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09. Abiding in Christ

Chapter 9

Abiding in Christ

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. If anyone does not abide in me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you. (John 15.4-7)

Abiding: The Key to the New Life in Christ

We now need to consider more fully the practical application of the abiding in God and in Christ that we discussed in the last chapter.

In the four verses from John chapter 15 that we have just read, the word “abide” occurs seven times, thus indicating its importance for us. What then does it mean to “abide” in the Lord? We need to get an answer to this question because abiding is the key to the new life in Christ.

1. “I Am the Vine”

The parable of the vine and the branches is a familiar one, yet very few understand its deeper meaning. Let us consider Jesus’ words: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes it so that it will be even more fruitful.” (Jo.15.1,2; NIV). These words state the reason for the branch’s existence: The branch exists for the express purpose of bearing fruit. The Lord is saying this in the context of his teaching about the Holy Spirit (John chs.14-16); therefore he has in mind what Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal.5.22-23). The fruit of the Spirit in us will result in many being drawn to God and being built up in Him, through us. Thus it results in fruitfulness for the growth of God’s Kingdom.

If any branch bears no fruit, it is taken away, plain and simple. There is nothing vague about this statement. If you don’t bear fruit, you will be removed or “cut off” (v.2). No one can remain in the church—the body of Christ—simply for the purpose of existing there. He or she is there to bear fruit.

With reference to those branches which do bear some fruit, the Lord says in verses 2 and 3,

Every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.

Here the Greek has a play on the words “prune” and “clean”. These represent two related Greek words, kathairō and katharos, but the force of this is lost in the English. Consequently, the con­nection between the two sentences is lost in the translation. The point is that we have been made “clean” by the word of God, which functions like a pruning knife (cf. two-edged sword, Heb.4.12) applied to the branch to remove from the branches whatever hinders their growth and fruitfulness.

Jesus goes on to say, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (v.7). Here the Lord throws us a challenge. If God is not real, you can ask Him for anything but He cannot answer you any more than a wall can answer you if you pray to it.

The Lord is saying, “If you fulfill this con­dition—if you abide in me and my words abide in you—ask what you will and it shall be done for you.” It is wonderful to abide in the Lord! He gives us a great challenge: “Dream what you will, ask what you will, and it shall be granted to you.” For if we live in him and he in us, then whatever we ask will be in harmony with his will.

The purpose of his promise in v.7 is seen in the next verse, “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples” (NASB). The proof of being his disciples is seen in our spiritual fruitfulness.

2. What is Abiding?

Let’s return to the matter of abiding in the Lord. How do we understand this vital teaching? As mentioned in the previous chap­ter, the word “abide” (menō, μένω) occurs 40 times in John’s gospel and 24 times in First John. The total in all the Johannine writings adds up to 68 occurrences, most of which are used in a spiritual sense. There are only 52 occurrences in the rest of the New Testa­ment; and with few excep­tions, these carry the ordinary literal meaning and are not used in a specifically spiritual sense. Abiding is, therefore, evidently an important concept in John’s writings.

The massive (over 2000 pages) Liddell, Scott, and Jones Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford, 1973) provides the following main definit­ions for menō (μένω): “1. stand fast, in battle; 2. stay at home, lodge; 3. stay, tarry; 4. of things, to be lasting, remain, stand, stable, perma­nent”.

Similarly, Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (1979 ed., Chicago and London) gives these main definitions, “remain, stay, abide; live, dwell; last, endure, continue”.

James Hastings’ well-known Diction­ary of Christ and the Gos­pels, though an old work, is hardly surpassed even to this day. Discussing the meaning of the word under the heading “Abiding,” and considering its various definitions, the dictionary arrives at the conclusion that “The leading idea is that of steadfast continuance” (italics mine).

But what does “steadfast continuance” mean? It conveys the idea of remaining, staying, continuing in something or someone (in this case, Christ, or he in us) devotedly, loyally, faithfully, resolutely, unwaveringly, and perseveringly.

3. Abiding “In”

In discussing the meaning of the word “abide,” it must not be overlooked that in the Johannine writings, “abide” is often used together with the word “in”. Commenting on this, the writer in Hastings remarks that John “presses the idea not only of intimate fellowship, but also of resultant power and blessing” (italics mine).

Bringing all the preceding definitions and observations together, we arrive at the conclusion that to “abide in” Christ is to live with stable, steadfast continuance in Christ in a close, intimate fellow­ship with him.

Since “abiding” carries the idea of steadfast continuance, it basically means to be permanently faithful to one’s commitment to Christ. Accordingly, the Lord’s words can be paraphrased as: he who continues steadfastly in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit. Or equivalently, he who continues in his commitment to me and in my commitment to him, he it is that bears much fruit. This understanding of Jesus’ teaching is surely correct, but did the Lord want to say something even more than this when speaking of abiding?

4. The Vine-Branch Relationship

We need to go even deeper than faithful continuance because we could say, “According to my conscience, I am truly faithful in my commitment to the Lord. Yet I’m not bearing fruit.” Is that your exper­ience? Perhaps you are faithful in your commit­ment to the Lord, yet you sense that you lack the spiritual depth and strength of those who abide in the Lord. Surely Jesus has more in mind than “steadfast contin­uance”. But what is that “more”?

To answer this, let us look at John 15 itself. Verse 4 says, “Abide in me, and I in you. The branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine.” Here “abide” defines a vital rela­tionship—not just a continuance—between the branch and the vine. It is true, of course, that the branch continues steadfastly in the vine, but that doesn’t fully define the vital relationship between the two. We don’t normally speak of a branch “continuing steadfastly” in the vine, do we?

Let’s analyze this more closely. Here “abide” describes a relationship between the vine and the branch. What kind of rela­tionship? Is the Lord saying, “If you are related to me, and I to you, you will bear much fruit”? This statement is correct, but it is vague and in need of fuller elaboration.

The relationship between the vine and the branch exists at two levels. We can speak of the outer relationship and the inner relationship. In the outer relationship, the branch is physically attached to the stem. In the inner relationship, the life-giving sap of the vine flows into the branch. The outward connection alone does not result in fruit-bearing. The critical factor is whether the inner life flows from the vine into the branch.

(1) The Outer Connection

Let us ponder the outer con­nection for a moment. If a branch is externally attached to a stem, there may or may not be an inner con­nection. If we glue a branch onto a stem with strong epoxy glue, we will have established an outer bond or relationship. An external bond has been created but not an inner relationship.

Or we could graft a branch into the stem by making a cut in the stem and inserting the branch into it. Grafting as an agri­cultural procedure has been known for thousands of years. It is men­tioned in Romans 11.17ff which speaks of a wild olive branch that is grafted into an olive tree.

The gardener’s immediate concern is whether the graft has “taken”. If the graft has not taken, the branch will wit­her and die because it cannot draw the life sap from the stem. But if the graft is accepted, life will flow from the stem to the branch.

Grafting as a medical procedure (e.g. skin grafting) is also well-known. A heart transplant is also a form of grafting. Sometimes the body accepts the graft, sometimes it rejects it.

A living connection, therefore, must go deeper than a mere sticking on; it must involve an internal graft into the stem. But the question remains as to whether the graft will take or not. This governs whether it will bear fruit or not. If there is no fruit, that would indicate that the graft has not taken, or that the branch is diseased and is slowly dying. Branches, like human beings, are prone to diseases. We see that in the fruit trees in the garden. Some­times when we see a diseased branch, we cut it off lest the disease spreads to the rest of the tree.

(2) Mere Outward Connection to Christ

An outer connection does not necessarily imply a vital, inner connection. Applying this to the Christian life, it means that you may have been baptized, or made a profes­sion of faith, or are doing things commonly associated with being a member of the body of Christ, the church. There is undoubtedly an outer connection, but is there an inner connection? And how strong is it? Are you able to draw life from Christ? That is the point we are getting at.

You may have been visibly attached to Christ through baptism, but the question remains: Is Christ’s life flowing into your inner being? That is why abiding is so important. If the life of Christ, together with the power of that life, is not flowing into us, the inner connection would be missing and we could hardly speak of abiding. The vital thing is the inner connection rather than the outer one.

An internal connection does imply that an exter­nal connection exists, but the converse is not necessarily true. If you belong to a church, there is definitely an external connection, but it doesn’t prove an internal connection with Christ. Having an external con­nection with the church, or having the label “Christian,” does not necessarily mean that God’s power is operating in your life by His indwelling presence.

That being the case, “stead­fast continuance” must characterize the inner relationship with Christ rather than the outer, if it is to adequately express what Jesus is saying to us. One can, for example, be faithful in the outward sense by attending church regularly. If we never skip church on Sunday, is that not steadfast continuance? Absolutely. The outer connect­ion is not in question, but whether there is an inner steadfast continuance is another matter.

We now see that outward faithfulness is not the same as inward faithfulness. A married couple can be faithful outwardly in the sense of not commit­ting adultery. Outwardly they are faithful to their covenant, but the inner communication may be dead. The outer connection may be evident. They are legally married, and they wear matching wedding rings. They can produce the legal docu­ments to certify the outward connection, but often the inward connection is weak or dying, or perhaps already dead.

Abiding is not just an outward connection; it is to live in a vital relation­ship with Christ. It doesn’t mean to live in Christ as one would live in a house. That wouldn’t make sense because Christ is not a physical building. We are not talking about dwelling physically but about relation­ships. It is not just living in Christ in some vague sense, but living in a vital internal inter-communication with Christ by which his life flows into us.

Because his life is the means by which we live, supplying us with the spiritual atmosphere which we breathe, we can say that Christ is the spiritual environment in which we live. Physically we live in the world; spiritually we live in Christ. That is why it is said that we are “in the world, but not of it”.

It should now be clear that speaking of an inner “steadfast contin­uance,” while correct, is still quite inadequate to express what the Lord is saying. “Continuance” in itself does not adequately describe the relation­ship between a vine and its branches. There cannot just be continuance, but the continuance of something in particular if the relationship is to remain vital or living. What is that some­thing? Surely there needs to be the continuance of the flow of the sap (life) from the vine to the branches, if the branches are to live, grow, and bear fruit.

The inner-outer contrast applies also to the church. In the church there are people who attend cell groups and Bible study groups. There may be an outward connection and even an outward faith­fulness in terms of church atten­dance, but there may or may not be an inner relationship among the people. We know from observation that many churches lack inner understanding or communication among the people. Here too it is possible to have an outer relation­ship with Christ through the church, yet without a vital inner communication with him and his people.

(3) The Danger of Mere Outward Connection

1John 2.18‑19 shows us the danger of having only an external connect­ion:

Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have ari­sen; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.

To our shock, John tells us that antichrists do not come from the unbelievers outside the church, but come from within the church! Antichrists have a Christian origin and identity.

“They went out from us but they were not of us.” This puzzling statement is easy to understand if we distinguish the two types of connections. All antichrists have been associated with the church at one time or another. They have a definite external connection to the church of God, but they lack a living internal connection to Christ himself, even if they did have a weak relationship with him in the past. If your relation­ship with the Lord is weak, then you are in grave danger of becoming severed from Christ and falling from grace (Gal.5.4), and one day ceasing to be a Christian all together. Worse yet, you may end up being an antichrist.

Some of the most hostile enemies of the gospel are not the unbeliev­ers but people who used to be “Christians”. They attended Christian schools and were brought up in Christian families. Once these people turn away from the gospel, they become extremely dangerous to the church because they can boast of a certain connection to the church. As ex-Christians, they know something about the life of the church and can pose a danger to it.

Those of us who pastor churches know from experience that the people in church who have weak internal connections with God and with His church can easily become grumblers, slanderers, and malcontents (Jude 1.16, etc). Why? The weak internal connection leads to a defeated life which in turn breeds a lot of unhap­piness. They vent their dissatis­faction on the church, making the church take the brunt of their discontent.

Such people are a danger to the church already while they are still in the church, indeed often long before they leave it. There are people of this kind who cause problems to the church even if they choose not to leave, having ensconced themselves or entrenched themselves in a position of some authority. 3John 9-10 is an example of this unhappy and dangerous state of affairs in one of the churches.

Therefore to have only an external connection with God and His people is spiritually unacceptable and potentially dangerous. Not only do people of this kind fail to produce fruit, even worse, they could actively become enemies of God and His church.

(4) Internal Relationship with the Lord

We see that in speaking of “abiding,” Jesus stresses the internal relation­ship. But what does this relationship consist in? What is its nature? How do we communicate with the Lord?

An inner relationship certainly involves an effective communi­cation with the Lord. But how do we attain it? When we pray to God, do we feel that our prayer is going on a one-way street? We pray, but it is all one-way traffic. Put in another way, our trans­mitter may be working but not our receiver. Our monologue becomes boring even to ourselves.

How do we abide in Christ? How does the life sap flow into us and bring forth the fruit of the Spirit? How can his life flow into us when our lives and our hearts do not communicate with his? There has to be two-way traffic, two-way communica­tion. Can he get through to us if we are not getting through to him? Let us see how a two-way communication works.

5. “If My Words Abide in You”

Several times Jesus says, “Abide in me, and I in you.” But suddenly, in verse 7, he applies the principle of abiding to his words: “If you abide in me and my words abide in you.” In what sense do his words abide or live in us? You might say, “Oh, that’s simple. Just read the Bible and memorize Scripture passages.” That is partially true, but is nowhere near the heart of what we are talking about.

“If my words abide in you.” A few verses earlier, Jesus speaks of his word: “You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you” (v.3). In the space of five verses, he speaks twice of his “word”. (Two different Greek words are used, logos and rhēma, but we don’t need to go into the technicalities here.) Suffice it to say that the “word” of Jesus is vital to abiding. We cannot experience two-way communication with Jesus until we see the connection between abiding and his word.

Again the idea of “steadfast continuance” is inadequate to fully define “abide,” for in what sense do spoken words continue steadfastly in us? The term makes sense only when it relates to life. If the statement is understood as, “If my words live in you constantly,” then its meaning begins to emerge. The words of Jesus convey life; they are more than the printed text or the spoken language. Colossians 3.16 portrays the word of Christ as being alive: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Let his word live in you, indwell you, reside in you. But this makes sense only if Christ’s word is seen as something living, something that has life and can convey life. In John 6.63 the Lord says, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life”.

6. Inexhaustible Depth of God’s Word

On a recent trip to Ottawa, I bought a book on theology ­titled Prophecy and Hermeneutics in the Early Church. Having read the book, I don’t need to read it a second time because in the one reading I have taken note of its substance. I have, as it were, squeezed the book like an orange and drunk the juice. What more can you do with it? Squeeze it a second time? You may get a few more drops, but you will be poorly rewarded for your labor. The same is true of other books I have read; I don’t recall reading any book a second time.

But the Bible is different. I have been reading the Bible for more than forty years, yet new riches continue to flow. For example, I have read John chapter 15 many times ever since I was a young Christian. But every time I read it, I discover new depths of mean­ing. You cannot do this with ordinary human writing. The author of the book I just mentioned is a very learned scholar who studied in Germany, England and the United States. He is a theo­logian, a seminary professor, and one of the more distinguished of North Amer­ican scholars. Yet the one reading was enough. In fact I probably didn’t learn very much from the one reading either, because the subject was quite familiar to me. If I were to read it again and again for even three months I will become utterly tired of the book.

Most people are intelligent enough not to have to go through the same material again and again. But you can read the Scriptures carefully and thoroughly, and the next time around you will discover new riches; you will find this to be the case every time you read it attentively and meditate upon it with your heart. “For the word of God is living and active” (Heb.4.12). The word of God is alive and inexhaustibly rich. The Bible is not a mere human book. Understanding the Bible is not a matter of intellectual capacity but of spiritual vitality and insight.

In the chapter about the vine and its branches, Jesus says, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant 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” (Jo.15.15). Do we under­stand this statement? It takes only a basic knowledge of English to understand it. But if I should ask you whether you understand it spiritually and not just intellectually, I think few people would say, “Yes, I understand it.”

“All that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” Is that true in your experience? Has the Lord made known to you all the things that the Father has shown him? Probably not—not for most people anyway. The word “you” is plural here, which means that he makes all things known to his disciples and to his church, collectively. He does not necessarily reveal everything to one person. But the question remains as to how much he has revealed to you individually. This, again, is not a matter of knowledge but of life.

God’s word, unlike a human book, cannot be apprehended solely on the intellectual level. It speaks at spiritual levels we cannot understand unless it becomes experiential truth for us. Or let us consider something more elementary. In Romans 6 Paul says that you have “died”. If you haven’t died, you can read Romans 6 again and again yet fail to under­stand the spiritual meaning of the statement. You haven’t died, so how could the statement make sense to you? But if you have died, the meaning would be clear to you even if you don’t understood it in all its depth.

Similarly, when Jesus says, “Abide in me,” do we know what that means? We may know the dictionary definition of “abide,” but do we know what it really means? We wouldn’t unless we have that living inner connection with Christ. The Lord’s words are alive. But do they live in us? If not, they will remain unintelligible to us and cannot benefit us.

7. How Does God Communicate with Us?

Let us now consider the ways in which God communicates with us. This is undoubtedly a matter of great importance when consid­ering the matter of abiding in Jesus Christ, Son of God, and he in us.

(1) God Speaks to Us by His Word

God speaks to us first and foremost through the word He has taught us. When we pray to Him or commune with Him, He res­ponds to us. How? By the word He has spoken. He has already given us His answer, if we have ears to hear.

Imagine that you are sitting before God quietly. I would often sit in a reasonably comfortable position for prayer, because if we are in an uncomfortable position we won’t be able to pray for long. If your knees or your back starts aching, you will be distracted from your fellowship with God and, after a short time, will be unable to continue.

It is very good, however, that we begin each day with a time of prayer on our knees if we have no physical disabilities (injuries or impairments) which prevent us from doing so. You can remain in this position for as long as you are not unnecessarily distracted by pain or severe discomfort, which affects your praying.

It is of great importance to me that I daily express my worship and total obedience of heart to God in this way, even if just for a limited time because of physical constraints. It is certain that the apostle Paul prayed in this way too even if he didn’t necess­arily pray only in this way, for he says in Ephesians 3.14, “I bow my knees before the Father”. Those who have no back pain or other physical problems and prefer to pray in a kneeling position, they are of course at liberty to do so.

In 2Sam.7.18 we read that David, a man after God’s own heart, “sat before Yahweh” to speak to Him (also 1Chron.17.16). It was evidently a fairly long prayer, the essence of which is recorded in verses 18-29.

When we are sitting quietly and praying to God, we tend to keep on talking—unless you are a person of few words. After a while, we run out of things to say.

There is a limit to how long you can carry on like that. Soon you will become tired of talking. “Lord, can I take a rest from talking? Will You please say a few words to me because I’m getting tired of listening to myself?” I am sure that this has been your experience if you have ever tried to pray seriously. Finally we quiet down, and say humbly, “Please, Lord, it’s Your turn. Why the silence? Aren’t You going to say anything?” Do we suppose that God likes our voice so much that He wants us to keep on talking rather than listen to Him?

Well, amazingly, God has already spoken. “Before they call, I will answer” (Isa.65.24). And where is His answer? It has been there all along if only we had ears to listen! What will God say to us that He hasn’t already said in His Word? In the Scriptures He has already told us everything that He needs to tell us about how to live the spiritual life. The problem is that we often look (read) but do not see, and listen but do not hear.

(2) The Spirit Brings God’s Word to Our Remembrance

What then am I supposed to do? Read my Bible? The point is not in the mere reading. One chapter earlier, Jesus had already dealt with this when he said,

These things I have spoken to you, while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. (Jn.4.25-26)

Note these vital words: “Bring to your remem­brance all that I said to you.” The Lord Jesus has already told us everything we need to know, whether about discipleship or about the Christ­ian life. That is where the Holy Spirit comes into the picture. He will “bring to your remembrance” all that Jesus has said to us. When we pray, the Spirit of God will commun­icate with us, bringing the Lord’s words into our hearts and minds.

But Scripture is so vast. Where do I begin? Which passage is applic­able? What is the Lord’s answer to my prayer? Well, that is precisely why we need the Holy Spirit to take the Lord’s word and bring it to our heart. That presupposes, of course, that we have already heard what he has said and know what he has taught. If we don’t know what he said in the Scriptures, there would be nothing for us to remember. We can’t remember what we didn’t know in the first place. We must first listen to, or read, the word of God attentively, only then can the Holy Spirit bring it to our remem­brance. His words cannot abide or live in us if they haven’t even entered our lives.

“Remembrance” means more than just re­freshing your memory. The word “remember,” as used by John, means that the Spirit of God will bring to our mind the significance of the word for our particular situation (see John 2.17,22; 12.16; 15.20; 16.4); it is not simply re­calling something from memory. The Holy Spirit will cause God’s Word, the Scriptures, to suddenly take on vivid significance in a way we have not seen before.

When we abide in Christ, we communicate with him in an internal relationship; this communication with him takes place in the depths of our being, in our heart and our spirit. There the Holy Spirit takes his word and applies it to us in a way that speaks to us in whatever particular situation we are in.

Apply this and you will be amazed at how God speaks to you. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God—whose Temple we are, and who in­dwells us as a living presence—He will take the words that Jesus has spoken, and apply it to you. It is not merely the printed text but the spirit of that message that comes alive to you. Suddenly you get very excited. At least I do.

When I am meditating on God’s Word, many times the Spirit of God suddenly opens it up to me, showing me how the word applies to my situation. It is not just a matter of memorization, because even if I remember a passage, I may not see its signif­icance. The Holy Spirit reveals to me the inner meaning of the passage. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16.13).

When you visit a museum, or a tourist spot, or some important location, the guide will explain everything to you step by step. Previously you saw nothing significant about a certain site, but when the guide explains it to you, you begin to see its significance. Previously you could have walked past the place and see nothing. But now, because the guide has shown you its sign­ificance, the whole place “comes alive”. This is what “remembrance” means.

To summarize: Through inner communication, we commune with the Lord, and he communicates with us through his word and reveals the significance of his words which we did not see before. The Holy Spirit opens his words up to us and applies it to our lives.

This is not the only way in which the Spirit speaks to us. But, as a rule, we need to take this step before going on to the next step.

(3) Direct Communication

What is that next step? John 16.12 implies a progression: “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” There are things which Jesus hasn’t told us yet. And since he hasn’t said them yet, they obviously cannot be brought to our remem­brance. We might not be ready for what he has to say to us now, but when we are ready, or when the need is there, the Holy Spirit will implement the next step: He will speak to us directly, without necess­arily reminding us of any particular passage of Scripture. He will reveal to us what we need to know. By the time we reach this stage, we will have already been taught by the Holy Spirit in the previous two ways.

This stage is further along the road. It is for those whose ears have been accustomed to hearing the truth in God’s word through the “reminding” of the Spirit. As we go further along, God will reveal things to us directly. But it is important to point out that what God reveals in direct communica­tion are always in perfect harmony with His Word, the Scriptures. If it contradicts the Scriptures, it is not from God.

What things will God reveal to those who commune with Him? In Acts chapter 9, for example, the Lord spoke to “a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias” (v.10) and told him what he had to do for Saul, the persecutor of the church, but who was soon to become known as Paul, the apostle. Even the essence of Paul’s future ministry was revealed to Ananias. Or consider the case of Agabus (Acts 11.28-29; 21.10-11); he knew through the Holy Spirit that a famine was coming to Judea, and the church must prepare for it.

The Holy Spirit communicates things to peo­ple who obey God and have become sensitized to God’s word. The Lord said to Paul in a vision, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack you and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (Acts 18.9-10). God taught Peter the significance of clean and unclean things when He said to him, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (Acts 10.15).

At this stage, the Spirit of God may speak to you through a vision or a dream, or directly. Not long ago, after I had been awake for some time, God communicated with me, warning me that the time for the church in the world is drawing to a close, and that momentous events will soon take place. I sat up in bed and pondered the things that God was showing me. Suddenly the words “wars and rumors of wars” (Mt.24.6; Mk.13.7) appeared before my eyes in a life-like vision, so much so that I found myself feeling hot and beginning to sweat at the sight of these things.

If we let God speak to us through the word He has spoken (and now applied to us by the Holy Spirit), in due time He will speak to us on other matters. God’s message to me in that vision was that changes are rapidly taking place in the world; these develop­ments are bringing the world inexorably to the apocalyptic conclus­ion of this age. They are the very things that Jesus fore­warned us about in Matthew 24. The implication is: “Press on. The time for the church is getting short. The relatively peaceful circumstances that you are now enjoying will not last much longer. Press on urgently with the work that I have entrusted to you.”

Wars have the effect of hindering the preaching of the Gospel. That is why we need to pray for peace (cf.1Ti.2.1-4). But peace is not something that can remain in the world for long. We are now enjoying a period of relative peace, but the Lord’s warning is that the time is not far away when we will be affected in some way by momentous changes in the world. The warning is somewhat like the famine warning given to Agabus for the sake of the church. These warnings show how much God loves and cares for His redeemed people.

To summarize, what has abiding got to do with regeneration and renewal? So long as we abide in Christ, we will not sin. But the moment we stop abiding in him, we will find ourselves quickly slid­ing into sin. Therefore we need to abide in him moment by moment and learn to commune with him constantly. If we do, we will have neither the desire nor the inclina­tion to sin, and his life and power will constantly flow into us and bring forth an abundance of eternal fruit.

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church