Saturday, March 31, 2007

Day Thirty-Three: The Joy of Warnings and Pruning

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

As we have seen over the last several weeks, Jesus offers some very strong warnings and promises in John 15:1-10. “Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit… If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:2,6). So, for those who do not bear the fruit of the vine he warns of hell, and for those who do he promises pruning, which is, in a word, discipline. Let’s look at “these things” one at a time and consider how they are intended for our joy.

All throughout the Bible, warnings of the wrath of God are intended to produce repentance that is in keeping with salvation. Thus, Jesus pleads with the people of his day, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). And then he sends the disciples out to preach the same message: “So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent” (Mark 6:12; see also Acts 2:38, 3:19, 8:22, 17:30, 26:20). Why do Jesus and the disciples call for repentance? Because there is a coming day of judgment and wrath from God, and their desire is to help people avoid it.

And even when the wrath of God is poured out, it is most often designed to produce repentance. “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts…The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory. The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds” (9:20-21, 16:8-11).

To be sure, the actual effect of the wrath of God in these cases was not to produce repentance, but the point still remains: God’s design in pouring out wrath was to produce repentance. Therefore, the reason we can take joy in the warnings of Jesus is because we know that his heart is for our salvation and not our condemnation. We know that his heart is for our good and not our evil. It may not be pleasant to hear the truth about God’s anger in such stark and threatening terms, but for those who repent and believe it is life, and therefore it is joy.

Now, for the fruit-producing believer, the wrath of God has been satisfied in Christ and is forever removed from their lives. But for his glory and their good, the Father will continue to discipline them and form them all the more into his image. This may not immediately strike the believer as good news, but that is in fact what it is: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death" (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).

And so it is that Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Father will increase our joy by helping us see his designs in warnings and pruning. Pray that we will not resist him, but rather embrace his wisdom and work in our lives.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Day Thirty-Two: Joy and Submission

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11)

When Jesus says “these things I have spoken to you,” which things does he mean? In one way, I suppose, he means everything he ever said. But to be more true to the context of this verse, I think he means the things he’s taught in John 15:1-10. Thus, over the next several days we’re going to go back over the entire text and meditate on how the things Jesus taught relate to joy. And I hope you will take the time to meditate carefully with me because, as I mentioned yesterday, Christ is out to maximize our joy! Let us begin with the subject of submission.

In verse one Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” As I said on day one, this means that the Father is in ultimate control and has ultimate power over the Son. This means that the Father superintends the life and growth and spread and fruit of the Son. And as for the Son, this means that he is willingly and absolutely submitted to the Father and vulnerable before him. The Son is subject to every whim of the Father and surrendered to his perfect will.

Then, in verses four and five Jesus said this: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (vv. 1,4,5). Another way of saying this is, “Unless you submit to me as I submit to the Father, you can do nothing.” And with these words Jesus calls us into the very life that he is living: a life of joyful submission to the Father.

Now, how does joy relate to submission? Or to put it the other way around, how does submission give rise to joy? When we truly submit our lives to the Father, we come to see with our own eyes that he is wise and loving, and that he only plans what is best for us, what is best for others, and what is best for his glory. Rarely does he do things in a way that make immediate sense to us, but in time we come to see that his plans are good and right and wise.

Submission gives rise to joy because, in time, we come to learn more of who God is and we rejoice in him; we come to bear the fruit of the vine and prove useful for the glory of the Father and the good of other people, and we’re surprised and overjoyed that he includes us in his vast, eternal plan; we come to see that the Father does indeed know us by name and that he has caused us to know him, and there is no greater joy than to know and be known by God Almighty!

Without submission to the Father there is no lasting joy, but with submission to the Father there are pleasures evermore (Psalm 16:11)!

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Father will help us see the joy of submission, and that he will help us yield to him in all things, at all times.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Day Thirty-One: Jesus’ Joy and Ours

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11)

With the words of John 15:11, Jesus reveals what has been his aim since verse one: the fullness of our joy in him! Have you ever stopped to think about how passionate Jesus is about our joy? Jesus wants our joy. Jesus teaches for our joy. Jesus laid his life down for our joy. Jesus is ever interceding for our joy. Twice, Jesus even commanded us to have joy (Matthew 5:12, Luke 10:20)! Brothers and sisters, I don’t think we have any idea how passionate Jesus is about our joy.

And what is this joy that he’s so passionate about? The main word translated “joy” in the New Testament is chara. It is used one-hundred-thirty-three times, and means “a feeling of inner happiness, rejoicing, gladness, or delight” (Friberg and Friberg, eds., Analytical Greek New Testament, Baker Books, 1994: cara,, a/j, h`). Sometimes a distinction is made between happiness which is based on circumstance and joy which is deeper and more enduring. But this is a hard case to make from the Bible because the word chara is used to describe all types of happiness or joy.

Thus, rather than making an arbitrary distinction between two words, I would rather put the matter this way: joy is happiness based on some object or circumstance, and it will last only so long as that object or circumstance lasts. If we take joy in ephemeral things, our joy will fade as fast as them. But if we take joy in eternal things, our joy will be everlasting. Indeed, our joy will endure so long as the object of our joy endures.

So, then, from whence does Jesus bid us to take our joy? Answer: from him, the fountain of everlasting delights! “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” And to be sure, the joy of Jesus is vast beyond measure: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). And since Jesus is the fountain of everlasting joy, our joy in him will last forever!

Prayer Focus: Pray that Jesus will help us understand his passion for our joy, and that he will help us delight in him, walk in his ways, and know the fullness of his joy!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Day Thirty: Obedience, Prayer, and the Fruit of the Vine

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10).

For eleven days we reflected on the meaning of John 15:7-8, and then for the past nine days we have reflected on the meaning of John 15:9-10. Today I want to explore the link between these four verses, showing that obedience is a necessary element of effective prayer and that answered prayer is the fruit of the vine. Let’s begin by looking at all four verses in context:

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.”

First, let me remind you how I come to the conclusion that answered prayer is the fruit of the vine. In the original language of the New Testament, the word for “it will be done” in verse seven and the word for “so prove” in verse eight are the same word. The word literally means “to become,” and thus these verses could read like this: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will become for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so will become [i.e., show yourselves to be] my disciples.” By linking answered prayer to the fruit that proves we are his disciples, Jesus teaches that answered prayer is the fruit of the vine. (See Day Fifteen for a more detailed treatment of this argument.)

Now, let’s look at the connection between obedience and prayer. One of the conditions Jesus gave for answered prayer is that we abide in him, or as he put it in verse nine, that we abide in his love. Then, he taught us that to obey his commandments is to abide in his love. Therefore, if we do not obey his commandments we will not abide in his love; if we do not abide in his love he has made no promise to answer our prayers; and if he does not answer our prayers we will not bear the fruit of the vine. Indeed, obedience, prayer, and the fruit of the vine are inseparably linked to one another in John 15:7-10.

In a book entitled The Necessity of Prayer, E. M. Bounds wrote the following: “‘The Christian’s trade,’ says Luther, ‘is prayer.’ But the Christian has another trade to learn before he proceeds to learn the secrets of the trade of prayer. He must learn well the trade of perfect obedience to the Father’s will. Obedience follows love, and prayer follows obedience. The business of real observance of God’s commandments inseparably accompanies the business of real praying” (The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer, Prince Press, 2000: 56).

Prayer Focus: Pray that God will teach us well the “trade of perfect obedience” that we may learn the “secrets of the trade of prayer.” For if in this way we learn the "secrets of the trade of prayer," we will bear much fruit to the glory of God the Father!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Day Twenty-Nine: Jesus, Our Example

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10).

One of the things I love most about Jesus is that he only calls us to do what he himself was willing to do. He calls us to serve one another in the way that he first served us; he calls us to love one another in the way that he first loved us; he calls us to suffer unjustly in the way that he first suffered unjustly; he calls us to passionately and willingly obey his commandments in the way that he first passionately and willingly obeyed his Father’s commandments (John 13:15, 13:34, 15:10, 15:12, 1 Peter 2:20-25).

And not only does he set us an example but he promises to give us the power we need to do what he has called us to do: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:12-14). So, if we attempt to do what Jesus has called to do on our own strength, we will fail miserably, but if we attempt to do what he has called us to do by leaning hard on him in prayer, he will hear from heaven and give us the power to do it!

And this is not all: not only does Jesus set us an example and promise, through prayer, to give us the power we need to follow his example but even when we fail—and we will fail—he himself has become righteousness and sanctification for all who believe in him: “He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). The Son is all for all who cling to the Son!

Prayer Focus: Pray with thanksgiving for the example Jesus set us, the power he gives us, and the righteousness he is for us! Pray that he will cause us to grow all the more into his image as we adore him and lean hard on him in prayer and abide in him by grace.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Day Twenty-Eight: The Benefits of Obedience

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10).

Yesterday we meditated on the link between obedience and sanctification, emphasizing especially that obedience is the aim and visible proof of sanctification. Today I want to show that true, godly, heart-felt obedience, while it may be costly and painful at times, is a fountain of joy because it beckons the blessings of God. And though the blessings it beckons are quite literally innumerable, let me name several of them.

First, the ultimate blessing of obedience is that we get God himself! "And being made perfect, he [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him" (Hebrews 5:9). How would you define eternal salvation, or what is elsewhere called eternal life? I think most of us would define it by emphasizing the temporal aspect of it—eternal life means that we will live forever. But listen to how Jesus defines it—“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). So, all who obey Jesus get eternal salvation from Jesus, and eternal salvation is to know the Father and the Son and, of course, the Holy Spirit. Indeed, even as the chief benefit of my marriage is that I get Kim, the chief blessing I receive from obeying Jesus is that I get Jesus.

The second most important blessing of obedience is that we get the body of Christ: "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments" (1 John 5:2-3). Christ may save us as spiritual orphans, but he does not leave us that way! He abundantly provides us with brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we are united in Christ. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).

Third, in Deuteronomy 28:1-14 God promises the children of Israel that he will bless them in eighteen specific ways if they will only obey him from the heart. He promises to make them a people holy unto himself, he promises to bless their families, to bless their land, to bless their work, to bless their food, to bless their battles and give them victory, to bless their finances so that they will always lend and never borrow. In short, he promises to bless them in all they do. And if this was so for those who were under the law, how much more is it so for those who are in Christ Jesus? “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).

This does not mean that we will not suffer, in fact, if we obey Christ we are sure to suffer. "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:18-20). But just think of the great blessings that fell upon Christ because of his unflinching obedience to the Father, and know that we too will receive his blessings if we endure to the end. “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Father will open our eyes to the blessings of obedience so that we will not see it as drudgery but as great joy!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Day Twenty-Seven: Obedience and Sanctification

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10).

Yesterday we learned that the only way we are able to continue abiding in the vine of Christ is by the steadfast love of the Father, as he applies the gospel of grace to our lives and covers our sins by the blood of his son. Given this foundation of the gospel, the lesson for today is this: to grow in Christ is to grow in obedience. The process of sanctification is the process of learning to obey Christ from the heart, and when sanctification finishes its work we will be perfectly and joyfully obedient, by the grace and power of Jesus. Consider the following Scriptures, and notice the link between holiness and obedience:

“Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you” (Leviticus 20:7-8). “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you” (1 Peter 1:1-2). “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14-16). “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3).

Of course, this is not to say that we earn our sanctification through obedience. The process of sanctification is just as much blood-bought by Jesus as is the faith we exercised when we first believed in him. Our sanctification is accomplished by God the Father through the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the ever-present help of the Holy Spirit, the word of God, faith, and the body of Christ (John 17:17, Acts 20:32, 26:18, Romans 15:16, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 30, 6:11, Ephesians 5:26, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Hebrews 9:13-14, 10:10-14, 13:12). It is God who provides the means of and the power for sanctification, and it is God who guarantees its ends.

So, I am not saying that we earn our sanctification through obedience, but I am saying that heart-felt obedience is the aim of sanctification and the necessary display of the fact that we are becoming holy as he is holy, by the grace and power of God. I am saying that as the fruit of the vine makes the nutrients of the vine visible, obedience makes the process of sanctification visible.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, as we pursue Christ let us pursue heart-felt obedience! Let us pursue a heart that trusts our Father and believes that what he says is for his glory and our good, and let us pursue a heart that is quick to walk in his ways and to forsake our ways and the ways of the world.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God will help us to see the link between sanctification and obedience, not just in our minds but in the way we live our lives. And pray that he will change our hearts so that we will be quick and glad to obey him in all things.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Day Twenty-Six: Disobedience and the Gospel

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10).

If it is true that to obey Jesus’ commandments is to abide in his love and to disobey Jesus’ commandments is not to abide in his love, then how can the Father allow us to continue abiding in the vine of Christ when we disobey him even one time? Let us not make light of sin: when Adam and Eve disobeyed just one time by eating a piece of fruit, their sin was serious enough to fell the entire human race and to corrupt the created order (Romans 5:12-21, 8:19-23). And so I ask again: how can the Father allow us to continue abiding in the vine of Christ when we disobey him even one time?

Put simply, he applies to us the gospel of grace in Christ Jesus. Here is how Paul explained it in Romans 8:1-10 (I know this passage is a familiar one, but please read it carefully for without this explanation we could never continue to abide in the vine of Christ):

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”

Does this mean that those who are in Christ are free to sin? Absolutely not! “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4) The whole design of the gospel of grace is to make us holy as he is holy, to make us obedient as he is obedient. And in the heart of the true child of God, the gospel of grace breeds a great desire for holiness and repentance. Every time the true child of God sins, his passion is to repent and change by the grace and power of Christ. Or to put this another way, his passion is to respond to disobedience with obedience, for repentance is obedience responding to disobedience, by grace.

And the true child of God has such passion for obedience because he has such passion to see Jesus, and he knows that the process of growing in holiness and obedience is not an end in itself, but rather a necessary preparation to see and love and live for the glory of our great God and savior, Jesus Christ: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” and, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (Matthew 5:8, 1 John 3:2-3).

Prayer Focus: Pray that God will help us to tremble at our sin, trust wholly in the gospel of grace in Christ Jesus, and have the passion and ability to repent when we do sin.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Day Twenty-Five: To Hate Christ is to Disobey Christ

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10).

It is perhaps an obvious implication of yesterday’s meditation, but today I want to make explicit the fact that to disobey Christ is to manifest hatred toward him. Just as our love of Christ is made visible through obedience, our hatred of Christ is made visible through disobedience. Consider the words of Nehemiah as he reflected on what happened to the Israelites after they entered the promised land: “Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies” (Nehemiah 9:26). Or consider the words of the apostle John: “For everyone who does wicked things [i.e., disobeys God] hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:20).

And let us be clear and sober about the fact that God will severely punish such hatred: “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” (Romans 2:6-8). And from Deuteronomy 7:9-11: “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today.”

Brothers and sisters, we must come to understand that when we disobey God we reveal the fact that part of us still hates God, and we must grapple with the fact that God in turn hates our hatred of him. I do not mean for this to cause us to doubt our salvation every time we sin, but I do mean for this to teach us not to trifle with our sin. I do mean for this to help us get to the root of our sin: to sin is not simply to break a rule, it is to manifest rebellion and hatred toward God. And it is this remaining hatred that we must face and deal with in the presence of Christ.

And oh, how deeply grateful I am for the fact that our God is gracious and patient and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love! How grateful I am that, even when we do sin and reveal our remaining hatred of him, we have these very great and precious promises: “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21). And, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Amen, and thanks be to God!

Prayer Focus: Pray that God will help us understand how he sees our disobedience, and that he will help us prosper in the love of Christ and die to the hatred of Christ that still remains in us.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Day Twenty-Four: To Love Christ is to Obey Christ

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10).

A few days ago I drew out the following train of thought: to abide in Christ is to obey his commandments; to obey his commandments is to love him; therefore the commandment to abide in him is tantamount to the commandment to love him. Today I want to strengthen that middle proposition, namely, that to obey Christ’s commandments is to love him.

The connection between obedience and love can be found all throughout the Bible, but it is perhaps most explicit in Deuteronomy and the writings of the apostle John. Consider the following six passages: “You shall therefore love the LORD your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always” (Deuteronomy 11:1; see also 6:4-9, 10:12-13, 11:13, 11:22, 19:9, 30:16, 30:19-20). “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21). “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me” (John 14:23-24). “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10). “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3).

These several passages are sufficient, I’m sure, to prove the point: to obey Christ is to love him, and to love him is to obey him. Or put another way, obedience makes our love for Christ visible, tangible, objective, and measurable. As I said two days ago, obedience is more than adherence to a list of rules, rather it is the manifestation of our passion for God. True, biblical obedience is not legalism, it is love.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God will help us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily, and follow him by passionately and willingly obeying his commandments, with his help. Pray that God will make us a loving and obedient church.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Day Twenty-Three: The Power to Love Christ Comes From Christ

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10).

Over the last couple of days we’ve been learning more about what it means to abide in Christ, obey Christ, and love Christ. Today we will see that there is a proper order to love that not only calls us to love but gives us the passion, resources, and ability to do so.

And this order exists first and foremost within the Godhead itself, as the Father first loves the Son and the Son then reflects that love back to the Father in the form of heart-felt, passionate, willing obedience. When the Son receives love from the Father, he receives all the passion, resources, and ability he needs to love the Father in return. When the Father sees the obedience of the Son he sees love, and he rejoices not only in the Son’s love for him but also in his own love that is working in and reflecting back from the Son.

This same dynamic then plays out between the Son and the children of God. First, the Son pours his love out on the children of God and then they reflect that love back to him through heart-felt, passionate, willing obedience. When the children of God receive the love of the Son, they receive all the passion, resources, and ability they need to love him in return. When the Son sees the obedience of the children of God he sees love, and he rejoices not only in their love for him but also in his own love that is working in and reflecting back from them. Thus, the proper order of love is this: the Son loves because the Father first loved him, and “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

So, the key idea we should grasp today is this: without him we can do nothing, and therefore all the passion, resources, and ability we need to love him in fact comes from him. Our love is a reflected love and its source is God the Father, mediated through the Son. We must indeed obey the commandments and labor to love him with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength, but we can only do so in the strength that God supplies. And therefore, in the end, since he is the fount of our love he gets the glory for our love.

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Father will teach us to endeavor to love him, not from our strength, but from the strength that he supplies. Pray that he will teach us to lean on him as our all-sufficient fount, and then give him the glory that is due his name.

Day Twenty-Two: To Love Christ is to Have Passion for Christ

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10).

Yesterday we learned that to abide in Christ’s love is to love Christ, and that to love Christ is to obey his commandments. Today I want to add a simple but crucial idea to the mix: to love Christ is to have passion for Christ. I get this from the great commandment which originally appears in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

The word for “love” in the original language of the Old Testament is a very intense and passionate one. It is used to describe the love of God for his people (Deuteronomy 4:37), the love of parents for their children (Genesis 22:2), the love of a husband for a wife (1 Samuel 1:5), and even the corrupted love of sinners for evil (52:3). Thus, when the Bible calls us to love the Lord with all that is in us, it is not calling us to a dispassionate, uninterested, “I love because I’m supposed to” kind of love. Rather, it is calling us to a passionate, interested, “I love because I want to” kind of love.

In his commentary on Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew Henry said, “We must highly esteem him [God], be well pleased that there is such a Being, well pleased in all his attributes, and relations to us: our desire must be towards him, our delight in him, our dependence upon him, and to him we must be entirely devoted. It must be a constant pleasure to us to think of him, hear from him, speak to him, and serve him. We must love him.”

And what does this imply for our study of John 15:9-10? Just this: obedience is more than adherence to a list of rules, rather it is the manifestation of our passion for God. True, biblical obedience is not legalism, it is love. Consider the words of David from Psalm 119:46-48: “I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.” Does that sound like rote obedience to you? It is not. Quite the contrary, it is passion for God expressed in fidelity to his commandments. It is trust that God is good and only commands what is good and right and true.

So, the key thought for today is this: to abide in Christ is to love Christ, to love Christ is to obey his commandments, and to obey his commandments is to manifest our heart-felt passion for him.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God will deliver us from religious observances and teach us what it means to delight in him and his commandments with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Day Twenty-One: To Abide in Christ is to Love Christ

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10).

This is now the seventh time Jesus has used the word “abide” in our passage, but it is the first time he has linked it with love (v.9). Previously we learned that the only way we can abide in Christ is if he causes us to abide in him: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (15:16). However, we also learned that Christ has given us a part to play in his abiding in us, namely, that we should allow his words to abide in us and teach us and shape us and direct us and discipline us and encourage us and so on (v. 7). Now, in verse 9, Jesus adds the element of love to the mix, and here’s why.

For Jesus to cause his words to abide in us is for him to give his commandments to us. In other words, the reason Jesus gives his words to us is to teach us about and guide us in the way we should go. This is why he says in verse 10 that to abide in his love is to obey his commandments. How else shall we show our love for Christ? To obey the commandments of Jesus is to love Jesus, and therefore his call to abide in his love is tantamount to a call to love him.

And this is not a new commandment, but one which we have had from the beginning. “The most important [commandment] is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:29-30). Indeed, to abide in Christ is to love Christ, and to love Christ is to obey his commandments, and we have his commandments because his words abide in us.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God will cause Glory of Christ Baptist Church to abide in his love by obeying his commandments and so displaying our love to him.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Day Twenty: The Implications of the Promise, Part IV

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:7-8).

The fourth and final implication I see from John 15:7-8 is this: in light of the fact that the glory of God is the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ teaching in these verses, we ought to train ourselves to give glory to God at every turn. Every time we see the fruit of the vine being borne in our lives we should glorify the Father in the secret places of our hearts and, as appropriate, in the sight and hearing of others. “In the same way, let your light shine before others that they may see your good works [i.e., your fruit] and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Now, there is a balance to be struck here between letting our light shine before others and living for the glory of God alone. Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). Thus, we must work hard to ensure that we are seeking the glory of God and not our own. A. W. Tozer once said that among the worst of sins is promoting self under the guise of promoting Christ. We don’t want to be hypocrites, but we do want to be truth-tellers—and the truth is that we are not responsible for the fruit of the vine being borne in our lives, the Father is. And since he is responsible for the fruit he must get the glory.

There is a way to remain silent and sin. If someone offers us praise for the fruit they see in our lives and we fail, in some appropriate way, to deflect that praise to God, we have sinned. Thus, let us pray for the wisdom of God to know when to speak and when to be silent, and let us allow God to train our hearts so that we can maximize his glory at every turn.

And we should know that as we seek to glorify God at every turn, not everyone will appreciate us for it. Indeed, some will even malign and persecute us for it. Jesus himself warns us about this in John 15:20: “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” But then he offers us these hopeful words in Matthew 5:11-12: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Brothers and sisters, we must learn to give glory to God at all times even if it results in suffering, for in the end we will rejoice in God. The prize is worth the pain. The joy is worth the sacrifice. The glory of God is worth the suffering. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Father will teach us to glorify him at every turn, teaching us to die to ourselves and live to him, teaching us to suffer with Christ that we may also rejoice with him.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Day Nineteen: The Implications of the Promise, Part III

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:7-8).

The third implication I see from John 15:7-8 is this: in light of the facts that answered prayer is the fruit of the vine, and that therefore without prayer we cannot bear the fruit of the vine, we ought to passionately commit ourselves to making a life of prayer. We ought to wake in prayer and ready ourselves in prayer and read the word of God in prayer and eat in prayer and drive in prayer and labor in prayer and serve others in prayer and suffer in prayer and rejoice in prayer and take our rest in prayer. And as a church, we ought to proclaim the word of God in prayer and seek the lost in prayer and do missions in prayer and minister to the needs of people in prayer and structure in prayer and raise money in prayer and build buildings in prayer. We ought to pray morning, noon, and night about anything and everything. We ought to pray as often as we breathe.

Consider the following passages, noting especially the strength of the words that call us to prayer: “And they [the early believers] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving…Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (Acts 2:42, Colossians 4:2, Philippians 4:6-7, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Devote, continue steadfastly, pray in everything, pray without ceasing: brothers and sisters, the language calling us to a life prayer could not be stronger in these few verses, and the implications of the fact that we cannot bear the fruit of the vine without prayer could not be more serious. Thus I will say it again, we ought to heed the words of God and passionately commit ourselves to making a life of prayer. We ought to pray as often as we breathe.

And as with our commitment to the word of God, we need both habits of prayer and passion for God in prayer. First of all, we must develop regular habits of prayer because prayer is one of the primary, tangible expressions of the fact that we are utterly dependent upon Christ. As the branch cannot survive and thrive without the nutrients of the vine, the Christian cannot survive and thrive without drawing on the resources of Christ in prayer. The branch does not take a day off from seeking the life of the vine, and we can never rest from pursuing the life of Christ.

But prayer is more than an activity designed to draw on the life of Christ, it is the primary means by which we express our love and passion and devotion and thankfulness to the Father. As we abide in Christ and his words abide in us, our love for him grows and we express that love to him by prayer. The true believer does more than make requests of God in prayer; he also interacts and relates with and expresses the totality of his passions to the Father in prayer.

So, we need to deny ourselves and take up our crosses daily and follow Jesus by disciplining ourselves to pray without ceasing. And we also need to ever grow in our passion for Christ so that our prayers will be shot through with life and light and fervency.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God the Father will make us fruitful branches by making us prayerful branches. Pray that he will teach us to “pray without ceasing,” and thereby cause us to bear 30- and 60- and 100-fold for the glory of his name.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Day Eighteen: The Implications of the Promise, Part II

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:7-8).

The second implication I see flowing from John 15:7-8 is this: in light of the command for Jesus’ words to abide in us, we ought to redouble our efforts to know and obey and love his word. We ought to read and study and memorize and meditate on and obey and teach it everyday of our lives. His word ought to be our food and light and life, both day and night. Consider the following quotes from the Psalmist, noting especially his commitment to and passion for the word:

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:1-3). “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day…I hate the double-minded, but I love your law…I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law…Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble” (Psalm 119:97, 113, 163, 165).

I see two things in the life of the Psalmist: regular habits of being in the word to which he was utterly committed and great passion for the word because he loved God with all of his heart and soul and mind and strength. And these two things, habits and passion, are precisely what we need, as well. We need habits of being in the word because without them we will be carried away by our flesh and distracted by many things that are opposed to the life of the spirit. We need habits of being in the word because we need to constantly remind ourselves of the words and will and ways of God. Oh, how prone we are to forget the things of God! We need habits of being in the word because we need an anchor for our souls (Ephesians 4:11-16).

But if all we have is habits, then we are no better than legalists or unbelievers. We need to add to our habits a genuine passion for God and for his word because we are in a relationship with him and he wants us to love him with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength. “Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Joshua 22:5). We cannot walk and keep and cling and serve God with all that’s in us if we don’t know the word and therefore we must develop habits around the word. But the whole point of walking and keeping and clinging and serving is to love the Lord our God with everything in us!

So, we need the word to give content and stability to our passion for God, and we need passion to give life to our time in the word of God. And in the context of John 15:7-8, we need the word to give shape and ardor to our prayers so that we will pray in a way that is pleasing to the Father. And when we pray in a way that is pleasing to the Father, he is pleased to hear and answer all of our prayers. This is a stunning truth that should drive us to the word of God.

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Lord will help you grow in your commitment to word of God, that he’ll help you develop regular habits of being in the word of God, and that he’ll enflame your passion for him.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Day Seventeen: The Implications of the Promise, Part I

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:7-8).

Over the last several days we have meditated on John 15:7-8, pondering the conditions of Jesus’ promise, the promise itself, and the purposes of the promise. For the next few days I want to draw out several implications of these things for our lives in Christ, and my hope is that each of us will take the time to linger over these things, allowing Christ to speak to us and apply his words and ways to our lives as individuals and as a church. So, I invite you to read over these implications prayerfully with me, asking the Lord for eyes to see and hearts to receive.

First, in light of the command to abide in Christ, we ought to search our hearts to see whether we are in him. Consider the words of Paul from 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” I do not mean to breed in us an ungodly fear that we are not saved, for the Bible clearly teaches that we can be confident about our salvation. “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). But I do mean to breed in us a godly humility that does not presume on Christ. I do mean to breed in us a godly humility that invites Christ to reveal to us the true state of our souls and our standing with him.

For even if we fail the test and find that we are not in Christ, we can humbly and earnestly call on his name, knowing that he will answer: “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). And even if we pass the test but discover that we are in need of the Lord’s rebuke, we can cry out to him for mercy and help, taking comfort in the goodness of his heart and the aims of his discipline: “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:5-11).

And if we search our hearts and find that we are in him, our joy in him will increase, our love for him will increase, our humble confidence in prayer will increase, our zeal to bear the fruit of the vine will increase, our desire to share the gospel will increase, and our passion to glorify the name of our Father will increase. In the end, though the process may be painful, there is simply no downside to examining ourselves in Christ--unless, of course, we harden our hearts before him. So, brothers and sisters, let us take the time to search our hearts, trusting in the goodness of our Father's heart for us.

Prayer Focus: Pray that by means of prayer and the word and the wise counsel of others, the Father will graciously reveal to you the true state of your soul and your standing with Christ. If you find that you are not in Christ, call out to him. If you find that you are in Christ but in need of his rebuke, take comfort in him. If you find that you are in Christ and in good standing with him, rejoice and pray for more grace.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Day Sixteen: The Purposes of the Promise, Part II

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:7-8).

While it is true that a main purpose of Jesus’ promise in John 15:7 is to teach the children of God how to bear fruit in the Kingdom of God, so proving to be his disciples, this is not the ultimate purpose. The ultimate purpose of Jesus’ promise in John 15:7 is the glory of God the Father. Indeed, this is the ultimate purpose of the entire Bible and of all creation. “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations” (Revelation 21:22-26).

So, how does the process spelled out in John 15:7-8 glorify the Father? I see at least five reasons. First, we would not even be alive and able to engage in this process were it not for God the Father, therefore he must get the glory for all things. “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11). Second, if we indeed abide in Christ, it is only because the Father has caused us to do so. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:3-4; see also John 15:16,19; Ephesians 2:4-7).

Third, it is the words of Christ that give us wisdom to pray in a way that the will be pleasing to the Father, and we can hardly take credit for what he has given us as a gift. Even Jesus gave credit to the Father for the words he spoke: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:10). Fourth, by earnestly pleading with the Father in prayer, we display the fact that we are weak and he is strong, that we are empty and he is full, that we are needy and he is the source of all we need. And then when he answers our cries, he graphically displays his grace and mercy and kindness and power and steadfast love toward us in Christ, things for which he should rightly be glorified. “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:15).

Finally, since all of the above are true, the fruit we bear by answered prayer is a result of who God is and what he’s done, and thus he deserves all the glory. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works [i.e., to bear fruit], which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Indeed, the glory of God is the great and rightful aim of Jesus astonishing promise in John 15:7.

Prayer Focus: Pray that Glory of Christ Baptist Church will live up to its name and be a glory to God by abiding in Christ, cherishing his words, passionately pleading with him in prayer, humbly submitting to his will, bearing the fruit of the vine, and giving honor where honor is due.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Day Fifteen: The Purposes of the Promise, Part I

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:7-8).

In the original language of the New Testament, the word for “it will be done” in verse seven and the word for “so prove” in verse eight are the same word. The word literally means “to become,” and thus these verses could read like this: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will become for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so will become [i.e., show yourselves to be] my disciples.”

To this point in our text, Jesus has mentioned the fruit of the vine (15:2,4,5) but he has not defined what that fruit is. Here, by connecting verses seven and eight the way he does, he teaches us that the fruit of the vine is answered prayer. Thus, the way we prove to be branches in the vine of Christ is by successfully drawing the nutrients of the vine into the branches and so bearing fruit. The way we prove to be disciples of Christ is by calling down the blessings of heaven by means of earnest prayer, and obtaining a “yes” from the Father. In other words, the “yes” of the Father is the fruit that proves we are in Christ.

Why does the Father’s “yes” prove that we are in Christ? Because that “yes” is the Father’s way of testifying on our behalf that we, who once were children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3), are now children of God. And the Father has been testifying about his chosen ones in this way for a very long time. When Elijah was debating with the people about whether the Lord was God or Baal was God, about whether he was the true prophet or the prophets of Baal were the true prophets, God the Father testified on his behalf by sending fire from heaven to consume his offering. And this fire came in response to earnest prayer (1 Kings 18:17-40).

When Jesus came to seek and save the lost, the Father testified on his behalf by the works he gave him to do: “For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me…The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me” (John 5:36, 10:25). And even for Jesus these works were the fruit of much earnest prayer (Luke 5:15-16).

When the early believers went about proclaiming the gospel of Christ, the Father testified on their behalf by giving signs and wonders and miracles and spiritual gifts. “It [this great salvation] was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Hebrews 2:3-4). And he gave this testimony in response to much earnest prayer (e.g., Acts 2:42 & 4:23-31).

So, one of the main purposes of Jesus’ astonishing promise in John 15:7 is to teach the children of God how to bear fruit in the Kingdom of God, so proving to be his disciples. And in sum, here’s how to bear that fruit: abide in Christ, let his words abide in you, ask earnestly of the Father whatever you wish, submit yourself to his perfect will, and he will answer your prayers—this is the fruit of the vine.

Prayer Focus: Pray earnestly that God will make us a fruitful people who abide in Christ, passionately love his word, earnestly call on him in prayer, willingly submit to his perfect will, and regularly receive answers and blessings from him, for the glory of his name.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Day Fourteen: The Promise, Part III

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:7-8).

Have you ever prayed fervently and, as far as you could tell, according to God’s will, and yet the Father did not grant your request? If you answered “yes” to this question, you’re not alone. In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, the apostle Paul tells of a time when he prayed fervently that a “messenger of Satan” would be driven away from him, that a “thorn in the flesh” would be removed from him, but essentially the Father answered “no.” Instead, he replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (12:9). I once prayed and asked the Father to deliver me out of a situation, but my sense of his reply was this: “I don’t want to deliver you out of this, I want to develop you in this.” And that is precisely what the Father did in my life.

How, then, are we to understand such experiences in light of strong promises like this: “…ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you”? I see at least six reasons why the Father may not grant our requests in the way we submit them. First, it may be that we are not asking according to the Father’s will, even if it seems to us like we are. The most merciful thing the Father can do in that situation is say “no,” and then teach us to pray according to his will. Second, it may be that we are asking according to his will, but with wrong motives (James 4:3). Third, it may be that we have unconfessed sin that is hindering our prayers (1 Peter 4:7). Fourth, it may be that the Father sees a greater good and says “no” to our request in order to give us that greater good, in his time and his way. Fifth, it may be, as with Daniel, that he has granted our request but there are spiritual dynamics in play that are delaying the fulfillment of the answer (Daniel 10:12-14). Sixth, it may be that for some other reason the Father thinks it best for us to wait on him (Psalm 40:1).

The bottom line is that the Father really does know best, and we must learn to pray as Jesus himself prayed in the garden, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). In other words, we must learn the joy of total submission to the Father, trusting that he knows best and does best every single time. Our main request in every request ought to be this: “Father, teach me the joy of submitting to you, even if it’s painful.”

Prayer Focus: Pray that the Father will give us eyes to see when he does not answer our prayers in the way we would have him answer. Pray that he will teach us the joy of submission to him, the joy of exchanging our desires for his will.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Day Thirteen: The Promise, Part II

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:7-8).

Yesterday we pondered the fact that Jesus invites us to pray with holy fervency; today we will ponder the fact that he invites us to pray like this about anything and everything. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” And elsewhere, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

How can Jesus invite us into such a broad life of prayer? Isn’t he obligating himself to answer prayers that he does not want to answer? In other words, isn’t he concerned that we will ask for things that are not glorifying to him and good for us and others? The answer to this question would be “yes,” were it not for the conditions that Jesus laid out in the first part of the verse, namely, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you…”

When these conditions are met, the words of Christ lead us to die to our fleshly desires and whims, and help us to see that the supreme aim in all things is the glory of God. The words of Christ give shape to our souls so that we more rightly understand what is good and right and true and pleasing to the Father, and thus they teach us to pray according to his will. It is as Paul said in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind [which happens as the words of Christ abide in us], that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” And when we are able to test and discern what is good and acceptable and perfect, we will pray according to the Father’s will and he will be pleased to answer all of our prayers.

The words of Christ are like the nutrients of the vine, and prayer is the means by which we suck the nutrients out of the vine. If we pray for poison, our loving heavenly Father will not give it to us, but he might use the occasion to shape us more into the image of Christ. If we pray for the life-giving nutrients of the vine, we should pray earnestly and expectantly, knowing that the Father will grant our requests, not because he is subject to our demands but because he is faithful to his promises.

Prayer Focus: Pray that the words of Christ will so shape our hearts, and our life together as a church, that we will fervently pray according to the Father’s will. And pray that as we pray according to the Father’s will, he will be pleased to answer from heaven and bear much fruit through our lives, to the glory of his name!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Day Twelve: The Promise, Part I

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:7-8).

We come now to that great and astonishing promise of Christ which says, “…ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” The word “ask” in the original language is a strong one. It means to beg, to call for, to crave, to desire, to require of the one entreated. It implies great passion and intensity and fervency in prayer. And indeed, fervency is a necessary aspect of all true praying. Consider these words from the nineteenth-century pastor E. M. Bounds:

“Prayers must be red hot. It is the fervent prayer that is effectual and that availeth. Coldness of spirit hinders praying; prayer cannot live in a wintry atmosphere. Chilly surroundings freeze out petitioning; and dry up the springs of supplication. It takes fire to make prayers go. Warmth of soul creates an atmosphere favorable to prayer, because it is favorable to fervency. By flame, prayer ascends to heaven. Yet fire is not fuss, nor heat noise. Heat is intensity—something that glows and burns. Heaven is a mighty poor market for ice” (The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer, Prince Press, 2000: 35).

And how do we get such fervency, such fire of soul, such glowing intensity? We get these by abiding in Christ, and by his words abiding in us, and over time the flame of Christ sets our own souls ablaze. Indeed, it is the Spirit and the words of Christ that both shape and impassion our prayers. They shape our prayers by giving us revelation and wisdom, sight and insight; by renewing our minds and causing us to think God’s thoughts after him, as it were; by transforming our lives so that we die to our ways and live to Christ’s ways. And they impassion our prayers by setting our hearts on fire with the flame of heaven, as the Holy Spirit impresses on our soul the very fervency of Christ, and applies to our lives the implications of his words.

Do you pray with such fervency? If not, beloved, fly to Christ! All the passion and earnestness you will ever need to muster is there with him. But it will take time. You will have to discipline yourself to deny your flesh and stay with Christ when your flesh would have you fly to work or television or food or 1,000 other things. Abide with Christ, and when he is ready he will set your soul on fire!

Prayer Focus: Pray that Christ will cause you to abide in him and cause his words to abide in you, so that the fire and fervency of his soul will set your own soul aflame. Pray for the perseverance to stay with Christ when you would fly away.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Day Eleven: The Conditions of the Promise

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:7-8).

What a privilege it is to reflect on, and learn to live in, so great and precious a promise from the Lord Jesus Christ! Who can imagine the love he lavishes upon us with these words: “…ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you”? Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the one through whom the Father created all things, and the one who upholds all things by the word of his power (Revelation 21:6, Colossians 1:16, Hebrew 1:3). And it is he who said, “…ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Indeed, let us tremble at this awesome and gracious promise of our Lord! But before we get to the promise, we must consider the two conditions.

First, Christ commands that we abide in him. I dealt with what it means to abide in Christ in meditations seven and eight, so I will only reiterate the points here: we can only abide in Christ because he has caused us to abide in him (John 15:16,19). And once we are abiding in him, the first-fruits of the vine, as it were, are the efforts we make, by God’s grace and power (Philippians 2:12-13), to ensure that we are abiding in the vine. The visible display of the fact that, by grace, we have come to abide in Christ and treasure him above all other things is our incessant commitment to seeking him no matter what the cost.

Second, Christ commands that his words abide in us. I must admit that I was a bit puzzled by the command in verse four that says, “Abide in me, and I in you.” I can understand Jesus commanding us to abide in him, but what can it possibly mean, I thought, for him to command us to have him abide in us? Verse seven answers this question: what it means for Christ to abide in us is that his words abide in us, and since we play an active role in whether or not his words abide in us, it makes sense for him to command that he abide in us.

Now, the command for his words to abide in us implies both knowing and obeying his words. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe [i.e., obey] all that I have commanded you [i.e., all my words]. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21).

So, in order for Christ’s words to abide in us we must know them and obey them, by his grace and power, and we must die to every other “word” in our lives. We must deny ourselves and take up our crosses daily and follow him by reading, studying, memorizing, meditating on, teaching, and obeying his words. His words must be our food, his words must be our life, day and night.

And then, when we go to prayer, we will ask for things that are according to his words and not our whims; we will ask for things that are according to his will and not the desires of our flesh; we will ask for things that are designed to glorify his name and not to gratify our passions. And paradoxically, in seeking his glory as our only treasure, our joy will be made complete (v. 11).

Prayer Focus: Pray that Christ will cause us to abide in the vine and continue in him. Pray that he will cause a great swelling up of love for his words in our hearts, so that we’ll strive to know them and obey them by his grace, and for his glory, and so that we’ll learn how to pray in a way that is pleasing to him.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Day Ten: An Astonishing Promise

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:7-8).

John 15:7-8 is a bombshell. It is simply one of the most breath-taking and significant promises made to believers in the entire Bible. Therefore, it is important that we not pass over it quickly, or dismiss it because we find it hard to understand or believe. Rather, we must slow down here and take all the time it takes to understand the meaning and implications of this astonishing promise of Christ. For if we will take the time to understand it and walk in the paths Jesus lays out for us here, we will experience the grace and power and blessings of God, and our lives will be a glory to him.

For today, I simply want to analyze the structure of the promise, and encourage you to spend some time meditating on it before I say what I see in it. There are, it seems to me, three main parts of the promise: the conditions on which the promise is based, the promise itself, and the desired outcomes of the promise. (1) The two conditions are that we abide in him and his words abide in us; (2) the promise is that whatever we fervently ask for in prayer, he will give us; and (3) the desired outcome is that his answers to our prayers will produce fruit in and through us, proving we are his disciples and, more importantly, glorifying God the Father in heaven and on earth.

Prayer Focus: Pray that Jesus will help us see the astonishing truths and implications of John 15:7-8, and that in understanding these verses we will walk in his ways, receive his blessings, prove to be his disciples, and so be a display of the glory of God the Father.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

It's Official--We're Married!!!

Dear Glory of Christ,

Last night the elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church officially commissioned us to plant Glory of Christ Baptist Church in the Rogers/Elk River area! The vote was hearty and unanimous. They also approved $80,000 of funding for the church to be dispersed over three years. This is equal to the largest gift Bethlehem has ever given to a new church plant.

You may remember that when Kim and I first came to you, we used the metaphor of dating, engagement. and marriage. We dated you for about two months and then unanimously decided to get engaged, knowing that the elders of Bethlehem would ultimately decide whether or not we would be married. Well, as soon as the vote was cast last night I told the elders that they had just officiated a wedding, and we all shared in a hearty laugh together! Then, they laid their hands on me and prayed the Lord's blessing on our ministry.

So, Glory of Christ Baptist Church, we are now married as pastor and people, and Kim and I want you to know that we are committing our lives to serve you for the glory of Christ. We don't know what the future holds, but as long as the Lord allows us to share life with you, we will give you all of our hearts. Let us celebrate the goodness of the Lord, and pray that he bears much fruit through us for the glory of Christ!

Rejoicing with you in Christ,
Pastor Charlie

Day Nine: The High Price of Fruitlessness

“If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6).

Why is it that some people do not remain in Christ over time, and thus do not bear the fruit of the vine? Why is it that some people appear to be attached to Christ, but then leave the church and walk away from the Lord, never to be seen again? Jesus gives us several insights into this reality in Matthew 13:18-23 and 13:24-30.

First, some people hear the word of God and do not understand it because the devil has blinded the eyes of their minds. “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). And because they do not understand the word of God, they cannot properly respond to it and they fall away.

Second, some people hear the word of God and receive it with joy, but as soon as trouble comes they forsake the Lord and leave the church. I once discipled a new believer named Gil. He was a gang member who some how heard the gospel and found his way to our church. At first, he was very excited and engaged in the process but as soon as his car broke down and he lost his girlfriend he fell away. Why? Because the joy he had in Christ was contingent on particular blessings, and as soon as the Lord removed these from his life, his lack of authentic love for Christ was exposed and he fell away.

Third, some people hear the word of God but then get caught up in the things of the world and the pursuit of wealth, and these things choke out the word. “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

Fourth, some people hear the word of God and become like weeds among the wheat, who for a variety of reasons work to undermine the word and do violence to the church. Prominent examples of this in the New Testament are Judas Iscariot (betrayer, Matthew 26:47), Ananias and Sapphira (deceivers, Acts 5:1-11), and Hymenaeus and Alexander (false teachers, 1 Timothy 1:20).

What is the destiny of these four types of people? According to John 15:6 it is this: God the Father will cut them off, throw them aside and let them wither, and eventually gather them up and burn them in a fire. I take this to mean that he will cut them away from Christ, expose their hypocrisy, and eventually send them to hell. “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8).

The high price of fruitlessness is eternal severance from Christ in hell.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God will keep us from being like these four types of people, and will instead give us the grace to be fertile soil that receives the word of God with joy, endures through many trials, and bears much fruit to the glory of the Father. And pray that God will give us extraordinary grace so that we can woo people away from the world and into Christ. Perhaps God will grant us the grace to snatch some from the fire, as it were.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Day Eight: Without Him We Can Do Nothing

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Have you ever seriously thought about the fact that it is possible to bear false fruit that very much looks like authentic Kingdom fruit, but in the end is not? Have you ever seriously thought about the fact that it is possible to accomplish many great things in the name of Jesus, but not at the command of Jesus? Matthew 7:21-23 teaches us that it’s even possible to preach prophetically and cast out demons and do “many mighty works,” including growing big churches, all in the name of Jesus, but not at the bidding of his Father.

Glory of Christ Baptist Church, we need to pray long and hard about this truth. For without him, we cannot bear one single piece of fruit that is a glory to God and a testimony for us that we are indeed abiding in Christ. There is perhaps no single statement in the Bible that is stronger than this: without Christ we can do nothing!

The question becomes, then, how do we ensure that we’re abiding in the vine? First of all, we only abide in the vine because Jesus chose us out of the world and caused us to abide in the vine. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you…If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:16, 19). It is impossible to abide in the vine until and unless Christ himself causes us to abide in the vine.

Second, the first-fruits of the vine, as it were, are the efforts we make, by God’s grace and power (Philippians 2:12-13), to ensure that we are abiding in the vine. The visible display of the fact that, by grace, we have come to abide in Christ and treasure him above all other things is our commitment to seeking Christ no matter what the cost. This is precisely why we at Glory of Christ have chosen to take as our eight primary values a God-centered vision of God, a passion for holiness, the Word of God, worship, prayer, living a life of faith, koinonia (i.e., the fellowship of the church), and pursuing the lost and the “least of these.” We long with all of our hearts to bear the first-fruits of the vine by seeking our nourishment from the only true vine, with all the passion we can muster.

So, the key thought for the day is this: let us humble ourselves before Christ and search our hearts to see if we are truly in the vine. And if so, let us pursue him, by his grace, with a passion! Let us rise each day with a passion to pursue Christ, and take our rest each day with a passion to thank him for all he’s done in and through us. Always remembering that without him we can do nothing, but in him we will bear much fruit!

Prayer Focus: Pray that Glory of Christ Baptist Church will be sober and thoughtful about the fact that without Christ we can do nothing. Pray also that we will possess, by grace, an ever-increasing passion and commitment to bear the first-fruits of the vine.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Day Seven: Striving to Abide in the Vine

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4).

To this point in our text, Jesus has only implied what it takes to bear fruit. Now in verse four, he makes the process explicit: in order to bear fruit, we must abide in the vine, we must be rightly connected to Christ himself. But whereas a branch has only a passive role in its relation to a vine, we must take an active role in our relation to Christ. Whereas a branch cannot help but suck its nutrients from the vine, we must be careful and diligent to seek our nourishment from Christ alone. Consider Philippians 2:12-13:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” I love this verse! On the one hand, it teaches us that we must strive with all of our might to be found in Christ and not to be found a hypocrite. But on the other hand, no text more clearly states that the reason we have the passion and energy and ability and commitment to abide in Christ is because God the Father is working in us to will and to act according to his good pleasure. He is working in us so that we’ll want to abide in Christ. He is working in us so that we’ll know how to abide in Christ. He is working in us so that we’ll take necessary and appropriate action to abide in Christ. He is working in us so that we’ll bear much fruit through Christ. He is working in us so that we’ll glorify his matchless name through Christ.

So, the key thought for today is this: strive with all of your might to abide in Christ, knowing that it is the Father working in you to will and to act according to his good pleasure. Seek your nourishment from Christ alone and die to everything else in your life, knowing that it is the grace and power and will of the Father that is causing and empowering you to do so. Strive after Christ, knowing that you strive with the strength of God!

Prayer Focus: Pray that God will cause us to strive after Christ with all of our might, and also cause us to rejoice in his grace and strength that it at work within us.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Day Six: Pruning and the Word of God

“Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you” (John 15:3).

Yesterday I mentioned that God uses various kinds of shears to prune the fruitful, to the end that they may bear much fruit: he will use discipline, various sorts of tests and trials, suffering, the Word of God, the Body of Christ, and whatever else he deems necessary and appropriate (see Hebrews 12:3-11, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 4:12-19, 2 Timothy 3:15-17, Romans 12:1-2). But in John 15:3, Jesus explicitly mentions one of these shears, namely, his word. In the original language of the Bible this verse literally reads, “Already you are pruned because of the word that I have spoken to you.” So, how does the word of Christ prune us?

Second Timothy 3:16-17 shows us four ways that the word of God prunes us: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” First, the word of God prunes us by teaching us the will of God and the difference between right and wrong. It prunes us by guiding us, by showing us the way we should go, and then shedding light on our path so that we will not stumble. Second, the word of God prunes us by reproving or convicting us of our sin. It rebukes and disciplines us and leads us back into the way we should go. Third, the word of God prunes us by correcting or restoring or improving us. When we have gone astray but not purposely or consciously so, the word of God grabs hold of our shoulders and gently leads us back into the way we should go. Finally, the word of God prunes us by training us for action, for obedience to the commands of God, for zealously walking in the good works which God has prepared beforehand for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

And what is the end result of this good and necessary and painful and loving process of pruning? That every man and woman of God, by means of the word of God, will be “competent and equipped for every good work.” Or put in the language of John 15, that every man and woman of God, by means of the pruning shears of the word of God, will be made to bear much fruit!

Prayer Focus: Pray that, by his grace, God will use the pruning shears of his Word to prune our lives that we would bear much fruit for the glory of his name.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Day Five: The Fate of the Fruitful

“Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).

Yesterday we learned that the fate of the fruitless branches is that God the Father will eventually cut them off. He will remove all vestiges of their hypocrisy from the vine. He will reveal them for what they are, and punish them in hell for their sins (see v. 6). But what of the fruitful branches, what is their fate?

The fate of the fruitful branches is to bear yet more fruit, and the process by which they bear more fruit is called pruning. Consider this definition of pruning from the Department of Horticulture at Texas A & M: “Pruning, like any other skill, requires knowing what you are doing to achieve success [Praise God that he knows what he’s doing!]…Remember that pruning is the removal or reduction of certain plant parts that are not required, that are no longer effective, or that are of no use to the plant. It is done to supply additional energy for the development of flowers, fruits, and limbs that remain on the plant” (http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/extension/pruning/pruning.html). In other words, it is done that they might bear more fruit.

The truth of the matter is that, even for those of us who are rightly connected to the vine, there remains much in us that must be cut away. And because of his great mercy and love toward us, the Father is willing to do whatever he must to cut what remains away. He uses as his pruning shears discipline, various sorts of tests and trials, suffering, the Word of God, the Body of Christ, and whatever else he deems necessary and appropriate to prepare us to bear more fruit (see Hebrews 12:3-11, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 4:12-19, 2 Timothy 3:15-17, Romans 12:1-2). Such is the steadfast love of the Father.

Thus, the fate of the fruitful is that we must suffer, and we must suffer so that we can bear more fruit.

Prayer Focus: Pray to God that during these 40 days, and beyond, that he will do whatever he must to prune us for the bearing of more fruit, for the glorification of his name. Pray that he will gives us eyes to see his grace in the midst of the pruning, and willing hearts that will not rebel against his wise work in us.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Day Four: The Fate of the Fruitless

“Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).

As I mentioned yesterday, the phrase “every branch of mine” literally reads “every branch in me.” Is this passage teaching, then, that a person can lose their salvation? Is it saying that when someone is rightly connected to Jesus and then fails to bear fruit, the Father will cut them off, take their salvation from them, and send them to hell? Simply put, the answer is “no,” and here’s why.

It is possible to name the name of Jesus and seem to be rightly connected to him but all the while drawing life from false vines, and thus over time, failing to bear the fruit of the vine. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23; see also the parables of the sower and the wheat and weeds in Matthew 13:3-9 and 13:24-30).

So, to be rightly connected to Jesus is to be submitted to God the Father along with Jesus; and to be submitted to God the Father is to do his will; and to do his will is to be in the Son; and to be in the Son is to bear the fruit of the vine. It is impossible to be rightly connected to Jesus and fail to bear the fruit of the vine.

And thus, the fate of the fruitless is that God the Father will cut them off. He will remove all vestiges of their hypocrisy from the vine. He will reveal them for what they are, and punish them in hell for their sins (see v. 6). Brothers and sisters, this should strike an appropriate fear into all of our hearts. For, on the one hand, our God is long-suffering and merciful and patient and steadfast and his love endures forever: “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench,” and from the words of a parable, “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down” (Matthew 12:20; Luke 13:8-9).

But, on the other hand, he will not tolerate imposters forever. He will punish the wicked. He will pull up the weeds. He will cut off every fruitless branch. He will declare, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” And those are words we never want to hear.

“Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off” (Romans 11:22).

Prayer Focus: Oh brothers and sisters, pray earnestly that God will reveal to us the true state of our relation to him, and give us eyes to see whether or not we are bearing the fruit of the vine. For even if the answer is, “No, you are not,” he may yet be gracious and grant us repentance.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Day Three: The Proof is in the Fruit

“Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).

So far we have learned that Jesus Christ is in absolute and willing subjection to God the Father, and that the Father’s will for the Son is that he be the one true vine, that he be the one true source of nourishment and growth and passion and power and fruitfulness and purpose and joy. In verse two we learn that the proof of whether or not we are in the true vine is whether or not we bear the fruit of the vine. In other words, discerning our actual relationship to Jesus is not a mystery because the proof is in the fruit.

In the original language of the Bible, the phrase “every branch of mine” literally reads “every branch in me.” And any branch that is rightly connected to the vine, and ever drawing life from the vine, will bear fruit. It is as Jesus said in Matthew 7:16-18: “You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.”

The one who is rightly connected to the vine, will bear the fruit of the vine. Indeed, the proof of our actual relationship to Christ is in the fruit.

Prayer Focus: Pray for eyes to see if the fruit of the vine is being borne in your life, or not. Both are a grace: the one for rejoicing and the other for repentance. Jesus Christ came “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and if we are to experience his grace we must know the truth.