Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Category: Gospel of John

THE HOLY SPIRIT’S WORK OF INSPIRATION

 

Throughout His discourse Jesus kept coming back to the role that the Holy Spirit would play after Jesus’ departure.  Having just described the role that the Spirit would play in the conviction of sinners (John 16:7-11), He now goes on to describe the Holy Spirit’s work of revealing truth to the apostles.  “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will tell you things to come” (vv. 12,13; NKJV).

One might begin by asking why the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit is necessary at all.  What could possibly be added to what Jesus had already said?  And yet Jesus Himself said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”  What remained to be taught were the far-reaching implications of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But it would have been difficult to explain those implications before the events had actually taken place, and then Jesus would have been here on earth only a short while afterwards.  Some other means, then, had to be found to convey that information to the apostles, and that is where the Holy Spirit enters the picture.

“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak . . .” (the word “authority” has been supplied by the translators).  Here there are several things that are noteworthy.  First of all, the Holy Spirit is a Person – the pronoun “He,” in the Greek, is masculine, even though the Greek word translated “Spirit” is neuter.  The Holy Spirit is not a vague, impersonal life force, but a living, conscious Being.

And then the text says that “whatever He hears He will speak”; and then goes on to say, no less than twice in the next two verses, “He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.”  What Jesus is saying here is that His own teaching ministry will continue, but through the agency of the Holy Spirit.

But how did this work in actual practice?  “. . .whatever He hears He will speak . . .” The word translated “whatever” is neuter plural in form, suggesting that what is being transferred here through the process of inspiration are pieces of information – facts, concepts and ideas.  And the Spirit is said to “hear” these things and to “speak” them to the apostles, implying that these revelations can be communicated in verbal propositions.

The apostle Paul would eventually describe the process of inspiration this way: “Now we have received, not the Spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.  These things we also speak, not in words which men’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual” [or, as it might better be translated, “combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words’ – NASV].  The “words” which the Holy Spirit teaches are logois – words as embodying conceptions or ideas (Abbott-Smith).  Jesus had also said that the Holy Spirit would “bring to you remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26) and “will tell you things to come” (16:13).  The apostles and evangelists, then, would take all of this information that they had received from the Holy Spirit and write it down, making the writings of the New Testament, from the gospel records of the life of Christ to the prophecies of the Book of Revelation, the inspired Word of God.

The fact of divine revelation is of critical importance.  Apart from it we have no certain knowledge about God’s dealings with the human race in the past, our standing with Christ in the present, or what lies in store for us in the future.  And yet, tragically, the mainline Protestant denominations have largely abandoned faith in the Bible as the definitive Word of God.

The problem arose through the advent of the “Higher Criticism” of the Bible.  The Higher Critics professed to be studying the origins of the Bible from an inductive, scientific standpoint, and claimed to have discovered a variety of underlying sources and later redactions.  But they were highly selective in their use of evidence, usually discounting any explicit references contained within the Bible itself about its own origins.

Since the late 20th Century liberal scholarship has moved on to a wide variety of hermeneutical approaches, but practically none of them treats the Bible as a direct revelation from God Himself, and in some cases have even questioned whether objective truth is knowable at all.  Jesus, however, took a far different view of things, and as the eternal Son of God He was in a unique position to tell us what the true state of things is, certainly more so than the modern critics.

Apart from divine revelation we are in utter darkness.  We have no clear sense of the meaning and purpose of life, or of right and wrong, let alone the promise of forgiveness or the possibility of life after death.  We would be trapped by our temporal circumstances; we could never rise above the here and now, and the Christian life would be unlivable.  That the major Protestant have lost their faith in Scripture is one of the greatest tragedies of modern history.  And yet the promise that Jesus gave to His disciples still holds true.  The teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit continued beyond Christ’s ascension into heaven, and we have the final product of that divine inspiration in the New Testament.  Let us rededicate ourselves to studying it, to applying it to our lives.

THE HOLY SPIRIT’S WORK OF CONVICTION

166

Descent of the Holy Spirit

Jesus has just described the hostility that believers can expect to receive from the world.  But is it a lost cause?  If lost sinners, by their very nature, are hostile to the gospel, how would any of them come to faith in Christ?  If the world crucified Christ, why would it believe in Him as the promised Messiah?

Once again Jesus comes back to the work of the Holy Spirit.  “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth.  It is to you advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7; NKJV).  It cannot be overemphasized how central the Holy Spirit’s work should be in the church.  When Jesus walked here on earth, the lives of the disciples revolved around Him.  He was their Master, their Lord, their Teacher.  But now He was about to depart, leaving a void.  The Holy Spirit is meant to fill that void.

But the very idea of the Spirit of God indwelling a human being is extraordinary, and it would only be possible after Christ had died on the cross and made an atonement for our sin.  Having risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, He was then able to appear before God the Father as our intercessor, and ask that the Holy Spirit be given.  Pentecost was the proof that Christ’s sacrifice had been accepted and that He was now in heaven making intercession on our behalf.  The Holy Spirit now occupies a role in our lives analogous to the role that Jesus occupied in the lives of His disciples when He was here on earth.  The Holy Spirit is to play a central role in our lives as individual believers and in our life together as a church.

In this passage Jesus specifically turns His attention to the role that the Holy Spirit will play in the world at large.  “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (v. 8).  The word translated “convict” (elegcho) “implies rebuke which brings conviction” (Abbott-Smith).  The Holy Spirit will overcome the natural resistance of the human heart to convince them of certain basic facts a person must know and believe in order to come to faith in Christ.

The first of these is sin.  “. . . of sin, because they do not believe in Me” (v. 9).  There is a great deal of discussion among the commentators about exactly how this and the next two verses should be translated and interpreted.  We will take the position that the word “because” introduces a clause which states the reason why the Holy Spirit is convicting of these things.  And the first thing of which the Holy Spirit convicts us is the terrible fact of sin.  God is perfectly just, holy and loving.  He created us to live our lives in accordance with His will.  But instead we rebelled against Him and gave ourselves to a wide variety of sinful passions and desires – anger, pride, greed and lust.  We have a general sense that these are wrong, but since everyone else is guilty of the same sins we tend not to take them seriously.  And so the Holy Spirit must show us how serious a problem sin really is.  And He does this ”because they do not believe in Me.”  He came into the world to save people from their sins, and yet they do not believer.  Why?  Because they do not believe that sin is the serious problem that it is.

And the Holy Spirit will convict the world “of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more” (v. 10).  While Jesus was here on earth His life was a perfect example of what true righteousness is, and His teaching reflected the will of God on this more fully and completely than had ever been done before.  As human beings we cannot see how lost we really are until we understand how perfect a righteousness God really requires.  We compare ourselves with each other, and conclude that we are not so bad after all – after all, I am not as bad as the guy in the next cell – he got charged with first degree murder!  But to see what God Himself is really like is to experience is to experience the reaction that Isaiah had when he saw God – “Woe is me, for I am undone! / Because I am a man of unclean lips. . . .” (Isa. 6:5).  And so with Jesus physically departed the Holy Spirit must give the sinner a sense of what real righteousness is.

And then Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will convict the world “of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (v. 11).  It is tempting for us, as human beings, to think that no serious consequences will come from our sin, as long as we obey the laws of the civil authorities.  We live, we pursue our dreams and ambitions, we have successes or failures, but hopefully most of us will avoid imprisonment.  What we fail to recognize, however, is that there is coming a day of judgment in which each one of us individually must give an account to God for our actions here on earth. And what a terrifying prospect that is!  To stand before an absolutely holy God who knows every impure thought and hidden fault that we ever had, and try to explain to Him, our Creator, why we did what He did not want us to do – who could possibly escape condemnation?  And the fact of the matter is that “the ruler of this world is judged.”  We think that we are fine if we are in conformity with the standards of human society around us.  But human civilization in its entirety is in a state of rebellion against God, and its ruler is no one less than Satan himself.  But Satan has already been judged, and while his influence may prevail now his cause is ultimately lost.  This is why it makes no sense to keep conforming to this twisted and perverted standards of human conduct.

Most people have at least a vague sense of guilt.  We have consciences – we have at least a sense that there is a difference between right and wrong.  The apostle Paul calls it “the work of the law written on our hearts” (Rom. 2:15).  Most people have a sense of moral standards imposed by society and feel guilty when caught.  But the conviction brought on by the Holy Spirit is different.  The apostle Paul, in his former life as a devout Jew, could say that “concerning the righteousness which is in the law” he was “blameless” (Phil. 3:4-6).  But once he understood what God really required, once he understood how deeply engrained sin really was in his personality, he was led to exclaim, “O wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from the body of death?” (Rom. 7:24).  And the lost sinner, no matter how outwardly respectable he may be, can scarcely have any sense at all of the righteousness of God or the reality of the Last Judgment.  Thus true conviction must be produced by the Holy Spirit.

The passage is also a sober reminder to the church of how dependent we are upon the work of the Holy Spirit in evangelism.  Evangelism is not just a matter of marketing and intellectual persuasion.  The lost sinner is spiritually blind.  He “suppresses the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18).  They “walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness [“hardness” – NASV, ESV] of their heart . . .” (Eph. 4:17,18).  Thus “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14).Thus what has to happen in true evangelism is, as Paul described his own ministry, “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (I Cor. 2:4,5).  “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance . . .” (I Thess. 1:5), and thus the Thessalonians, “when you received the word of God which you heard from me, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believer” (I Thess. 2:13).

True revival will come only when we acknowledge our dependence on the Holy Spirit for results, and ask for His anointing on the preaching of the word.  Secular marketing techniques and methods will not bring lost sinners to Christ. Only the Holy Spirit can accomplish that.  Even so come, heavenly Dove!

THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD

168

The stoning of Stephen

As Jesus and His disciples make their way through the streets of Jerusalem to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is conscious that He is literally on His way to His arrest and execution.  How did He arrive at this point?  And what does it mean for His disciples, and, by implication, for the church?

At this point Jesus give His disciples a foreboding notice: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18; NKJV).  “The world” is the generality of the human race in its lost condition.  We sometimes hear well-meaning Christians say that America is a Christian nation founded on biblical principles.  But that is not the way Christ sees it.  The United States, like every other nation on the face of the earth, is made up mostly of lost sinners who are in a state of sin and rebellion against God, and are on their way to hell.  America is a part of “the world.”

And the world, Jesus says, “hated Me.”  The great irony of the situation is that here was Jesus, the very Son of God, come into the world to save us from our sins, and He is rejected by the great majority of mankind.  He was the promised Messiah, and yet He was rejected by the Jews.  And if we are faithful followers of Jesus Christ we may face the same rejection as well.

Jesus goes on to elaborate on the position of the Christian in the world: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own.  Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (v.19).  Christ’s immediate disciples were a select group of men specifically chosen by Him to be His disciples.  But in a broader sense this is true of every Christian believer.  Why do some believe and not others?  We were all lost sinners, “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).  But God chose some (those of us who were to be saved) to make monuments of His mercy and grace.

But in the process of choosing us He effectively separated us from the world of which we once were a part.  He chose us “out of the world.”   We are no longer a part of the human society around us.  We no longer share its values.  We have seen the light, and can no longer live the way we used to; and that puts us at variance with the world around us.  They are motivated by self-interest.  They routinely ignore God.  And when confronted with the claims of Christ they react in loathing and disgust.  And so they rejected Christ; and they rejected the apostles, and they will likely reject us if we try to bear faithful witness to the truth.  The world “hates” us, because it hates what we represent: the claims of God over their sinful, rebellious lives.

The underlying cause of persecution, Jesus says, is that “they do not know Him who sent Me” (v. 21).  Again we need to appreciate the irony of the situation.  Jesus’ immediate opponents were Jewish religious leaders.  They certainly thought of themselves as religious.  And yet in reality they did not know God, for it they did they would have embraced the One whom the Father had sent.  They had actually seen the Son of God.  They had heard Him speak.  Moreover, Jesus had “done among them the works which no one else did” (v. 24).  And yet in spite of that they rejected Christ anyway.  And the servant, Jesus says, is not greater that his master.  “If they persecuted Me, the will also persecute you” (v. 20).

One might think at this point that the situation is hopeless.  And yet we have a most valuable resource available to us – the Holy Spirit.  “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” (v. 26).  The world cannot be won to Christ through natural, human means.   To overcome the intense opposition that the world has toward Christ, the Holy Spirit must transform people inwardly, opening their eyes, convicting them of sin, and drawing them to Christ.  Revival is the Holy Spirit’s work – we are merely instruments in His hands.  The disciples themselves, in their role as apostles, “also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning” (v. 27).  They were witnesses of the events surrounding Jesus.  They had heard His teaching; they had seen His miracles.  We have their testimony in the pages of the New Testament.  It leaves mankind without excuse.

Jesus then goes on to tell His disciples that He was telling them all of this in advance “that you should not be made to stumble” (16:1).  Had Jesus been like one of our modern “Prosperity Gospel” preachers, and had His disciples responded to Him thinking that the Christian life would be one of ease and comfort, when persecutions came their way they most likely would have experienced a profound sense of disillusionment and would have dismissed Jesus as a fraud.  But Jesus was honest and transparent with them, and forewarned them of what lay ahead.  He points out that “the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service” (v. 2).

“And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me” (v. 3).  Here is the irony of the situation: there will be religious leaders (and here the initial reference appears to be the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem) who will persecute Christian believers in the name of religion.  Why?  “. . . because they have not known the Father nor Me.”  Unfortunately it is possible to have an outward form of religion based purely on sociology and not on an actual relationship with God.  Thus what the leader thinks is right is not always what God wants.  This is why the genuine children of God sometimes wind up being persecuted.

Most of this is utterly alien to us American Christians.  We have never experienced anything even remotely like this before.  And yet indications are already there that we are now living in a “Post-Christian” society and the signs of persecution are already on the horizon.  Will we, as followers of Jesus Christ, be prepared to suffer for Him?

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if

need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the

genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than

gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found

to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ . . .”

(I Peter 1:6,7)

LOVE ONE ANOTHER – II

 

Jesus goes on to reinforce the command to “love one another” by saying, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you” (John 15:16; NKJV).  This takes us into deep and difficult doctrine of election.  Jesus clearly states, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.”  Some have imagined that the doctrine of election would leave to a life of lawlessness and sin.  If God is the One who does the choosing, if it is not my free will that chooses to become a Christian, then why should I exercise my will to live a godly life?  But that line of reasoning misses the whole point of election.  God had a specific purpose in mind when he chose us, and that was to redeem us from sin, set us apart from the world, and consecrate us to live lives that are pleasing to Him.  Jesus chose us, “that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain.”  If we have been chosen by God, if we have experienced the work of grace in our hearts, we will be people different from what we were before we were saved.  We are new creatures in Christ Jesus (II Cor. 5:17), and so we live differently.  Our aim now is to please Him.  And it is significant that Jesus specifically says that He wants us to bear fruit, and that our fruit should remain.  He wants us to be successful in the Christian life; He does not want us to be defeated Christians.

And Jesus further reinforces the exhortation by reminding them of what He had told them earlier, “. . .that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give it to you” (cf. v. 7).  One of the benefits of having a vital connection to Christ is that He acts as our intercessor.  If we pray in His name, our request carries the weight of His authority behind it, and the Father will not deny a request from His Son!  This is all the more reason why it is vitally important that we remain in close fellowship with the Son.  And so Jesus comes back to His original point: “These things I command you, that you love one another” (v. 17).

The practical implications of all of this are hard for American Christians in particular to grasp.  We are used to a plethora of denominations dominated by a professional clergy.  We accept divisions within the Body of Christ as normal, and can scarcely conceive of the existence of a universal church.  Yet Jesus is beseeching His disciples – all of His disciples – both then and now, to love each other.  That means that there are several things about American church life that are highly problematic.

Perhaps the first thing that should be mentioned is overbearing pastors.  Most churches today have just a single pastor; or, if they are large enough to have more than one, one is designated as the “senior pastor.”  This pastor, or senior pastor, is then in charge of the ministry of the church.  Unfortunately in some cases he can be an overbearing tyrant, and some churches have been brought to ruin by poor decisions made by the impulsive and stubborn personality in charge.

But the model of church life that we see in the New Testament was quite different.  All of the believers within a given geographical area were considered members of a single church, and if the Christian community in Jerusalem is any indication, one of these community-wide churches could number up into the thousands.  Within this larger church there would be smaller groups that would meet in private homes where they would “break bread” (Acts. 2:46), evidently a combination of fellowship meal and Lord’s Supper.  The large, metropolitan church was led by a board of elders which at one point was called a “presbytery” (presbyterion) (I Tim. 4:14).

But the elders were all on an equal footing – there was no “senior” pastor.  It was not until the Second Century that “bishop” and “elder” were considered two separate offices, with a single bishop being in charge of an entire diocese – what is generally known as a “monarchical episcopate.”  This became a characteristic feature of early Catholicism, and eventually led to the papacy.  But in New Testament times the terms “elder” and “bishop” were used interchangeably, and , as noted, were all on an equal footing.  And the elders were told to “shepherd the flock of God among you . . .not as being lords (katakurieuontes – exercising dominion) over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (I Peter 5:2,3).  “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will give them repentance, so that they may know the truth . . .” (II Tim. 2:24,25).  How very different from what we so often see today!

But the larger problem in American church life today is the sin of denominationalism.  The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians and rebuked them for dividing into factions and saying “I am of Paul,” and “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas” (I Cor. 1:12), and yet we say “I am Lutheran,” “I am Mennonite,” “I am Wesleyan.”  Granted, denominational differences cannot be easily papered over.  But each of us needs to engage in careful self-examination to see how many of our beliefs and practices are really found in the Bible; and we need to strive together to achieve as much visible unity within the evangelical community as possible.  What is especially pernicious in this regard is the practice of “Second Degree Separation” – the idea that not only must we separate from unbelievers (First Degree Separation, which is Biblical), but we must also separate from fellow believers with whom we might disagree over some secondary point of doctrine.  Granted, there are serious doctrinal errors that should not be allowed within the church.  But the question should always be asked, is the other brother acting in good faith?  Can he build a solid argument for Scripture?  If so, we should be working for peace and unity, not rancor and division.

The “bottom line” is Christ’s commandment that we love one another.  Love is the evidence of a life transformed by grace, and is the most eloquent testimony that we can offer the world.  May the love of Christ shine through us as we love one another!

LOVE ONE ANOTHER – I

 

So what exactly is it that Jesus has commanded us to do?  If our fruitfulness and our joy depend on our abiding in Him, and our abiding in Him depends upon our keeping His commandments, what are His commandments?  Jesus answers the question in John 15:12: “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (NKJV).  The defining characteristic of the church should be love.

The first thing that should be noted is that this love is demonstrated in the context of brotherhood.  Jesus directs his commandment to His disciples, and by extension to the church, of which the disciples were the core.  But they were to “love one another” – it was to be a mutual love.  Some people today, professing to be Christians, claim not to see any reason why they should be actively involved in a church – sometimes because of bad experiences they have had with churches in the past.  But the Christian life is not something that can be lived in isolation.  Its core value is love, and love is something which must be demonstrated towards others.  And so Christians exist together in a community of believers, and they are commanded, by their Savior and Lord, to love each other.  But in order to do that they must have regular contact with each other.  Anything less than a visible demonstration of brotherly love misses the whole point of the Christian life.

But how is this love demonstrated?  Jesus says that we are to love one another, “as I have loved you.”  And how did He love us?  “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (v. 13).  This Jesus said as He was on His way to His execution!  Love means that you care about others as much as you care about yourself: “. . . you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).  It is a self-sacrificing love.  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).  On the one hand it means a willingness to suffer wrong without retaliation.  “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as Christ forgave you.  Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.  And walk in love, as Christ also has love us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph. 4:31-5:2; cf. Col. 3:12-14).

On the positive side Christian love responds readily to human need.  “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?  My little children, let us not love in word or tongue, but in deed and truth” (I John 3:17,18).  If we genuinely care about a brother who happens to be in need we will try to meet that need as we are able to do so.  Christians demonstrate their love for one another by serving each other. (Gal. 5:13,14) and by giving preference to each other (Rom. 12:10).

But most importantly, Christian love is expressed in church unity.  We are to be “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3), and Paul goes on to remind his readers that “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called into one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (vv. 4-6; Phil. 2:1-11).  When Paul says, “there is one body” he is referring to the universal church, the body of Christ.  All Christians, of whatever theological opinion, are to be united.

And then, to reinforce the message, Jesus adds a remarkable promise: “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (vv. 14,15).  Jesus is our Lord and Master.  He could, if He so desires, simply assert His authority over us and demand blind obedience.  But instead He chose to His disciples “My friends,” and said that they would continue to be His friends if they continue to do what He commanded them.  The difference between a servant (or “slave” – Gk. doulos) and a friend is that a servant has to yield blind obedience to his master.  He does what he is told to do simply because he is told to do it.  No explanation is necessary.  But a friend is in an altogether different position.  Friends share information with each other.  And so it is with us and our relationship with Christ.  He is not asking us for blind obedience, but for a knowledgeable and willing compliance with His will.  It is an intimate relationship in which the reasons for the commands are made known.  Granted, in one sense Jesus is our Master and we are His servants.  But we are more than that – we are also His friends.  What an amazing way to look at our relationship with Him!

ABIDING IN CHRIST’S LOVE

 

Having told His disciples to “Abide in Me, and I in you” (John 15:4; NKJV), Jesus now goes on to explain the practical implications of that.  What does it mean to “abide in Christ”?

He begins by saying, “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love” (V. 9).  This goes back to what He had said earlier in Chapter 14, verse 21: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”  As we have seen, this is a reference to God’s “love of complacence,” or His “complacent love,” as we might call it, the type of in which God is genuinely please with us and wants to have fellowship with us, as opposed to the compassionate love that He has for the entire world of lost sinners (the English word “complacent” comes from the Latin verb “complaceo” which means “to please exceedingly”).  In this case Jesus says that “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you.”  Jesus was the Father’s only begotten Son; the Father loved His Son dearly.  This also, Jesus says, is the way He loves His disciples.  They were dear to Him.  They had followed Him; they had made sacrifices for Him, and as a result He genuinely loved Him.

But having established the fact of His love, He then tells them to “abide in My love.”  The quality of our fellowship with Christ is variable, depending on the extent to which we love Him and consciously seek to serve Him.  But if we wander and stray we lose the benefit of close fellowship with Him.  Our hearts grow cold, we become preoccupied with the things of this world, and we see little spiritual fruit in our lives.

But the Jesus goes on to reiterate something else that He had said earlier: “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” (v. 10).  The true measure of our love and devotion to Christ is our willingness to obey His commandments.  And here He points to His own example: He was willing to obey His Father’s commandments, even thought that meant going to the cross and sacrificing everything.  But in so doing He was abiding in His Father’s love – He obeyed because He loved the Father, and the Father loved Him in return.  And so we are required to be imitators of Christ, and to love Him the same way that He loved the Father – with a self-sacrificing love that is willing to surrender all.  Again, as we have noted before, this involves keeping His commandments.  We are not to go through life living for ourselves.  Jesus is our Lord and Master; He has given us commandments to obey, and we must pay close attention to what He has said and follow His instructions for our lives.  Christian discipleship is not a program of self-indulgence!

Does this sound grim and depressing?  It should not.  For Jesus goes on to say, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (v. 11).  It may seem paradoxical – how can we experience joy by surrendering all the joys and pleasures of this life?  But true joy, lasting joy, is the gift of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.  It is the sense of Christ’s love toward us.  It triumphs over adversity and lasts for all eternity.

How much do we lose because we do not live for Him?  For too many of us our faith is but an empty shell and our lives our spiritually barren and fruitless.  We have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof.  We can experience the Christian life as it was meant to be experienced only by returning to Christ and seeking the restoration of fellowship with Him.  We are missing out on so much.  Let us turn around and set our sight on Him!

THE VINE AND THE BRANCHES – II

 

As we say in our last blogpost, as Jesus left the upper room with His disciples He told them the parable of the vine and the branches, and how the vine dresser prunes the vine so that it will bring forth more fruit.  Jesus then goes on to explain the underlying principle.  “I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in Him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5; NKJV).  Our success in the Christian life, whether as individual Christians or entire churches, depends entirely upon the quality of our relationship with Christ.  He is the activating principle.  Our ability to live the Christian life depends on the Holy Spirit producing His fruit in us.  Our success in ministry depends on the exercise of spiritual gifts which Christ must give to us, and upon the blessing and power of the Holy Spirit as we exercise these gifts.

The problem with the modern church is that too often we seek to achieve spiritual ends through the use of carnal means.  We are too self-confident and too self-sufficient.  We plan, we organize, we publicize.  But in the end it is all unlikely to achieve lasting results unless the Holy Spirit is at work, convicting and regenerating lost sinners and strengthening the saints.

God only knows how desperately we need revival today.  But true revival will never come unless we first acknowledge our dependency on Him, and get on our knees and pray.  We need to confess our sins and our shortcomings; we need to plead for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  In the words of the hymn writer,

“O Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee;

Send a revival – start the work in me.”

(J. Edwin Orr)

Jesus goes on to reinforce the exhortation with a promise: “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it will be done for you” (v. 7).  This is not the proverbial blank check (“O Lord, won’t You buy me a Mercedes-Benz”).  The condition is that “if you abide in Me, and My words abide in you.”  If the condition is present, if Christ’s words abide in us, we will not ask for anything contrary to His will. – Our desires will by sanctified by His words abiding in us.  But if we are actively seeking His will and identify a genuine need, we have the promise that He will answer our prayer.  We have not because we ask not! (James 4:2).

It sounds too good to be true.  But then Jesus goes on to explain the underlying rationale to all of this: “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (v. 8).  God wants to see the church successful; He wants to see us bear fruit, because He is glorified in the process.  To see the church blossom and flourish, to see darkness turning to light and life coming out of death, all of this is a monument to God’s wisdom, grace and power.  That is, in fact the whole purpose of Christ’s coming into the world in the first place.  Therefore God wants the church to succeed.  But it can do so only to the extent that it abides in Him, and it is for that reason that God the Father “prunes” us.  “So will you be my disciples” – students or pupils of Jesus, genuine followers of Him.  In order to be a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ one must have close fellowship with Him.

The great weakness of the modern church is that we are too content to have only a nominal relationship with Christ.  We do not pray; we ignore His teachings; we are guided by pure pragmatism.  And we suffer the consequences.  There is little sense of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our churches; there is little fruit.  There are few conversions, and very little spiritual growth in professing Christians.  It may very will happen that the vine dresser will come and begin His pruning.  It will be painful to endure but it needs to be done.  May Your will be done, O Christ, and may the Father be glorified as a result!

THE VINE AND THE BRANCHES – I

 

As the Passover mean came to a close, Jesus said to His disciples, “Arise, let us go from here” (John 14:31; NKJV).  And then in Chapter 19, verse 1 we are told “When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered.”  Where exactly along the way the discussion recorded in chapters 15 and 16, and the prayer in chapter 17, took place is anyone’s guess.  But Jesus was certainly aware that He was now literally on His way to His arrest and crucifixion.  The tone of the discussion changes.  Whereas in the Upper Room there was give-and-take, now the discussion takes the form of an extended monologue.  The fact that He was about to depart has now been established; He now focuses on their responsibilities and privileges going forward.

Jesus begins this part of the discussion by telling them a parable (John 15:1-8).  “I am the true vine,” He tells them, “and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (vv. 1,2).  Here we see two different types of branches: those that do not bear fruit and those that do.  The branches that do not bear fruit “He takes away.”  The ones that do bear fruit “He prunes.”

But whom do these two types of branches represent?  Is Jesus saying that it is possible to be a genuine believer and to lose his salvation?

It must be kept in mind when interpreting a parable like this that Jesus is typically making one or two main points, but that analogy must not be pressed too far as to the details.  The main point that Jesus is making in this parable is the importance of maintaining a close relationship with Him.  The details are incidental.

The best answer here seems to be that the branches of the vine are professing Christians, but not necessarily genuinely born-again ones.  They have made professions of faith; they have been baptized; they are recognized members of the visible church.  But not all are vitally connected to Christ through a genuine experience of the new birth, and as a result these show literal evidence of spiritual life.  They are content to go through the motions.  They show up for church most Sundays.  The put money in the offering plate.  They sit patiently and listen to the sermon.  But their heart is somewhere else.

These, then, Jesus says, the Father “takes away.”  Sometimes they fall away of their own accord.  Sometimes they are excommunicated by the church.  In the end they face the judgment seat of Christ who says, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41).  What a terrifying prospect!

But then there are other branches as well, ones that do bear fruit.  Of these Jesus says that the Father “prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”   Here it is evident that He is speaking of genuinely born-again Christians, in contrast to the nominal professing Christian, for He goes on to say in the next verse, “You are already clean because of the world which I have spoken to you” (John 15:8).  In the process of hearing the gospel and responding to it they have been inwardly regenerated – they have a new heart and a desire to serve Christ.  The have put the things of the old life behind them.  Yet the Father still “cleans” and “prunes” them.  Even as born-again Christians there are things that come into our lives that come between us and Christ and interfere with our spiritual growth.  This is especially true when things are going well for us outwardly.  We become preoccupied with the things of this life and let our relationship with Christ languish.  But God is a wise and caring “vinedresser,” and His concern is that we “bear more fruit”; and to that end He prunes us – He disciplines us, subjects us to trials and difficulties, but all that we might be more fruitful and blessed in the work of the kingdom.

Sometimes when we are in the midst of trials and difficulties, and God does not seem to be answering our prayers for deliverance, we must keep in mind that God has His own purposes in what He brings our way, and that His divine purpose includes our sanctification and usefulness in the kingdom.  In such circumstances we must learn to submit to His will and patiently learn the lesson He has for us.  He will eventually bring us through the trial, and we will be the better for having gone through it!

THE APPROACHING ORDEAL

 

Having promised His disciples His peace, He told them, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27; NKJV).  He then reinforces this exhortation by reminding them of what He had told them earlier: that He was going away and coming back for them (v. 28; cf. 13:33,36; 14:2-4); and He points out that “If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I.”  What was about to happen to Jesus would be a horrible ordeal; but in the end it would result in His being reunited with His Father, which for Jesus would have meant more than everything in this world.  If the disciples, then, genuinely loved Christ, they would have rejoiced at the prospect because the good that Jesus would experience would far outweigh the loss that they would be suffering, and if they truly loved Him they would be at least as concerned for His welfare as their own.

Then Jesus goes on to say, “And now I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe” (v. 29).  This is an important point that He makes here.  Jesus claimed to be the Messiah.  The Jews expected the Messiah to reign.  If Jesus, then, were really the Messiah, how could He get killed by the Romans?  Would that not be proof positive that He was not the Messiah? – That He was simply a helpless human being subject to circumstances beyond His control?

The answer is that Jesus knew in advance what would happen to Him and made no attempt to avoid it, because it was all a part of God’s foreordained plan.  What was about to happen would happen precisely because that was God’s plan for the Messiah, and the fact that Jesus would be killed by the Romans does not in any way detract from the fact that He was the Messiah.  The fact that He could tell His disciples in advance would only underscore the fact that He was really in control of the situation and that He submitted to it voluntarily.

Jesus now tells them, ominously, that “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me” (v. 30).  He recognized that the fateful hour had now come.  He also recognized that there was more to it than just a human social and political dynamic – what ultimately lay behind it was that “the ruler of this world was coming.”  This, of course, is a reference to Satan himself, who has been the archenemy of God all along, and has made every effort to frustrate the plan of redemption.  Satan knows who Jesus is, and wants to put an end to it all right at that moment, before, he thinks, it is too late.  He will be the real driving force behind Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion.

But, Jesus says, “he has nothing in Me.”  Even though Jesus will go through the charade of a trial and an execution, He is perfectly innocent.  No one can point to any crime that He has actually committed.  In fact, He is perfectly sinless, the very model, ethically, of what every human being should be.

And then Jesus concludes this section by saying, “But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do” (v. 31).  Why would Jesus subject Himself to such a horrible ordeal?  Because He loved the Father and the Father ordered Him to do it.  What an amazing example of humble and self-sacrificing love!  He was willing to sacrifice His honor, His reputation, His very life, simply because this is what God the Father wanted Him to do.  What an example of humble submission to the Father’s will!

And what a lesson there is for all of us.  Our natural inclination is to be self-centered and act in our won self-interest.  Half of the time we really do not care about others, let alone make personal sacrifices for them.  And yet what God requires of us is that we love Him with all of our heart and love our neighbors as ourselves.  And that, in turn, requires a willingness to sacrifice self.  If Christ was willing to do that for us, should we not be willing to do it for each other?  We are left without excuse!

Jesus then says, “Arise, let us go from here” (v. 31).  As He and the disciples left the upper room and walked through the streets of Jerusalem on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was conscious that He was now on His way to His execution.  The awful moment had finally come.

THE PEACE OF CHRIST

 

We often face trials and difficulties in life, and they are often painful to go through.  But nothing can even begin to compare with what Christ Himself was about to endure.  Jesus was conscious of the fact that within a matter of hours He would be arrested, tried and executed.  What is especially remarkable about this is that He made no effort to escape it.   He consciously walked into the trap set for Him, because He knew that it served a higher purpose.  Nevertheless it was a trauma for both Him and His disciples.  Herein lies a lesson or us all.

Jesus begins by reassuring His disciples.  “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27; NKJV).  What is this peace?  Jesus was no doubt speaking in Aramaic, a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew and the common language of Palestine in that day.  Very likely the word for “peace” that Jesus used was a variation of the Hebrew word shalom which means a little more than our common English word “peace.”  The noun shalom is derived from the verb shalem, which means to “be complete or sound.”  Thus the noun shalom means completeness or soundness, and by extension, peace, quiet, tranquility, or contentment.  It is that sense of peace and contentment that comes from being at rest with yourself and others around you.  It is a peace of mind that comes from a sense of wholeness.

But what Jesus is referring to in this passage is a “peace” that He would “leave” with them, a peace that He would give to them.  The apostle Paul describes this peace in Phil. 4:7: “. . .and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  It is an inward peace, the opposite of being “anxious” (v. 6), and it comes in response to prayer.  It is a calm assurance that we have been reconciled to God (Rom. 5:1), that God is in control (Eph. 1:11), and that all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28).

Paul says that this peace “surpasses all understanding.”  In a sense it defies comprehension.  Outwardly, all is turmoil and chaos; and yet inwardly we are calm and at rest.  Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said “You cannot understand this peace, you cannot imagine it, you cannot even believe it is a sense, and yet it is happening and you are experiencing it and enjoying it” (Spiritual Depression, p. 270).

Furthermore Paul says that this peace “will guard your hearts and minds.”  It stands like a sentry at the door of your heart and keeps out all the stress and turmoil.  But the condition of all this, as we said above, is prayer: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God . . .” (v. 6).

Jesus says, regarding this peace, “not as the world gives do I give to you.”  The world claims to give peace – the whole purpose of government is to make us secure in our persons and property. There is a wealth of advice on how to achieve economic security.  And yet outward prosperity is no guarantee of inward peace, and the wealthy are oftentimes just as unhappy as the poor.  And so the world offers something to soothe the pain – food, alcohol, drugs – and, if we are sophisticated enough, the psychiatrist who will prescribe the drugs for us.  But what all of these amount to is a chemical solution to a deeper, underlying problem.  They make us feel better but leave the underlying cause of our anxiety unresolved.  As soon as the medication wears off we are faced with the same circumstances that caused the problem in the first place.

The peace which Christ gives stands in sharp contrast with this.  It looks to God and strives to bring everything into harmony with His created order.  It assures that even in the trials and difficulties of this life God has a larger purpose, and in the end the believer will be richly rewarded for the sacrifices he was called upon to make in this life.  “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18; cf. vv. 19-25; II Cor. 4:16-5:8; I Pet. 1:3-9).  And so Jesus tells His disciples, even in spite of what was about to happen to Him and to them, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

God never promises to keep us form trials and difficulties in life – far from it.  As we shall see later, Jesus forewarned us that the world would hate us (cf. 15:18-21).  But what He has promised us is His peace, an inward peace that will enable us to face the trials that come our way with calm assurance.  It is ours to have if we will only cling to Him.

“You will keep him in perfect peace,

Whose mind is stayed on You,

Because he trusts in You.

Trust in the Lord forever,

For in Yah, the Lord, is everlasting strength.”

Isa. 26:3,4