Having defined abiding in Him in terms of His love and our obedience in our first post, Jesus now sets before the disciples two results that flow from our abiding in Him. The first is that abiding delivers us from the judgment of God. Jesus expressed this truth in negative terms, speaking of false professors who do not abide in Him. John 15:6, “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
Throughout the New Testament, fire is used to depict the torments awaiting those who stand under God’s judgment for sin. An important example is Jesus’ parable of the weeds in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus said that He has planted His good seed in his field, but the evil one has come and planted weeds there also. The weeds in that parable present false professors and correspond to the fruitless branches in John 15. Jesus said that we should not concern ourselves with trying to sort the wheat from the weeds, but that we should leave the task for when the harvester comes. Matthew 13:39-42, “and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This is one of many places where hell is described as a place of personal, physical, and perpetual torment as God’s just penalty for sins (Matthew 3:12; 5:22; 7:19; Mark 9:47, etc.).
Jesus speaks here of God’s judgment not on sinners generally but on professing believers who did not possess His saving life and bear good fruit. In the context of the Farewell discourse, we think of Judas Iscariot as the classic example of a false professor who was first removed and then condemned by God. Jesus referred to him as the “son of destruction” (John 17:12), that is, one doomed to eternal judgment for His betrayal of Christ.
The Old Testament background for Jesus’ teaching on the burning of the fruitless branches is Ezekiel 15:1-6. The prophet pointed out that the wood of the vine is good for nothing unless it bears fruit. Ezekiel 15:3, “Is wood taken from it to make anything? Do people take a peg from it to hang any vessel on it?” The wood of the vine is so useless that it will not even serve as a peg. Therefore, if it will not bear fruit, it can be used only for fire, and even then it burns too quickly. Since the vine was a symbol of Israel, this was a warning of God’s judgment, which soon fell on fruitless Jerusalem through the siege of Nebuchadnezzar and the city’s destruction. God warned in Ezekiel 15:6, “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so have I given up the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”
Christians should look on the fall of Jerusalem and realize how useless to God fruitless religion is. A profession of faith in Christ is of no interest to God unless it goes on to bear the fruit of a godly life, and such an empty profession of faith renders us fit only for the fires of God’s judgment. It was with this in mind that James wrote in James 2:17, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead.” He didn’t mean that we are saved by a combination of faith and works, but rather that saving faith is always a faith that goes on to bear the fruit of good works, along with a changed life. According to Jesus, then, false professors of faith will sooner or later be taken away by God (John 15:2), and will ultimately be subjected to God’s fire, all because they never truly embraced Jesus as Savior and therefore died without their sins’ being forgiven.
In contrast, to abide in Christ is to be delivered from God’s judgment, since the branches that abide in Him bear fruit through their possession of saving life. How urgent it is that every professing believer actually abide in Christ—relying on His love, living in close fellowship with Jesus, and bearing the good fruit of obedience to the commands of the Bible- which is the only kind of faith that saves us from the just wrath of God on our sins.
Abiding in Christ Leads to Power in Prayer
A second result is that abiding in Christ leads to power in prayer. John 15:7, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” This promise is essentially the same as the one made in John 14:13-14, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me[a] anything in my name, I will do it.” The difference here is the nuance of Christ’s words abiding in us. Jesus earlier said that if we ask in His name, He will answer our prayers; now He insists that we must pray with His Word abiding in us.
A.W. Pink explains that Jesus refers here to a life that is “regulated by the Scriptures.” Jesus speaks of His words which refers to the “precepts and promises of Scripture personally appropriated, fed upon by faith, hidden in the heart… It is constant and habitual communion with God through the word, until its content become the substance of our innermost beings.” (Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 825.
In God’s Word, we find that Jesus tells us not to expect comfortable circumstances or the absence of trials and temptations. What we should seek is faith to trust Christ, strength to obey God’s will, grace to transform our lives, and compassion to care for a lost world. In John 15, Jesus has stressed the vital importance that we are to abide in Him, relying on His love, and obey His commands. Surely abiding in Him, then, is something for which we should always pray, with confidence that Jesus has promised to bless prayers that are offered according to His Word. According to Jesus’ promise, whenever we pray for the priorities He taught in Scripture, we should pray with an absolute certainty of divine answers. We should pray for grace to believe, for compassion on a lost world so that we will witness, and for the courage to stand against the pressures of the world and of sin. We must pray for all these things, and when we pray Jesus’ own words back to our Lord, when His teaching forms the substance of our pleas, we can be assured that they will be heard with favor in heaven.
If we wonder why we do not seem to enjoy greater power in prayer, we are given a vital clue in this passage. Perhaps our lack of power in prayer stems from a lack of abiding in Christ and His Word. F.B. Meyer writes, “If you abide in Christ in daily fellowship, it will not be difficult to pray aright, for He has promised to abide in those who abide in Him; and the sap of the Holy Spirit securing for you fellowship with your unseen Lord, will produce in you, as fruit, desires and petitions similar to those which He unceasingly presents to His Father.” (F.B. Meyer, The Life of Love (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1987), 296). The secret to power in prayer is to live close enough to Christ that our own desires, expressed in prayer, have been molded by His Word.
An example of how abiding in Christ works was given by Corrie Ten Boom in one story of her poor but godly father, Casper. Living under Nazi occupation in Holland, their family faced many difficulties and great poverty. On one occasion, they had prayed for God to send a customer to buy a watch so that they could pay their own overdue bills. A customer did come, picking out a the most expensive watch, and casually remarked as he paid that another merchant had sold him a defective watch. Corrie’s father asked the man whether he could examine the watch, and pointed out that only a minor repair was needed. He assured the man that he had been sold a fine-quality watch by the other merchant and gave his money back as the man returned the watch that he had been going to buy.
Little Corrie asked, Papa, “Why did you do that? Aren’t you worried about the bills you have due?” Her father replied that it would not honor the Lord to allow another man’s reputation to be wrongly harmed, especially since the other merchant was a believer. He assured the little girl that God would provide, and a few days later a man came and bought the most expensive watch they had, the sale of which not only paid their bills but also paid for two years of Corrie’s education.” (George Guthrie, Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 448.
How simple it would have been for Casper to take the man’s money and claim God’s answer to prayer! But he put obedience to Christ first, and then did not lack for anything, since abiding in Christ produced not only obedience but also great power in prayer.
Next Post: Two Critical Truths about Abiding in Christ