The Relationship Factor

Abide in Me, and I in you. John 15:4a

Christianity is different from every other so-called faith, or belief, or religion (I hesitate to use that word, for it does not apply to Christianity) in one major, vital way. It is not a religion! It is a relationship. It is a relationship with Jesus Christ, who distinguished the Christian faith by dying on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, was buried in a tomb for three days and nights, and raised again on the third day. He is the only person in history to rise from the dead, and He is living today.

What is the purpose of our salvation? We will explore this at length, but for now, I will pique your interest by saying it was not just to take you to heaven and escape from hell. There is much more going on here than we can ever imagine outside of the Word of God—and there is so much going on that can only be discovered by careful life—long study of that Word. One major reason that Jesus has saved some is so that He could return to the earth and continue His ministry!

When a person trusts Jesus as His Lord and Savior, a very unique and wonderful thing happens. He dies! That's right, the person dies. Galatians 2:20, among several Scriptures, reveals this truth. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who lives, 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 gave Himself for me.

Let's examine our text today, John 15:1-17. This is an incredibly rich text. It is so huge, we cannot hope to do it justice. As we go through this text, I will share insights with you that my pastor has taught us on Wednesday nights in Prayer Meeting, for the past several months.

Some of you may have a farming or gardening background. Picture a vine, perhaps a watermelon vine. The vine that the disciples probably pictured in their minds was a grapevine, but we are more familiar with watermelons, I think. [Draw a picture of a vine on the chalkboard.] Notice the relationship of the branch to the vine. What is the purpose of the branch [to bear fruit]. Can the vine bear fruit without the branch? [No] Can the branch bear fruit by itself? [No] The branch receives its nourishment and energy from the vine. It cannot be separated from the vine without withering and dying.

This simple illustration shows pictorially what Jesus is saying in these verses. The Father is the Gardener. Jesus is the vine. We are the branches that bear the fruit of the vine. Can a watermelon vine bear tomatoes? [No] The fruit that a watermelon vine bears is watermelons. Likewise, the fruit that we bear is the fruit of the Spirit of Christ, as discussed and exposed in Galatians 5:22-23. In fact, verses16-26 is another examination of fruit bearing. Non-believers in Christ bear the fruit of the flesh, as discussed in verses 16-21. Christians, who have a new nature—the nature of Christ—bear the fruit of the Spirit, as discussed in verses 22-26.

Having established that the vine and the branch are inseparable, let us now look at the practical truths of Christian living that Jesus was revealing to His disciples in John 15.

How important is abiding in the Lord? Verses 6 & 7 give us some idea of the importance the Lord places on it. If we do not abide, He cuts us off—again as a form of ultimate discipline. This is not losing your salvation! It is losing your reward and finding yourself in a state of not being able to be used by Him

It is good to remember whose fruit we bear. We are bearing the fruit of the vine; Jesus accomplishes His work through us. His Spirit lives within Christians, and causes us to bear fruit. However, all of this is subject to our being obedient and submissive. One of the most encouraging scenes in the Bible for people in prison is that of Joseph, beginning in Genesis 35. He spent 13 years (13 years!) innocently in prison, just so he could be in exactly the right place at the right time for God to use him to deliver Egypt and the Middle East during a seven-year famine. God does not always tell us why He is allowing our circumstances to be less than we wish they were—but remember Joseph remained faithful to the Lord all during that time.

Notice verse 7 again. It is clear from this verse that the Father desires to answer our prayers! He wants to give us what we ask for! Jesus will reiterate this again in verse 16, and we will examine it in a moment. Henry Blackaby, in the study course Experiencing God, Knowing and Doing the Will of God, says that when his son was little, he bought him a blue bicycle and put it in the rafters of the garage. It became his job then to convince his son that he wanted a blue bicycle for his birthday. When he received it, of course, he was so pleased. He got what he wanted for his birthday. God the Father is like that, too. He knows what is best for us, and He wants to give it to us—all we have to do is ask!

A famous preacher once said that he imagined a large warehouse in heaven filled with wrapped gifts. When asked what they were, the angel giving the tour said that these were gifts to the saints that were ready for delivery, but were never asked for! James 4:2, 3 says, &ldots;Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. God stands ready to answer our prayers, but we do not pray aright.

How much did the Father love Jesus? With an eternal, infinite love. Jesus said in verse 9 of our text, As the Father loved me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. How do we love Christ and demonstrate that love? By keeping His commands. Particularly the command to love one another (vss. 10-12).

Jesus demonstrated His love for us by giving His life for us (v. 13). The least we can do for Him is to give our lives back to Him. That is all that He requires. Romans 12:1 states it clearly, I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. Each day as we begin our day by reading a portion of God's Word and having a time of fellowship in prayer with Him, we should actually present ourselves to Him. As a Christian, I am no longer in charge of my life. I am dead to this world, alive to Him. The struggle is not difficult if the decision to be obedient is made every day—and often many times throughout the day.

Jesus is not primarily interested in our performance. We tend to compare ourselves with others, but He never does that! Do you realize that? You do not have to out-perform your neighbor. You do not have to be a better Christian than a person with whom you compare yourself. We are not in competition with one another in the sense of trying to out-do one another. We are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our strength. Then, we are to love our neighbors, as we love ourselves. It is when we begin to love others as Jesus loves them that we begin to truly bear fruit. You will recall a while ago that we discussed the fruit of the Spirit. That fruit is inward. That is the fruit of a changed life—the only real evidence that we have been saved. Without a changed life, no person can claim to be a Christian. Many make that claim based on an experience in the past (e.g., walking an aisle, being baptized). The changed life will result in external fruit, as well.

The Great Commission, summarized in Matthew 28:19, 20 discusses the external fruit, which is the expectation of Christ for each of us. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. In reading this portion of Scripture, can you tell me what is commanded here? The only word in these two verses that is an imperative command is the word translated make disciples. So what is the external fruit of the Christian? Obviously, it is other Christians.

If you were a sheep farmer, how would you make more sheep? You would get sheep (lambs) from sheep. If you want apples, you get apples from an apple tree. Likewise, Christians bear witness to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that frequently results in other Christians being born. This is what Jesus was talking about in John 3 when He was talking with Nicodemus about being born again. To be born again is to be converted.

When a baby is born, if it is not carefully nurtured and loved and fed and all of its needs met, it will not grow into a healthy child and then adulthood. Likewise, if we fail to nurture (disciple) new Christians, they will not grow into mature Christians that can then reproduce themselves again and again. Jesus is continuing His work by relating to us through the indwelling Holy Spirit, but we must submit to the Spirit in order for Him to do His work.

So, how important is relationship? It is vital for our very souls. It is vital for us to be obedient. It is vital for reproduction to occur. Without personal relationship with Jesus Christ, a Christian (if he really is a Christian at all) will be stunted and, for all practical purposes, useless.

What about our circumstances? Do they have a part to play in our relationship? No! Not if we are mature in the faith. Remember the story of Joseph in Genesis 39 and following. He was in prison for something he did not do, and he remained there for 13 years, until the time was perfect for him to be of use to God. All during that time, he served the Lord by being a model prisoner and servant to those around him. He was content and at peace. His relationship with the Lord was secure, and yours can be, too.

I urge you to rest, or abide, in the knowledge that Jesus knows where you are, and has ordained a grand purpose for you life right here! No one else can do what He has called you to do here. Practice Christian reproduction by sharing Jesus with others, by living a godly, holy life before others right here. Then, when you are released, by not returning to the old friends who got you in trouble in the first place, but by seeking Christian fellowship in a Bible-believing, loving Church that can continue to nurture you back to full health.

It may be that you have never turned your life and the destiny of your soul over to Jesus. It may be that He is calling you to Himself today. Pray to Him. Ask Him to save you. Repent of your sins—turn from them. Seek Him and He will be found! Trust Him today.

God bless you!

Copyright © 2002, by John E. LeHew, Sr.
Bible text is from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.

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