Abide is an old fashioned word. It simply means remain, stay, or dwell. The challenge is for us to continue to be immersed in, satisfied by, surrounded by, empowered by, protected by, and infused with Jesus. Piper calls it ‘the lifelong extension of encountering Jesus.’
If you want to understand what this means, write the word Christ on a piece of paper. Then put the paper in an envelope and write your name on that envelope, then put that envelope inside another envelope that is also marked ‘Christ’. Then, put that envelope in another envelope labelled “God.” Christ enveloping us, inside us, and us inside him. Except, and this will blow your brains, we would need another envelope and to put ‘God’ inside ‘Christ’. Talk about a divine sandwich. The image is us infused with Christ and God such that we are surrounded, enveloped, and filled with him. This is a fact for all Christians but Jesus urges us to live in that fact, and to become more aware of it. Surely in a sense this points back to what we were saying in the last post about hearing Jesus’s voice, although the idea here encompasses so much more than just that:
Christ in us. Us in Christ. Christ in God. God in Christ. What a glorious truth. What an amazing revelation. Read the words of the following verses slowly, meditate on them. Ask Jesus himself to make this plain 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. (John 15:4–5)
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” (John 15:9)
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31–32)
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love” (John 15:10)
Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col 1:27)
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)
I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11)
What a challenge this is to us, because it demolishes our proud independence. It is designed to make us realise we can’t do it on our own. Sometimes I think that one of the main purposes of suffering is to rob us of this ridiculous delusion of invulnerability that we all like to foster. The ‘I can do it on my own’ and ‘I did it my way!’ myths are shown for just that.
When you are lying in a hospital bed and needing help to perform the most basic of simply tasks, and totally reliant on the help of doctors and nurses, you realise how foolish our ideas of self-sufficiency really are. There is certainly no doubt that the suffering I have been experiencing in recent months has driven me to my knees, and to a point of recognising my helplessness without Jesus. And it has led me back to the basics, to ask myself afresh: What is it exactly that Jesus wants from me? And, how can I reconnect with this amazing Holy Spirit power that dwells inside me, that to be honest I had lost my awareness of as I was carrying on doing ‘stuff’ on my own.
Jesus is the only one that can satisfy our deepest longings. And yet how often we forget him, and our hearts and minds begin to dwell on other things. There is a strong argument for saying that every sin we ever commit could have been prevented if we had been more consciously, more deliberately dwelling with and in Jesus.
I remember long ago the story of a man who stopped coming to the church I went to at the time. He returned eventually, having been openly living in a way contrary to Christ. When he told his story, he said that all the time he was conscious of someone with him, and of a voice, almost like a parrot on his shoulder constantly reminding him “I’m here and I still love you!” You might have thought that would be a comfort to him. Actually he said he found it annoying, because it made it harder for him to get on with living life his way. Eventually, however, he was melted by the abiding love of Jesus and returned to church, and a God-centered life. It is this abiding presence of Jesus, this knowledge that there is something better than what the world can offer, that sometimes makes a lapsed Christian possibly the most miserable type of person alive.
As we spoke about in the last post, there should be a hunger in our hearts to know more of Jesus. Because if we knew more of him then so many problems in our lives would change perspective for us.
To abide in Jesus means to cherish him. It means to prize him above all other. It means appreciating his value above all else. It means, as Paul says, to count everything a loss compared to knowing HIM.
And, yes, it means to obey his commands.
And that is why this series is so important for all of us.
There is a glorious paradox: Jesus says we can’t abide in him if we don’t keep his commands. And yet it is also true that we can’t obey his commands or do anything useful if we don’t abide in him. It is like a glorious chicken and egg question: which came first, the abiding or the obeying?
What this means is that instead of a vicious circle we see here a glorious one. As we remain connected with Jesus, the life-giving sap travels through the vine to us as branches and causes us to bear fruit. And yet we become connected to Him more tangibly as we make choices to live as Christ wants us to, and to spend time with him, worship him, and dare I say it studying his commands in a humble way asking him to show us how to live.
Is your Christianity a living vibrant experience of knowing Jesus today and hearing his voice? Or does he seem a million miles away? The journey back is sometimes a radical moment of crisis when you radically reconnect to him. But perhaps more often it is a series of small steps, each one taking you closer, and with Him, like the Father of the prodigal son, coming running to you.
“Jesus’ demands are for a lifetime. He does not demand a single decision to repent or come or believe or love or listen. All these continue. The transformation of repentance continues. Coming to Jesus again and again continues. Believing in him hour by hour continues. Listening to his word as the daily source of spiritual life continues. Jesus demands the engagement of our minds and hearts every day of our lives.
A transaction with Jesus in the past that has no ongoing expression in our lives was a false transaction. When Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31), he meant that if we don’t abide, we are not truly his disciples. And the opposite of true disciples is false disciples. That’s what we are if we count on past experiences without ongoing devotion to Jesus . . .
Not to abide in Jesus’ love would mean that we stop believing that we are loved by Jesus. We look at our circumstances—perhaps persecution or disease or abandonment—and we conclude that we are not loved by Jesus anymore. That’s the opposite of abiding in the love of Jesus. So abiding in his love means continuing to believe, moment by moment, that we are loved.” John Piper
This series was inspired by the book What Jesus Demands from the World by John Piper. Why not join me in reading through this book in 2018?
Don’t miss the rest of this series on The Commands of Jesus,
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The Hymn Abide With Me sung by Sara Groves and Billy Graham’s friend George Beverly Shea
(read the full set of lyrics below)
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word;
But as Thou dwell’st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.
Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings,
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea—
Come, Friend of sinners, and thus abide with me.
Thou on my head in early youth didst smile;
And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee,
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.
I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
Tim Challies has written on the history behind this hymn