The Call to Abide in Christ

by Bob Bradley

The first in a series of three messages delivered to inmates through Faith Community's Prison Ministry.
From September, 2009.

I think we can all agree that everything our Lord spoke was very important. Each word that Jesus spoke was given him by his father (John 12:50). However I think that we would all feel uncomfortable with a "divine arithmetic" that would attempt to establish the relative importance of a teaching of Jesus by how many verses it contained. On the other hand, when Jesus devotes himself at length to a particular topic it is important for us to tune in. The Sermon on the Mount fills three chapters, but the topics that Jesus addresses are diverse. Jesus obviously intended for us to take the Parable of the Sower very seriously, because he completed the teaching with the statement, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Mark 4:9).

Having said all the above, I want to suggest that Jesus devoted more words to the general topic of abiding in Him then any other topic in the New Testament. He introduces the concept in John chapter 6, and then goes on to develop it in John chapters 14, 15, 16, and 17. In John 6:56 Jesus defines abiding in Him as "eating his flesh and drinking his blood." And Jesus has just made the statement that "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:53).Clearly, in talking about "eating His flesh, and drinking His blood," and "abiding in Him," Jesus is talking about saving faith, or true spiritual life. If abiding is equivalent to eating His flesh and drinking His blood, and if eating His flesh and drinking his blood is essential for spiritual life, than abiding is also essential for spiritual life. In fact it is just another definition of the reality of spiritual life. To his hearers at the synagogue in Capernaum Jesus seemed to be shocking, radical, and offensive: "The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, 'How can this Man give us his flesh to eat?'" (John 6:52).They clearly had a very shallow concept of what it meant to believe in Messiah and participate in His kingdom. Jesus' hearers at Capernaum were much like many sincerely religious people today — they want God's blessings without any difficulty or serious commitment.

I have no interest in developing a doctrine of abiding in Christ. Instead, I want to stir us up and increase our commitment to obtain all that Jesus has provided for us in the gift of Himself. As usual, when exploring the issues of deeper spiritual life, I turn to A.W. Tozer. In the preface to The Divine Conquest, Tozer says "I am not an authority on any man's teaching; I have never tried to be. I take my help where I find it and set my heart to graze where the pastures are greenest. Only one stipulation do I make: my teacher must know God as Carlisle said 'otherwise than by hearsay,' and Christ must be all in all to him. If a man have only correct doctrine to offer me I am sure to slip out of the first intermission to seek the company of someone who has seen for himself how lovely is the face of Him who is the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valleys. Such a man can help me, and no one else can" (The Divine Conquest, page13, Christian Publications/Fleming H. Revell Company).

The New International Version uses the word "remain," rather than the more familiar "abide," in John 15:3 and similar passages. The essential meaning is the same. The place we remain in or abide in is the place where we make our home. It is as if Jesus was saying "make your home in Me" or "make me your companion—the One to whom you always return on a momentary basis." It is pretty clear that abiding in Christ is more than daily Bible reading or a few minutes of devotion. Daily prayer and Bible study is a good start, but Jesus is calling us to more than just a few minutes of devotion. He didn't say "start every day with me, and be sure to come back at the end of the day." Rather He said "abide in me," which communicates the idea of constancy.

The real world in which each of us lives is the world of our mental landscape. Let me define what I mean. It is not the external events of our lives which dictate our happiness and our destiny. It is rather the way we think about the external events of our lives that shapes our future and our walk with God. That brings to mind an old verse from the King James version, "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7). I know that many of you will also think of first Corinthians 10:5, "bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ ..." I want to explore with you what I believe is a biblical approach in responding to the command of Jesus to "abide in Me."

At this point I need to make a strong statement regarding the grace of God. We cannot respond to the commands of Scripture without the help of the Holy Spirit. Of course, no man can be born again unless the Spirit of God moves upon his heart in power — the power to create the gift of a living faith (Ephesians 2:8,9). I would suggest that, as believers, we are unable to respond to any of the commands of Scripture without the gift of the Holy Spirit's enablement. So, when Jesus says, "abide in me," we shall soon discover that we —in our own strength — are unable to keep the commandment. Typically, after a period of wrestling with and acknowledging the weakness of our flesh, God begins by the Spirit to work a victory in us.

Some of you no doubt have read the book Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret. It is a wonderful story of how this great pioneer missionary to China was defeated in his inner man. Frustration, anger, irritability, and unbelief seemed to run rampant in his heart. As a veteran missionary, he went through a difficult period of wrestling with the corruption of his own heart and attitudes .He fasted and prayed and spent more time in the Word, but the defeat remained in his life. Finally he had a breakthrough — one day the Holy Spirit helped him by faith to grasp the reality that Christ lived in him. Prior to this breakthrough he had always believed this truth as a doctrine, but had never experienced it by faith. He became a transformed missionary, full of joy, free from self-condemnation, and consistently living above sinful attitudes. The Holy Spirit made the doctrine of "Christ in us" a living reality to Hudson Taylor, but not before he came to the end of his own strength.

In all spiritual experience, there is a part that we have to do and a part that only God can do. We cannot just passively wait and say, "Well, if I'm going to have this experience or that victory, it will just have to happen in God's time." God does not respond to spiritual carelessness or indifference. But He does respond to honesty and strong desire. If you are frustrated with the level of your spiritual experience, and if you want more of the reality of the Lord's presence in your heart, that is a good sign. We do not have the capacity to be spiritual in and of ourselves, and the sooner we learn this we will begin to inwardly be dependent on the Lord, and He will make himself increasingly real to us. At this point I need to insert a warning: we do have the capacity to be experts in doctrine and in sound Bible teaching and at the same time to have almost no experience of abiding in Christ. This is the danger to which Tozer alludes. Remember that the Pharisees, in spite of their legalism, had sound doctrine — but had no experience of love for God in their hearts.

What can we do to begin to abide in Christ? First of all we need to recognize that if we are born again, we have begun to abide, if only at a baby stage. Obviously, repentance is a first step in all spiritual experience. The believer in Jesus who has allowed his heart to be fascinated with the things of the world must repent and prepare his heart to seek the Lord. If we are tolerating or perhaps I should say embracing the world in our hearts or minds, we obviously cannot abide in Christ at the same time. Love for the world and love for Jesus are incompatible, and backsliding is a very real and common experience. We need to be honest with God about what is filling our mind and captivating our affections. If we will be honest with Him, He will work on our behalf.

All of the saints (in the sense of spiritual leaders) down through the centuries have experienced a wonderful devotional love for Jesus. They have expressed this love using different words and different imagery but there is a common core of worship and adoration. In a future letter I want to share some brief information about the lives of some of these great spiritual leaders, including Bernard of Clairvaux, Brother Lawrence, Andrew Murray, and Frank Laubach, who was one of the most fruitful missionaries of the twentieth century.

With prayer that our Lord will show you how to abide in Him,

Pastor Bob

Next:
The Practice of Abiding
A Walk of Intimacy

 
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