Gospel of John: Means of Grace


Jesus had begun to teach on remaining in him in order to bear fruit, more fruit, and much fruit. The Father, the true vinedresser, would lift up the tender new shoots, cleanse them, and wrap them around the trellis. The Father would also cleanse and prune the fruit-bearing branches in order that they would reach their full potential.

Cleansing from the muck of the old life, and pruning away all that which hinders, is painful, but is a sign of the Father’s tender care rather than of judgment.

Cast Out

Whoever does not remain in me is cast out as the branch then desiccated, and these are gathered, then into the fire are cast and burned up.

Jesus, John 15:6

The word “gathered” is a form of the word “synagogue,” and there is a chance John was showing a play on words in Jesus’ teaching.

Remember the story of the man born blind? His parents feared the Pharisees who had begun casting out of the synagogue those who believed in Jesus. In fact, the man himself, now healed, was cast out of the temple.

Jesus changed the perspective. Instead of believers being cast out of the gathering (which is what the verb form of “synagogue” means), those who do not have a spiritual connection with Jesus will be the ones cast out.

This abiding in Christ may get one cast out of those who claim to be gathered in God’s name (the synagogue) in this life. It may feel as though life itself has come to an end (burned up) as resources and relationships dry up (desiccate).

But to not abide in Jesus means eventually to be gathered together (the verb synago) as dried sticks (desiccated) which have lost the sap of life, and will be cast out for eternity (burned up).

Jesus continued to explain about this vital spiritual connection.

Name It and Claim it?

If you all abide and remain in me and my words abide and remain in you, whatever you all desire, ask and it will happen for you.

Jesus, John 15:7

Much has been said about this open-ended offer.

Here is what it sounds like to me, after having read the first fourteen chapters of this gospel, and John’s letters:

Abiding in Jesus means to be so completely and closely connected as to be one with Christ in the same way Christ is one with God. This is a profoundly intimate oneness that opens my will, my mind, my heart, and my personality so completely, it is as though God’s thoughts and desires are mine as well.

In the same way, Jesus’ words—not logos, but rather Jesus’ teaching—is also so active in my life as to become my perspective, my way of thinking and feeling, and is lived out in my daily existence.

This spiritual communion results in God’s thoughts and desires shaping our own, so that whenever you and I pray we will be aligned with God’s will, and can be confident that God will empower us to do what you and I ask. God will respond in power with the things we ask for, because God has prepared us to ask for this very thing.

The kind of fruit Jesus is talking about is both the harvest to come of saved lives and the fruit of the Spirit in believers’ transformed characters.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Apostle Paul, Galatians 5:22 (NRSV)

Bearing the fruit of good character—Jesus’ character—is called sanctification: a believer’s progressive growth in holiness or conformity to the image of Christ.

Sanctification

One part of sanctification means being set apart for God and the Lord’s work.

God’s divine involvement is by giving us the Holy Spirit so that we can trust in God to form and mature our character. Remaining, or abiding, in Jesus means both having full spiritual dependence on God and also full and complete access to God’s Spirit and character, who lives within us by the Holy Spirit.     

To build good character is a human activity, but to become Christlike, to be sanctified, is a supernatural activity.

The actual growth is the work of the Holy Spirit. Living things cannot grow themselves, God is the source of all life and growth, and it is therefore a divine work. Jesus said that only by abiding in him could believers bear fruit. 

  • Being filled with the Spirit is being filled with the actual life of God.
  • Being filled with the Spirit is the energy through which the Father and the Son relate to each other.
  • God gives us a new set of inclinations, put into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
  • And God gives us a new nature that is kept alive by the Holy Spirit’s presence.
  • God’s Spirit, God’s life, is a power that is released more and more as you and I become more surrendered to God and understand experientially the depth and breadth of God’s love.

But growth is also accomplished in you and me as we make ourselves available to God to be changed by God’s grace.

There is something of a symbiotic relationship, here.

The Lord gives you and me the desire and the ability to do God’s will, but we are also made responsible for it, in that alignment with God’s divine work requires our effort. There is a proactive, not passive, role in cooperating with God’s working in one’s life, in agreement with the many scriptures that teach this. Jesus gave his disciples two specific commands that they would need to proactively obey:

  1. Abide in him.
  2. Love each other.

Only then would they bear fruit.

This is where spiritual discipline comes in.

Means of Grace

You and I do our part in this by a faithful use of what is often referred to as “the means of grace,” or spiritual disciplines we are invited by God to participate in.

  • Prayercommunion with God.
  • Study of Scripture—absorbing, understanding and applying God’s word, storing God’s words within us and obeying them.
  • Fellowship—the sharing of our life in Christ together with other believers.
  • Worship—pouring heart and soul out in gratitude, love, and honor of God.
  • Good works—the service of God and God’s people in the world.

Finally, you and I are to proactively protect the purity that God works into us. Both the apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter wrote about how believers together form the living temple of the living God. Even individual believers are to see themselves in this way. For, just as God’s Shekinah glory settled upon the mercy seat within the heart of the tabernacle, so now God’s Holy Spirit settles into the heart of each person who puts their faith in Jesus.

Purity, in this sense, means being so united with Christ, there is no room for any unclean thing.

True union with Christ always results in a life filled with much fruit.

Spiritual discipline is important, but it is ultimately barren without spiritual dependence. Just as we do need to talk with God in prayer, you and I also need to listen to the Lord speak to us. We do need to read God’s word, but we also need to practice God’s presence, being aware of God within us. You and I do need to serve God, but we also expect the Lord to work in powerful, profound ways.   

The cleansing and pruning process can feel like loss and pain, the loss of what we may have enjoyed or even admired in our lives. It can feel like risk as we let go of our old ways and embrace new. It can include real suffering, as we are wound around the trellis in uncomfortable ways, drawing us up that requires effort, more work, or more sacrifice, or more discipline, or more dependance . . .

Take heart, for

In this my Father is glorified, that you all would bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Jesus, John 15:8

[Fruit | Virginie de Santorius, Belgian (1828-1908), CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

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