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shall be saved. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16).
Carnal Or Spiritual?
Scripture for Meditation: I Corinthians 3:1-3
We have been looking at the subject of abiding in Christ and all the different aspects of that relationship. In I Corinthians 3:1-3, Paul is speaking about the same concept, but he uses different terminology. A branch abiding in the Vine is spiritual. A branch that is not abiding in the Vine is carnal. If you are saved, you are one or the other. If you are born again you are either a spiritual believer abiding in the Vine or you are a carnal believer, and sin has interrupted your communion and fellowship with the Savior.
Our Position In Christ
We want to consider the following question in this chapter. What kind of a Christian are we right now? First of all we want to note that every Christian has exactly the same salvation, exactly the same position. Remember when we began to study our position in Christ? If we are born again, we are in Christ. That is forever and immutable. If we are born again, we are sons of God. How did Paul begin the letter to the church at Corinth? In spite of all of their carnality, Paul addresses them as saints. They were sanctified in Christ Jesus. They possess the righteousness of God. They are new creations in Christ Jesus. Their sins are forgiven. They are redeemed in Christ Jesus and are accepted in the Beloved. There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. Paul addresses the believers at Corinth as saints, knowing full well that some of the believers were spiritual and some of them were carnal. Yet they were all believers. They were all born again people. However, the condition of their lives varied greatly.
These truths about our position in Christ are true for every one who is born again. Jesus Christ delivered us from our old position in Adam in his sin and in his condemnation. Salvation places us in Christ and in His righteousness. This position is not ours because we have earned it. It is ours not because of any effort or merit on our part. It is ours because of God’s grace and God’s grace alone. Every single genuinely born again person is an equal possessor of all these wondrous blessings in Christ Jesus. Our position is based totally on God’s faithfulness to us. It has nothing to do with our faithfulness to Him. That is why at the church in Corinth there were some spiritually minded believers who were faithful to the Lord, and there were other Christians who were carnally minded and were not faithful to God. Nevertheless, they were all saints. They were all born again, redeemed, and accepted in the Beloved. That is how Paul addresses the Corinthians. Their position was secure “in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:3).
A Carnal Believer
In I Corinthians 3, Paul acknowledges that he could not speak to them the way he wanted to (as mature believers) because they were still babes in Christ. They were carnal. This word carnal means pertaining to the flesh. Carnality is the fruit of our fleshly nature, characterized by sensuality, animal appetites, and feelings.
The carnal man is born again. He is in Christ. Notice that Paul says that they were, “babes in Christ.” They were in Christ by faith. They were born again, yet they were still carnal. They were motivated by, and were operating by their old nature–fallen, sinful, human nature. The Holy Spirit was not controlling them. That carnal believer is like a branch in the Vine that is broken off from communion with the Vine. He is genuinely part of that Vine. He is part of God’s family because he is saved, yet he is broken off from the place of fellowship. His fellowship with the Lord has been interrupted by sin. Therefore he is off on his own, and instead of producing the fruit of the Spirit, (which is the result of abiding in Christ), he is going to produce nothing but the fruit of the flesh–carnality.
Paul gives us some signs of carnality in I Corinthians 3. In verse one of that chapter he says that they were babes in Christ. The first sign of carnality here is immaturity. They were acting like babies spiritually. There is nothing wrong with a baby acting like a baby. Babies are supposed to act like babies. The problem in Corinth was that they had been saved for a long time. They should not STILL have been acting like babies. The fact that they were still acting like babies was a sign to Paul that they were not abiding in Christ. The carnal nature had been in control for some time and had hindered their spiritual growth. They were in Christ, but were babes.
Secondly he says in I Corinthians 3:2, “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” The second sign of carnality here is that they were not able to bear the meat of God’s Word. Paul had to feed them with a baby bottle, so to speak. He had to give them the ABC’s. They should have been progressing, but they were not because they were carnal. You see, these believers were not able to digest the meat of God’s Word because their minds and their hearts were not filled with spiritual things. Their minds and their hearts were filled with things of the world. They were not focused on Christ and spiritual things, but on SELF. Therefore when Paul was preaching, the truth went right over their heads. They did not “get it.” They could not grasp the truth (which they desperately needed for spiritual growth) because the carnal nature was in control.
The third telltale sign of carnality is found in I Corinthians 3:3. Paul says, “For ye are yet carnal.” How did he know? How could Paul tell they were carnal? “For whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal?” The fact that they were envious and fighting and there was strife and division among them indicated to Paul that some in that church were not yielded to Christ. They were carnal and were operating in the power of the flesh. This is just how the flesh operates. The flesh does not live by the truth, “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). The flesh says SELF is my life. When self is your life, then you are going to be envious of others. There are going to be divisions because SELF did not get his own way. That is the way the selfish flesh operates. There were divisions in the church–proof of carnality.
Notice that at the end of verse three Paul knew that these men were carnal because they were walking as men. By men he does not mean human beings or males. Of course they were walking like human beings! He means they were walking like unsaved men. They were acting just like the men in the world. Yes, they were born again and possessed a new nature. But no, they were not yielded to Christ. They were not submitted to Him. They were like that branch broken apart from that Vine. It can produce nothing good on its own. It is going to behave just like an unsaved man–totally barren of spiritual fruit.
We see in I Corinthians 3:4 that one carnal believer says “I am of Paul” and another says “I am of Apollos.” They were polarizing around men. They were taking sides. Some were “of Paul” and thought that they were spiritual. Others chose to side with Apollos. They began polarizing around men, rather than around Christ. That was an indication that carnality was at work here. This was not the work of the Spirit of God. This was not the result of spiritual growth and maturity. It was the result of immaturity in the flesh. Remember, Paul said that in the flesh dwells no good thing.
In I Corinthians 3 Paul was rebuking the church because they were carnal. It was their fault that they were carnal. Carnality (being motivated by the old sin nature) is not a permanent state. These believers should have been filled with the Spirit. They should have been Christ-centered. But they were not. They were motivated and operating in the power of the flesh. They were to blame because they SHOULD have yielded to the Holy Spirit. They were to surrender to God as servants of the Lord. Instead, they said No, I do not want Christ ruling in my life. I do not want to be submitted to Him. I want to do things my way.
Carnality stunted the Corinthian’s growth. Carnality prevents us from growing too. A branch broken away from the Vine will not be strong or fruitful. It is going to wither. In the physical realm, if a child is born retarded (and is not able to grow and mature mentally, emotionally, or socially) it is through no fault of his own. Paul said that these folks in Corinth were spiritually retarded. They should have been mature but they were still babies spiritually. This was their fault. It was the result of a refusal to yield and surrender to the Lord. Notice the dangerous situation in I Corinthians 3:2. Paul said, “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it,” and right now you still are not able to bear it. Paul wanted to feed them what they really needed. What they really needed was to grow up and to be strong in the Lord and to be fed the meat of God’s Word. Paul says I have plenty of meat to feed you, but you are not able to digest it because of your carnal condition. All you can take in is milk. These folks were like branches broken apart from the Vine. The Vine had all the resources those branches needed. It had all the power of the Spirit of God. It had all the life. It had all the nutrients. It had all the resources the branch could ever need, but as long as that branch is broken away from the Vine, it is unable to appropriate all that Christ supplies. Sin separates us from our Savior. The carnality at the church was a matter of sin. They were to be blamed for their carnality.
Until that carnal believer confesses his sin, repents and returns to communion with Christ, (abiding in the Lord), no amount of spiritual truth will ever get through. He is UNABLE to bear it… unable to take it in. And that is the danger.
In I Corinthians 3, Paul the apostle of Christ had some marvelous truths he wanted to communicate to them. Paul was chosen by Christ Himself, and sent to deliver a message to these folks. This message was exactly what they needed in order to grow and to be strong. But, they could not digest it. They could not take it in. They could not bear it. That is a very dangerous condition.
Hebrews 5:11 says, “Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.” The writer of Hebrews had many things he wanted to communicate to his readers, many wonderful truths that they really needed to grasp. They needed to latch on to these truths so they could grow spiritually and go on to maturity. However, the author says they could not do it. They had become dull of hearing. They were once sharp spiritually. They were once on the ball, spiritually. They were once filled by the Holy Spirit. They were growing and maturing like a branch in the Vine. Gradually they had broken away and now they had become dull. This does not mean they lacked the intelligence to grasp these truths. It means their hearts had become insensitive and dull. Their hearts had become hardened to the truth and they were not able to take it in. They were becoming withered spiritually. In this condition the only thing that was going to control their mind, their heart, their will was the old fleshly nature. Their attitude was going to be an attitude of the flesh. Their actions, their words were all going to be a manifestation of the old fleshly nature. They were simply unable to take in God’s message, no matter how well the truth was presented to them. They could not bear truth.
The church at Corinth was very much like Israel when they left Egypt. The blood was shed and applied to all their doorposts. They left Egypt as a people redeemed by God. Yet even though they were redeemed and left Egypt, some of them took Egypt with them in their hearts. There was still an Egyptian influence in the people of God. What trouble that created among the Jews! It resulted in them wandering in the wilderness for many years. They should have entered into the Promised Land of blessing much sooner!
The longer one remains in the condition of worldliness and carnality, the more damage is done to the individual life and to the local church. The believers at Corinth were carnal. They may have remained busy in the works of the Lord, but without a proper relationship to Jesus Christ all was wood, hay, and stubble. It was rotten fruit. They may have had many wonderful spiritual gifts. Remember how Paul introduced the book of I Corinthians? He said, “ye come behind in no gift” (I Cor. 1:7). They were not lacking in talent. Why, they had men that could speak in languages that they had never learned before. They had a prophet receiving direct communication from God in that church. They had all kinds of spiritual gifts, yet they were still carnal. Apart from abiding in Christ and abiding in His love, all the spiritual talents were nothing but sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. You see, the carnal Corinthians were not turned away from the church, (they were still attending) but they had turned away from the Lord. They had turned away from the Vine. They were not out in the bar rooms getting drunk. They were in church. No matter how active and busy they were in the Lord’s work, everything they did was the work of the flesh–wood, hay, and stubble. None of it was acceptable in God’s sight because their heart relationship to Christ was not what it should have been. This is dangerous because although that branch may LOOK like he is producing fruit (serving in various ministries), he will never progress one inch spiritually. It is the flesh at work, and in the flesh dwells no good thing. We can never grow into Christlikeness apart from abiding in Him–apart from a heart that is yielded, surrendered, and obedient to Him. As long as the believer remains carnal he is doomed to immaturity, and he may be completely unaware of his real spiritual condition: busy DOING work in the flesh, but withering up spiritually! (cf. Rev. 3:16-17). That was the danger at the church at Corinth.
Carnality and Immaturity
Let us consider the relationship between carnality and immaturity. They are not the same. Remember what Paul said to the Corinthians in I Corinthians 3? He addressed them as babes in Christ. Now all new believers are babes in Christ. There is nothing wrong with being a babe in Christ. If you have been saved recently, then thank God you are a babe in Christ! You are alive and in Him. That is what counts. There is nothing wrong with a new believer being immature. Immaturity is expected of someone who has only recently been born into God’s family. That new believer has no idea about the spiritual warfare he is about to face with the world, the flesh, and the Devil. He is just happy to be alive in Jesus, and that is a wonderful thing! He is ignorant about Scripture, and that is to be expected. We do not expect a baby to be born into the world already knowing how to walk, talk, read, and write. It takes time to grow and to learn.
The same thing is true in the Christian life as well. Immaturity is expected from a newborn babe in Christ. However, Paul was rebuking the Corinthians for their immature condition. The reason he was rebuking them was that much time had gone by. It was wrong for them to still be babes in Christ. They should have been growing, but they were not.
You know, even a new born babe in Christ can be spiritual. A baby born in the physical realm can be healthy physically. Even so, a baby born into the spiritual realm can be spiritually healthy (spiritual). Physical health is to a baby what spirituality is to a new believer. A baby can be healthy, yet immature and ignorant. He needs to STAY HEALTHY and grow. That is the norm. A new Christian can have a heart yielded to Christ and willing to obey, even though he may be ignorant of doctrine and Bible truth. Although immature, that newborn babe is spiritual and in a condition where he is able to grow and mature. The heart is the whole issue. We expect that newborn babe in Christ to be immature. However, in Corinth the fact that these individuals were still babes in Christ was an indication to Paul that they were not walking with the Lord. Their hearts were not yielded to God or they WOULD have grown. Enough time had passed, yet they were still carnal.
You expect a one-year-old baby to drink a bottle and wear diapers. When your baby is twenty years of age and does the same, you have a problem on your hands! That is not normal behavior for a twenty-year-old. This is what Paul was dealing with at Corinth. These were born again people who should have grown. They should have matured in the Lord, but they were still babies. It was now a heart issue.
God expects a branch on the Vine to remain on the Vine. That branch is to remain or abide on the Vine. It is dependent on, yielded to, and surrendered to Christ. With that kind of an attitude, growth is the natural result. As we abide in Him, growth takes place–slowly, naturally, but faithfully, regularly, and consistently. Over time the branch that abides in Christ is going to mature. That is a normal, natural process. If you have a little baby, you feed him. You take care of him. You clean him. If you give him all the nutrients that he needs, he is going to grow. He is not going to remain a baby. This is just how God designed it.
The same thing is true in the spiritual life. Maturity is a process. It takes the rest of our lives to become like Jesus and to grow to be like Him. That growth process is never going to take place unless we come to the Vine–to the place where we rest in Him and are surrendered to His will. When that branch breaks away from the Vine, every moment away from the Vine is time wasted. No growth will ever take place; in fact just the opposite of growth will take place. When the branch is away from the Vine it is going to wither. Peter wrote in his second epistle and said if we are not continually adding to our faith kindness, brotherly love and other virtues, if we are not yielded to the Lord and producing fruit, something terrible will happen. We will become barren and unfruitful. We may even get to the point where we have forgotten we were purged from our old sins (II Pet. 1:5-9)! A Christian might forget what wonderful things Christ has done for him and what blessings he has in Christ. He might forget about the glories of salvation and wither spiritually. He cannot forget altogether, but he can become negligent, inattentive, dull, and insensitive.
When we abide in the Vine, stay close to the Lord, and we remain there, we are going to grow. Do you know what the whole key to spiritual growth is?–Consistency. That is what abide means–continue, remain. We are to come to Christ, surrendered to Him and stay that way. Do not let anything take us out of that condition. Growth takes place as we abide in Him. When we dwell in His love, we are resting and enjoying all the glories that we have in Christ. Growth takes place when we rest our roots where we have been planted–in Him! When God saved us He planted us in Christ. That is our position and He wants us to dwell there by faith, abide there, to enjoy it, and not to flip-flop back and forth through unbelief. One day a believer is resting in the Vine, the next day he is lured out into the world. The next day he is resting in the Lord and the next day he is back out in the world again. It is only as we abide in Christ and soak in daily, moment by moment, all the riches of the communion that we have with Him, that growth takes place. As we abide in Him, no matter what storm comes our way, we are firm. We are solid. We are abiding in Him. Nothing can shake us.
I am convinced that inconsistency is the ruin of many believers. Try it with a tomato plant. Grow a couple of tomato plants in your garden, one right in the middle of your garden where it gets all the sunshine all the fertilizer, all the moisture that it needs and take care of it. Place another tomato plant right next to it. Every week transplant the second one. Every week pull it up by its roots and then replant it. At the end of the season see which one has become big and strong. Yes the tomato plant that has been pulled up and transplanted over and over will still be alive. You can keep transplanting it, but it is going to take time to re-grow its roots down into the ground and get resettled before it can start growing again. Exactly the same thing happens in the Christian life. It is the believer who stays put, who abides, who continues, who remains in Christ, that is going to experience slow, steady, consistent spiritual growth. It will take place. Wait on the Lord! Trust Him. Rest in Him.
God gives us lots of reasons in the Bible why some believers fail to grow. Some are inconsistent, even with good intentions. Instead of focusing on Christ, some men focus on people. Maybe with good intentions a believer is trying to imitate Joe Christian. He thinks to himself, Joe is a Christian I really admire. I want to be like him. So, if Joe does not go to the movies, I do not go to the movies. If Joe wears a certain kind of clothing, then that must be what a Christian wears, and I will try to be like Joe. Eventually the believer discovers that Joe will let him down. He discovers the cracks in Joe’s armor. He discovers that Joe has feet of clay. How much better it is to focus on Jesus Christ and abide in Him! Real spiritual growth takes place when our focus is on Christ, not on men.
Others are inconsistent because they jump from church to church. Somebody steps on their toes in one church, so they go to another church. Somebody steps on their toes there, so they go to yet another church. They splash around in several different theological systems and they discover that doctrine does not seem to “fit together.” They have nothing but broken, fragmented tidbits of truth, from all different perspectives and it does not always make sense. Hence, doctrine (truth, teaching!) is no longer satisfying and edifying, but confusing. No wonder they begin walking by feelings rather than the facts of God’s Word! They cannot “bear” the meat of the Word, and now no longer desire the meat of the Word. Growth does not take place in that condition.
Other believers start off like a fireball. They get saved and they are all on fire for the Lord Jesus Christ. They go with a fury and they pour themselves totally into the Lord’s work, but a few months later they are burned out. They discover that they just cannot keep up with that pace. Spiritual growth is not rapid. It takes the rest of our lives.
Some believers take a charismatic approach to spiritual growth. They view the Christian life as if the Christian were a battery. You come to church once a week and get zapped and charged. Maybe you walk up front and the preacher puts his hand on your head and you shake. Suddenly supernatural power fills you up like a battery, and you are charged up until the next charge. But what happens? Until the next “charge” you are relying on your own hoarded resources as a battery, are you not? We rely on the “charge” we received a few days ago, instead of moment by moment abiding in Christ. And what does Jesus say a branch can do on his own–? “Without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). That is not at all God’s plan for spiritual growth.
Some believers are inconsistent in their spiritual growth because they live by their feelings. If I feel spiritual today then I will serve the Lord and be happy and joyous and get along with everybody. But if I do not feel spiritual then I will not go to church. Maybe I will stay away from that Christian who rubs me the wrong way. I will not open my Bible because I don’t feel like it. The carnal man is totally dominated by his feelings. The spiritual man does not live by his feelings, but by the facts of God’s Word. That is a big difference. Spiritual growth is slow, steady progress toward Christlikeness that rests upon the promises of God.
Look at II Corinthians 3:18. Here is God’s method for spiritual growth. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass [ mirror] the glory of the Lord…” Our eyes are focused on the glory of the Lord as revealed in the Word of God. What is the result? It says that as we are focused on Christ and His glory then we are being changed into that same image. We are being transformed into Christlikeness from glory to glory, a gradual process of growth. Gradually, slowly, steadily, faithfully, consistently, we grow in the Lord–just like children grow physically. You do not feed a child a nice healthy meal and then in a moment discover that your four-year-old is now six feet tall. (If so, you have another kind of a problem. You will be working for a grocery store for the rest of you life!) God’s plan is for gradual, steady, consistent growth. God’s plan for spiritual growth is not for the believer to be like a meteorite flashing out of the sky. He does not expect us to be Christian superstars. He wants us simply to be humble, faithful servants with hearts that are yielded and surrendered to Christ so that the Spirit of God can produce fruit through our yielded members. Paul says “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (I Cor. 15:58). We are always in such a hurry to progress in our Christian life. As we go on in life we discover that God is not in a hurry. Time is nothing to the Lord. It seems that sometimes we get the idea that spiritual growth takes place in the context of words like hurry, busy, work, do, rush. But when we open our Bible we discover that real spiritual growth takes place in the context of words such as wait, rest, walk, faith, trust. This is God’s plan. God does not want us to remain as a carnal believer. He wants us to be spiritual.
In I Corinthians 3:1 Paul says, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal.” Paul wanted to communicate truth to these people. He wanted to talk to them on a spiritual level, but they were not able. They were babes. All they could handle was milk and what they really needed was meat. Paul is encouraging the church at Corinth to grow up. Stop being babies. Go on to maturity (cf. Heb. 5:11 – 6:1).
The Transition from Carnal to Spiritual
It is very easy to make the transition from a carnal believer to a spiritual believer. The transition from immaturity to maturity takes the rest of our life. However, the transition from being a carnal believer, (walking in the flesh), to being a spiritual believer, (walking in the Spirit) takes just a moment in time. How do we get there? First, we confess our sin. I John 1:9 says that He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Sin separates us from communion with Christ, the Vine. We need to crave fellowship and communion. If we have sinned, we must confess our sin and return to place of communion and abiding. You see, when we confess our sin, then we are able to draw near unto God with a full heart of assurance. We can come back to the throne of grace boldly, knowing our sins really are gone. They are blotted out, buried in the bottom of the sea! As long as we stay away from the Vine, we wither. But when we come back, we come back to the place where we are plugged into the Vine and into all that the Vine supplies. God wants us to remain there by faith. We need to know that we are abiding in Christ, and that there is nothing between my Savior and me. We need to KNOW that our old man really is dead and we do not have to sin. We are a new creature in Christ and able to walk in newness of life. We have to believe in the reality of these spiritual truths and trust God to make them realities in our life.
If we are abiding in Christ, we walk by faith. Believe what God says. Believe that God is big enough to enable us to live a life that is holy and acceptable in His sight. We need to yield our members unto God. That is what it means to remain there. We get there by confessing our sin and returning back to the place of fellowship and communion. We remain there by faith, yielded. That is our number one responsibility as a Christian in leading the Christian life and growing–to maintain a heart attitude of surrender and yieldedness to the Lord. Our job is to remain in the place of communion on the Vine. God’s job is to produce fruit in us. We merely BEAR the fruit that God produces in us.
If something is wrong in our life and our heart is yielded, then God is able to correct us. There are no doubt, a million things in our lives right now that come short of the glory of God. But if we maintain a right attitude and remain surrendered to the Lord, then He is able to bring it to our mind, convict our heart, and we can immediately confess it. Thus we remain abiding in Lord as we are yielded to Christ, resting in Him, and willing to let Him work in us and change us.
In Ephesians 5:18 Paul says, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess.” Do not be controlled by any thing, Paul says, except by the Holy Spirit. When we are yielded, we are filled with the Holy Spirit! When our heart is right with God, when we are surrendered to Jesus Christ, we are filled with the Holy Spirit. We are not waiting to be zapped from Heaven. We are not waiting for someone to touch us on our forehead so that our body trembles. We are not waiting for God to do anything. You see we have already been blessed with everything we need to live and grow in Christ (Eph. 1:3). Just remain there–plugged into the Vine. As we are yielded to Christ, the Holy Spirit is going to fill us with Christlikeness… from glory to glory. He is going to control us. Over time we will gradually mature and develop as a believer. As we remain there, abide in Him, keep our heart right with God, and right with one another, we are in a place where true spiritual growth is going to take place–gradually, steadily and consistently–until Jesus returns.
The transition from the carnal state to a spiritual state can take place in a moment. Just confess your sin and get right back to abiding in the Lord. The transition from babes to mature ones takes the rest of our lives! As we abide, this life long process of spiritual growth will take place. Abiding is our responsibility. We have to make a choice. Am I going to live in the power of the flesh, or am I going to live in the power of the Holy Spirit? Am I going to demand my own way? Many believers want to have Jesus in their life, they want to go to church, but deep down inside they refuse to totally surrender to the Lord. If there is something God wants us to “turn over” to Him, but we are unwilling, then nothing we do for God is of any value whatsoever. It does not matter how splendid our spiritual gifts and talents may be or how hard we try to please Him. God requires a heart relationship to Him. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). If we sow to the flesh we are going to reap of the flesh corruption, rotten fruit. If we sow to the Spirit we are going to reap the fruit of the Spirit.
God wants to work in us and make us fruitful Christians. It is a wonderful thing to think that producing spiritual fruit is really God’s job. It takes all the pressure off. All we have to do is yield ourselves to the Lord, and He can use even us! He can use you and me to produce good fruit unto His glory. That is really what life and service is all about.
Although Paul was dealing with a cantankerous group in Corinth, they really were Christian people. They needed to be shaken up. They needed to be stirred up. They needed to be turned from their carnality. They needed to get back to the place of communion with the Lord Jesus. In that condition of abiding, God could make even the Corinthians fruitful. As we read II Corinthians, Paul was encouraged because the church did just that. They did seem to turn to the Lord (II Cor. 7:13-16). It thrilled Paul’s heart to see that a transition was taking place from carnality to spirituality… and in time that would result in the transition from babes to maturity. It is a long road, but that is how spiritual growth takes place. We need to keep our hearts yielded to Christ. It is as simple as that.
Abiding And Yielding
Scripture for Meditation: Romans 6:13
I want to put each reader to a little test. We all sing the hymn, “Oh how I love Jesus,” but how do we know if we really mean it? Before you open your Bible and consider the subject of abiding and yielding, are you willing to make a commitment to do whatever the Bible says? Are you willing to submit to God’s Word, or are you just playing religious games? Are you pursuing information or a Person? Is your study of the Scriptures an intellectual pursuit or a spiritual pursuit? This is a good test. Do you love Jesus? How can you tell? Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15).
Yielding of Self
In this study we have been looking at the subject of abiding in Christ and our relationship to Him as a branch to the Vine. In this chapter we want to look at the important subject of yielding. Are we yielded to the Vine?
In Romans chapter six (this is where we began this series of studies) there are three important words. First Paul says that we must know something. In verse six, he wants us to know that our old man was crucified and that we have been raised up as new creatures in Christ. This speaks of our union with Jesus Christ. We have been placed in Christ, and are one with Him. We are united with Him in His death, His burial and also in His resurrection. God wants us to know that.
In Romans 6:11, Paul uses another extremely important word: reckon. He says, “reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” This word conveys the idea of faith. Reckon means to count it as a fact. It is one thing to know (intellectually) that we have been united with Christ in His death, burial and His resurrection. It is another thing to believe it. We are told to believe we are no longer slaves to sin, and that we are free from sin because of what Jesus did (Rom. 6:7). We are also to believe that we are now resurrected with Christ and able to walk in newness of life. That is a wonderfully liberating thought. God wants us to believe it… to count it as a fact… to trust in it.
Next, Paul presents to us a third important word in Romans 6:13: yield. He says, “yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead…” (Rom. 6:13). He says that if you really believe that you are alive from the dead, if you really believe God has saved you and made you a new creature, then your responsibility is to yield yourself unto God. That is the term we want to concentrate on here–yieldedness.
It is one thing to know these things. It is another thing to practice them. What does it mean to yield? This is an interesting term. It is used in lots of different contexts in the Bible. For example, Paul tells us we are to yield ourselves unto God. We are to yield our members, the physical members of our body–our mind, our mouth, our hands, our eyes, our tongues, our ears, our feet, everything. We are to yield them to God. This is the term that is used in the gospel of Luke where it says that Mary took Jesus to the Temple and presented Him there before the Lord. That word present is the same word as translated yield in Rom.6:13. She turned Jesus over to God. He is yours, Lord! It is the same word used when Paul was taken in chains by the soldiers and brought to Caesarea. It says they presented him before the king. These soldiers yielded Paul over and said king, he is yours. Do whatever you want with him. You are in charge. It is the same term that is used in II Corinthians 11, where as the father of the bride, Paul says I want to ‘present’ you as a chaste virgin unto your new husband. There it contains the idea of a father releasing the authority of his daughter over to her new husband. He surrenders this young girl over to another man, a new authority.
God says I want you to do that to yourselves. I want you to yield yourselves over to God. That means we give full control to God of what my hands do, of where my feet go, or what my tongue says, what my ears listen to, what my eyes look at. I have to surrender absolute control over to God. That is exactly what the Lord is expecting of us here–total surrender.
If you look at Romans 12:1, the very same term is used again only it is translated very differently. Paul says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” Here Paul says we are to present our bodies. This is the same word as yield in Romans 6:13. It means to turn over authority to another. In Romans 6, Paul was using the illustration of a slave yielding all authority over to his master. Paul uses the same term here of turning over authority, presenting ourselves at someone else’s disposal. However, instead of using the idea of a slave presenting himself or turning himself over to his master, he uses this illustration of a sacrifice that is turned over and placed upon the altar. This is the kind of illustration God wants to get across to everyone of us. We are to present our bodies to God. We are to present our body, our self (all that we are and have), over to Him.
Romans 12:1 begins with the words, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God.” What is the basis of this request? God is not saying, I demand that you do this or else. He is not saying that if you are not yielded, you will not enter Heaven. Rather he exhorts on the basis of MERCY and grace. The infinite mercies of God, which results in our justification, were already described in the previous chapters in Romans. God says to His dear child, I saved you. I justified you by nothing other than simple childlike faith. I have made you accepted in the Beloved. I have forgiven your sins. I have seated you in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. All of this was based upon the mercy of God. None of it was because of human merit. Now God says that because of the infinite mercy that you have received from Me, it is only reasonable to yield to Me. It is only a reasonable service that you present your body a living sacrifice.
What Paul is saying in Romans 12 is that when God exhorts us to holy living, it is always on the basis of our union with Christ, which is eternal and unalterable. God has placed us in Christ. We are forgiven. We are citizens of Heaven. That is never going to change. It is all because of God’s grace and mercy. Once that is settled, once we know this, (that we are in Christ, we died with Him, we are alive unto God in Christ) then on that basis alone God urges us to present our body a living sacrifice. Yielding is ever the way of grace. God says because you have every spiritual blessing already, obey Me. Because I have blessed you with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places already, on that basis I want you to yield your members unto me. God exhorts us to a holy condition of life, but that exhortation is always based upon our position in Christ. He says because you have received the mercies of God, therefore present (yield) yourselves as a living sacrifice.
Consider how God sees us. We are to be a living sacrifice, that is, a walking dead man! A sacrifice is something that is slain. It is dead. It is offered unto God–and yet at the same time it is alive. We are living sacrifices. Notice also that Paul says we are to present our body to God. Paul makes an analogy–the consecration (yielding) of a believer’s life to the Lord is like the slaying and offering up of an animal sacrifice on an altar. What is it that was put on the altar when they were offered? It was the lamb. It was his body. He was not there in spirit only. He was there physically. The worshipper slew the physical lamb and then placed it on the altar and it was burned. Paul likens our lives to that slain animal that was offered as the sacrifice and burnt.
There is something about a burnt offering that is instructive to us. When that animal was placed on the altar of burnt offering it was totally consumed. It was entirely turned to ashes. With some offerings the priest got to keep and eat a portion, but not the burnt offering. The burnt offering was placed on the altar and was totally consumed and turned to ashes. There was nothing left for the one that offered it to eat. When we offer ourselves on the altar, it does not mean we are to reckon ourselves sick or weak unto sin. We are to reckon ourselves dead. That means totally dead. There is none of self left.
Notice that in this offering, we are both the priest and the sacrifice. We are to offer ourselves. Since WE present our bodies unto God, such an offering involves our will. It means we have to choose to do this. In the Old Testament offerings, the animal did not volunteer to have his throat slit and to be burnt on the altar. He was grabbed and led away. When we offer ourselves, it does involve the will. We are saying, God I WANT to be offered unto you. Notice also that it is a service unto the Lord. It is a reasonable service. We are offering everything that we have, and everything we are, unto God in order to worship Him and serve Him.
Paul tells us that we are like a living sacrifice. We offer our whole life, our whole being, everything we are, and everything we have. Would it not be nice if we could do it once and it was all over? In one sense the martyrs had it easy. They died in a moment and went to heaven. Their struggles were all over. I am convinced that it is much more difficult to live for the Lord than it is to die for the Lord. Death lasts but a moment and ushers the believer into glory. However, to live a selfless, sacrificial life for the Lord, every waking moment of every single day is another story! To reckon self to be dead (all our ambitions and plans) and to live exclusively for God’s service is a lifelong pursuit. It is hard to live that way everyday. We are to be yielded unto God moment by moment. This is our reasonable service. “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Cor. 6:19-20). He bought us. He paid an infinite price to redeem us from sin. We are no longer our own. When we offer all that we have to God it is only a reasonable service. It is His anyway. But note the tender way in which God approaches this subject. God does not say I demand this of you or you are going to lose your salvation! Rather, under grace God says, I beseech you. That word (beseech) is sometimes translated comfort. It is sometimes translated exhort. It is like God is putting His arm around us and reasoning with us as a loving Father. It is reasonable! We put our all on the altar, not because we have to or else. It is done rather because the mercies of God that grip our heart. We realize that in light of what Jesus did for us, it is only reasonable that we should offer our all on the altar. Do you know what that offering then becomes? It is a love offering. If I have to do it, it could be considered a heavy burden. Yet when I do it out of grace (when the mercies of God grip my heart and I realize how much God has done for me, how He has forgiven me, how He has saved me) then it is only a reasonable service. As we abide in Christ, God demands total surrender. Total surrender is not a burden if we know Jesus Christ. If we love Him with all our heart, being totally abandoned to the will of the One we love so much, it is not a burden at all.
It is a delight to be totally surrendered into the arms of the One we love… into the arms of One who loves us with an everlasting love! Yet this concept of total surrender can be pretty intimidating, can it not? When you put that sacrifice on the altar and light up the fires you lose control of it. It is no longer yours. You have no more authority over it once it is placed on the altar. It is completely yielded over to the authority of someone else. By nature we lust after authority. By nature we crave to be the king of our own lives. We crave to have the steering wheel in our hands, to have control of the throttle, to have control of the brakes, to be able to press all the buttons. We like to be in charge. We like our cars in America, don’t we? Our cars put us in control. We are not restricted to going just where the bus drops us off. We can hop in the car and go anywhere we want. We like money in America, too. Not because the paper pleases us, but we like the power it gives us. We feel in control, able to do what we please.
To be absolutely surrendered to the will of Another is very intimidating for us. You see, self does not like to die on the altar. Self does not like to lie in a casket. It is a fearful thing. Do you know what the Devil would like each of us to believe? He wants to convince us that if we are totally surrendered to God, the Lord will make our life miserable. Is not that what we think? If I yield myself totally to God, then He is going to take all my fun, all my money, and will send me to some deserted corner of a desert somewhere for the rest of my life. That is an awful view of God! Do you really think God is like that? Is not that what Satan said to Eve in the garden? He tried to convince her that God was not really out for her “best” interest (Gen. 3:1-5). You see, God does not want you to have that one special tree because He knows if you eat of that you will be like Him. He is holding back some very good things from you. If you do what He says you are not going to be as happy as if you do your own thing. The Devil convinces us that absolute surrender of our life over to the Lord Jesus Christ results in a life of misery. Yet what does the Bible say? What kind of life does Jesus offer when we are totally surrendered? It is an abundant life, a fruitful life, full of the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, etc.
Some strange views of Romans 12:1-2 have arisen. Some look at Romans 12 and think that what Paul is really calling for here is one single act of consecration, wherein we come to a crisis point in our lives and we decide to surrender to God. We do it once, and it is over. Perhaps it will occur during an altar call. We walk down to the front of the church and we have finally consecrated our life unto God. Finally it is all over. Do you know what those folks discover? Two days later they are struggling with the same sins all over again. They have to walk back down the aisle. As you look a little closer in many of these places, you discover that the same people are walking the aisle time and time again.
In Romans 12:1, God is not saying we are to present our bodies a living sacrifice to God once and for all. Moment by moment, every day we should maintain the attitude of presenting ourselves unto God. That is what soldiers do. They wake up each morning and present themselves to their commander-in-chief–every single day. Perhaps you have made that decision to consecrate yourself unto the Lord. Maybe you have decided to surrender the authority of your eyes, ears, tongue, and hands over to God. Do you know how the old self-life will respond? It is going to try to pull self right back off the altar. Self does not like the feel of the flames. Self does not like to die. A yielded heart is one that is moment by moment yielding itself to the Lord. God requires a continuous attitude of yielding or “presenting.” During those times when the flames begin to heat up, it is not so easy to be totally surrendered to the Lord. When you want to pull yourself off the altar and get back control of you life, that is when you need to be reminded of Romans 12:1. We have to present ourselves as a living sacrifice and (by faith) KEEP self on the altar. There will be a constant battle to reverse that choice. But there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, than to trust, yield, and obey.
Notice the result of a yielded life. In Romans 12:2 Paul says, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove [or practice] what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” What Paul is telling us in this passage is that as we yield ourselves to God, a transformation is taking place in our lives. As we surrender, as we totally yield ourselves unto the Lord and to His service, we are going to be transformed. We will not be conformed to the world, but transformed into the image of Christ. We are going to have our minds renewed day by day, growing more and more like the mind of Christ. That is spiritual growth. That is spiritual progress. It is entirely linked to absolute surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord. It has nothing to do with becoming a Christian. At this point I would strongly disagree with “Lordship Salvation” folks. Yielded, absolute surrender is not how we become saved. It has nothing to do with the spiritual birth. It has to do with spiritual growth. When it comes to spiritual growth, if we want to be transformed, if we want to be like the Lord Jesus, if we want our mind renewed moment by moment, then we must be totally surrendered to Christ. Just as a branch is totally surrendered to the Vine, so we must be surrendered to the Lord. As it yields, surrenders, and is totally dependent on the Vine, the life of the Vine flows through the branch, and fruit is produced. Apart from the Vine, Jesus says we can do nothing. He means it.
God demands nothing short of absolute surrender. I suppose it is a good thing for us to think about this question. Can I ever really be totally surrendered to God? Is it possible? Does not Jeremiah 17:9 say that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” We cannot even know the depth of the depravity of our own heart. We might think we are totally surrendered, but there may be 1,001 areas in our lives where we need repentance, where we are not in factsurrendered. Well, take heart! There is good news. Psalm 103:14 says, “For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” God knows our frailties. He knows what we are made of. If God showed me the totality of the depravity of my heart all at once, if He gave me a list of the infinite ways in which I come short of His glory, I would fall over dead in discouragement! Man at his best is altogether vanity. Jesus said that out of the hearts come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, thefts, and blasphemies. The good news is that God is infinitely gracious with us all. He is a Father. God deals with us as a father pities his children. He takes us one step at a time. He does not show us ALL the ways in which we come short of His glory all at once. He points out just one step at a time, like a father with his son. If you have a newborn baby, do you spank him because his English is poor, or because he drools? I hope not. A father does not expect instant maturity from a little child. But if that father loves his child, he is going to lead him one step at a time. In time, he will teach him how to speak English properly. In time, he will teach him how to take that first step. He will show him all these things, but he is not going to bury him with everything all at once. He does not expect “everything” at once. That is not how God deals with us either.
Life is God’s university. When He corrects us in one area of our life, then it will be time to be corrected in another area. He will then shine the light in another area. When God shines the light in some dark corner of my heart (a corner that I was not even aware of) I now become responsible to respond. At that point, I am to yield and obey. There may be 1,000 other areas that need to be revealed, that need to be changed, but thankfully, God deals with me one step at a time. You see, spiritual growth is a never-ending process. First God shines the light of His Word in my heart and then He expects me to change. When I learn to take that step, He shines the light somewhere else. When I respond in faith, obey, repent and change, He shines the light somewhere else.
It hurts all along the way. Nobody likes to have the light shine on the sin of his or her heart. Do you know what God does? He convicts us. He shows us areas where we lack. It hurts to be convicted. God makes us miserable over our sin, so that we will be so miserable that we will want something better. We will want a pure conscience. We will crave for cleanliness. We will want to repent. Our new nature LOVES holiness and purity.
In Psalm 139 we have the words of a man whose heart is finally yielded. David said in verse 23, “Search me, O God, and know my heart.” David prayed this because he did not know his own heart. There are so many failures and dark spots in our hearts that we are unaware of them all. David is saying, Lord search me. You know my heart. Try me or test me, and not only my heart but my thoughts. You know my thought life. See if there be any wicked way in me. God knew the wicked ways in David’s thought life much better than David did. Do you want to hear the response of a yielded heart? David said, Show me, Lord. That is yieldedness. He said in verse 24, “see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” David is saying in essence, God I know my heart is wicked. I know there is so much more improvement that needs to be made. I know there are so many areas that need to be confessed, and I am not even aware of them all. Lord, You show me. Lead me. I want to be clean!
The gross sins in our lives (those external sins) are pretty easy to see. The sins of the heart, the thought life, the sins of our attitudes, our motives, and our intentions are far more difficult for us to discern. God knows it all. Therefore, David asks the Lord to search him. Shine the light on my heart. Lord, I am dealing with some difficult issues in my life and I am not sure if I am thinking the right kinds of thoughts. Lord, help me! That is the attitude of a yielded heart. It does not mean a yielded heart is sinlessly perfect. It simply means that if there is any sin we are willing to turn it over when God makes it known to us. When the Holy Spirit convicts us, if we are yielded, we will respond. We will surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our daily life. We will yield. We will abide. If He shows us we have been broken off from the communion of the Vine, then we will confess our sin and come back right where we ought to be. You see, heart attitude is everything with God–everything!
Are we willing to accept God’s rebuke in our life–and yield? Are we willing to admit that there may be something wrong in our heart? Are we willing to admit that our attitude may not be what it ought to be? Are we willing to accept that our thought life is not as pure as it ought to be? If God shines the light of His Word (and that is why we need to be in the Word daily), into any crevice of our heart, we need to be willing to say, Yes Lord, you are right. I surrender. That is a yielded heart.
God may speak to us (through His Word) about the use of our tongue. Perhaps we have not been using it to administer grace. Then we should say, Lord you are right. I surrender.
God may speak to us (through His Word!) about the use of our money. Maybe we have been using it in selfish ways, and have not used it to help others, or to support missionaries. Maybe God wants to convict our heart. When He does, we need to be willing to say, Lord, I surrender. You are right. Take my silver and my gold. Not a mite would I withhold.
God may speak to us about the use of our time. Perhaps we have been wasting it. Maybe God wants us to use our time more effectively for Him in His service. It is only reasonable. If God’s Spirit speaks to our heart and shines the light of His Word into any part of our life, and we are yielded, then we need to say, Yes Lord, I want to change. And by Your grace I will!
Maybe God is speaking to us about some personal relationship that needs to be changed. If we are yielded and totally surrendered to God, then we will be willing to obey. Maybe it is your relationship to your spouse. Maybe there is some bitterness there. Maybe there are some unresolved issues in your own family that need to be taken care of. If our heart is right with God, then respond!
Now I hope you are not discouraged. Perhaps it seems like you are always convicted. When one is always convicted, it is very easy to develop a “poor me” attitude. Oh, poor me, I cannot do anything right. I will never make it as a Christian. I would like to suggest that if you are always convicted by the Spirit of God, then you should praise the Lord. You see, the heart that is close to God is sensitive to sin. It is when we are closest to God that we are the most miserable about our sin. However, do not just feelmiserable and walk away. Do not be like the man in the book of James who looks in the mirror of God’s Word, sees that his face is dirty, feels terrible, but walks away and DOES nothing about it. DO something about it. It is good to be convicted by our sin because it can result in transformation. The experience that Paul went through in Romans chapter seven was good for Paul. He said he wanted to do what was right but that he always ended up doing that which was wrong. The bad things he did not want to do, he ended up doing. He said, “Oh wretched man that I am.” That is a good place to be. Do you know why? Because when he finally discovered the wretchedness of his own heart, the total inability of his flesh, then he surrendered to Jesus Christ and trusted in Him alone to work in him. Thank God through our Lord Jesus Christ! He delivered me! (See Rom. 7:24-25.)
Yielding and Fruit Bearing
When we are surrendered, we are like that branch that is yielded to the Vine. Do you know what the happy result is of such yielding? Fruit! It is a tough job being a branch. The Father prunes back those branches. Do you know what pruning means? Cutting! Ouch! That hurts. You know, the Christian life ought to be a happy life. It ought to be a joyous life. It ought to be an abundant life. If it is not, this is the first place to check. Am I really totally surrendered to God? It is not enough just to be saved. Oh, it is enough to get us to Heaven, but more is required for spiritual growth. God does not want us to just possess eternal life. He wants us to lay hold of eternal life, as Paul told Timothy (I Tim. 6:12). He wants us to enjoy the abundant life we have in Christ. The only way to do that is to allow the mercies of God to so grip our hearts that we are willing to present our bodies a living sacrifice.
It is very possible to be genuinely saved and not be surrendered to the Lord–not living by faith, not walking in obedience. That is the carnal Christian. But in that condition, the branch broken away from the Vine will never produce fruit. You do not break a branch off a vine and expect it to be healthy and fruitful. It is going to dry up and wither. Apart from Me, Jesus said, you can do nothing.
In Galatians 5:22 and 23 Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit. This fruit should characterize our lives. This is the normal Christian life: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, or self-control. If this does not characterize our life there is a heart problem. Something is not right. Fruit is the norm–the fruit of the Spirit. And how is it that the fruit of the Spirit is manifested in our lives? We have to be filled with (controlled by) the Spirit. What do we have to do in order to be filled with the Spirit? Should we have some charismatic preacher zap us on the forehead? No! God wants us to surrender our will and yield to Him! That is it. Total abandonment of self to God. If that is the case, we ARE filled with the Spirit. When that branch is rightly related to the Vine, the life of the Vine is going to flow through the branch. The love, the joy and everything that Vine is and possesses are going to be flowing through us. To experience the fruit of the Holy Spirit, we have to be filled with the Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit we have to be totally surrendered to God.
Do you know what else we are going to enjoy as we surrender to the Lord? In John 15:7, Jesus says, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” What a privilege this is. Jesus says here, if you want answered prayer, you must abide in Me and My words must abide in you. In other words, if we want God to answer our prayers, we need to be totally surrendered to Him. We must be like a branch abiding in the Vine, yielded, continuing in that place of communion and fellowship with nothing between our Savior and us. Only then will our prayers be answered. Does not that make sense? Jesus answers the prayers of those that love Him and who abide in fellowship with Him.
When we are abiding in Christ, what is our attitude? “Not I but Christ!” How did Jesus pray? How did the Vine pray? As He looked at the cross and the suffering involved He said, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Lk. 22:42). He went to the cross and experienced unparalleled agony in carrying out the will of His Father. He was obedient even unto death. He prayed, “Thy will be done.” When we are totally surrendered to God, His will is everything. Paul wrote, “For me to live is Christ.” John 15:7 is not a blank check to gratify the flesh. It is rather a word of exhortation and encouragement for those that have died unto self and are alive unto God. When we are in that relationship of communion, expect wonderful things from God, including answered prayer. The secret of answered prayer is close, intimate, personal relationship to the Vine.
It says in John 15:11, “These things have I spoken unto you.” What are these things? “These things” refer to the whole illustration about the branch and the Vine, all the things Jesus had been teaching concerning the Vine and the branches abiding in the Vine. Jesus has one main purpose for all of this, “that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” As we abide in Christ, we can expect joy. What kind of joy can we expect? It is not the kind of joy that comes from winning Megabucks. It is not the fleshly, self-gratifying kind of joy that the world has to offer–a joy that is dependent on circumstances favorable to self. The kind of joy that we receive is His joy. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It does not necessarily mean a happy, painless existence. Remember, Jesus was a man of sorrow. He grieved over many horrible experiences in His earthly life. He grieved over sin. He grieved over death. Yet through it all He had the joy of the Lord. It never departed from Him. Joy and grief can coexist.
Notice that John 15:11 says that His joy can be fulfilled in us. We are not given a set amount, which when used up leaves our tank empty. We can be filled just like that branch that is abiding on the Vine is FILLED with the life, the sap, the love, and the joy of the Vine. It is continually filled with what the Vine has. What was Christ’s joy? It was to do the will of His Father. That is all He wanted. That is all that made Him happy, whether it was preaching the gospel, healing the sick, or dying on the cross. Jesus’ joy was to please and satisfy His Father. It was fullness of joy. That is what we can experience when we are totally surrendered to God. In His presence there is fullness of joy. Not just an ounce–but fullness! We are filled with the fullness of God when we are totally surrendered to the Lord.
This kind of joy is not for every Christian. This kind of joy is reserved only for those that are yielded–totally surrendered. Read I John. He begins that epistle by saying, “that your joy may be full” (I Jn. 1:4). This joy comes through “fellowship with him”–the Son (I Jn. 1:6). That is what joy is all about–communion with the Vine, fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. When David sinned, He experienced the torture and misery of the heavy hand of God pressing upon him for about a year before he finally broke. He finally cracked under the pressure of God’s heavy hand on his broken heart and surrendered to God. Sin was so miserable to him he cried out and said, Lord “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation” (Ps. 51:12). His soul so longed for the joy that previously existed between him and his God. That joy was gone because of his sin. He did not lose salvation, but he lost the joy of salvation.
God demands absolute surrender, total consecration. This needs to be our moment by moment experience with the Lord. I wonder if any one of us has something in our heart, our thought life, our deeds, something on which God has already been shining the spotlight–something that needs to be resolved. Perhaps there is jealousy or a grudge in our heart. Perhaps there is filthiness or covetousness in our thoughts. Maybe there is murmuring or disputing. Perhaps there is some anger, wrath, malice, dishonesty, or some bad habit that God has been speaking to you about. There is only one way to enjoy the abundant life in Christ – turn from your sin and abide in Christ!
You see, if we hold back one tiny speck, we are not yielded. There are no degrees of “yieldedness.” It is all or nothing. If we say that we are yielded in every single area of our life, but are holding back in one tiny area, then we are not yielded. A burnt offering is totally burnt. You do not get a leg to keep for yourself. If we hold back one tiny speck from the Lord, we have not put our all on the altar! Others may never know, but God does. We may LOOK quite spiritual, but if we are holding back “just a little,” we are not yielded. When we put self on the altar, we are reckoning self to be dead–not sick, or lame, or almost dead, but DEAD! Death knows no degrees. We are to put our ALL on the altar.
When we by faith abide in that place of death to self, and alive unto God [YIELDED] we will not only bear fruit, but MUCH fruit (Jn. 15:8)! To God be the glory!
Abiding And Purging
Scripture for Meditation: Isaiah 5:2
The Context of the “True Vine”
We are going to look at John 15 in this chapter. In order to understand what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the True Vine,” we need to be familiar with its context. The context of John 15 is really to be found in Isaiah chapter five. Isaiah 5:2 is the record of what the Husbandman did with His vineyard. “He fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked.” And what was the Husbandman looking for? He looked “that it should bring forth grapes.” He was looking for good fruit, but instead, Isaiah tells us, “it brought forth wild grapes”–sour, rotten grapes.
We are looking at the subject of what it means to abide in Christ. This is God’s program for producing spiritual fruit. Way back in Israel’s history God tells us through the prophet Isaiah why He chose Israel as a nation. He wanted somebody to bear fruit on Earth for Him. God chose the nation of Israel. He built a fence around this nation. He protected it. He took the choicest vine. He gave it everything it could possibly need to produce rich, sweet, cultivated grapes. Sadly, that is not what the nation of Israelproduced. They produced rotten, sour, wild grapes. In Isaiah 5:5-6, God explains what He is going to do with the vine. God planted it to be a true vine but it was a false vine. He says, “And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.” God was looking for one thing through the nation of Israel. He wanted a fruitful witness on Earth. And He was looking for fruit. Because the nation of Israel did not produce fruit, God said, I am done with that people. Because Israel refused to bear good fruit, God put them on the shelf temporarily. In verse six God states that He will not take care of this vine any more. Notice He says in Isaiah 5:7, “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant.” Israel was an unfaithful vine. The Lord “looked for judgment” or justice. What did He find? He found, “oppression.” He looked “for righteousness,” and what did He find? He saw men crying out because there was no righteousness. What kind of fruit was the Husbandman looking for? He was looking for godliness. He was looking for justice. He was looking for holiness. He was looking for righteousness. He was looking for a godly people, but sadly, that is not what He found in Israel. They became a false, unfruitful vine. Remember how John 15 begins? Jesus said, “I am the true vine.” What was His purpose? In John chapters thirteen through seventeen, the Lord Jesus was teaching and preparing His disciples for the day of His departure. He was going to Jerusalem to be crucified and He would be gone from them physically. He was to depart to His Father in Heaven. There would be a time very soon for these disciples in which they would no longer enjoy this Master/disciple relationship, the earthly, physical Teacher/student relationship. He was going to Heaven. But He wanted to teach the disciples that just because He was going to Heaven, it did not mean they would have no relationship to Him at all. There would be an even deeper spiritual relationship that the Lord Jesus would have with His true disciples. He begins to teach them the truth concerning the Vine and the branches. What we see in these chapters are some of the last words that the Lord Jesus gave to His eleven apostles. What He is telling them is this: I am going to Heaven and I am going to send you out into the world. My purpose is for you to bear fruit. Reproduce godliness wherever you go. That was God’s concern. He wants fruit in the Earth. Yet it was very important how these disciples went about their job of producing fruit. Remember back in John chapter thirteen? The Lord Jesus met with His disciples and He disrobed, and girded Himself in a towel. He took out a basin and began to wash their feet. He was teaching them how to minister in His absence. He was going to Heaven soon. He wanted His disciples to know how to carry on His work on Earth. It was going to require selfless, humble service. Right after He washed their feet, Judas walked out of the room and Satan entered into him. Judas departed from these men and Jesus said “That thou doest, do quickly” (Jn. 13:27). Satan had entered into him to betray the Lord. From that point on Jesus was there with His eleven true, believing disciples. Judas was gone. After Judas had departed, Jesus continued to teach His disciples how they were to minister in His Name, how they were to carry on the ministry of reproducing godliness (Christlike character) in this world in His absence. He said a remarkable thing in John 14:12. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me [the true believers], the works that I do shall he do also.” He elaborates on that by teaching them about the Vine and the branch. The same life and character that is found in the Vine is going to be reproduced in the branch. Not only will the same things that Jesus did be reproduced by the disciples, but even greater works! The same kinds of fruit, (love, joy, peace, gentleness, meekness, goodness, temperance), the same kind of godliness that was manifested in the Lord Jesus was going to be duplicated hundreds of times over by many men all over the world–greater fruit. Jesus, in the period of His humiliation, was limited to a human body. He was in one place at one time. He was in one little nation: Israel. After His departure He was going to send many men out all over the world. They were to carry on His work and He had one very simple lesson for them. When it comes to reproducing godliness, if you abide in Me you can do all things. But if you do not abide in communion with Me, whatever you may produce, (you might build an empire), is all wood, hay, and stubble. It is good for nothing but burning. That is basically the truth that the Lord Jesus was trying to get across to His believing disciples in John 15.
Unfruitful Branches Are “Taken Away” (v. 2a)
The context of our text starts off in Isaiah. Israel produced rotten fruit. Now Jesus is going to teach His disciples how to produce GOOD fruit. Jesus says in John 15:2, “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away.” Jesus begins this section by stating that not all branches are going to be fruitful and productive instantly and immediately. We noted in an earlier chapter that the responsibility of the branch is one–abide in the Vine. Stay close to the Lord Jesus. The concept of abiding has to do with communion and fellowship, a heart that is close to God–yielded and surrendered. However, the kind of fruit the Lord Jesus is referring to does not appear by spontaneous generation! Fruit is a supernatural work. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is God working in that yielded branch to reproduce the character of Jesus Christ. We do not do the supernatural work. Only God can do that. God works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure and He reproduces spiritual fruit in us. Our job is to abide.
In this illustration, God the Father is the Husbandman. He is the One that planted this Vine. He is the One that takes care of this Vine. A husbandman, (a farmer, a gardener, a vinedresser), has one purpose in mind and one purpose only when it comes to the vine. Fruit! How can I produce fruit from this vine? How can I make it even more productive? How can I produce much fruit from this little vine? There really is only one reason to plant a vine. It is not an ornamental tree. It is kind of ugly and scraggly, with branches growing all over the place. You certainly do not plant a vine as a shade tree. You do not plant a vine for the wood. It really is useless as far as its wood is concerned. There is only one reason to plant a vine–fruit. And if it does not produce fruit, it is worthless.
Fruit and fruit alone is what God was looking for in the lives of the disciples and it is what He is looking for in our lives as well. The branch does not exist for itself. The branch does not exist for its own pleasure or happiness in this life. It exists to produce fruit unto the glory of the Vinedresser, God the Father. This is the main point in the illustration of Jesus. How and why is fruit produced?
Jesus wanted to let His disciples know that as they went out to all the world to work and to minister in His Name, if they did it on their own, their labors would be worthless. The way fruit is produced in our lives is through relationship. It is by abiding in the Vine.
Paul gives us another example. How did the dispensation of Law end? It ended in utter failure. The Israelites tried to keep the Law and were miserable failures. That vine proved to be a false vine. They did not produce godliness. They did not produce good fruit, but sour, rotten grapes. Real fruit is produced as the result of a relationship to God. Look what Paul wrote in Romans 7:4, “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another.” We died with Christ and that death ended our relationship to the Law. It also brings us into a new relationship, which is not a relationship to Law. The new relationship is described as a marriage to a Person. We are married to Jesus Christ. That is a deep, intimate, personal relationship. The result of a deep, intimate, personal relationship is fruit unto God. We are married to Him. Even to Him that was raised from the dead that we should bring forth fruit unto God. That is exactly the point of John 15. We are to abide in Christ. The illustration is of a branch totally surrendered, totally yielded to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is that relationship that results in fruit unto God.
Jesus wanted His disciples to be aware of the fact that when they went out into the world, they could not produce anything worthwhile on their own. They may go out and build empires. The Mormon Church has built an empire, but there is no spiritual fruit unto the glory of God in any of it! Lots of religious men have done many things in God’s Name, but it is worth zero in God’s sight unless it is the result of abiding in Christ and abiding in the truth. Before the Lord left them, and sent them out into the world to minister in His Name, Christ wanted them to know this important truth. They could run themselves into the ground for the Lord Jesus, but if they did it in the flesh, if they did it in their own power, it was worthless. As Paul said, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Rom. 7:18). It is a hard lesson to learn. The responsibility of the disciples was not to go out and try to manufacture fruit. That is an impossible task. How could we ever go out and do something that is equal to what Jesus did on Earth? How could we ever produce spiritual, supernatural fruit? Whatever we produce in the flesh is a phony kind of fruit. It is a phony kind of peace. It is a phony kind of love. It is the fruit of the flesh, and there is no good thing in the flesh. Good fruit is the result of communion with Christ.
As they abide in the Vine, as they stay close to the Lord Jesus, God is able to work in their hearts. God is able to work in them and through them to produce the kind of fruit that God wants. And God is pictured in John 15 as the Husbandman, the Gardener, the One that takes care of this Vine. And what does the Father do? When we are abiding in Christ, He is able to produce fruit in the “least saint.” But when we are out of fellowship, when we are walking in the flesh, we have limited what God can produce in our lives. We have cut off that communion, and God is no longer able to work in us. As we abide in Christ, as we stay close to Him and keep our heart yielded and sensitive, then God is able. He is able to do mighty, marvelous works through us to produce fruit.
In John 15:2, Jesus says, “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away.” The term for taketh away literally means to lift up. The King James translation, take away, is a bit misleading. It almost appears as if He is saying that this branch is going to be broken off. He talks about breaking off branches later on, but that is not the meaning of take away here. The word for take away means to elevate, to lift up. It is used of lifting up your voice in praise to God. It is used of lifting up or elevating your hands as they did often times when they prayed. The context has to determine exactly what is meant here by this lifting up. Dwight Pentecost noted that vinedressers often resort to this procedure, especially in dry regions. In dry regions, vines begin to grow along the ground, and they do not get the moisture that they need, therefore, the vinedresser has to lift it up. When those blossoms begin to blossom on the ground, they are going to face into the dirt and fruit will not be produced. It has to be lifted up.
I have never worked with grapevines, but I work with tomato vines a lot. I do the same thing every year. My tomato plants will flop all over the place on their own. That is the nature of the plant. I have to lift up those branches and tie them up so blossoms are going to get the moisture. Then they will receive the refreshing rain. They are going to get the sunshine too. They are not going to fall in the dirt and die. When you lift it up, it is going to be productive.
That is what the Lord Jesus meant when He said that some of those branches that are abiding in Him, will not be productive. Even healthy branches need the work of the husbandman. The farmer has to take care of the plant. The husbandman has complete control over the vine, over its environment. He knows exactly what is best. After years of experience this vinedresser provides whatever the branches need to produce fruit. Fruit does not just happen.
Even though we are abiding in Christ, we sometimes need to be lifted up. That is exactly what God does to us. Sometimes even abiding in Christ, when we are walking with the Lord, we can get discouraged. We can fall over, or droop down. We can have our hands hanging down and our knees can get weak and feeble. We might feel down and discouraged. Over and over again we read in the Bible that God lifts up the humble (I Pet. 5:5-6). God takes care of us. He knows what that Vine needs to be productive. God knows how to lift us up and tie us back. He knows how to encourage every single branch.
David wrote in Psalm 40 that there was a time when he was sinking in the mire. He was in the horrible pit and God lifted him out of the mire. He took him out of the horrible pit and put his feet on a solid rock. He put a song in his heart. David was no longer down in the dirt, down in the dumps and discouraged. (Fruit does not grow when the whole plant is covered in dirt.) However, when God lifted David up, he had a song of praise and the fruit of his lips was evident.
Right after describing divine chastening, the book of Hebrews tells us, “Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees” (Heb. 12:12). God has to lift us up. We are told to lift up our hands, but it is God who works in us, both to will and to do of His good pleasure. Hearts that are gripped with grief, hearts that are gripped with discouragement, hearts that are down cast are in no condition to produce the kind of fruit God wants in us. It is the Lord that lifts us up. When we lift ourselves up, God abases us. He knocks us right down. But when we humble ourselves before Him, He lifts us up. When God lifts us up, we are able to become productive, fruitful servants. I know some understand this “taking away” (Jn. 15:2) to refer to severe chastisement in the life of a believer. God DOES chastise the wayward believer. Read I Corinthians 11. There we read of Christians coming to the Lord’s table drunk and fighting to be the first in line. God said through Paul, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (I Cor. 11:30). In other words, God judged them. In fact, God even took some of their lives. He caused them to die, just like He did with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). There is a sin unto death. It is certainly true that there are times when believers are taken away in judgment because there is no fruit in their life. Yet in John 15:2, the Lord Jesus is speaking in a very positive sense about making branches which are abiding in Him more fruitful. He lifts them up. He strengthens. He gives more grace.
Fruitful Branches Are Purged (vs. 2-3)
Not only does He lift up those branches that are low to the ground and growing into the dirt, but He also says in the middle of John 15:2, that “every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” After the Husbandman finishes His work of lifting up those branches that are growing down in the dirt, He then takes the fruitful branches, (the healthy, strong branches) to make them even more fruitful. He starts clipping. He starts pruning back on this Vine. I do that with my tomato plants also. After I lift up those branches, I tie them up on the stake so that they get all the air and sunshine they need. Then I pull the small “sucker” branches out, and the branch becomes stronger. Do you know what happens if you leave those little suckers in? It grows into a long, leafy, useless branch. It takes away nutrients and nourishment from the fruit-producing branch, and it produces nothing but leaves. If you prune off that useless little sucker branch, you get a stronger, healthier, more productive vine.
I think that is exactly what the Lord Jesus was saying about this Vine. The branches have to be lifted up and tied back and the useless growth has to be trimmed off and pruned back. Notice that He does it to the fruitful branches. One might think that the Husbandman would leave the fruitful branches alone. Why bother with them? They are already producing fruit. You know the old saying, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ You see, God is not satisfied with fruit. As you read on, God first says He wants branches to be fruitful. He wants them to produce more fruit (Jn. 15:2). And by the time we get to John 15:8, He wants much fruit. A good branch will naturally produce good fruit. However, with a little work from the Vinedresser, with a few cuttings here and lifting up there, that branch can produce even more fruit. It can become very productive. Therefore, God does not leave us alone. Just because we are walking with the Lord, it does not mean that the Lord is going to stay out of our lives and let us go on our own. You see, God is very active in our lives. Even though we are abiding in Christ, even though we are producing fruit, God is always going to be doing something in our lives to make us more productive. This is the work He calls purging. Pruning trees and cutting off the useless shoots hurts. God hurts useful, productive branches so that they might become more productive.
What is God’s purpose? Fruit! That is all the Vinedresser is interested in. The vine is not an ornamental tree. It is not there for its good looks. It is not there for shade. It is not there for its wood. It is there for only one reason–fruit. God did not find it in Israel, but He wants to find fruit in our lives.
There is something else we should note about this. When God cuts us back, when God takes a good, strong, healthy branch, and He allows trials and tragedies to come into our life, it is not necessarily punishment. A lot of the things God allows into our lives are not punitive but preventative. That is just what He allowed in Paul’s life. In II Corinthians 12:1 Paul says, “It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.” Now if anybody had cause to glory, it was Paul. He describes for us in this chapter how he was taken up into Heaven. He was taken up into the third Heaven. Whether in the body or out of the body, he was not sure, but he knew he was there. Whether it was bodily or in a vision, Paul was taken to Heaven. He heard words that were unable to be repeated on Earth. Paul saw visions of God. He saw the glories of Heaven. And, God brought him back down to Earth. He says in II Corinthians 12:5, “Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.” Paul is looking at this person who was caught up to Heaven as if he were a third party–but he was really talking about himself.
Paul did not do anything wrong. He was not living in sin. Paul was close to the Lord Jesus, and was abiding in that Vine. Yet we see in I Corinthians 12:7 we read, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me.” This is just like what God did with Job. God allowed Satan to inflict pain and suffering on a godly man. God did the same with Paul. God allowed Satan and his ministers to buffet Paul in some way. Satan meant for the thorn in the flesh to destroy the Apostle Paul. God meant it for good. God, the Husbandman, was taking care of this branch. And why did He do it? It was not because Paul was living in sin. It was not because there was some horrible iniquity in Paul life. He says at the end of verse 7, “lest I should be exalted above measure.” This was not punitive. This was not a punishment. This was not chastisement in order to get Paul to stop sinning. Paul was already walking with God, but God knows human nature. The Husbandman knows all about the branches. Lest Paul should be puffed up with all the visions and revelations that God gave him, God sent him a thorn in the flesh, a physical pain, suffering, a reminder, that he was but flesh.
You see, even good branches (like the apostle Paul) naturally grow scraggly and useless on their own. The Vinedresser that really wants fruit is going to cut those branches back. He is going to prune. He is going to inflict pain on even the good branches so that they become more productive and they do not become useless. Had Paul become puffed up with pride over the visions and revelations he had received from the Lord, he would have become (as he said in I Corinthians 9) a castaway, useless, and disapproved. And whatever he did in that condition, (broken away from the Vine, filled with human pride), was nothing but wood, hay, and stubble–worthless.
It was God in His grace that afflicted the Apostle Paul. God allows trials and distressing circumstances to come into every one of our lives. As trials come, the Devil might use them to shake our faith in Christ, to get us to curse God and die (see Job 2:9). However, God has another purpose. God wants fruit. He wants the life of Christ reproduced in us. God’s goal is to make us fruitful, like His Son. He does this by allowing suffering, trials, and disappointment in our lives. Yes, even the good branches experience this. Suffering is good when it deepens our sense of need for the Savior. When suffering drives us even closer to the Vine, it is good. Suffering is good when it causes us to lose all hope and confidence in self and it drives us to Christ. Suffering is good when it causes the superficial joy and tinsel life of this world to diminish and it causes us to look on things above–then suffering is good. Suffering and trials are good when they lead us to a deeper sense of our own sinfulness, our own weakness, our own frailty and our total dependence upon Christ the Vine. Then it is good.
The psalmist learned this lesson, long before Jesus ever taught on the relationship between the branches and the Vine. In Psalm 119:75, the psalmist experienced tribulation. He says, “I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.” When trials come, when we face personal struggles, when difficulties arise, it is a sign of maturity to be able to say thank you, Lord. This is your faithfulness to me. You are a faithful Vinedresser. You are taking care of me, and this pruning, this affliction is good for me.
In Psalm 119:67 the writer says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word.” A branch that started to wander off into useless growth was cut back by God’s affliction. This branch recognized that if the Lord had not afflicted him, he would have continued to wander farther and farther away. Who knows where he would have ended up? Thank you, Lord!
He said in Psalm 119:71, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.” Is not that just what Paul said? He wanted to know Christ and the fellowship of His sufferings (see Phil. 3:10). It is easy to say, “It is good to be afflicted.” It is difficult to mean it. Nonetheless, it is true. This is maturity. This is what the Husbandman is doing in every one of our lives. When God allows troubles, trials, and struggles in our lives, it makes the world less attractive. And, it makes our Savior so much more attractive. It is unspeakable mercy when He allows trials in our lives because it causes us to learn that in the world we shall have tribulation, but in Christ we can have peace and joy (see Jn. 16:33). Every trial that God has allowed in my life and yours, every painful experience that He has allowed us to face and endure, is an example of His infinitely gracious hand, making His branches more productive. Even when it hurts, it is good. Oh, that we could learn to submit to the hand of our heavenly Father who knows what is best for us!
Sometimes the Husbandman has to purge. He has to prune. He has to cut back. Whatever we lose when God cuts us back, whatever He takes out of our lives, is designed to make us more productive and more fruitful. If it drives us closer to Christ, we gain. In John 15:2 we see that some branches are bearing no fruit and need to be lifted up. Then He mentions branches at the end of verse 2 that are bearing fruit, but when God is done working in them, they bring forth more fruit. Then in verse 8, God’s real pleasure is that branches bear much fruit. You see, there is a progression God has in mind for every one of us. He is taking us on a journey through life in which we are drawn closer and closer to Jesus Christ. The world becomes less and less attractive until the point where Christ is life. For me to live is Christ. All of this is to make us like Him. How does He do it? Verse 3 says, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” The term for purging in verse 2 is the same word for cleansing in verse 3. What is that main instrument that God uses for cleansing or purging? How does He cut us down to size? He uses the Word of God. Remember, He said that these eleven disciples (Judas had already gone), were already clean. In John 13:10, He said, “ye are clean, but not all.” Judas was still there then. Now He is speaking to believers only and He said that they, the eleven, were clean. They had already had a bath, but they needed to keep their feet clean. They already had received the washing of regeneration, but had to maintain fellowship with Christ. If the feet are not clean, there is no part (fellowship) with Christ (Jn. 13:8). The disciples needed to concentrate on their communion with Him. Washing the feet in chapter thirteen was the illustration of HOW to maintain that communion–by confessing sins and keeping our “feet clean” as we walk in a dirty world. Abiding in the Vine is His illustration of communion.
The Word of God: The Purging and Cleansing Instrument (v. 3)
And what is it that God uses to promote this fellowship, this communion? It is the Word of God. James says the Word of God is like a mirror. It points out all the dirt on my face. In John 15 it says that the Word of God is like a pruning instrument. It cuts off the unnecessary growth in my life. Not only so, but it cleanses. You know, vines in the Middle East also had other problems–insects and dust. In a very dry and dusty area, dust would gather on these leaves and photosynthesis would be hindered. The plants would not grow well unless the dust was washed off. They needed to be clean so that growth would take place and fruit would be the result.
If the Vine is going to produce much fruit, it needs to be taken care of. God never leaves us alone. He is always working in our lives. If we open up the Bible and read it every day, God will remove the blight. He will shake off the dust in our life. He will cut away some useless growth, a dead end road we might have taken. God will take care of us. He does it through the Bible. Anything that will hinder our growth needs to be cleansed away. We need to get rid of anything that will hinder us in the race. Cast off that useless weight! It is the Word of God that points all this out to us.
But the Word of God is useless unless we are yielded. The Word of God is useless unless we respond. Again, the whole issue is the matter of the heart. If our hearts are soft and tender to Christ, if we are abiding in Him, no matter what He shows us from His Word, we will say YES LORD, I will change. And, when our heart attitude is anything different, we can know we are not yielded. We are not surrendered, and no good fruit will be produced.
Branches that Abide Not Are Burned (v. 6)
In John 15:6, the Lord speaks to the eleven disciples and says, “If a man abide not in me.” He brings up another horrible possibility. It is possible for some of the branches in Him not to abide in Him. Not all branches cooperate with the Husbandman. Some refuse to abide in the Vine. Some refuse fellowship and communion and wander away into sin. Some want to go out and do the Lord’s work their own way. Now, remember the point of all this. Jesus is about to go to Jerusalem. He is going to leave them and be crucified. He will not physically be with them any more and their former Master/disciple relationship is about to end. Yet He sends them out into the world to minister in His Name. Though He is not with them physically, there is a spiritual relationship that is absolutely vital. He wants them to know how to minister in His Name, how to conduct the Lord’s work in His absence. Thus He gives them one final stern warning. “If a man abide not in me,” (if a branch is not having fellowship with Me), that branch “is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” If we harbor sin in our heart, we are not abiding in the Vine. We are kidding ourselves. Whatever we do in that condition is wood, hay, and stubble. If we hold grudges in our hearts, if we are disobeying the Scriptures, and do not confess and forsake it, then there is no communion. There is no fellowship, and no matter how hard we work for the Lord, it is wood, hay, and stubble. It is worthless and good for nothing but to be burned up. If we refuse to yield to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives–if we resist, grieve or quench Him, then that heart attitude is SIN, which separates us from the Vine. Nothing we do in that condition is worth anything to the Lord. He said, “without Me ye can do nothing.” A serious warning is given to these eleven believers and to us!
What does God do when we resist? What does God do to one of His sons who resists the work of the Holy Spirit in his life? Well, it says in Hebrews 12:6, “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” If we do not respond, God our Father is not going to let us get away with it. If we do not respond, God scourges and chastises us. He will deal with us. He is that Husbandman. He will trim us down to size, and He is plenty able to do so!
Why does He do it? Why does the Husbandman cut us down sometimes? Hebrews 12:10 says, “For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.” Why does God cut us down when we resist His will, harbor sin in our heart, or refuse to surrender some area in our life? He does so for our profit. His purpose is that we become partakers of HIS holiness and produce good fruit.
In Hebrews 12:11 he says, “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous.” When a branch sees the pruning shears come by, it is not a happy occasion. God may bring some very unhappy occasions in our lives to cut us down to size. It is never joyous, but grievous, “nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit.” That is all God is after – fruit, the “peaceable fruit of righteousness.” Which branches benefit from the pruning? Only the branches “which are exercised,” (those who submit and surrender) gain the benefit! When useless growth is removed, the end result is fruit. It is good for us to submit to God’s pruning shears!
God takes care of His Vine. Anything that we produce when we are not abiding in the Vine is good for nothing. Read I Corinthians 3:12-17. We are all going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Everything we have done with our life is going to be tested by the fire. There are only two building materials. First of all, there are the building materials (works) produced in the power of the Spirit when yielded to Christ. Those works (gold, silver, and precious stones) will stand the test of fire. Secondly there are those building materials which were the result of the flesh (wood, hay, and stubble). They will not stand the test of fire. Once burned, it is all gone. It is useless. It was a wasted life. That is exactly what Jesus is getting across in John 15. His true disciples were sent out to minister for Him and there are two ways they could minister in His Name. They could work their fingers to the bone in His name–but if it did not stem from a close, abiding relationship to Christ, it was worthless… a wasted life. On the other hand, if they would abide in Christ, and concentrate on their relationship to Him, GOD would give increase to their ministry. They would produce FRUIT unto the glory of the Husbandman. Fruit is the result of a spiritual relationship to Christ.
Christ Liveth In Me
Scripture for Meditation: Galatians 2:20
In this chapter we want to conclude our study of spiritual growth and abiding in Christ. We will start by looking at one verse that really seems to capture all the important principles. Galatians 2:20 is a key verse to spiritual growth. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
I Am Crucified with Christ
Paul states in this key passage, “I am crucified with Christ.” This message is found in Romans 6 as well. We died with Christ, a co-crucifixion. Galatians 2:19 provides the context for Paul’s statement. “For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ.” Now in this particular context, Paul refers to his relationship to the Mosaic Law, including the Ten commandments and to the 635+ other commandments in the Law. Paul reveals that death ended his relationship to the Law. Death ended his relationship to the whole Mosaic system. Paul died with Christ. The moment he placed his faith in Christ he was joined with Christ in His death. Since he died to the Law, the Law of Moses is no longer the rule of life for him. That was true of Paul and it is true of every believer today. The Law of Moses is not the rule of life for the Christian, the Spirit of God is. This is not the age of Law, but the age of grace. We have a very different rule of life, and it is because we died with Christ. The cross (and our death with Christ) changes everything for the believer. Notice at the end of Galatians 2:19, Paul states the purpose for his death with Christ to the Law. What was the purpose of his death to the Law? He said, “that I might live unto God.” What Paul is saying here, is that when we died with Christ, we were set free from the Law. This co-crucifixion set us free from bondage to the Law. It set us free of obligation to the Law. The Law has no power over a dead man. Death set us free to be united to Another. The same truth is revealed in Romans 7:4 where Paul said, “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ.” Paul told the Galatians that hedied to the Law. When he addressed the Roman Christians he said that this is true of all believers. We all died to the Law. How? We died to the Law by the Body of Christ. The believer is IN Christ’s Body and shares in His crucifixion. Notice the purpose of this crucifixion to the Law. We died to the Law by the Body of Christ so that we could enter into a new relationship and live unto God. We died to the Law so that we could be married to Another, the Lord Jesus Christ. Death ended one relationship (Law as a rule of life for the Jews) and it enabled men to enter into a new relationship (marriage to Christ). The end result of this new relationship is that we should bring forth fruit unto God (Rom. 7:4). Some would have us to believe that if we abandon the law as a rule of life, it will lead to lawlessness. Nonsense! Law as a rule of life leads to frustration and defeat (Rom. 7:14-23)! The Bible says that God’s purpose in ending our relationship to the law is that we should bring forth fruit unto God–not lawlessness! Spiritual fruit is the result of our union with Christ, not a relationship to the Law!Paul’s point in Galatians 2:19 is that we were crucified with Jesus Christ, and it is our faith that unites us with Him in His crucifixion. Death ends any former relationship to the Law. It is not our rule of life in this dispensation. Co-crucifixion sets us free to a new rule of life. It sets us free to be married to Jesus Christ–a new kind of intimate and personal relationship (marriage!) to Christ. Our new relationship in this age is not at all related to the Law. That is not our rule of life. Rather, our rule of life in this age is the Spirit. When our members are willingly yielded unto the Lord, (like a wife who submits to her husband out of love) it is the Spirit of God that produces Christlike characteristics through us. The rule of life in this age is the power of the Divine indwelling, not the Law. The Law could never produce the kind of fruit that the indwelling Spirit can. The law condemned us, it cannot justify or sanctify. It is a ministration of death.
Notice in Romans 6:2, Paul says, “God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” In verse 2, Paul tells us that we died to sin. In Galatians he speaks of one aspect of our crucifixion with Christ. We died to the Law. That ended our relationship to the Law. We are no longer under its bondage. Paul tells us in Romans 6 that we also died unto sin, that indwelling sin nature. We were crucified with Jesus Christ, and that death separates us from the bondage to our sin nature. Paul can say in Romans 6:6, “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” That unregenerate person (the person we were before we received Jesus Christ as our Savior) is dead. He was crucified. The old self died on the cross, which is right where he belongs. God says that our miserable old self-life is not worth reforming. He can not be reformed. Let him be crucified! Our old self-life was crucified on the cross, and it is our faith that will keep him there. The fact that we died with Christ sets us free from bondage to sin. And that is just what Paul says in Romans 6:7, “For he that is dead is freed from sin.” The believer is freed from bondage to the sin nature. Praise God!
Our crucifixion with Christ affects many different areas. Death means separation in the Bible. Our death with Christ separates us from obligation and bondage to the Law. It separates us from obligation and bondage to our sin nature. If you look at Galatians 6:14, our death with Christ also separates us from obligation and bondage to the world system. “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” This is the third aspect of the co-crucifixion we have shared with the Lord Jesus. We died to the world system. Our death with Christ separates us from all obligation and bondage to the world system–its ways, its philosophies, all of it. The world can no longer influence a dead man! This world is no longer our home. Death separates us from its greed, lusts, philosophies, pomp, pride, and ungodliness–all of that. By faith, the things of this Earth grow strangely dim. The world does not understand it, but the things of this Earth grow strangely dim to the believer who now walks by faith and not by sight. All of this is because the believer died unto the world with Jesus Christ.
The cross changes everything for the believer. Remember we began this study by noting the distinctions between the fact that Jesus died for me, (spiritual birth), and the fact that I died with Him, (spiritual growth). We do not want to confuse the two. Jesus died for me, therefore, I can be born again– I can be justified. I died with Christ, therefore, I can be sanctified. You see, the cross frees me from slavery to sin. The cross frees me from obligation to the Law, so now I have a new rule of life. That new rule of life is the Spirit of God, not the Law. And the cross frees me from the bondage of the world system. I have been raised up into heavenly places in Christ. These facts are true of every single believer. If we came to Christ in genuine faith, then we died with Him. We are all dead to sin. We are all dead to the Law. We are all dead to the world system.
Look again at Galatians 2:20. Paul begins this verse by saying, “I am crucified with Christ.” He uses the perfect tense here. The perfect tense indicates a past completed action that has present continuing results. Paul’s point is that by faith he was once crucified with Christ, and still is crucified! The cross has an ongoing effect in his life and will never ever cease. Paul was crucified with Christ and he still is a crucified man. I was crucified with Christ. And if you are born again, you were crucified with Christ. That is our position. Believers have been crucified to the law, to the sin nature, and to the world. These are the facts. Now, we do not always live like our old man has died. We do not always live like we are dead to the world. We do not always live like we are dead to our old sin nature. But, those are the facts nonetheless. Simple childlike faith will make these facts a reality. Faith will cause the condition of our life to be gradually transformed into our glorious position in Christ, from glory to glory, day by day, moment by moment. God expects us to believe these truths, reckon it to be so, and take steps of faith, all the while trusting that it is God who works IN us. Notice that when Paul says in Galatians 6:20, that “I” am crucified, he means, of course, his old life. “I am crucified.” It is the old Saul, that self-righteous Pharisee, the persecutor of the Church who is dead. His old man died with Christ. This is an important principle that Paul sets forth in virtually all his epistles: before spiritual growth can ever take place, we have to get the old self-life out of the way. What is God’s method? The Cross! He is dead, and we have to reckon it to be so. We have to believe it to be so and trust in God that we really are crucified. That is the only method for spiritual growth–to recognize what God did with my old man on the cross. In other words, if we want Christ manifested in our life, self needs to get out of the way.
Nevertheless I live
We read in Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live.” In one sense Paul was dead. The old Saul, the self-righteous Pharisee was nailed to the cross. He was crucified and he is taken out of the way. Yet the verse says that there is another sense in which Paul lives. He is speaking of course of the new creation (II Cor. 5:17). When a person puts his faith in Jesus Christ, the old self dies and is nailed to the cross, and God makes us a new creation in Christ. That old self is separated from the world and separated from sin because he died and is made anew in Christ Jesus. Now of course Paul still looked the same. His physical appearance did not change. His voice did not change. In one sense he was the same person, but a different kind of a person. When Paul says, “nevertheless I live,” he is talking about the resurrection life in Christ that he described in Romans chapter six. His old man was crucified, and now the new creature is able to walk in newness of life. There is a new kind of resurrection life that he shares, because not only did he die with Christ, he has also been raised with Christ in heavenly places. We shared in His death and burial, and we also share in His resurrection! This makes life totally different for the Christian. We live in the heavenlies (Eph. 2:5-6). That is a much better place to live than in the world! Our life is no longer to be entangled by all the affairs and cares of this life. The believer seeks things above. Things that are higher and nobler have gripped our hearts, because we died unto the world and we are alive unto God in heavenly places. Now we live in the Spirit. It is no longer the flesh struggling against the Law trying to produce that which amounts to nothing more than filthy rags! We have abandoned that vain and frustrating cycle of defeat (Rom. 7:24-25). The self-righteous self was crucified and now we live in a spiritual realm. We have been born of the Spirit. Now we have access to the power of God to produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. It is ours simply by yielding, trusting, and walking in childlike faith. It is a totally different rule of life. Now we can produce the fruit of holiness because we died to sin. Now we can be like the Lord Jesus Christ, if we reckon ourselves to be dead and get the old self-life out of the way. Christ dwells in us already (Col. 1:27). He wants to live through us. All God wants us to do is to believe Him. If we will simply believe Him, we can have a life that manifests the indwelling Christ. In Romans 6:8 Paul says, “if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” We died with Him and we are also living with Him. Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live” (Gal. 2:20). This is a new realm. It is a new sphere of existence. It is that resurrection life of Christ, therefore he says in Romans 6:11, “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We need to know it. We need to reckon it to be so. We need to believe it. We need to count it as a fact. We need to make it a reality experientially by faith. Then Paul says in Romans 6:13, (in the middle of the verse), “yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead.” You see, that is our position. We are alive. We have been raised from the dead spiritually. All God wants us to do is to know it, believe it and yield as if it were so–because it is so! When Paul says “nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,” he is describing a new kind of life–a resurrection life. It is a new kind of life that is not geared toward the old self. Thank God! It is a life that is directed to the Lord. It is a life that is yielded to God. Gone is the bondage to selfishness and demanding our own way. It is no longer “I” but Christ. Christ liveth in me. That is what counts.
Yet Not I, but Christ Liveth in Me
Galatians 2:20 says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live.” As Paul begins to think about this new life, he gets right to the heart of the matter. He says, yes, I am living, but not the old “I.” Christ liveth in me. This is the glory of Christianity. The basis for our spiritual growth is our death and resurrection with Christ. Those are the facts. We died with Christ and we have been raised into heavenly places with Christ. Now Paul turns his attention to the source of spiritual growth. The source of spiritual growth is the fact that God lives in us. That is a marvelous truth that ought to affect everything we do and think and say for the rest of our lives. Christ lives in us! This is the source of any and all true spiritual growth. This is exactly what we saw in John 15. We spent all that time looking at this important section where Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you” (Jn. 15:4). As the branch abides in the Vine, the life of the Vine is flowing in and through the branch. So (in one sense) the branch is in the Vine, and (in another sense) the Vine is in the branch. As we yield to God (totally surrendered as a branch to the Vine), Christlike characteristic and qualities are going to be manifested in and through our life. When we live this surrendered, yielded life, it is IN FACT, not I, but Christ living His life through me. This union, this abiding in Christ, this communion, (the essence of Christianity) can be summed up as our heart attitude to Jesus Christ. It is not a religion. It is not a set of rules or a long list of laws. It is a heart relationship to God through Jesus Christ. If our heart is right, if the communion is right, then good fruit will be borne. Spiritual growth and spiritual fruit are the direct result of a heart relationship to the Lord. That is God’s plan of sanctification. It is not complicated. If our heart is right, good fruit will be the result. Producing fruit is not so much related to activity for the Vine, as it is to relationship to the Vine.
Moses had no idea such a thing would ever happen. David never had any hint that God would indwell believing people. Paul writes in Colossians 1:26-27, “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles.” Here is the glory of the age in which we live: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ lives in every believer today. He is there. He is our Savior. He is never going to leave us. “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5). We can walk away from Him for a while, but He will never leave us. Yet in Ephesians 3, Paul says we need to be careful about this truth. In Ephesians 3:17-19 Paul says, “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” As a branch is plugged into the Vine, (receiving the fullness of all that the Vine provides), so God’s fullness is manifested through us. Paul tells us in verse 17 that Christ dwells in every one of us. The word for dwell means to be at home. He resides in every believer. He is present in every believer. However, He is not at home in every believer. He is at home when we walk by faith. When we are totally yielded (trusting in the Lord, surrendered to Him, willing to do His will, our attitude is ‘not my will but Thine be done’), then Christ is right at home in our life. He is at home in our life by faith. Christ is comfortably at home in us when we demonstrate His incomprehensible love through our lives. When that is manifested through us, then we can know Christ is at home in us. Ephesians 3:20 says, “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think,” and notice this “according to the power that worketh in us.” Who is in us here? Christ! No wonder we have access to all power. No wonder we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. There is no problem God cannot take us through if we will just yield and abide in Him. Yet sin makes Christ very uncomfortable in our hearts. Oh, He is still there. He will never leave us or forsake us, but if we are harboring sin in our hearts we make Him uncomfortable. If fact, we limit what He can do.
Paul wrote, “Christ liveth in me” (Gal. 2:20). He dwells in every one of us. God’s purpose for this age is that Christ might be manifested to the world through us. That is the whole point of His indwelling. Christ wants to manifest Himself (His life; His character) through our yielded members. Jesus taught in John 15 that some branches refuse to yield to the Vine. Some branches want to break away and do their own thing. Such branches should be reminded that Jesus said, “without me ye can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). The flesh can produce no good thing in God’s sight–no fruit of the Spirit, no holiness, love, joy, peace, etc. It is a supernatural work of revealing God through our mortal bodies. And yet when we are not yielded, God’s glorious purpose is not being accomplished. We are not fulfilling our reason for being. The ultimate goal of the Christian life is to glorify God by manifesting the indwelling life of Christ to men and angels. Angels are watching the Church of God to see how we behave, how we treat each other, how we fellowship together (Eph. 3:10). A heart that refuses to surrender totally to Christ limits what God can do. He wants to do wonderful things in our lives, corporately as a local church and in each one of our lives individually. But when we are unyielded (broken away from the Vine), there is nothing God can do. We have limited the Almighty (even though He has limitless power) by breaking away from Him. The tragedy of it all is that the unyielded heart not only does not manifest Christ, what it does do is manifest self. It manifests self in all its ugliness. It manifests a miserable creature, not a new creature. In that self-life there is no good thing. That is the result of a selfish life. When our heart is not yielded, we can produce nothing but wood, hay, and stubble. Others will not see Christ in us, which is God’s purpose for this age–to demonstrate God’s love and compassion for sinners; to demonstrate God’s holiness and righteousness through an obedient, surrendered life. Yet none of that takes place when we are not surrendered to the Lord. The result of a Christ centered life is spiritual fruit. The result of a self-centered life is rotten fruit, the works of the flesh.
The whole crux of the matter is a consistent heart attitude. Maintaining a good heart attitude is our own personal responsibility. You cannot change my heart attitude toward God. I am responsible to God for my own attitude. It is the same with every one of us. Jesus told His disciples that they would do greater works than He did. What He meant was that there would be hundreds of thousands of people all over the globe manifesting the same thing that Jesus manifested–the character of God revealed through a yielded, mortal, human body. Our purpose on Earth is to demonstrate to a lost and dying world, what God is like. That is why Paul says in II Corinthians 5:20, “we are ambassadors for Christ.” God has sent us out into the world to manifest Him. We are to go out into the world and let others know Him. That does not mean we are preaching 24-hours a day. We are also preaching by the way we live. It is not only what we say. It is also what we are that the world is observing.
In II Corinthians 3:2-3 Paul says, “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” Here Paul says that even the carnal Corinthians were a letter (a means of communication) by the way they lived. God did a work in their heart. He changed them. As the unsaved folks in the city of Corinthwatched the way these Christians behaved, they were learning something. It was as if they were reading a letter from God. By observing the Christians, men hoped to observe what the God of these “Christians” was like. That is exactly God’s plan for every one of us. God sends the believer into the world to be an ambassador, to be a letter, so other men can learn who God is. In other words, the life of the Vine is manifested by the kind of fruit the branch produces. The world can tell what kind of Vine we are connected to by the kind of fruit we produce. The kind of fruit is manifested and demonstrated to everyone that walks by. It is either sweet fruit or it is rotten fruit. The branch is not there for itself. The branch is not there to exalt the branch. The branch is not there to feed the branch. Rather the branch is there for one reason, to bear fruit for the Husbandman, the Vinedresser, God the Father. How do we bear fruit for Him? We demonstrate what the Vine is like by bearing (not producing) the kind of fruit that Godproduces through us. Paul demonstrates this principle again for us. Paul suffered a lot. He endured countless disturbing situations in his life as he ministered for God. He tells us some of the trouble that he experienced in II Corinthians 4:8-9, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.” How is it that all of these awful things that Paul faced did not cause him to lose all hope? It was because there was something inside that drove that man. He was driven by the very essence of the mystery of Christ dwelling in him. He says in II Corinthians 4:10, “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” He was willing to face death on every corner so that people could see what Christ is like. The indwelling life of Christ and His character would be manifested as they beat him at Philippi and cast him into prison. He sang praises to God. The Philippian jailer had never seen anything like it and wanted to know Paul’s Savior. In II Corinthians 4:11 Paul says, “For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.” This is the ultimate purpose of being a Christian. This is why God saved us. Christ lives in us and He wants to live His life through us. All we have to do is abide in Him and yield our members to Him. As we do that, God is glorified in our mortal body. There is no higher purpose in the universe. That is why God saved us. It was not because we were good, or because we were worthy, or because we were deserving. God determined that He would manifest His grace in an undeserving sinner. God could manifest what He is like through weak, helpless branches. God could manifest His life in useless pots of clay (II Cor.4:6-7). Do you know that this is what we are going to be doing for all eternity? In Ephesians 2:7 Paul says, “That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches” of what, our goodness? No, He is going to be showing the exceeding riches “of His grace.” Do you know what grace means? We did not deserve to be saved. We were not worthy of anything but condemnation, but God is gracious to undeserving people. Forever and ever God is going to be displaying us as examples of what God can do, not what WE did. God will be “showing” what He can do in a yielded vessel, a vessel that does nothing but surrender and trust and rest in Him. He is going to manifest His kindness to men and angels forever. Is not that a great thing? He is going to manifest His grace through us. That is God’s design for salvation.
In II Corinthians 4:7 Paul says, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels.” An earthen vessel is an old clay pot. It is not very valuable. It is not fine china, not a golden vessel, but an old earthen, clay pot. God saved useless dirt pots like you and me, “that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” When we stand in Heaven before men and angels we can never say I am here because I have earned it. The only thing we will have to say is God thank you for your grace! I am here because you saved me. The end result is that the excellency, glory, majesty, and honor goes to God and not to us.
Paul states in this passage (I Cor. 4:8) that we are troubled on every side. The fact of the indwelling Christ is a wonderful thing. It is the glory of our faith. As marvelous as these heavenly truths are (God is manifesting His life through us), we are again reminded that down here on Earth, we are often troubled. We are persecuted. We are perplexed. Paul faced death daily, yet he knew that God had a purpose through it all. God’s purpose is to manifest His Son even through the worst of earthly circumstances.
Jesus Christ dwells in us. He wants to live through us. He wants to make Himself known to the whole world through us, as we yield to Him. That is the glory of Christianity. Sadly, in many circles, the very essence of Christianity is missing, or it is not emphasized as it ought to be. Some believers have a superficial knowledge of these truths. They thus reason, Oh, yes, we know that, but let us go out and be BUSY for God, building buildings and saving souls. Of course preaching the gospel and building church buildings ARE important. But the New Testament emphasis is on the glory of God! The emphasis in the New Testament is NOT on busyness FOR God as much as it is on a relationshipWITH God. God’s plan for this age gripped Paul’s heart, and it ought to grip ours. As we abide in Christ, (staying close to Him, obeying His Word, remaining surrendered in every area of our life), God is free to live through us. The life and character of the Vine are free to flow through the yielded branches and others see what Jesus is like. Jesus said, “in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). That is just what Paul is describing in II Corinthians 4. The storms may be raging about us, but we can have rest in the Lord. The world is going to see something they do not normally see–a believer who has an indescribable peace during a “storm,” when they should be falling to pieces. We can trust in the Lord to handle the situation. We can cling to Christ because He is our life. To whom shall we go? He has the words of life. Sometimes it takes the very worst of circumstances to get us to the place where we are willing to say, “Not I, but Christ.” Sometimes it takes the worst of trials and the worst of experiences to bring us to that place where we come to the end of self and say, “Lord not my will, but Thine be done.” When God takes us through those miserable circumstances, rest assured He will lead us all the way through it to the other side.
And the Life Which I Now Live in the Flesh I Live by the Faith of the Son of God
In Galatians 2:20 Paul also says, “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God.” The first section of this verse really describes Romans 6. We were crucified, yet we are alive with Christ: co-crucifixion and co-resurrection. The next part of the verse, “Christ liveth in me,” describes John 15, the relationship of the branch to the Vine. Paul says that this new life including God’s wonderful plan of sanctification is ours by faith. We see this throughout the New Testament epistles addressed to the Church. Spiritual growth is by faith. We are justified by faith and we are sanctified by faith. When he says “the life which I now live in the flesh,” he is not talking about the sinful part of his nature. He is just talking about his earthly body. In other words, his earthly life in a physical body, he now lives by faith in Christ. That is it! We are saved by faith. We are to walk by faith. We are to live by faith. We are to die by faith. And by faith we keep that old self-life on the cross right where he belongs. SELF was worthy of nothing but crucifixion. God did not make a mistake when He said our old man was to be crucified. By faith, we can keep that old man there. By faith we can believe that truth and live it. When self is taken out of the way, Christ is exalted to the throne of our life and is free to rule. That is all He wants to do. He does not want much. All He wants is all we are. He is Lord and He wants to rule. He wants us to be in the place where we can say with Paul, “Not I but Christ… For me to live is Christ… I am crucified with Christ nevertheless, I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me.” When Christ rules in our life and as we abide in Him, the life of Jesus Christ is going to be demonstrated to the world. But this only happens by faith – by total dependence upon Christ. We know so little about the power of God in our lives because we know so little of what it means to be totally surrendered to Him. D. L. Moody once said the world is yet to see what God could do with a man fully given over to Christ.
Who Loved Me, and Gave Himself for Me
Too often, we lean on our own understanding. We trust in our own ability. We rely on our own strength and our own power. Sometimes God has to knock us down to bring us to the place where we will say, Lord, I was a fool. My wretched flesh is incurably sick. I need Christ. I have to get self out of the way. Then as we walk by faith, His love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, meekness, and temperance, will characterize our life. In other words, we will be gradually transformed from glory to glory as Paul says in II Corinthians 3. Gradually there will be less and less of self, and more and more of Him; less and less of my plans, goals, and ambitions and more and more of Christ and His will for my life. The Husbandman might have to prune us down to size. When God takes us through those storms of life, when God takes us through the deep waters, when God takes us through the trouble, the distress, the perplexity that Paul faced at every corner, just remember that Christ loves us. “He loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). He is not trying to hurt us. He is not trying to damage us. He wants nothing but the very best for us. The only way the very best for us can be accomplished is when the self-life remains on the cross. Self has been crucified. When we are reckoning that to be true, we are as safe as that branch abiding in the Vine. No fiery dart the wicked one can cast at us will harm us. We are safe in Him.
The glory of our Christian faith is that Christ lives in us. Communion with Him and heart attitude is the essence of it. The more time we spend with Jesus, the more effect that relationship is going to have on our lives. It’s so simple! The more time we spend beholding the glory of God in the Word of God, and communing with Him, the more fruit we are going to bear, the more like Him we are going to be.
We need to be reminded that no matter what comes our way, as a Christian, we are connected to the Vine. We are thus connected to an endless source of power, an endless source of provision, and an endless source of protection.
Must not our Heavenly Father be grieved by Christians today who are always seeking some new experience? Is not Christ enough? When we have Christ, do we not have everything? Does not Paul say we are complete in Him? In Christ we have all we need for time and eternity. The Vine provides all the life and strength and refreshment the branch could ever need. He satisfies the soul… how could we ever wander away from Him? ABIDE in Him and bring forth much fruit!