Monthly Archives: May 2015

I AM: The True Vine

Welcome to the seventh and final post in the I AM series. I hope you have had as much fun reading these as I did putting them together. Sometimes I find myself over thinking what it means to be a Christian so it’s helpful to gain perspective in beholding Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. Who He says He is defines this faith we hold to, and shows how we are to live. If we allow ourselves to construct our identity around who He says He is, we can reap the assurance of His promises. So without further introduction, let us dive into scripture.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit… 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.” – John 15:1-2,5

The first thing you’ll notice is that the Father receives more central treatment in this metaphor than in the others. In some of the other statements, we see Christ interacting with the church and the Father interacting with the Son: Jesus is the Bread of the World, and the Father is the giver of the Bread; Jesus is the Good Shepherd of the sheep are entrusted to Him by the Father. Here though, the Father is the Vinedresser, interacting directly with the branches: pruning some, cutting off others to be burned.

Jesus is the Son of God, and He is God. This is one of the central paradoxes of Christianity. Our God is three and yet is one. Three Persons; one God. The salvation, sanctification, and glorification of the church is implemented by the Trinity. No exploration of the relationship between Christ and the church is complete without acknowledging this. In this passage, we have a picture of how this works, though we must accept a degree of mystery.

The church (and its individual members) grow out from Christ, are tended by the Father, and empowered and multiplied by the Spirit. The result is a thriving vine flush with fruit. And our role as the branches? Simply abide.

That the Church grows out of Christ is taught frequently in the New Testament. Paul talks about Christ as the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22, Colossians 2:19), and church as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). Baptism into Christ’s death is the requirement to be raised with Him (Galatians 2:20, Philippians 3:8-11), and we are to remain rooted and grounded in Him (Colossians 2:6-7). That Christ is the Vine and we the branches affirms this truth. In growing out from Christ we find our vitality and identity in Him.

Fruit bearing branches are pruned by the Father; unfruitful branches are cut off, gathered, and burned. Now if fruit-bearing comes by abiding in the vine, then unfruitful branches are already disconnected from the vine. The Father’s shears only complete the process. The life of the Vine provides fruit. Our role is to remain connected.

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? – Galatians 3:2-3

So then, what is it to abide? It is, first, to recognize the initiative and impetus lies with Christ

Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you… You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide. – John 15:3,16

We did not save ourselves. We did not seek Christ. We did nothing to earn our salvation. Paul describes even the best of us as enemies of God until the intervention of Christ (Romans 5:10). Even knowing this, we get seduced by sparks of goodness in our selves. “Christ saved me because of my…” is a deadly seed which constantly seeks root in the soul of the believer. And when it finds hold, we begin to resist the pruning of the Father.

Why are Christians so hard on themselves? Because the standards set by our God are so much higher than the average the world finds acceptable. If ever we become satisfied in our righteousness, we stop growing.

Abiding in Christ means also obeying the Jesus’ commands.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love… “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. – John 15:9-10,12

Upon hearing the word ‘commandments’, our minds unconsciously start stretching in anticipation of a gruelling marathon. So let’s get to it. WWJD: The Comprehensive Guide to Christian Behaviour in Every Situation. Page one- Love. The End.

Seriously, that’s what it all boils down to. Love God; love people. And the power to love is  granted by the Spirit of God in us (Romans 5:5). Love is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), which makes this all somewhat circular. To bear fruit, we must abide; to abide is to love; love is a fruit of abiding. The glue to this circle of abiding is the Spirit of God.

The Spirit often works in our conscience, through the Word of God, and in the congregation of believers. Our conscience often reveals to us the confidence we have before God (2 Corinthians 1:12, Hebrews 13:18, 1 John 3:21), though it itself does is not the source of our confidence (1 Corinthians 4:4). We do not stand justified before God because our consciences are clear, but a clear conscience is a blessing of abiding.

He also empowers fruitfulness through His Word. The Word of God exposes our heart (Hebrews 4:12) and purifies it (Psalm 119:11). Finally, fellowship with other Christians enables us to abide faithfully in Christ. We are given spiritual gifts for common edification (1 Corinthians 12:7), bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:1-2), encourage each other (Hebrews 10:25), and worship God together (Ephesians 5:19-20).

Peter informs us that God has given us everything that pertains to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). We have in the Spirit everything we need to abide. And in abiding, we are promised fruitfulness. The True Vine therefore nurtures our salvation.

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. – John 15:11

I AM: The Way The Truth and The Life

In the sixth installment of the I AM series on this blog, we get to the most well known. This is also perhaps the one in which the context is most overlooked. In a pluralistic society, we devote significant attention to defending the uniqueness of Christ among other gods and so priority is given to the exclusivity of salvation through Christ alone. So often when we get to John 14, we read, “I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life.” And if that’s all we see in this passage, we reduce a promise of Christ for His followers to an apologetic tool.

When we read this passage in context we see the tenderness, care, and affection of Christ reflected in the narrative. The Bible argues for salvation in Christ alone (Acts 4:12), and Jesus Himself rebukes popular religion for hypocrisy (Matthew 23) and insufficiency (Matthew 5:43-48). Yet in this conversation with His disciples, He has a different objective.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” – John 14:1-7

This conversation takes place on the night of Jesus’ arrest. He knows that soon He will be taken away from these men who had followed Him for years. At His arrest, they would be separated, hopeless, and Peter would deny Him three times. And so He sets out to assure them. Don’t worry, I won’t leave alone and you will see me again.

But how will we know the way, Jesus? Thomas poses the question we all ask as we strive to follow Jesus. It’s the question we ask when facing big decisions, or going through transitions, or dealing with doubt. I believe, Lord; help my unbelief.

And so Jesus replies, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” As long as we are in Christ, we are on the right path. When we behold Christ, we have seen the Father, we have known the Father, and we will be with Him in the Father’s house.

There’s a story in scripture of a rich young ruler who comes to Jesus and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. – Mark 10:21-22

The man went away sad, and if we are honest so would we. The gate that leads to life is narrow and difficult, and without revelation we could spend our entire lives searching and would never have assurance of having attained it.

But Jesus comes and reveals Himself as the Way; He is our access to God. He reveals God to us and mediates our entrance into His presence. The author of Hebrews invites us to enter the throne room of God to receive grace from God because we can (Hebrews 10:19-22). We can because Jesus gives us access.

If Jesus is the Way, He is also the Truth.

And a highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray
. – Isaiah 35:8

This passage from Isaiah speaks of the return of God’s elect to Jerusalem, the city of God, and it makes a promise: Even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. All who find the Way will be guarded by the Truth. Jeremiah promises that God will plant His word in the heart of those He calls. The Psalmists describe God giving direction from His goodness (Psalm 25:8-9), and through His Word (Psalm 119:130). John Himself describes Jesus saying, “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).

For all who find the Way, Jesus is the Truth which keeps us in it. He is both the author and finisher our faith (Hebrews 12:1). The series of Laws given in the Old Testament find their fulfillment in Christ, so that instead of slaving after  a collection of rules, we are instructed to love and obey Christ (Matthew 5:17, Colossians 2:17). All who believe in Christ will do His will (John 14:12). This is both a standard and a promise, for the Truth will lead us in the Way.

Now, the Way and the Truth lead us to the Life, which is Christ. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one. Eternity with the Father is life in the Son; Life in the Son is eternity with the Father. Heaven isn’t the end of the story; the fulfillment of our hope is the eternal presence and reign of Christ (Revelation 21:1-4). Even now, knowing Him is Jesus’ definition of eternal life (John 17:3).

Jesus is the path, and the guardrails, and the destination. We have seen the Father, and will see the Father because we believe in Jesus. When we feel lost in life, unsure of our destination, we are encouraged to look for Christ. For when we see Him, we see the Way. As we commune with Him, we are secure in the Truth. And as we delight in Him we have the Life.

I recently went through an unexpected transition. I thought I was going one way and then a door closed. It was tempting to remain stuck in a pattern of self-doubt and despair. When life throws a curveball, it’s too easy to mistake a strike for a strikeout.

But then I looked up and saw Christ. Not physically or in a vision. I knelt in prayer and realized He was still listening. Rounding that unforeseen bend, the Way remained. No matter where life takes us, as long as Christ remains present, we are not lost. The Truth will guide us. The Life will sustain us. And we will see the Father.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. – 1 Peter 1:3-5