7 Steps in the Christian Life, Part 3

Cast your minds back to when you became a Christian. For some of you, this might be a difficult assignment; you’ve been a believer for all your life, maybe. Others may not be able to pinpoint an exact date, but you do have a dim recollection of being without Christ, then with Him. And some of you may know the exact date, time, and circumstances of your “come to Jesus” moment. We’re all different, yet we’re all the same. In our Christian lives, we’ve all taken the exact same steps; we are all taking the exact same steps. The first step we all took, whether or not we may recall the exact date or circumstances, was receiving Christ.

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:11 – 13 | TNIV)

Most people around you will never receive Him, but you received Christ. When you did, you became a child of God by the will of God. That’s an important thing to remember; you received Christ, but it was God’s will that it happened. From your perspective, you made up your mind to confess your sins, repent, and receive Jesus into your heart. But from God’s perspective, which is the one that counts, He had been calling you to receive Jesus, as He calls all lost people to receive Jesus, and He gave you the ability to open up and receive His gift of salvation in the form of His Son, Jesus.

The second step was your confession or profession of Christ. What saved you wasn’t your decision but rather the Gospel of Jesus and your faith in it. You became a Christian because you heard about what Jesus did for you on the Cross: He took your punishment; He shed His blood to wash away your sins and the guilt of your sins. By faith from God, you believed that and were saved. That Word of God that you heard with your ears was planted in your heart and pretty soon, what was in your heart bubbled up and came out your mouth!

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:9, 10 | TNIV)

You’ve received Jesus into your heart, and His presence in your life has become obvious to your friends and family, through things you’ve said and the way you behave. You’re a different person, from the inside out. Paul put what happened to you this way:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…. (2 Corinthians 5:17, 18 | TNIV)

An important phrase you should remember is this: “all this is from God.” That means that when it comes to your salvation, God did all the work. He did it all for you. But, after that, you have something to do. And that’s the third step in your Christian life.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 | TNIV)

That’s Jesus talking to His disciples, telling them that it was their responsibility to “remain” in Christ. What does that mean? How do you do it? And how do we reconcile what Jesus said with what Jude said:

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy… (Jude, verse 24 | TNIV)

Jude makes it sound like God will keep you in Him; God will keep you saved. Yet Jesus told His followers that it was up to them to remain in Him. Let’s take a look at just what Jesus was teaching His disciples because we are also His disciples.

Jesus and His friends had just left the Upper Room, heading toward the Garden of Gethsemane. His time on earth was coming quickly to an end. Our Lord’s earthly ministry was drawing to a close. As the group passed by the Temple, they noticed one of its most beautiful ornaments, a golden vine cluster which was larger than a man. Jesus used this decoration as the basis of a parable.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. (John 15:1 | TNIV)

The disciples would have been at least vaguely familiar with the figure of a vine and vineyard. They are used frequently throughout the Old Testament where Israel is pictured as a rotten, dying, degenerate vine with dried-up fruit barely clinging to it. Here’s an example:

I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. (Isaiah 5:1, 2 | TNIV)

In other words, the nation of Israel was a huge disappointment to God. The prophets used the figure of a vineyard to drive home that teaching. God was tending His vineyard, Israel, but Israel wasn’t bearing any good fruit, only rotten fruit.

So our Lord used a very familiar motif to teach His disciples something very important. In that first verse, there are two very important, profound truths. First, there is genuine stock. In other words, there are true believers and those who aren’t. An essential in agriculture is to plant the right kind of vine or tree so that you get the right kind of healthy, quality fruit. No fruit can be better than the vine that produces it. Jesus taught that He is the “true vine,” and unless the believer is connected to Him, the quality of that believer’s fruit will be as bad as that of Israel. There may be many branches, but only those bearing good fruit are part of the true vine.

The second truth is that God the Father is the “gardener.” The Greek really means “farmer,” specifically, an expert in growing grapes. The relationship of the believer to God is the same as that of the vine to the farmer (the owner of the vineyard). He cares for that vine in every way; he tends it, waters it, protects it, and cultivates it.

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. (John 15:2 | TNIV)

The branches that don’t bear fruit – when they become dry, brittle, and lifeless, the farmer – God the Father – cuts them off and drags them off the be burned. These branches had, at one time, been green and healthy but not any more. Now, whom do you think Jesus is talking about here? Remember His audience: His disciples. Which one of them had been walking and talking with Jesus for all these years? Which one had Jesus referred to as His “friend?” Of course, the dead branch is Judas, a disciple who began so well but eventually died inside. Judas became selfish, disregarded the truth, didn’t value his relationship with Jesus, and had become filled with the “spirit of the antichrist.” John would later write more about people like Judas:

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (1 John 2:18, 19 | TNIV)

Judas was a dead branch, but he’s not the only one. There all kinds of “hangers on” in the Body of Christ, people who claim to belong to Jesus but don’t really. You can spot them as easily as you can spot a dead branch on a vine. They aren’t producing good fruit. And Jesus says that His Father, the great farmer, will tend to them. It’s not your job or mine to haul these dead branches away, it’s God’s.

But God also prunes all the good branches so that they’ll produce even more, better fruit than they are already. Pruning looks like a bad thing – lopping off branches, trimming a tree back to its trunk. But that’s how the farmer keeps the tree or vine healthy. And a healthy vine will produce more and more good fruit as it is pruned. All those experiences in life that we hate – the painful ones, the ones that make us hurt or break our heart, these are the things God uses to prune us. All the disappointments and discouragements of life are used by the Lord to prune us so that we will bear more fruit. The old timey Bible scholars like to refer to this action as “moral purification.” God carefully and with great deliberation allows what we may perceive as the awful moments in life to touch us, cleansing us from dirt in our lives, so that we may produce more and better fruit. Those old timey guys were on to something. Notice what Jesus says next:

You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. (John 15:3 | TNIV)

What do you think our Lord meant by that? For sure Jesus did not mean the disciples were sinless. Nobody is. But they, and we, are clean. Believe it or not, this his a hotly debated verse among the theological eggheads, who love to strain at gnats. But sometimes the simplest explanation is the best. All believers are “cleansed of sin” when they receive the Gospel message. Back a couple of chapters, we see Jesus humbly washing the feet of His disciples. That was a common enough thing for the host of a dinner to do in those days. But when He came to Peter, Peter was incensed that his Lord would deign to wash his feet.

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. (John 13:7 – 11 | TNIV)

Of course, the whole foot washing thing is all very symbolic of Jesus cleansing believers from the sin in their lives. Only He can do that. The forgiveness of sins is part what God does for us so that we may be acceptable to Him. But there is another side to this. We are made clean, but we must remain clean. We play a part in that as we remain in fellowship with Jesus, the vine.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:7 – 9 | TNIV)

We have a part to play in keeping ourselves clean – we confess our sins, we remain in fellowship with Him and other believers. But then there’s something the psalmist wrote:

How can those who are young keep their way pure? By living according to your word. (Psalm 119:9 | TNIV)

Paul goes one further. Not only are the “young” able to keep their way pure through the Word of God, but the whole church is also!

And you husbands, show the same kind of love to your wives as Christ showed to the Church when he died for her, to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God’s Word… (Ephesians 5:25, 26 | TLB)

It is not possible to read the Bible, to study it, to go to church and be exposed to it and not be cleansed by it. God’s Word is truth and light; it exposes the sinful conduct in our lives and bad attitudes and beliefs. If you are a true believer, connected to the vine, then you will respond to the Word of God with humility and submission.

And that gets us to the main point of Jesus’ teaching, verse 4 –

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:4 | TNIV)

For a branch to bear fruit, it must get its life from the vine. Similarly, for believers to bear fruit they must remain in Christ. The power to live as God wants you to live comes from above. You can’t do it on your own. And the fruit you bear is not what you can do, but rather it’s the life of Jesus in you working its way out. Paul noticed this:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 | TNIV)

We’ve learned something very significant so far in our look at the 7 steps in the Christian life. First, we receive Jesus because God enables us to do so. We profess Jesus because His Word bubbles up from within our hearts. And we bear fruit because Christ’s life in us works its way out through us. God does it all the work as we allow Him to. Even as true believers rooted in Jesus Christ, the good we do must be done in the power and anointing of Him.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 | TNIV)

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