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.

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