These are familiar verses to me; perhaps too familiar. When I typically read these verses I get the warm fuzzies about Christ making his home (which is what “abide” means) in me. Me and Jesus: one small, happy couple. There is so much potential in this relationship between Jesus and I, he promises that I will grow and have whatever my heart desires…as long as I will simply let him live in me. Well, that’s part of it…there is the part that says I need to live in him, to make my home in his presence. Why am I so hesitant when I read that? It is because, I think, the images of pain that also come with these verses: pruning and cutting. You see, it is hard for me to live in Christ when the abiding becomes unbearable, when the suffering is so intense that breaking from the Vine would be almost bliss. Having my home in Christ’s presence is great, when all is right with the world and it costs me almost nothing.
Sometimes I think we glamorize our relationship with God; we make it sound like walking with Jesus is dancing with Mary Poppins. There are some of us who believe that if they do not always have a good disposition toward Christ that they are somehow not saved. We have done a great disservice, and abandoned our Jewish roots, by not focusing on the painful struggle of being a people who follow God. Make no mistake, the Christian life is not a picnic or a day at the beach, it is a war that has eternal implications.
Why is Jesus giving the disciples this talk in John 15? In the context of the verses, Jesus is about to be crucified, and even after being resurrected will ascend and return to the eternal state. In other words, he would soon be physically leaving his dear friends. In this passage suffering comes from two sources: 1) the work of the Father and 2) the wrath of the Father. Jesus is trying to tell his disciples that abiding in him will be difficult and painful, but the reward will ultimately outweigh the pain. On the other hand, if they choose not to abide in him, and cut themselves off to avoid suffering (mostly persecution is in mind here), then they would be burned in the wrath of God toward those who defy his work. Those who stayed faithful, who were willing to love in suffering, to endure in Christ through hardship, would prove themselves to be Jesus’ disciples.
Then there is the question of fruitfulness; what does it mean to be fruitful? Fruit is a reproductive feature of a plant; it is produced on a branch while getting its nutrients from the trunk (or a vine in this case). Fruit is evidence of God producing in us the means to reproduce our Christ selves in the lives of others. When we abide in Christ we bear fruit and people can see the life of Christ in us. But when we cut ourselves off, we slowly dry up and wither. We become bitter, cynical, and self-centered; we place ourselves in danger of burning in the wrath of God. Yes, there is eternal security; no, you do not lose salvation. A truly saved person, however, will stay connected to Christ no matter what occurs; they may wander but they will never leave for good. No fruit, no root.
So, how have you viewed you relationship with God? Some of you are still in the “honeymoon” stage of your spiritual journey where God seems to do everything you want and life is going just as you planned. Be aware that this normally does not happen forever, and if it does, you will be missing out on critical Christ formation. It may be a curse more than a blessing. Some of you, like me, struggle sometimes with the anger, disappointment, and doubt you feel toward God. You may have gone through a traumatic event, you may be confused by evil in the world, you may be a logic based person who struggles with faith; regardless, you do not always have the warm fuzzies for God. Let me be honest for a moment, I have tried to leave the faith on more than one occasion; I totally understand Jonah. The most I have made it to is two weeks, and then I come running back. Why? Because like the disciples when Jesus asked them after his “eat my body, drink my blood” speech, “Will you leave also?” I respond, “Where shall I go? You have the words of eternal life.” My faith may be nothing more than irreversible psychological damage, but if so I am stuck with it. But if you are like me, you have this gut feeling, this peace, this assurance that this is more than a wrong wire being tripped in your head. Jesus is alive, and no matter how painful it is to be connected to him, we have yet to see what will be revealed in us; the alternative is far worse.
Our relationship with God is like any other relationship: there are good times and there are “come to Jesus” times. If we truly believe that we are in a relationship with a PERSONAL God (not a private god, but a personal God), then we have to treat him like a person rather than an object. Now, this does not mean we are foolish and forget whom we are talking to; it is a privilege not a right to be in the presence of God in Christ. It does mean however, that I can be angry, disagree, question, and even walk away from God (for a brief amount of time). This does not mean that I am right; I am arguing against the Almighty; the sovereign God of the universe. It does mean however, that in our relationship God is patient with me and lets me be wrong, because he is God and his identity is not vested in what I think about him. His will be done, but I am also his son; with his plans I may not agree, but greater still is his love for me.
And for you as well.
Do you struggle to be with God when things get painful? Why is suffering necessary according to these verses?
Have you walked away from God for a long time? Do you realize how much danger you are in? If you walked away from God because of pain, realize that more pain than you can ever imagine is coming if you do not come back, do you believe that?
How does wrestling with God and our faith show our commitment to our relationship with God? Who are some other biblical figures who wrestled with God?
How can you demonstrate to others an authentic walk with God? How could your faithful struggles encourage someone else to reconsider a walk with Christ?