The Good Life

Sermon by Gabe Fluhrer on September 17, 2017

John 15:1-11

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We’ll be studying John chapter 15, verses 1 through 11 this evening; John 15:1-11. You’ll find this on page 901 if you’re using a pew Bible; 901. John 15. Before we hear God’s Word, let’s go to Him in prayer.

 

Ten thousand times ten thousand, our Father in heaven. We long to know tonight that we are part of that number. And Lord, we long to experience what Jesus is going to tell us here in a minute as we all recognize that apart from Him we can do nothing. So open our eyes, enlarge our hearts, draw us close by the Holy Spirit as we hear Your Word read and preached. We make our prayer in the strong name of Jesus, amen.

 

John 15, beginning at verse 1. This is God’s holy, inspired, and therefore inerrant Word:

 

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

 

The grass withers, the flowers fall, but the Word of the living God shall stand forever and ever. Amen.

 

Jim Carrey, hilarious actor. One thing I’ve enjoyed about him over the past few years is he’s made some pretty serious films and he won some awards for those films. And he was called upon in 2015 to give a speech at the Golden Globes. And when he walks on stage, he’s just kind of funny, so these A-listers in Hollywood, he just walked out and they all started laughing. And he began his speech in this way. He said, “I am two-time Golden Globe winner, Jim Carrey. You know, when I go to sleep at night, I’m not just a guy going to sleep. No, no. I am two-time Golden Globe winner, Jim Carrey, going to get some well-needed shut-eye. And when I dream, I don't just dream any old dream. No, sir. I dream about three-time Golden Globe winner, Jim Carrey." And everybody at this point is kind of laughing because he's sitting there smiling and saying this. And then he said this. And it was interesting to watch the camera pan around after he said this. "Because," – he said after "being three-time Golden Globe winner, Jim Carrey" – "Because then I would be enough, it would finally be true, and I could stop this terrible search for what I know ultimately won't fulfill me." And he's saying this all with a smile on his face and all of a sudden you saw the camera pan around and there was this kind of nervous laughter and people shifting uncomfortably in their seats. Like Denzel Washington's looking over at somebody kind of like, "What just happened?" And he went on to say, "I know we think this is all really important, what we're doing here tonight at the Golden Globes, but," he said, "it's ultimately meaningless."

 

And it's a good reminder to us as we think about our lives to ask this question. "Are we searching?" Are we searching like Jim Carrey talked about, this terrible search for meaning, for purpose, for the good life? And what Jesus tells us here in John 15 tonight is that the good life is only found in union with Him. And as we continue our studies in union with Christ, we've said there are two words that summarize what it means to be united to Christ by faith and by faith alone – representation and participation. Everything that's true of Christ is true for us in union with Him. That's the center of our study. And when we come here to John 15 tonight, we're in the center of what's known as the upper room discourse in the gospel of John. The rest of the gospels spend a lot of time on the last week of Jesus' life. John takes up over a third of his gospel on the last few hours of the last night of His life on this earth. And what the focus of this upper room discourse is, is Jesus saying to His disciples, "Here's what I want you to remember when I'm not here." And He's got these "I AM" statements.

 

And we come to the last of them here tonight in this section before us. And the main point is this. Jesus teaches us that the only kind of life worth living is abiding in union with Him. The only kind of life worth living is abiding in union with Him. And we’ll look at this under three headings. The necessity of abiding in union with Christ, the means of abiding in union with Christ, and the promise of abiding in union with Christ. The necessity, the means, and the promise of abiding in union with Christ.

 

The Necessity of Abiding

Look with me back there at verse 1. “I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser.” And Jesus, this is a pregnant, rich, Old Testament statement that Jesus says right off the bat. If you read through the Old Testament, places like Jeremiah 6:9 and Hosea 10 verse 1 among others, Israel is constantly referred to as “the vine.” But it’s a vine that hasn’t produced the fruit that God intended for it to produce or called for it to produce. So when Jesus says, “I am the vine,” He is saying, “I am the true Israel. I am going to bring forth the fruit that the old covenant people of God never brought forth. And therefore, if you want to be one of God’s people, you need to be joined to Me. If you want to be one of God’s people, you don’t become a Jew anymore like you would have before Christ came. You don’t join yourself to Israel anymore because the true Israel has come. You join yourself to Christ by faith and by faith alone.” And this faith, Jesus says, leads to a living and vital union with Him.

 

Our Abiding Causes Fruit-Bearing

And so the center of our lives as Christians is not so much doctrine and good works. Those are indispensable. But the center, Jesus says, of what it means to be with Him is to be in union with Him like branches to a vine. And He commands us to abide with Him six times in this section. There in verse 4, He says, "Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in Me." Jesus says that it's only by abiding in Him that we can bear the fruit that proves our faith. Verse 8, "By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples." And notice the order that Jesus is so intentional about here. We abide first and we do not abide because we bear fruit; we bear fruit because we abide. We can never reverse that order. We have to catch that. We do not, Jesus says, abide because we bear fruit. That's not the cause of our abiding. Rather, our abiding is the cause of our fruit-bearing. That's where it all begins for Jesus. So this is a command of grace. That's why He says it like that. "Abide in me and I in you." It's this mutual dependency, as it were. Not dependency, but as Jesus indwells us and we abide in Him, as we receive life from Him, He says, "I'm going to abide in you and that's the only way to live."

 

Assurance of Salvation

But it comes with a warning. Look at verse 6. “If anyone does not abide in me, he is thrown away like a branch and withers. And the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” Whenever you read that fire language in the New Testament or the Old, it’s classic judgment language. And this is a terrifying one. The paradigm case of this warning, kind of the example of this warning, is sitting here listening. Judas. He looked like a branch. He looked like he was abiding. He did many mighty works and ultimately proved that he wasn’t one of Jesus’ branches. And that’s so terrifying for us today, isn’t it? One of the greatest blessings of being a Christian is knowing you are saved. No other world religion can give you assurance of salvation because every other world religion depends on something you do to be saved. Only Christianity says you are saved because of the works of another.

 

So that raises this terrifying prospect again of, “How do we know we’re not a Judas?” And Jesus answers and says, “Do you long to abide? Is that the highest goal of your life?” If you’re stopped, and all things being equal you say, “Yes, this is what I want. I want to abide,” Jesus says that’s the difference between the true and false branches. The true branches inevitably abide in Him. The false ones don’t. The true branches might fail often. They may not produce the kind of fruit they long to produce. As we look out on our lives, isn’t that true? We see so much failure; so little fruit. We’ve been Christians for a long time and we wonder, “Why, why am I not making more progress?” Jesus says it’s not the amount of fruit nor the quality so much as it is, “Are you bearing fruit?” That’s how we tell the true from the false branches. So there’s the necessity. It’s a command that Jesus gives us six times here. “Abide in Me.” That’s what we must do. That’s the necessity; that’s the non-negotiable of following Him.

 

The Means of Abiding

And then in the second place, He gives us several means of abiding in union with Him. Look first at verse 2. “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, he” that is the Father, “takes away. And every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” What is Jesus saying here? He’s saying this. It's probably one of the hardest truths to accept about following Jesus. The Father will prune us. If anybody has ever told you that following Jesus will mean a life of health and ease and constant blessing and walking in the sunshine, Jesus puts that to death right here. When He talks about pruning, He means that the Father is so committed to us bearing fruit that He will take away even the things we think are necessary if He knows that they will hinder us from bearing fruit. He might take away that relationship we think we so desperately need. Or that cash we had saved and we're sure we need for future savings. And no, He brings things that demand it now. He might even, for a season, withdraw the feeling that we so desperately crave of being close to God. He may do all these things because He's more committed to our fruit-bearing than our comfort. And that's hard. It's not fun when it's going on. It feels terrible.

 

God’s Pruning

But notice the good news here. The reason God prunes is because we're already bearing fruit. He doesn't prune those who aren't His. And He does this because He says, "The short-term pain is so much less than the long-term gain that I'm going to do in your life with fruit bearing." That's why He does it. That's hard! We preachers can give the impression that sometimes we stand up here and say these things. One of the terrifying things I realize as I stand here and say this is, He's going to do it in my life and I do not like that. It's hard. I want it to be easier when I walk with Jesus. But we come back to that promise that we are abiding because we are bearing fruit, because we are being pruned, and He's going to continue to do it because He sees the end and we don't. And that's where we put our hand of faith in our Father's and say, "I don't know why it hurts. I don't know why You're pruning this way. But I know the fruit is better." That's the first means – God's pruning.

 

Clean

Then verse 3, "Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you." Jesus says that we are clean because of His Word. And that's a play-on-word. The word for "pruning" in verse 2 and "clean" in verse 3 are exactly the same in the original except for one letter. Jesus is doing a play-on-words here to say, "What does pruning mean?" It means you are already clean because of Jesus' teaching if you are in Christ. And we'll come back to this at the end, but He makes it so clear here that the way we abide is by soaking in, drinking in, living daily in His teaching, in His Words, which is the Bible. That's what He's saying.

 

The Basis of Jesus’ Love

The third means is in verse 9. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” This mutual indwelling we experience with Jesus! And did you see the basis for it? “As the Father has loved me.” And this is where John takes us so deep in our theology of God; what theologians call “theology proper” – our doctrine of God. And the gospel of John, maybe more than any other gospel, goes back before the foundation of the world, back to the depths of eternity, and the point that emerges over and over again as John does this is that there has been this mutual love between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit before there ever was humans, before there was a galaxy, before there were universes. You had this Being – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – loving one another. And Jesus stunningly says that the basis for our love that we experience from Him and that He says, “You will return to Me,” is this love He has received from His Father. It’s just amazing.

 

We abide in Him and His love abides in us because He, as the second person of the Trinity has received forever, love from the Father and the Spirit. And that’s the basis of our union with Him. That’s why He says, “Abide in my love.” God is love. He’s not just love, but He is love. And as we begin to grasp that, as we begin to drink it in, we realize that the only way we abide in God’s love is because He first loved us. That’s the only way.

 

We Obey Because We are Loved

The last thing He details there is verse 10. “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.” Just like fruit-bearing, Jesus does not say, “If you obey Me, I will love you.” He says, “If you’ll keep My commandments, you’ll abide in My love. You already have it!” He’s already given it to us. And He’s saying our disobedience disrupts our enjoyment of that love, but it doesn’t change God’s love towards us. God doesn’t change. But the way to enjoy the fullness of that love, the way to walk with God, is to keep His commandments; to obey. That’s not a four-letter word. But the difference is – and if we mess this up we lose Christianity – the difference is, we obey because we are loved, not in order to be loved. That’s what it means to be a child of God, right? My children don’t enjoy being my children because they obey me. They’re my children because they are my children. God doesn’t say, “If you obey you’ll be My child.” He says, “Because I’ve loved you, abide in My love.” And we ask Jesus, “How do we do that?” He says, “Follow My teachings. Put into practice what I have told you.”

 

The Promise of Abiding

And the last thing that we see here is the promise of abiding in union with Christ. Three promises. One we’ve seen over and over again – fruit bearing. If we’re His, we’ll bear fruit. And what is that fruit? What does that mean? Paul tells us in Galatians 5. He says it’s the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. The longer we abide with Jesus, the more we look like Him. And what does that mean in our daily life? Don’t you want to be more loving? Kind? Gentle? Patient? Self-controlled? I do. I read that list and conviction stings. I don’t talk to Callie the way that I should. I am not patient with my children like I should be. I’m not self-controlled. And I would give up if I didn’t have this promise that as we abide in Christ, no matter how long it takes to bear fruit, He will do it. He will do it. And only by union with the vine can we experience that.

 

Ask and He Will Answer

Here’s another promise. Verse 7, “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” How long has it been since we’ve had a prayer answered? Isn’t it easy to go through the Christian life praying and we don’t see answers to prayer and so prayer becomes boring? This is where this promise just needs to blow us away as we leave here tonight. He will do it! He will answer prayer! Church history is the record of answered prayer. It may not be answered in the way we think or in the timing we desire, but Jesus loves to answer our prayers. And here’s His logic. As we’re informed by His teaching and we begin to abide in Him more and more, as we walk with Him – yes, with failure; yes, haltingly – we begin to have His desires. We begin to pray that way to God. And He answers and we bear fruit and then we have more joy, which we’ll come to in a second. But He longs to answer our prayers. He loves to answer our prayers! In other words, because of our union with Christ, you can rest assured your prayers always go higher than the ceiling. Always! And He delights to magnify Himself in answering the most impossible prayers.

 

One of my favorite movies is The Patriot. It details the great South Carolinian, Francis Marion, known as the Swamp Fox. And there’s this wonderful scene in the movie, Mel Gibson with his son going to do sharpshooting on a British regiment. He’s sitting there and his son, he’s taught him to shoot – which is just great – and he’s sitting there with his son and he says, “Aim small; miss small.” And so his son aims for the captain. And that’s how it is with our prayers. Pray small, expect small things. Pray big, and Jesus says, “Ask whatever you wish.” What a promise.

 

Fullness of Joy

And the last thing there, the last promise, is verse 11. "These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full." What are we looking to for joy tonight? For happiness? For meaning? For purpose? Jesus says, "When I do these things, when I answer prayer, when you abide in Me, the result is joy!" I want more of that. Don't you? I want more joy in God and not joy in what people think of me, no joy in experiences, not joy in drink or food or anything else. I want joy in Jesus! And He says, "I have spoken these things so that your joy may be full, so that you don't have to go look to a Golden Globe to find meaning, or a relationship, or food, or identity, or what people think of us, or acceptance by peer group or vacations or cars or clothes or money! It's just the fullness of God's joy because everything else fails and this lasts forever!" As John Piper so wonderfully put it, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." And that's what He says right there in this text when we are bearing fruit. God gets the glory; we get the joy. And those two are never in opposition to each other. As we enjoy Him, He gets all the glory.

 

How do we do it? I struggle with fruit stapling. What is fruit stapling? I try to do things in my own strength and it's like taking fruit that you've picked from a tree that begins to die when you pick it from a tree and you staple it back on the tree and say, "That's fruit-bearing!" So often I find myself with my staple gun trying to staple my good works apart from Jesus, whatever I'm trying to do. And God is saying here, "I want you to be a fruit bearer, not a fruit stapler." How do we do it? Rankin Wilbourne in his book on union with Christ gives us some very practical help for daily abiding. He says first of all that abiding in Jesus is like drawing a sail. I did a little sailing in college; it didn’t go well! But one thing I learned as I was in the Charleston harbor and this huge ship was coming and I was on a little sunfish trying to figure out how to catch the wind in the sail was that if you don’t have wind in the sail, the boat keeps coming at you and you don’t move! So you’ve got to draw the sail. You’ve got to draw the sail daily. And that metaphor is so helpful because it reminds us what Jesus said in John 3. “The wind blows where it will.” You may draw the sail sometimes and the wind of the Spirit may not fill it. He might not meet us the way we think He’ll meet us. And Wilbourne’s point is that we’ve got to draw the sail daily anyway.

 

Abide by Meditation

What are two ways to draw the sail? Jesus gives us two right here. He says, first of all, we abide by daily Bible meditation. Daily Bible meditation. And this doesn't mean that if you haven't done your Bible reading plan that you're not going to abide. It does mean that if you can just take one verse tomorrow and write it down or take a picture of it on your phone and look at it that day and think about it, one verse, He says you'll abide! You'll be drawing the sail! Eugene Peterson compares abiding and meditating on the Word with what a dog does with a bone. Have you ever seen a dog enthralled with a bone? I've been on a couple of hunts with dogs who were more interested in their bone than the birds. And what were they sitting there doing? Just gnawing on that bone. That’s what we’re to do with the Word. We’re to take it in. We’re to gnaw on it like a dog does with a bone, just thinking about it, meditating on it. It can be just one verse. That’s the first means

 

Persist in Prayer

The second means is persisting in prayer. Persisting in prayer. That is hard. You may have been praying for something for years tonight that has not been answered. And it’s easy to stand up here and glibly say, “Just keep doing it.” Don’t hear me say that. Hear me say we keep going because one of the things that faith is, is it’s trusting in God even when there’s not answered prayer. Faith trusts God’s timing even when it’s not what we want. And that’s hard. And that’s why we have to be connected to Christ, because if we’re not abiding in Him, we’ll give up praying. Won’t we? But instead, take it up again tonight. Take up wherever that prayer is, whatever you’ve given up on. I’ve got them. You’ve got them. Let’s taken them up again and believe what He says. We’ve got so many encouragements in the Scriptures of God answering prayer in mighty ways. He’ll do it. He’s not stopped acting for His people. He still delights to do this. Let’s take it up again. Let’s keep praying. Let’s persist and draw the sail. And even when the wind doesn’t come and blow and answer our prayers the way we think they should be answered, let’s keep drawing the sail. Let’s defy the doldrums of doubt and keep drawing the sail.

 

I have an extended in-law who owned a number of vineyards for years out in California. And this family member and I were talking once about it, and it’s just fascinating to hear the science of growing these great grapes that make California wine. And so I’ve been kind of interested in that and I received an article – a dear friend of mine who knows much more about these things than I do, sent me an article from a magazine recently which, I think, perfectly illustrates what we’re talking about here. And this article went on to detail how the best wines come from stressed grapes. If you plant a grapevine with no stress, it won’t grow grapes; it will just grow leaves. So the best wines come from vines that are bunched closely together, that have water withheld from them, and stressed to just the right point that they produce the best grapes possible. And the best vinedressers are the ones who know exactly how much stress to put on those vines. They know exactly when water should be applied and when it should be withheld. And this article closed and said, “When you taste a good wine, it comes from stressed grapes.”

 

That’s our lives, friends. I don’t know what your stresses are this evening, but if you’re a branch in Christ, the ultimate Vinedresser, the Father, knows exactly when to withhold water, He knows just how far to bunch us up against all the difficulties of life, and He does it because even though it’s painful at times, He knows the fruit that’s going to come of that. And your life, and my life, is on track in union with Christ to be a very good year. And in union with Christ, we are the reward for the Father’s vine-dressing to His Son. And He says to us, “You’re the best fruit. You’re the fruit I’ve stressed. Here’s what it’s brought forth. Rejoice with me.”

 

Let’s pray.

 

Our Father, as we consider these things, the only prayer we would close with tonight is, ‘Help us to abide in Christ this week.’ We fail at it. We despair even of feeling what that means. Would You give us the joy You promised us? Answer our prayer, we pray. In Jesus’ name, amen

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