Love, Friendship, and Knowing the Father

Understanding the Red Letters   Part 39

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.  You are My friends, if you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you slaves; for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:12-15).

Here Jesus repeats His commandment that we are to love one another.  And the standard for that love is “just as I have loved you.”  We are to love as Jesus loves.  Now, your first thought might be, “That is an impossible standard.”  Is it?  After all, in the truest sense, it is not you or I who are doing the loving.

A consistent theme in Jesus’ message here in the upper room has been, “I, Christ, will be in you.  The Helper, the Holy Spirit, is coming to dwell in you.”  When we love one another, who is doing the loving?  Christ is the one loving our brothers and sisters because Christ is living His resurrected life in us.  We have all we need inside to love “just as I have loved you.”

Jesus modeled love to the most sacrificial level possible.  He demonstrated the “greatest love” by giving His life for us; we who He now calls His friends.  Sacrificial love is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching throughout the gospels.  Loving our enemies.  Being generous to those who cannot pay us back.  Do not look for a return on your love investment.  Give your love away unattached to a condition.  This is sacrificial love.

In addition to laying down His life for us, His friends, Jesus also lives out His friendship with us by letting us in on His plans.  Jesus reminds us that the slave has no idea of what the master is doing.  But we are no longer slaves.  We are Jesus’ friends.  And He wants us to know what He is doing.

Let this idea sink in for a minute.  “ALL things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.”  How much is ALL things?  The scope of this is incredible.  All that Jesus has revealed in the gospels; all of His plans and promises that He explained were His way of telling His followers, now His friends, exactly what He is doing in the world.

Please take this to heart.  In Jesus – in His character, actions, and words – we have ALL we need to know about the Father.  There is no big mystery about God that is hidden that we somehow need to uncover; somehow need to figure out.  No, God in His generosity and love toward us has revealed everything about Himself that we need to know.

Are there mysteries about God still out there?  Of course, there are.  But absolutely none that we need to know in order to believe His gospel message and live the life He has chosen for us as His new creation, His beloved child.  Jesus has revealed to us everything we need to know about the Father.  Listen to the Son.

Vine and Branches

Understanding the Red Letters   Part 38

“Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).

“Abide in Me, and I in you” is a statement of fact, not a statement of options.  We, as true believers, are always abiding in Christ and He is always abiding in us.  We cannot choose to disconnect from the vine.  Only the farmer can remove a branch.  A branch cannot remove itself.  And God, the farmer, has promised to never cut us off from the vine.  “I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28).  When you embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ, you became a child of God, a branch permanently attached to the True Vine.  A Vine who is living His life through the branch.

This hearkens to Galatians 2:20, “For I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”  Christ, the true vine, by virtue of our unbreakable connection to Him, is living His life through us.

This is why our passage can end with, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.”  Jesus did not say we will do less or not accomplish as much … no, He said we can do NOTHING apart from Him.  We will not bear little fruit apart from Him; we will bear NO fruit apart from Him.  Why?  Because Christ is our life.  Our life is no longer our own, a branch trying to live on its own.  We belong to Jesus, and praise be to God that Jesus is living His life through us.

So with Christ having secured our abiding, is there nothing for us to do?  What is our role in our abiding?  I think the best word to describe it is “cooperating”.  We can hinder the abiding.  We can hinder the fruit.  By asking us to continue to abide in Christ, Jesus is asking us to cooperate with what He is already doing in our heart.

There is a difference between producing fruit and bearing fruit.  God has already produced the fruit of the Spirit in us by giving us His Spirit.  We are not required to produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  They are already ours by virtue of the Spirit within.  But bearing fruit?  That is another story.

We have the choice to bear or show or demonstrate the fruit inside or suppress it in sin.  Paul makes the choice clear in Romans chapter 6.  “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.  For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:12-14).

The choice is ours.  Our abiding can never be taken away.  You are forever secure in Christ.  But your cooperation, your bearing the fruit of the Spirit, your loving one another, your serving one another, your walking in your righteous identity … is a choice that rests in your lap.  But it is a choice for good that you have the power to make, “For sin shall not be master over you!”  May you feel the literal life flow of being connected and cooperating with the True Vine.

No Longer a Follower

Understanding the Red Letters   Part 37

One of the upshots of understanding “Christ in you” is that I no longer consider myself a Christ-follower.  The word follower implies that there is some kind of distance between me and Jesus.  Jesus is up ahead and I am following at a distance.  Seeing ourselves as followers feeds the erroneous message we have been taught that my behavior determines my closeness to Jesus.  When I am doing well, I am moving closer to Jesus like a good follower would.  And when I am doing poorly, I am falling behind with an increasing distance between me and my Savior.  But does this line of thinking make any sense when Christ has promised a bond so close that He is literally living inside us forever?

Now I know most folks use the term “Christ-follower” to identify as a believer and I am not all bent out of shape if people keep using this term.  I just want you to think about the subtle implication that the word “follower” supports; the idea that there can be some degree of separation between you and God.  I know I am repeating myself, from several of my previous posts, but it cannot be said too often.  There is no separation between you and Jesus.  Your bond is unbreakable.  Your bond is unshakeable.

You know, I find it interesting that in all of the apostles’ sermons in the book of Acts and in their subsequent letters, there is no call to “follow Jesus”.  After the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit came to live in God’s children forever, we are not instructed to “follow Jesus”.  Paul, in all of his writings, never commands believers to “follow Jesus”.  I think this is significant because there is no more following when Christ lives in us.

We are instructed to “imitate Christ”.  But I see this as a completely different focus than “follow”.  There is no distance implied in “imitate”.  Imitate is simply an encouragement to look like Christ, in your attitude and actions.  It is living into our new identity as His beloved child.

So if Christ is not up ahead of us, as a teacher to be followed, where is He?  “In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I IN YOU” (John 14:20).  “God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is CHRIST IN YOU, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

If we keep thinking of Jesus as outside of us, then we will think we have to do something to get to Him, to stay with Him, and to follow Him. But if we think of Him as He is, happily at home inside us, then we will look for Him there. And the sheer beauty is that when we look for Him there, we will find Him. We will find Him in us full of life and love and joy; a life, love, and joy that we have the pleasure of expressing as He lives His life through us.

I like how our friend Ralph Harris summarizes this thought, “Christ is the one who came to us and who stays with us.  There is no following at a distance, no matter how small.”

Christ in You

Understanding the Red Letters   Part 36

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  After a little while the world will behold Me no more; but you will behold Me; because I live, you shall live also.  In that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:18-20).

The Holy Spirit has often been referred to as the person of the Trinity that indwells believers.  In fact, several of our recent posts have been on this very topic, “And [the Helper] will be IN you” (John 14:17).  But now Jesus extends our thinking to more than just the Holy Spirit inside with words like, “I will come to you … I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.”  Does “Christ in you” sound familiar?  As in …

  • “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
  • “And since Christ is in you” (Romans 8:10).
  • “But Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
  • “I [Jesus] in them and You [Father] in Me” (John 17:23).

The bottom line is that God is in you in whatever fashion He chooses.  I think sometimes we put too much separation between the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and their roles.  God is in you in all forms of Himself, living His life through you.  I like to focus on Christ in me because Galatians 2:20 makes such a clear case of the old me having been crucified with Christ and the resurrected Jesus living His life through the new me.

And the greatest beauty of “Christ in us” to me is that it will never end.  Jesus promised in our verses above, “I will not leave you as orphans.”  He will never leave us.  Christ will always be in us.  How can we be so sure?

Because the “always” does not depend on us.  Do you see the sheer beauty of this?  Christ is in us because He came to live inside forever.  He is the one who accomplished this indwelling.  It was 100% His doing.  Because He is the one who brought it to pass, we are powerless to undo it.  His presence will never depend on my actions, my feelings, my failures, my love growing cold.  It will always depend on His promise.  He will never leave us as orphans.

In the setting of the upper room, Christ could tell the disciples that the world would soon behold Him no longer.  Why?  Because, following His death and resurrection, Christ was going to the Father.  But the disciples would behold Him, both in His post resurrection appearances and in their forever.  Because Christ now lives, we will live also.

And in our living, Christ will live in us on this earth and with us in our forever.  “Because Christ lives, we will live also” (John 14:19).

Rhonda’s Holy Spirit Story

I have seen “the Holy Spirit will guide you” at work in a person very close to me; my wife, Rhonda.  Rhonda believed the gospel as a high school student in Markle Indiana.  While attending a revival meeting at the Markle United Methodist Church, she heard the clear call of God’s invitation.  She believed the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  Rhonda was born again.

But Rhonda had no one to share this journey with her.  She had no one to explain what came next.  She was on her own in finding her spiritual bearings.  And her first introduction to serious study of the Bible was not much help.  Looking back, Rhonda says, “The Bible is where my trouble began.”  Why would someone say that?

One of Rhonda’s first classes in her freshman year at a Christian college was an overview of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament.  These books are a fine introduction to the Bible, but an awful introduction to living the Christian life.  Which of these complicated commands were required to be followed?  Studying these books, and the Bible in general, as a new believer was very confusing to Rhonda.  And the joy of her conversion began to fade.  But the one thing she remained sure of was that God was with her and in her.

Again, no one was there to explain the difference between the old and new covenants.  No one was there to tell Rhonda that not all of the Bible was written for her to follow as a new covenant believer.  No one was there to exalt the supremacy of Christ and His magnificent promise to live His life through her by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Spiritual maturity seemed to come down to following a particular set of spiritual disciplines with an uncertain promise of success.

Years of attending Bible churches only added to the guilt and confusion of what Rhonda was missing.  Rhonda is a doer.  Rhonda is a servant.  Rhonda is a lover.  But we in the Bible church movement have elevated Bible study, and outlining, and parsing, and compartmentalizing, and memorizing as the highest goal of the Christian life.  If that doesn’t fit your personality, or giftedness, or learning style, you are looked down upon as less than; something is wrong with you.  You are not trying hard enough.

Rhonda will tell you that she has learned many things through Bible study, but study is not the primary driver of her life of love and service to others.  The Spirit is the one who was and is leading Rhonda.  The Spirit is sending folks into Rhonda’s path to love and serve.  And the Spirit is the one who empowers Rhonda’s sacrificial love.  I have seen it so powerfully up close as her partner in service and as the biggest beneficiary of the Spirit’s force in her life.

Rhonda is very fast at knowing the right thing to do as situations arise.  But she still felt under-prepared biblically and would say to me, “I don’t know where in the Bible to find this, but I know it is the right thing to do.”  I would reassure her, “Finding support in the Bible doesn’t matter.  You are DOING the will of God.  The Spirit inside you is coming out in beautiful ways, and we all are blessed by that.”

When Rhonda was fully captured by the grace message, the guilt and pressure of “it’s all about Bible study and understanding” came off.  And in a beautiful twist, she actually found a new joy in the overarching message of the Bible.  Understanding the place of the old and new covenants, seeing our total forgiveness, embracing our complete acceptance, and believing our “no separation” from the Father made the Bible less confusing and a fascinating picture of God’s unending love for us began to fall into place.

Rhonda now shares her story to encourage you.  Listen to the Spirit inside.  Love one another.  Serve one another.  Encourage one another.  You have what it takes to make a difference in the person’s life that God brings into your path today.