Today I was asked this question and I wasn’t sure what to say. It is a familiar phrase, and a powerful image, but what exactly did Jesus mean by it? I did give a sermon from John 15 about 8 years ago, but I don’t trust the exegesis of 20-year-old me, so I’m back to square one.
Abiding is passive.
It is no work for a branch to remain connected to the vine. The basic meaning of “abide” is to stay somewhere, like spending the night in a house. Jesus gives us no credit for attaching ourselves to him (John 15:3, 16), but just tells us to stay where we are.
Abiding is a salvation issue.
Any explanation of the vine metaphor has to go through trial by fire. What I mean is that whatever “abiding” means, if you don’t do it then you’ll be thrown into the fire and burned (John 15:6). So if you say, for example, that abiding in Christ means waking up early every day to pray, then you’re saying that anyone who doesn’t wake up early every day to pray will burn. The opposite of abiding is apostasy, so abiding means remaining in the faith.
Abiding means believing.
Jesus doesn’t need to explain “abiding” here, because he already explained it in John 6:56: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” In context, feeding on Jesus’ flesh means believing in him, and leads to eternal life (John 6:35-40). This belief is not a one-time decision, but an intimate trust that endures forever. Just as we trust bread to keep us alive for another day, feeding on Jesus and abiding in Him means trusting Him to produce fruit in us and to keep us alive forever.
The fruit of abiding is righteousness.
In Isaiah 5:1-7, Israel is compared to a vineyard that doesn’t produce fruit. The “fruit” the Lord was looking for was justice, but what He found was bloodshed. Likewise, Jesus tells us to abide in his love by keeping his commandments (John 15:10). We do this by loving one another and laying down our lives for one another (John 15:12-13). Apparently, abiding in Jesus’ love is different than abiding in Jesus. It means being treated like the vineyard of Isaiah 27, and not like the vineyard of Isaiah 5. It means asking for blessings and receiving them (John 15:16).
Abide = Believe ==> Fruit = Righteousness = Love ==> Abide in His Love = Be Blessed
Abiding is mutual.
So how should I abide in Christ today?
If you believe in Jesus, then his gospel already dwells in you and makes you clean (John 15:3). You are in Christ, and the Spirit is in you, and so you are being conformed to the image of Jesus. Living waters of eternal life are flowing inside of you. Abiding in Christ is not work, it’s rest. Continue to receive these things in faith, be transformed by the renewing of your mind, and be fruitful and blessed, so Jesus’ joy will abide in you (John 15:11).
Having said that, the fruit of our abiding in Christ is love, which involves a lot of work. Abiding is rest, but abiding looks like work. It looks like worshipping God, encouraging the saints, studying the Bible, praying, loving your family, and working with your hands. When we abide in Christ, we live like Christ.
Fine, I’ll say it.
As much as I tried to avoid the stereotypical John 15 message, it all comes back to this: go to church, read your Bible, and pray. When we remind ourselves of God’s truth, study His law, and meet with His people, our faith is invigorated and the paths of righteousness are illuminated.
We may have ended with a cliche, but I hope you enjoyed the ride.