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. – John 15:4
The first time the Greek word for abide shows up in the book of John is when he’s talking about Jesus getting baptized by John. When Jesus comes up out of the water, the Holy Spirit comes down and remains on him. That word in Greek is the same as the word used in John 15:4: “Abide in me.”
A baptism, then, ought to be something that lives with us, that invokes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That’s what makes it a sacrament and not just a sign.
John uses the same word again when Jesus is talking about the eucharist in the most graphic of terms. Jesus says, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood makes his home in me and I make my home in him” (John 6:56). In this expression, there is a mutual abiding.
Here in the two sacraments of the church — baptism and eucharist — we are reminded just how deeply this connection with God is woven into the fabric of Christ. There cannot be intimacy with God without the work of Jesus. And just as true, where Jesus is, abiding happens.
Abiding happens when Jesus Christ makes his home in me and I make my home in him.
In chapter 15, John is careful to connect this kind of abiding with the call to bear fruit. How do you know you are abiding in Christ? John says you know it when you find yourself bearing fruit. How do you know your baptism is alive in you? You’re bearing fruit. How do you know your worship life is alive? You’re bearing fruit.
People who abide bear fruit, but not just any fruit. People who abide bear much fruit. They bear fruit that lasts. They bear fruit that abides. Jesus affirms these three things.
People who abide bear much fruit. I tell people all the time that I’m looking for the kind of results in my ministry and life that don’t match the effort. When the results outstrip the effort, I know the supernatural has been involved. I want this, because, frankly, it gets old, measuring progress in centimeters when I want to measure in miles. I frustrate myself when I focus my efforts in places where I don’t bear much fruit rather than in the places where I do. I’d like to get better at catching the “holy hints,” noticing the places in my life where the outcome is unequally bigger than the effort. When I press in where I see fruit, I am gratified and God is glorified. Those are the places where the Holy Spirit is present.
People who abide bear fruit that lasts. I have been saved a lot and saved from a lot. Some days, though, I still wake up and feel like I’ve never been a Christian and wonder if I will ever be a Christian (I’m in good company; John Wesley journaled those same feelings).
The places where I manage to feel most secure are the places where the gospel of Jesus actually sticks, where I press in and people get transformed and stay transformed, when I do work that bears fruit far beyond my intention. Bearing fruit that lasts is about more than just posting Bible verses on a Facebook page, or learning Christian-ese. It is about seeing lives beautifully, finally transformed. At the end of time, we’ll discover this is all that lasts.
People who abide bear fruit that abides. Moses teaches me a lot about how to abide as a leader so that the people I’m leading are positively influenced. When he and the Israelites were out in the desert, he would sometimes take his tent out beyond the camp to meet with God (mental note: getting outside the camp to be alone with God is a good habit to cultivate).
Out there away from the people, in moments of deep intimacy, he and God would talk face to face, like friends. In those conversations, Moses would talk honestly, and sometimes even rail against God, venting his frustrations over all he couldn’t understand. God would listen and from what the Bible says, God would meet Moses there at his point of deep need. Far from being offended, the Lord would provide.
So why doesn’t that happen more often for me? How often have I railed against God but come away empty-handed, frustrated, with more questions than answers? Why doesn’t God hear me the way he heard Moses?
I have a hunch about that. I suspect it has to do with my proximity to the Spirit. When I’m yelling at God from the far side of intimacy — when I haven’t done the work of building a close and intimate connection (my home in him and his home in me) — I get nothing but frustration.
But listen: when I’m yelling at God on the abiding side of intimacy, I notice that it is a much more fruitful conversation.
I’m not talking about “making God do stuff.” I’m talking about the kind of connection that puts me in sync with God and his ways so that when I ask for things, I’m asking from a place of abiding. A place of faith. A place of knowing, of intimacy, of wisdom. When I ask from that place, it bears fruit.
When I am abiding, I bear fruit. And fruitfulness breeds joy.