Life comes at you and I a million miles an hour. From disappointment over how someone is handling a situation to relationship issues, and everywhere in between, life is often tough. Perhaps today you are waiting on a book proposal, to hear from a job you applied to, or on something else. Life is often tough, and it seems like it is never getting any easier. It would be easy in this article to list a thousand things in my life where I identify with you, but honestly, I do empathize with you on the toughness of life. Even now, I’m waiting on multiple book proposals, speaking engagements, and other opportunities. It’s hard to be patient but we must. We must as Jesus says abide in the Vine (John 15:1-11). And part of abiding is enjoying more of Christ. It’s finding our identity more in our union with Christ and communing daily with Christ than in the things going on in our lives.
One critical key to Jesus’ teaching in John 15 is how He focuses on our abiding in Christ. Another way of saying the same thing is remaining in Christ. The closer you and I grow in communion with Christ, the more we will abide or remain in Christ. John Murray once remarked that at the heart of the doctrine of salvation is union with Christ. Union with Christ expresses the fundamental reality of our salvation. It enables us to come boldly before the Cross and to see our lives ever before not only His gaze but also how we are friends with God, which also enables us to frame our lives in light of the Cross.
J.C. Ryle says, “To abide in Christ means to keep up a habit of constant close communion with Him, to be always leaning on Him, resting on Him, pouring out our hearts to Him, and using Him as our Fountain of life and strength, as our chief Companion and best friend. To have His Words abiding in us is to keep His sayings and precepts continually before our memories and minds, and to make them the guide of our actions, and the rule of our daily conduct and behavior.”[i]
There are two critical points that I want to focus on in this article about abiding in Christ. First, abiding in Christ leads to power in prayer and more joy in God.
Jesus says in 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 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 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.”[ii]
In God’s Word, we find that Jesus tells us not to expect comfortable circumstance or for 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 abide in him, relying on his love and obeying his commands. Surely abiding in him, then, is something for which we should 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 has taught in Scripture, we should pray with an absolute certainty of divine answers. Do we pray for grace to believe, for compassion on a lost world so that we will witness the gospel, or for the courage to stand against the pressures of the world and sin? We must pray for these things. As we pray Jesus’ own words back to our Lord and 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 John 15:6-11. Perhaps our lack of power in prayer stems from a lack of abiding in Christ and his word. The secret to power in prayer is to live close enough to Christ that our desires, expressed in prayer, have been modeled by his word.
An example of how abiding in Christ works with prayer 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 overdue bills. A customer did come, picking out a quite 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 that 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 Christian. He assured the little girl that God would provide, and just 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.[iii] 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, let’s consider, how abiding in Christ fills us with joy. John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” The world insists that turning from sin to follow Christ is bound to take all the pleasure out of life. Jesus insists that exactly the opposite is in fact true. The way to possess true and abiding joy, not the joy of the world but what Jesus calls “my joy” is to abide in him.
You and I may fail to know the joy that ought to be ours. We lose joy when our fellowship with Christ is broken through worldly distractions and sin. Disobedience and unbelief steal our joy. This is why David pleased in Psalm 51:11-12 in his great prayer of repentance, “Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.” David missed the spiritual joy that he had previously known, and he pleaded with God not only to forgive him but also to restore his presence and therefore his joy. Jesus found his joy in pleasing the Father through obedience. Leon Morris observes, “It is not cheerless, barren existence that Jesus plans for his people. But the joy of which he speaks come only as they are wholehearted in their obedience to his commands.”[iv]
Jesus stated his desire that by abiding in him, “your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Jesus was not speaking here of a fairy-tale happiness in which all our worldly dreams come true. Jesus never promised a carefree life to his followers, but he did offer us the fullness of joy as his life grows in us. Hebrews 12:2, “for the joy that was set before him” Jesus endured the cross so that even the great baptism of suffering could not snuff out the eternal flame of his joy. Abiding in Christ, as a living branch in the true vine, we experience his life flowing into us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, so that our deep experience of blessing matures into the rich wine of spiritual joy as we abide in Him.
Do you find that you long for the fullness of Christ’s joy in your life? Jesus longs for this, too. Indeed, there can be no greater object in love than for the One we adore to have joy in our fellowship. We do not need to live joyless lives, but we do need to abide in Christ, relishing his love, offering our obedience in return, and then abounding in the perfect divine joy that He has eternally possessed and that he delights to give to those abide in Him.
[i] J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, John, 3 Volumes (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1999) 3:116-17
[ii] Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1975), 825
[iii] George Guthrie, Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998) 449.
[iv] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, 598.