Power for Transformation – Part 3: It is impossible for believers to bear spiritual fruit without abiding in Jesus; however, fruit bearing will be a natural outcome when we actively abide in Christ and His Word.
One of the books that deeply impacted me during my teen years was The Hiding Place, the true story of Corrie Ten Boom who survived Ravensbrück, one of Hitler’s notorious concentration camps. Corrie and her family risked their lives hiding Jews in their home and helping them escape the horrors of the Nazi regime during WW II. After saving about 800 Jews as well as a good number of resistance fighters, Corrie and her family were betrayed to the Gestapo by a man who requested help. This led to a raid on their house and the arrest of Corrie, her father, her brothers, three sisters, and a nephew, four of whom gave their lives in concentration camps. Corrie survived and spent the next 33 years of her life traveling the world as a “Tramp for the Lord” sharing the message of God’s forgiveness and our need to forgive those who have wronged us.
Endearingly known as “Tante (Aunt) Corrie” to many, Corrie shared the Gospel and insights for Christian living using stories from her own life and simple object lessons. One of her well-known object lessons is her glove illustration. Showing a limp glove to her audience, she would say,
“I have a glove here in my hand. The glove cannot do anything by itself, but when my hand is in it, it can do many things. True, it is not the glove, but my hand in the glove that acts. We are gloves. It is the Holy Spirit in us who is the hand, who does the job. We have to make room for the hand so that every finger is filled.”
Unlike the glove that has no will, Tante Corrie recognized that we must make room for the hand of the Holy Spirit "so that every finger is filled." This requires that we surrender every aspect of our lives to God, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us, empower us, and use us for God’s glory. This is the message of Jesus in John 15 when He taught that He is the true vine, and believers are the branches.
John 15:4–5 (NASB)
4 "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.
5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing."
Much like an empty glove has no power to do anything, a detached branch cannot bear fruit on its own. No matter how much it strives in its own strength, grunting and groaning to squeeze out even a single grape, it cannot bear fruit unless it has the life of the vine flowing through its fibers. The only way a branch can bear fruit is if it abides in the vine. In the same way, it is impossible for believers to bear spiritual fruit unless we abide in Jesus; however, when abiding, fruit bearing will be a natural outcome.
Abiding requires two conditions: First, a branch must be attached to the vine, and second, it also must have the life of the vine flowing through it to bear fruit. Simply being attached is not sufficient. We’ve all seen dead branches attached to trees - though attached, there is some internal damage preventing the flow of sap into the branch. A branch must both abide in the vine and permit the life of the vine to abide in it. Similarly, we must be united to Christ through faith, and we must also surrender to the life of His indwelling Spirit in order to bear spiritual fruit.
Over the centuries, Christian writers have used the words UNION and COMMUNION to describe the two realities of this reciprocal relationship. UNION corresponds with our position “in Christ” – “every branch in Me” (John 15:2). COMMUNION corresponds with the power of “Christ in us” – “abide in Me and I in you” (John 15:4-5). UNION refers to the objective truth of our right standing with God based on justification by grace through faith in Christ’s death for our forgiveness. COMMUNION is the subjective experience of the power of the indwelling Spirit in our lives as we actively walk with Christ on a daily basis.
The vine itself does not bear fruit; it provides life to the branches. Bearing fruit is the responsibility of the branches, though it can only be done through active reliance on the vine. Neither abiding nor bearing fruit are passive activities; they must be actively engaged in by the branches. In fact, Jesus commands His disciples to “abide” in Him. This places responsibility on us. Further, He “appointed” them to “go and bear fruit” (John 15:16) – again placing responsibility on us. Branches in the vine that do not bear fruit (John 15:2) cannot blame the vine for lack of life and power, they must look to themselves and ask, “Am I truly abiding in the vine and am I surrendering to the life of the Spirit in me?”
UNION is much like the legal covenant of marriage that binds a man and woman together, while COMMUNION speaks of the quality of the fellowship and relational intimacy within the marriage. It is not the legal union that gives the marriage vibrancy and satisfaction, though it authorizes the covenant rights and privileges of marriage. Rather, it is the quality of the communion that makes a marriage fulfilling and fruitful. This requires intentional participation by both partners. The marriage will only be intimate and fulfilling to the degree that both actively and meaningfully engage in the relationship.
There are many promises in Scripture that indicate God’s commitment to have relationship with us. In fact, if it were not for God’s initiative in sending His Son, we would not have the privilege of knowing Him. Through Christ, God has made it possible for us to come boldly to His throne of grace even in our time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16). It is not because of our own merits that we can draw near to Him, but rather we have confidence to come into God’s presence because of the blood of Christ, which enables us to “draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:19-22). Further, God promises that if we draw near Him, He will draw near to us (James 4:8; Zechariah 1:3), and that if we seek Him, He will let us find Him (Deuteronomy 4:29; 2 Chronicles 15:2-4, 15). Based on these and many other similar promises, those who draw near to God “must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). God has done His part and is now waiting for us to take Him at His word and do our part.
Our relationship with God is trinitarian in nature. We have fellowship with the Father (John 17:3; 1 John 1:3) and with the Son (John 17:3; 1 John 1:3; 1 Corinthians 1:9) and with the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14; Philippians 2:1). In Jesus’ teaching on the vine and branches, He emphasizes our relationship with Him, which is nurtured by the Father as the vinedresser, and enabled by the Holy Spirit who is the life of the vine that indwells the believer. Abiding is doing our part in deepening our relationship with Christ and yielding to the Holy Spirit’s power in order to bear fruit that brings glory to the Father.
Abiding in Christ involves walking in habitual fellowship with Christ. Certainly, this includes spending dedicated time with Him, but it also is learning to live each day being conscious of His presence with an ear continually turned toward heaven. It includes expressing words of thanksgiving and praise for His goodness, lifting needs or concerns in prayer as they arise, seeking His wisdom and guidance for decisions, asking Him for His perspective on circumstances, being sensitive to how He wants us to respond to others, confessing the various subtleties of sin that become evident in our thoughts, attitudes, words, or behaviors, and asking Him both for forgiveness and grace to overcome. It is seeking to maintain unbroken, unhindered, and open-hearted dependency and intimacy with Christ.
Further, Jesus commands us to abide in His word (John 8:31-32) and have His words abide in us (John 15:7) with the promises that His truth will set us free and that our prayers will be answered. In fact, He promises that if we keep His commandments, we will abide in His love, causing us to experience His joy and our joy being made full (John 15:10-11). So, abiding in Christ involves continuing in His teaching and letting it to shape our thinking and our daily lives. The apostle Paul reinforces this concept when he writes, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you” (Colossians 3:16a NASB).
Just like Intimacy in marriage can be broken or damaged through sins such as anger, resentment, blame, dishonesty, and selfishness, or simply by neglect and withdrawal, our fellowship with God can also be damaged by sin or neglect. Isaiah tells us that God is not hard of hearing, nor is He powerless to act on our behalf, but our sins can separate us from Him and hide His face, so He doesn’t hear (Isaiah 59:1-2). The Psalmist tells us that if we cherish sin in our hearts, the Lord will not listen to our prayers (Psalm 66:18). The Apostle John teaches that it is not possible to live in sin and have fellowship with God because this is incompatible with God’s nature.
1 John 1:5–7 (NIV)
5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
Much like unresolved sin or conflict harms healthy interaction in marriage, unconfessed sin breaks our fellowship with God. If we claim to have fellowship with Him while walking in darkness - in sin (see John 3:19-21) - we deceive ourselves and lie to others because we are not living congruently with God. However, if we walk in the light, which includes confessing our sins, we have reciprocal fellowship and the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7-9).
Similarly, neglecting our communion with Jesus will result in relational distancing, diminished vibrancy, and spiritual drift much like neglect in a marriage can result in emotional distancing and relational drift. This is why the practice of spiritual disciplines is so vital for maintaining spiritual vibrancy, not because these practices are necessarily transformative in themselves, but more so because they bring us into regular communion with Christ and give opportunity for the Holy Spirit to speak to us through the Scriptures, dispel wrong thinking, heal emotional wounds, and address other issues in our hearts (topics for future blogs). It is through these regular interactions with Christ and His Word that the Holy Spirit can transform us.
Growing in our intimacy with Christ through the practice of abiding gives us ongoing access to divine power for bearing fruit. In addition to referring to organic fruit (Genesis 1:11-12) and children (“the fruit of the womb” – Genesis 30:2), the Bible uses fruit metaphorically in at least eight different ways (a message for another time). A number of these are directly relevant to Jesus’ teaching on bearing fruit that requires abiding in Him and results in glorifying the His Father. For the purposes of this blog post, I will only mention two types of spiritual fruit: Christlike CHARACTER and Christlike CONDUCT.
The “fruit of the Spirit” comprised of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” refers to the Christlike attitudes and traits that express the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer – in other words, the CHARACTER of Christ. In addition, expressions such as the “fruit of light” (Ephesians 5:7-11), “fruit of righteousness” (Philippians 1:11; Hebrews 12:10-11; James 3:17-18), and “fruit unto holiness” (Romans 6:22 KJV) all refer to the righteous lifestyle and behavior that is befitting of a child of God – in other word, Christlike CONDUCT. These two categories of fruit can only be developed in our lives through union and communion with Christ. In other words, the life of Christ flowing in us will result in the CHARACTER and CONDUCT of Christ being expressed through us.
In his book, Five Secrets of Living, Warren Wiersbe identifies five sequential steps from John 15 that results in living a successful and fruitful life that brings glory to God the Father.
1. The Secret of Living is Fruit-bearing (John 15:2, 8, 16)
God’s purpose for our lives is that we bear fruit. As the vinedresser, He tends to the branches (15:2) and receives glory when we are fruitful (15:8). Jesus has chosen us to bear lasting fruit and promises that the Father will answer our prayers and give us all we need to be fruitful for Him (15:16).
2. The Secret of Fruit-bearing is Abiding (John 15:4, 7)
We cannot bear fruit without abiding in Christ, the true vine. This requires both quietness and activity. On the quiet side, we yield, surrender and rest (15:5) and on the active side we obey, pray, read, and worship (15:7). Both of these are seen in Philippians 2:12-13, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (NIV).
3. The Secret of Abiding is Obeying (John 15:10, 14)
Abiding is conditioned on obeying Christ's commands. Jesus, Himself, abided in the Father’s love by keeping His commandments. When we obey Christ’s commands we abide in His love and we are His friends if we do what He commands (15:10, 14). Obedience involves our will surrendering to His will and then actively doing what He has asked us to do. It is more than just having good thoughts and feelings about God (though also important). “If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7). Though this includes confessing our disobedience when God exposes our secret sins in the light of His presence (Psalm 90:8), it also includes walking in obedience to God’s word, which is “a lamp unto [our] feet and a light unto [our] path” (Psalm 119:105; Proverbs 6:23).
4. The Secret of Obeying is Loving (John 15:9, 10; 14:15, 23-24)
Obedience demonstrates our love. If we love Jesus, we will keep His commandments. Though we can obey out of obligation, fear, or desire for reward, the greatest motivation for obedience is love. Love for Christ is not only the right motivation for us to keep His commands, in addition, love for God and others fulfills the law because one who loves will do no wrong to God or his neighbor (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14). If we are not keeping Christ’s commands, we need to check our love gauge – it is likely low. To love Christ is to live in a way that pleases Him, just as He also loved His Father and always did what pleased Him.
5. The Secret of Loving is Knowing (John 15:5; 17:3)
Love for Jesus only grows from a deepening intimacy with Him. The more we get to know Him, the more we love Him. Eternal life isn’t just unending duration of life, it is a living relationship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ (17:3). To know Christ is to be captivated by Him. To know Him is to want to spend more time with Him and to be like Him. To Know Him is to love Him.
The better you know, the better you will love. The better you love, the better you will obey. The better you obey, the better you will abide. The better you abide, the better you will bear fruit. The better you bear fruit, the better you will glorify God.
Like the glove, we can do nothing until the Holy Spirit fills each finger. Like the branches, we can do nothing apart from abiding in Christ. It all begins with UNION and COMMUNION. Once we are united to Christ, our ability to bear fruit, including becoming like Christ in our CHARACER and CONDUCT, is only possible as we continue to abide in Him. This involves maintaining habitual fellowship with Christ that is unbroken by sin or neglect.
Deepening intimacy with Christ activates a sequence that ultimately results in greater fruitfulness for our transformation, the good of others, and for God’s glory. This requires that we spend quality time with Jesus on a regular basis and stay in tune with Him throughout each day. It also requires us to be in His word and for His word to richly dwell in us, meaning we become doers of His word, and not hearers only (Matthew 7:24-27; James 1:22-25). If we focus on getting to know Jesus, bearing fruit will flow as a natural byproduct. Since knowing Christ is primary, an important question comes to mind: What changes will you make in your priorities, in your schedule, and in your daily practices to deepen your intimacy with Christ?