Jesus the “I AM” (Part 2)

[Posted by Benjamin Thocher]

So what is the point?  What is our take away, as contemporary Christians,  from Jesus calling himself the “true vine”? Jesus tells the disciples that they are branches of the “true vine” and that they are to “abide in him.” In verse 4 Jesus says “Abide in me, and I in you.” I would guess that at this point the disciples would have, at best, understood this as a reference to Jesus’ teaching – they were, therefore, to let the words of Jesus dwell or abide in their heads and hearts. While this is not necessarily an incorrect understanding, it is only one small dimension of what Jesus is communicating.

This  discourse is sandwiched between the end of chapter 14 and the end of chapter 15, both of which contain statements about the Comforter that Jesus would send after his departure. This Comforter, we know, is the Holy Spirit. We see, then, that Jesus is looking forward to the day of Pentecost when he would pour out the Holy Spirit to empower and equip the church for her mission in the world. 1 Corinthians 15:45 says that Jesus, in his resurrection and ascension became to us and for us “life-giving Spirit.”

Therefore, the abiding activity that Jesus speaks of is accomplished by the indwelling presence and work of the Spirit of God. Jesus says that “fruit bearing” will not happen unless we abide in him. If we understand “fruit bearing” to be the primary aim of the Christian life – which it is – then what Jesus is saying is radical, he is saying that the Christian life, and fellowship with the God of the universe, does not happen apart from intimate relationship with him.

What I like about John is he uses heightened contrast to drive home his points. In 1 John we are either in the light or we are in the darkness. Not one or the other, not a little of both. Light. Darkness. Here, we are either abiding in Christ or we are not abiding in Christ. There is no middle ground. We either abide in Christ and are pruned in order that we bear more fruit or we do not abide in Christ and are thrown into the fire. No in between. No casual, take-it-or-leave-it attitude. There is no Christ-likeness apart from intimate relationship with Christ. There is no Christian faith that is not first and foremost focused on the person and work of Jesus. As branches of the true vine, all that is his is ours.

Two points of application from this passage:

As we “abide” in Christ…it redefines what we are…

Our Spirit-wrought union with Christ dramatically redefines what we are. In the Old Testament the division was between Jews and Gentiles. Basically, the haves and the have-nots. The Jews were the people of God while the Gentiles (everyone not a Jew) stood on the outside of that relationship looking in. Jesus, though, as he applies to himself the description of being the “true vine” reorients the way we think about ethnic distinctions. If Jesus is the one true Israelite then we, as we are in relationship with him, are constituted as God’s people on his behalf. There are no longer any distinctions between Jew and Gentile – we are now defined only with respect to whether or not we are “in Christ.”  Paul says in Ephesians 2 that Jesus Christ has “brought near those who were far off” and that he has “broken down the dividing wall” between Jew and Gentile in order that God might create for himself a “new humanity.” We, as the body of Christ in all the world are that “new humanity.”

Sometimes this truth does not hit us the way it should. We don’t live in a world where Jew/Gentile distinctions mean much. However, we do live in a world that values social and economic status. What we want to say as loud as possible to ourselves and to those around us is that right standing before God is not determined by what family you were born into, or what country you live in, or what ethnic background you share in. We are Christians by virtue of our faith in Christ and nothing else. Faith in Jesus, not ethnic background,  has become the decisive characteristic and requirement for membership among God’s people.

What we sometimes miss is that for the Jewish people this was a difficult teaching. This seemed to go against everything that the Old Testament taught. The Old Testament struggles greatly with the issue of Jews and Gentiles. Those inside the covenant relationship with God and those on the outside looking in. When we get through the Gospel accounts and come to Acts we find that the Jews had a difficult time accepting that Gentiles could be included into the people of God as Gentiles (no circumcision necessary!). This is what the gospel has done for us: we Gentiles who were far off have now been brought near by the shed blood of Christ. What we are is no longer central – we have become branches of the one true Israelite on account of his righteousness and perfect obedience.

As we “abide” in Christ…it redefines who we are…

As it redefines what we are, it at the same time redefines who we are. We abide in Christ on account of his work. We abide in Christ on the basis of what he has done and we bring nothing to the table. It is all about who Christ is and has nothing to do with who we are as individuals. We are not central in this picture – we are branches! We are peripheral at best! Branches only have existence as they are connected to the vine. There are no lone ranger Christians who can do things on their own.

John has laid down the gauntlet and given us a choice: we are either abiding in Christ by trusting in him alone, or we are branches that get tossed into the fire. We desperately, desperately need Jesus Christ. Our lives and accomplishments mean nothing before the creator of the universe. All of our success, popularity, fame, and fortune will never be pleasing to God. There is one life that pleases God and that life is Christ’s. Only because his life is accepted can those who are “in him” be pleasing to God and filled with the Spirit, because every believer possesses everything of Christ’s.

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