“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” (John 15: 7-8)
The first condition of fruitfulness as that we, as seeds, have to die to self – really, not just theoretically – in order for the abundant life of Christ in us to multiply to fruitfulness. The second condition is spelled out for us here. Fruitfulness – the manifestation of Jesus’s abundant life in us – is a direct result of us remaining ‘in the Vine,’ because when we stay in the vine, the life of the Vine flows through us and produces the fruit of – guess what – the vine. Jesus’s words “are Spirit and they are life” (John 6: 63). His words are none other than the life that flows through the vine. So when the word of God is central to our lives, the life of the Vine is flowing through us and we are “abiding” in the vine. That’s straightforward enough.
Now here comes the trickier bit. What this doesn’t mean is how much of the Bible we know. The life of the Vine doesn’t flow through our Bible scholarship. If flows through how much we do of what we know. Fortunately, while God does indeed give the Spirit without limit, He doesn’t give us lessons without limit. Jesus is the best of all teachers, and never tries to teach us more than we are capable of learning. And if we have learning difficulties (!) He will keep working with us until we are able to move on. Even if it takes 60 years…
What I believe is this: each of us has a different level of familiarity with the Bible – the Logos, the entirety of the revealed Word of God. And we may have very little difficulty in walking in many of the truths it contains. But for each of us, the Holy Spirit takes specific “rhema” words out of that logos and speaks them into our lives. To me He might be saying: “Bob, right now you really need to know what it means to die to your carnal nature.” To you He will be saying what you need to know right now. I think it’s these rhema words that we have to pay particular attention to (without disregarding the rest), because it is primarily through these that He leads us along the paths of discipleship. Just to make sure that we don’t miss the point, He tells us in verse ten “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.”
It really isn’t complicated. The life of Christ in us flows through His Word, and His word remains in us when we act on what we know He has said. This – not the songs we sing – is how we show Him our love. If we disregard what we know He has said to us we are not loving Him and we are exiting the vine. We can’t expect His abundant Life to bring its multiplication if we are outside the Vine, so we need to get back in again as quickly as possible. Fortunately the Door is always open.
If we exit the Vine by disregarding His Word to us, we remain it by acknowledging Him in all things. He is the Sovereign Lord. All things were made by Him and are His. How many times have we heard Proverbs 3:6: “In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths?” The word translated as “acknowledge” is the word yada, which means to know, including to know intimately. We need to know Him in everything. Paul puts it like this: “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” (Col 3: 23-24)
But those shelves that I’ve just put up in the garden shed – surely it doesn’t matter to the Lord if I’ve just thrown them up quickly, so I could get the job done and move on to something I enjoy more than DIY (like writing this, for example)? Yes it matters. All is all; whatever is whatever. Just as dead is dead. And here’s the thing: now that I have learnt this, I will be jumping out of the Vine if I disregard it. Jesus wants us to be faithful in the little things, so that He can trust us with the big “Abundant Life” stuff. Because if we do stay in the Vine, we can ask for anything that the Life flowing through it can bring, and it will be given to us.
There’s a further dimension to this. The more we acknowledge His sovereignty in all things, the more we will be led to praise Him. The more we praise Him, the higher He is lifted in our lives, and the more we desire to be drawn into His presence. The more time we spend in His presence, the more the Life and Spirit of His word will be imparted to us, the more we will know of the life of the Vine, and the more we will see its fruit manifested in our lives. The New Living Translation renders verse eight like this: “When you produce much fruit, you are My true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.”
We are called to multiplication. It’s what life does: cells multiply. We are called to bear the fruit of Abundant Life, for this is a sign of our discipleship, and it is what brings glory to the God who has made us His own.
A final point. Discipleship is every day, for our whole lives. Every day we “offer our bodies as a living sacrifice.” We learn to die in one thing, then in another. Then another. We remain in the vine as much in putting up shelves as in raising the dead; but we’ll never be raising the dead if our flesh is alive and we aren’t serving the Lord while we’re putting up the shelves. Remaining in the Vine is a double-decker bus journey, not a plane flight. It’s noisy and smelly and there are lots of stops. But the destination board on the front of the bus says “Kingdom of God,” and once we’ve boarded all we have to do is go upstairs and take our seat in Christ. The driver will make sure we reach the destination. What we must do is stay on board.