To Grow in Grace by Abiding
The year 2017 ends at midnight tonight – another year will be over and done. Are you still in the faith? Are you still standing as a Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ?
What a cause for rejoicing if this indeed the case! It is no small matter to keep on keeping on.
It’s no easy thing being a Bible Christian – we are exposed to all kinds of temptations that want to lead us away from our loyalty to Jesus and there are plenty of discouragements and disappointments along the way that might induce us to want to call it a day.
So if you’re still in the faith thank God for his grace that enables you to stand.
Tomorrow a new year begins and I trust that it is a year in which we might all flourish and in particular that we might all flourish spiritually.
I don’t want to tell you what resolutions you ought to make for the New Year but I do want to consider with you some of the advice that is there for us in the Bible that will help us to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. If we do not heed Scripture we may well still be able to outwardly maintain some good habits (such as church attendance and Bible reading) but this would prove to be of little value to us if at the same time we were to allow the fire to be extinguished in our lives. There is a tremendous difference between simply going through the motions and being on spiritual fire!
One of the key themes of the apostle John is that of abiding in Christ. Indeed John doesn’t only speak about us abiding in Christ but also of Christ abiding in us. John pushes the idea of abiding further still and uses it to cover a wide range of subject matter. When we think about abiding the thought can also be rendered by words such as dwelling, continuing or remaining. Of the 100+ references in the NT more than 50% of them are to be found in John’s writings. John’s emphasis derives directly from the Lord Jesus who taught his followers their need of abiding in him as we read in Jn.15. John took up this aspect of Jesus’ teaching passing it on and developing it further. The way in which he uses the term varies considerably.
He speaks of the believer abiding:
in Christ – believing, trusting, fellowshipping
in his teaching – what he said and what is said about him
in the light – rejection and resistance of darkness
in the Son and the Father – cf. Jn.14:6
in love – God’s love for the believer
He speaks of the believer experiencing different abidings or indwellings:
the Word of God is to abide in the believer – leading him to Christ
the truth heard from the beginning – concerning Christ and Christ crucified
the anointing received from him – the Spirit of Christ
God’s seed – life producing
God’s love – to pass through to others – our love for God expressed in loving others
God – particular role of the Spirit
This is dynamic – it is not possible to act as though these mutual indwellings can be separated and held apart in distinct boxes – they are interactive and are meant to be!
John links abiding to the practical obedience of obeying commands, loving generosity, faithful confession. The Christian believer is not simply to admire Christ and be satisfied with basking in his wonderful light but he is also to seek to imitate him and to live like he did:
1Jn.2:6 "whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked."
There are fruits and practical effects that can and should flow for the believer from this mutual abiding or indwelling:
Harmonious relationships – with God and other believers
Victory over the enemy and sin
Confidence and freedom from shame
This "abiding" must, of necessity begin at some point in time but it must continue over time and into eternity as well. There is of course an alternative but John describes that as "abiding in death", something that I hope none of us want.
As is so often the case in the Bible the contrasts are stark and starkly made. As light and darkness are mutually exclusive so it is with this idea of abiding, and in particular, of abiding in Christ. A person either abides in him or in he doesn’t. To abide in Christ means life, light, fruitfulness, relationships and holiness whereas the alternative is summed up as abiding in death – ie. the absence of life, darkness, fruitlessness, isolation and being exposed to wrath.
To stop "abiding" suggests that we never have truly belonged to Christ.
Sometimes people want to suggest that they have moved on or progressed beyond the simple gospel that they maybe heard at an early stage of their lives. They may present this not as a rejection of their earlier faith but as a maturing, a developing, of that faith. Typically they will speak of leaving behind a simplistic or childish understanding of the teachings of Christianity for a wiser more reflective one. While we should all be seeking to grow in our understanding of the faith there are ways in which this is to be done and ways which are to be avoided. We need to take great care for the apostle warns us that there are people who speak this way who are not developing their faith but actually abandoning it along with true fellowship with God through Christ.
Those guilty of doing this often don’t have the honesty of saying that they want to invent something new entirely instead they dress up their desires with seemingly positive spin: "What is the Spirit saying to our Church today?" they ask, clearly suggesting that what he has to say is somehow different from what he has always said.
Such approaches will always find a certain welcome in the world because the world will welcome anything that toes its line and which drops the radical convicting and converting agenda that is part and parcel of the authentic Christian faith. We should not be surprised to find ourselves coming under pressure of various kinds to conform, to drop our views based on a straightforward reading of Scripture and to promote only those ideas and values that the world wants to hear. But we must not succumb to such pressure but cling all the more firmly to "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 3).
Our task as we move toward a new year is to seek to grow in grace and in knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need to understand our faith as much as we can but growing in faith and understanding means securing a better grasp of the truths we already know and not on moving on from them to something other however that otherness might be portrayed. Specifically we must never move beyond the blood of Christ, the vicarious sufferings and death of our Saviour.
It is only by a faithful adherence to the truth, by a determined commitment to putting the truth into practice by living a godly life exemplified in the expression of genuine Christian love that we will live lives that please our Heavenly Father and bring him the glory and honour due his name.
It is only by such abiding that we will have the spiritual power and enabling to do any spiritual good. Indeed as Jesus said:
Jn.15:5 "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."
The apostle Paul knew the truthfulness of this statement and repeated it in his own words when he wrote:
Phil.4:13 "I can do all things through him who strengthens me."
May God give us the desire to abide and then enable us by his Spirit to do so.