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Abiding in Christ: a call to intimacy from the Upper Room

 

 

 

 

Abiding in Christ

 

A call to intimacy from the Upper Room

 

 

 

 

Glenn Duh

Foreword

 

The idea for this small book was conceived in a church library with a few men in early 2017, but the roots for it can be traced back for many years, and serve as evidence of God’s sovereign hand in shaping this work. Connections, the English speaking ministry of First Evangelical Church of San Gabriel Valley, has been experiencing a period of noticeable spiritual growth, thanks to the vision, passion and leadership of its pastor, Rev. Ken Wong, and Mr. Colin Seow, the men’s ministry leader. Both were highly inspired and influenced by Rev. Edmund Chan of Covenant Evangelical Free Church in Singapore, who has not only effectively answered the believer’s call to discipleship, but has also written and spoken extensively on the topic. As a member of the men’s ministry team, I had the privilege of studying as a group Rev. Chan’s book, “Radical Discipleship: Five Defining Questions”*. In the book, Rev. Chan indicated that we often fail to arrive at the right answer because we don’t ask the right questions, and proceeded to provide a structure of five critical questions regarding discipleship, which can be transposed to nearly anything else that is of importance. To paraphrase, the questions are:

 

Why is it important?

If it’s important, why is it neglected?

What is it like?

What are the barriers?

How is it done?

 

While studying the book, we were also planning to host a men’s retreat in the summer, and were in need of direction regarding the conference theme. Our pastor suggested that the focus be on abiding in Christ, based on John 15, as our previous themes were focused more on our Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit. A retreat focusing on Jesus seemed natural, and will, in essence, complete our consideration of the Trinity. I was given the task of defining the topic in greater detail, and I was more than delighted to apply Rev. Chan’s five questions to form the structure of the retreat sessions. This work has essentially been the fleshing out of the original skeletal content that started out as five simple questions.

 

I am highly indebted to my dear pastor, Rev. Ken Wong, who has been my lifelong friend and mentor, who often encouraged me to write, and who knew exactly what buttons to push to spur me in the right direction. I am also grateful for Mr. Colin Seow, who was a primary reason for the genesis of our men’s ministry, and a personal friend of Rev. Edmund Chan, who has the uncommon gift of reducing essential truths to concentrated nuggets that is comprehensible by untrained lay persons such as myself. I also thank Karen, my beloved partner in marriage for 24 years, who has graciously tolerated me spending hours in solitude and before the computer while the words below painstakingly appear. Finally, may all glory be to our God, who knew before creation all the strands in each of our lives that would somehow intersect to weave this written companion to our upcoming men’s retreat, which hopefully will be of blessing and benefit to other readers.

 

Soli Deo Gloria,

 

Glenn

June 2017

 

  • Chan, Edmund. Radical Discipleship: Five Defining Questions. Covenant Evangelical Free Church, 2014.

About the author

 

Glenn, born of non-religious parents in Taiwan, was a staunch atheist and Darwinian when he first immigrated to the United States with his family at the age of 14. However, God was merciful, and used several of his high school friends as instruments of his salvation at a church retreat in July, 1983. The Lord has blessed him with 24 years of marriage with Karen, and they have two college aged children. Glenn works as a pediatric gastroenterologist in Downey, California, as a partner physician with Southern California Permanente Medical Group.

 

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All Bible verses that are contained in this writing is from the English Standard Version (ESV)

 

 

 

I Am the True Vine

 

“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. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 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. 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. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:1-11)

Introduction: The “I Am” in the upper room

 

“Abide in me…” (John 15:4)

 

Words that are spoken during the final days and hours of one’s life are often of great significance, as they may contain a dying person’s most important instructions to those who remain, and convey his heart, hopes, and priorities. Many of Jesus’ most important words were uttered to his disciples in the upper room, after the last supper, merely hours before his arrest, trial, torture, crucifixion and death. These words include those recorded in John 15, where Jesus made the final of his “I am” statements, as recorded in the Book of John (boldfaced words in the Bible verses are added for emphasis):

 

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. (John 15:1)

 

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 15:5)

 

The significance of verse 5 is that he addressed and identified the disciples specifically, “you”, as the branches that are attached to the vine, and “you”, who can do nothing apart from him.

 

Contrast this with Jesus’ earlier “I am” claims:

 

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life: whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)

 

Jesus is the bread of life to “whoever” comes and believes in him.

 

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. (John 10:9)

 

Jesus is the door of salvation to “anyone” who enters by him.

 

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:14-15)

 

Jesus claims to be the good shepherd to his own, but he was speaking to the Pharisees and other unbelieving Jews, not to his own sheep.

 

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

 

Jesus promises life to “whoever” and “everyone” who believes.

 

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

 

“No one” can come to the Father apart from Jesus.

 

In all of his other “I am” statements, Jesus did not identify anyone in particular, but addressed those who would be saved as “whoever”, “anyone” and “everyone” who would believe in him. When Jesus said to the disciples, “you are the branches…”, there is something special in these precious words. They are personal, intimate, and direct. They are also of utmost importance. He commanded his followers to abide in him, that they might bear fruit and prove to be his disciples.

 

If we claim to be disciples of Christ, we, by extension, also need to abide in Him. To abide in Christ means to remain in Christ, to hold on to Christ in our daily lives, and indeed, to literally make Christ our lives. Many sports fans are so consumed by the sports that they claim to eat, drink, sleep and breathe the sport, to the point where their entire thoughts and emotions are never far from it. The expression “fan” is a contraction of the word “fanatic”, and these are fanatics in the truest sense. Do we have the same attitude and passion in our abiding in Christ? May our abiding in be as the words contained in an ancient Irish hymn that is attributed to St. Patrick,

 

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ at my right, Christ at my left…Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

(Modern English translation from St. Patrick’s Breastplate)

 

Jesus never promised that the Christian walk would be easy. Indeed, as he closed his discourse with the disciples in the upper room he clearly warned them that they will experience difficult times:

 

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

 

There will be rough patches in our journey. Nevertheless, as we abide in him, he will also abide in us. May we learn together how to truly have Christ in our hearts throughout our lives…Jesus will never be far from us.

 

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Chapter 1: Why do we need to abide in Christ?

 

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

 

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.

(John 1:35-40)

 

The above account describes Jesus’ initial encounter with Andrew, who would become one of the twelve disciples, and another disciple of John the Baptist. When Jesus saw Andrew and his friend following him, and asked, “What are you seeking?”, they did not ask, “Rabbi, please explain to us the meaning of life.”, or “Rabbi, what can we do to eliminate world hunger?”, or “Rabbi, how can we achieve inner peace?” Instead, they asked, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” The implication of this response is that they wanted to be with Jesus not just for a moment, nor an hour, but that they wanted to remain with Jesus. The implied, but unspoken words of Andrew and his friend were, “…where are you staying? We want to stay with you.”

 

The question, “…where are you staying?”, is also translated as “…where dwellest thou?” (King James Bible), and “…where abideth thou?” (American Standard Bible, English Revised Version, Darby Bible Translation). To abide can mean “to stay”, or “to remain”, or “to dwell”. When Jesus instructed his disciples to abide in him in John 15, it is helpful to imagine Jesus as being our home or dwelling, to which we happily return for rest, refreshment and protection.

 

How did Jesus answer? He did not say whether he was staying with his immediate earthly family or at the Galilee Hilton. He simply said, “Come and you will see.” Andrew and his friend saw where he stayed; however, the actual location remains a mystery to the reader. Indeed, it appears that Jesus did not fully answer the question until three years later, when he spoke to Philip:

 

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (John 14:10-11)

 

Jesus claimed that he is in the Father, as the Father is in him. The Father dwells in him, thus Jesus also dwells in the Father. He also dwells in his disciples:

 

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 15:5)

 

If we see Jesus and ask where he is staying, can you imagine him looking into our eyes and say, “I am going to stay in YOU, and YOU will stay in ME”? That would not have been the answer that Andrew and his friend was expecting, and years elapsed before the true answer unfolded in glorious fashion. The concept of abiding is clearly important when Jesus enters into our lives. Why?

 

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p<>{color:#000;}. “…for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

 

Why is abiding in Christ so important? Jesus’ answer was simple and straightforward: we can accomplish nothing of significance apart from Christ. It is through abiding in Christ that we may bear fruit, and it is through our fruitfulness that the Father is glorified.

 

The fruit that we bear identifies us, and is proof of our connection with Christ. If we do not abide in Christ, we abide in something else or someone else, and bear fruit that proves our allegiance to Christ’s enemy. Jesus spoke on this regarding false prophets:

 

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

(Matthew 7:15-20)

 

Bearing fruit is also the purpose of our existence. Fruit is the result of our work, and God created us to do good work. Work was the first thing that God intended for Adam to do after he was created:

 

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15)

 

The importance of work was again emphasized in the New Testament:

 

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

 

Mankind was created to work, and mankind was also created in God’s image, as stated in Genesis 1:26-27. Therefore, when we do good work, we bear good fruit that identifies us to all of creation that we bear God’s image, and for this God is glorified.

 

Our fruit glorifies God. The significance of this is indicated by the answer to the first question in the Shorter Catechism, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever”. It is only by abiding in Christ that we can bear good fruit, and by our fruit, we fulfill God’s ultimate purpose for us, that is, to glorify Him (and give Him joy), and basking in the joy of our Father, we derive our ultimate, eternal joy ourselves.

 

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h3<>. Because abiding in Christ is the means to true discipleship

 

The work of discipleship is the work of becoming increasing like Christ in this life, by being with him and following him. Jesus came to earth as God in visible form, with words that we could hear and understand, with actions we could see, showing love to the world that we can model, and demonstrating unity, love and fellowship with the Father and Spirit. If a disciple wants to become like his teacher, he spends time with, walks with, listens to, practices with and learns from the teacher until he assimilates the teacher’s thoughts, knowledge, skills, and heart. If we want to become like Jesus, we need to be with him.

 

Learning by assimilation takes time, but it is also highly effective. A few years ago, my son, who was graduating from high school, shared on Facebook a blog post that I wrote about him, and a few of his friends commented that his father’s writing style was just like his own. For the record, I never really took the time to teach him how to write, much less teaching him how to write like me, but the requisite years of him remaining in the household with his parents somehow caused him to learn from me nuances of written communication styles that could not have been effectively taught in a class or seminar. My son was becoming like me without realizing it.

 

In the same way, abiding in Christ takes time, and it is the secret to true Christian discipleship. If we do not walk with Christ, not only will we not become like him, we will not even know who Jesus is and what he is like.

 

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h3<>. Because abiding in Christ is the process by which we grow and mature as God’s adopted children

 

When we first came to faith, we were adopted by the Father as children, received His unconditional love, and received all the rights and privileges of sonship. Our status in Christ was complete and immediate, not partial or prorated. However, orphans who are newly adopted into their families have never experienced life with the families, and initially will tend to revert to their old orphan ways rather than act like true sons and daughters. They may expect to be despised, condemned and punished rather than to be loved, forgiven and disciplined, and they may desire to flee in fear when they ought to be drawn in by compassion and acceptance.

 

In the same way, new believers do not yet know what it is like to fully be in the family of God. Although they legally are already full-fledged children of the kingdom, it takes time spent with Jesus before their potential as God’s children are gradually realized. The end result of sonship is transformation through the work of the Holy Spirit, a result that is visible, and this is fruit that provides evidence of our adoption, as we become more and more like what we were originally created to be, that is, in God’s image. Transformation is the product. Abiding in Christ is the bridge between adoption by the Father and transformation by the Spirit. It is the process.

 

To summarize, God the Father adopts us into His family and gives us the POTENTIAL to become like Christ. Abiding in Jesus is the PROCESS that brings us to that reality, and through the POWER of the Holy Spirit, we continue to abide until we are transformed into his likeness, the PRODUCT that glorifies God the Father. Of these, abiding in Christ is our sole occupation for our entire earthly lives as believers, and is both necessary for and proof of our standing as God’s adopted children.

 

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Chapter 2: Why have we neglected to abide in Christ?

 

I received Jesus as my Lord and Savior at a summer church retreat more than thirty years ago. Yet, for all these years of calling myself a Christian, I recently found myself sorely unequipped to explain what it is to “abide” in Christ, and I confess that I have often neglected to abide in him.

 

I suspect that I am not alone in this omission. Perhaps the idea of abiding in Christ isn’t preached much at church, I wondered. Out of curiosity, I visited the Web sites of a couple of mega-churches in the United States1, to see what kind of sermons and messages have been preached there. In a well known church in Southern California with a congregation size of over 20,0002, I found the following sermons and series titles from the first quarter of 2017:

 

Living in the goodness of God

The greatest life possible

Winning battles you can’t afford to lose

Getting to where you don’t know you’re going

The dawning of God’s will for your life

 

The overarching idea in these messages is that man is primary, and God is secondary. Man is striving to live, not only to live well (because God is good, after all), but to live “the greatest life possible”, to win, to go somewhere, and to seek not just God’s will, but God’s will for him. This man is trying too hard and too full of himself to think about abiding in Christ!

 

I struck oil, figuratively, upon visiting the online sermon archives of a Texas mega-church3. The sermons and messages were searchable by topic, and the topics were flowing in abundance:

 

adversity, anger, authority, baptism, blessings, change, children, Christmas, commitment, creativity, death, discipline, doubt, Easter, faith, family, fear, finances, forgiveness, freedom, friendship, gambling, God, government, gratitude, grief, growth, guidance, happiness, Hell, honor, hope, humility, hypocrisy, influence, integrity, joy, loss, love, loyalty, marriage, Memorial Day, men, mental health, military, music, obedience, parenting, passion, past, peace, power, prayer, pride, purity, purpose, reaching, rejection, relationships, religion, repentance, rhythm, sacrifice, Satan, science, Scripture, self-control, sex, students, suffering, technology, temptation, the Church, trust, truth, wisdom, women, worry, worship

 

Was there any topic that was missing? How about discipleship? The Holy Spirit? The Gospel? Missions? Nations? Heaven? Eternity? Jesus?

 

Did you notice that? The “search by topic” function would fail if I wanted to listen to a sermon to know who Jesus is. If Christ isn’t the focus and passion of the church, there is not going to be much abiding in Christ. Why is it so neglected?

 

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h3<>. Because we live in a culture with very short time orientation

 

Abiding in Christ requires time. It requires patience. If it weren’t so, Jesus could have touched the disciples and instantly transformed them. Instead, it took three long years of walking with Jesus, and even toward the end, they were not ready for his departure. In fact, Jesus at times must have experienced exasperation at the slowness of the disciples’ progress, as indicated by his response to Philip:

 

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:9)

 

Most of us lack the patience required for transformation to occur. Those of us who live in Anglo cultures, i.e., the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, etc., are known to have a very short-term orientation, according to the research of social psychologist Geert Hofstede4. Those with a short-term orientation want quick results. They want growth to happen visibly. They see the past and the present, but don’t have patience for the future. Instead of asking what the future holds, they ask, “What have you done for me lately?”

 

Look at the example of the Leichester City Football Club, which was recently propelled into international prominence when it won the 2015-2016 English Premier League championship, for the first time in team history5. Shockingly, only 298 days after the historic accomplishment, the team manager, Claudio Ranieri, who was given much credit for the team’s success, was fired (or sacked, using common British expression), as Leichester City underperformed in 2016-20176.

 

Such short-term mindset is dissonant with the concept of abiding, and those of us who have similar short-term orientation would rather focus our attention on other things. We want results, and we want it faster, with less work. Therefore, instead of growing and maturing through the daily, unhurried nourishment of Christ, we seek after more efficient methods and shortcuts. We purchase neatly printed devotional aids, study Bibles and reading plans, where much of the work is already done for us, in order that we can read through the prescribed material, answer a couple of generic questions, and quickly check off “doing morning devotions” or “reading the Bible” off the to-do list. We then spend the remainder of the day chasing other ephemeral goals and ambitions, with Christ left behind on the table until the next day, or whenever we remember to repeat the exercise again. We try for force God to give us our daily dose of spirituality in neat little fifteen, ten or five minute blocks, and when we perceive that we don’t receive much, we quit out of spiritual indigestion. The devotional and study aids are wonderful resources, and many are very well written and highly enriching, but they are of maximal benefit only if adequate time is spent with Jesus.

 

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h3<>. Because we have devalued loyalty and perseverance

 

I recently had the privilege of celebrating the retirement of one of the most distinguished gastroenterology nurses that one can find. Isabel began her nursing career around the time when a brand new hospital, Kaiser Foundation Hospital – Bellflower Medical Center, opened its doors for the first time. She started as a medical assistant, and over the years, through diligence and study, worked toward obtaining her licensed vocational nurse certification, and later became a registered nurse. When I started working there as a recently trained pediatric gastroenterologist in 2001, she was one of the most senior nurses in the department of gastroenterology, and the only one who was certified and trained to assist me with pediatric endoscopy procedures. Over the course of 14 years that I worked with her, she steadily developed skills that no other nurse in the department had, and few doctors were willing to attempt. With her steady hands, compassionate heart and decades of experience, I was able to place feeding gastrostomy tubes without another assistant, a procedure that in babies are normally performed under general anesthesia by either two pediatric gastroenterologists, or a pediatric gastroenterologist and a pediatric surgeon. Not only was she able to assist me in the place of another doctor, we were able to perform this procedure dozens of times, without anesthesia, in the neonatal intensive care unit.

 

I was so thankful of Isabel’s help during these procedures, that when I later presented our data in a published abstract and in a large medical conference, I listed her as a co-author as a small token of appreciation. Isabel retired after fifty distinguished years of service. Incidentally, the brand new hospital where she started her career in 1965, the same year that I was born, was closed and replaced with a new hospital in an adjacent city a few years before her retirement.

 

Isabel’s career represents a time when it was not uncommon for a person to remain with the same company or employer for 20, 30, or 40 years (50 years is definitely a bit of an outlier). However, younger workers nowadays are no longer content to remain at their work, and count it a virtue to switch jobs frequently in the quest for upward mobility. Employers have also become more prone to hire and fire for the sake of short-term gains, without much regard for their workers’ welfare. Similarly, marriages don’t last as long, and couples are getting hitched up more for convenience than for commitment. The idea of abiding, whether in one’s work, or in a set of principles, or in one’s spouse, have been supplanted by the quest for mobility, success, and pragmatism.

 

Given our eroding sense of loyalty and faithfulness in areas that are as important as work and marriage, it stands to reason that abiding (i.e., remaining, persevering) in Christ may not be highly valued by many Christians either. Actually, the fickleness of Christ’s followers was well known even when Jesus walked among us on earth. The Gospel accounts are replete with those of “crowds”, sometimes numbering in the thousands, following Jesus. Indeed, the 6th chapter of John started with the account of Jesus feeding “the five thousand”. The crowds loved Jesus, and many wanted to forcibly make the multiplier of bread and fish their king. However, as Jesus’ teaching became increasingly demanding, that popularity waned less than a day later.

 

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.

(John 6:66)

 

How many of those who left Jesus returned to him eventually? The number is probably few, if any. We like to believe that we accepted Christ and have eternal life; however, we fail to ask whether this will still remain true at the end of our lives, if we, for practical purposes, reject him?

 

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h3<>. Because we no longer hold God’s word in high regard

 

To abide in Christ is to know Christ. To know Christ requires that we know who Jesus is, what Jesus said, what Jesus did, where Jesus walked, and how Jesus changed lives, as it is written in the Bible. Unfortunately, many churchgoing people perceive Jesus as simply the modernized caricature of the tall, handsome man with the European countenance and beautiful smile, wearing a white robe with a lamb or a young child in one hand and raising the other hand, teaching in a green meadow on a sunny day, with adoring crowds surrounding him and a rainbow in the background. This picture of Jesus is now so commercialized and instantly recognizable that in many parts of the world, one who has never opened a Bible can recognize him as quickly and easily as he recognizes Santa Claus or the Air Jordan logo.

 

Many of the same people who are familiar with this modern version of Jesus don’t read the Bible, and many who read the Bible don’t actually believe what it says. Miracles and healings? They are discounted as natural phenomena that scientifically ignorant people in the past misinterpreted. Resurrection? Myth, really…”but he was still a great teacher!” In place of the Creator of the universe and the King of kings and Lord of lords, they erect a gentle, benign, good person who teaches us to be loving and tolerant. Santa Claus would have been better in a sense – at least he knows whether we’ve been bad or good, and can stick a lump of coal in our socks if we’ve been bad.

 

If we do not believe in the historical accuracy of the Bible, if we do not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, if we do not believe in the authority of the Bible, and if we do not believe in the power of the Bible, we will find little reason to read this best-selling book that is gathering dust in hundreds of millions of shelves worldwide. If we take a low view of God’s word, we will not abide in the Christ of the Bible. We may say that we love Jesus, but who is this Jesus that we love, if we don’t actually know him?

 

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h3<>. Because Jesus has become our co-pilot

 

“God Is My Copilot”, published in 19437 and later turned into a movie in 1945, is an autobiography of Robert Lee Scott, Jr. (1908-2006), a decorated World War II flying ace who flew numerous combat missions in China. The title of the book later became a popular slogan for bumper stickers, and variations on the theme soon appeared, replacing the word “God” with “Jesus”, as well as “Dog”, and various irreverent references to drunkenness, promiscuity, and inappropriate language. If I truly believe that “God is my co-pilot” or “Jesus is my co-pilot”, can you guess who the pilot is? Me. It means that I still want to be in charge of my life, and Jesus, whom I claim lives in my heart, is only there to help me get there. I don’t relinquish the controls, and I only call on him when I’m lost or in trouble. If the idea that “God/Jesus is my co-pilot” doesn’t seem offensive or even repulsive, it is because we ourselves often regard our Lord that way, as our sidekick who faithfully sticks with us. We fail to realize that Jesus first called us to abide in him.

 

As much as we recognize the necessity of abiding in Christ, we have often neglected to do so. The idea of remaining, continuing and faithfully persevering with Jesus for the promise of gradual maturation and future fruitfulness flies in the face of our predominant tendencies toward a short-term orientation and a desire to have results without commitment to the process. We have neglected to spend time with Jesus because we have replaced the real Jesus of the Bible with an impostor who has been robbed of power and significance. Ironically, we also make this impotent version of Jesus our co-pilot in life, so that we can still remain in charge, and wonder why he doesn’t seem to help us when we really need him. The real Jesus cannot be our co-pilot. It’s time to change seats.

 

Notes:

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Moore, Johnnie. “Newsmax’s Top 50 Megachurches in America”. Newsmax, November 15, 2015, www.newsmax.com/TheWire/megachurches-top-united-states-newsmax/2015/11/11/id/701661/

 

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p<>{color:#000;}. The name of this church is intentionally kept confidential.

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. The name of this church is intentionally kept confidential.

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Geert Hofstede, G. Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations, Second Edition. Sage Publications, 2001

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. James, Stuart. “Leichester City win the Premier League title after a fairlytale season”. The Guardian, May 2, 2016, www.theguardian.com/football/2016/may/02/leicester-city-win-the-premier-league-title-after-fairytale-season

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Bloom, Ben, and Percy, John. “Claudio Ranieri sacked as Leicester City manager nine months after winning Premier League title”. The Telegraph, February 23, 2017, www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2017/02/23/claudio-ranieri-sacked-leicester-city-manager/

 

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p<>{color:#000;}. Scott (Jr.), Robert Lee. God is my Co-Pilot. New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1943.

 

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Chapter 3: What does it mean to abide in Christ?

 

Jesus reserved choice words against the church in Laodicea. Laodicea was a place of great prosperity, being a center of commerce. It was also hailed as a center of learning, and a center for the healing arts1. The church in Laodicea appeared comfortable and sufficient…at least they thought so. They needed sharp rebuke from the Lord:

 

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. (Revelation 3:17)

 

We ought to be terrified by such words, as the church in Laodicea essentially describes many churches today. We are affluent, well educated, physically healthy, mentally sound, and think that God is pleased with us, while we plunge our lives into building earthly wealth, seeking pleasure, craving attention, and avoiding the uncomfortable prospect of facing Jesus and hearing what he may have to say to us. This tendency is nothing new, and was a concern even while the Israelites were still wandering in the desert, according to Moses’ admonition to God’s people:

 

“Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, (Deuteronomy 8:11-14)

 

The church in Laodicea had shut Jesus out, because it seemed to be doing just fine without him. None in this church was going to make it to the end, unless there is someone who would heed the call to abide in him:

 

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

 

This verse is often misinterpreted as Jesus knocking at the heart of the unbeliever, but he was speaking to those in the church who have rejected him2. Jesus wants to come in, and he wants to eat with us, not just to quickly swallow a hamburger and a soda, but to have a real meal with lingering conversation. But, metaphors aside, what does it really mean to abide?

 

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h3<>. To abide in Christ means to “stay close” with Jesus

 

The word “abide” is not commonly used nowadays, so it may be difficult to understand what it means to abide in Christ. The same word in John 15 is often translated as “remain”, and the general idea is that we are to “stay close”. The image of a young child and his mother serves as an apt picture of such abiding. Imagine that the mother brings the child to the playground, and allows him to roam and run around within the confines of the play area. She keeps a close eye to make sure that the child does not run too far, while at the same time, the child, despite his desire to temporarily separate from the mother and play, would frequently turn his head to make sure that she is nearby. If he loses track of her, he would look and search, and if he still does not find her, he would cry and call for his mother, who would promptly come and reassure him.

 

Abiding takes a different look when the child becomes an adult. When I was training to become a pediatric gastroenterologist, I spent much of three years with my mentor, Dr. Thomas. I would meet with him early in the morning to discuss the patients in the hospital whom I was assigned to see, before I was set free to learn about them and care for them. I would call Dr. Thomas when I had questions, and he would call me during the day to check on me, and to also provide me with new assignments. When I needed to learn a new procedure, Dr. Thomas would stand beside me to guide my hands and make sure that I was seeing what I ought to see, to anticipate problems before they occurred, to encourage me when situations became difficult, and even to take over when necessary. At the end of the day, we would visit the different hospital wards to see my patients together, and to discuss upcoming plans of care. Even when I was at home and taking calls from the hospital, I would call Dr. Thomas for consultations. This was not just an apprenticeship or mentorship – it was an abiding relationship, so much so that my son, who was a toddler at the time, would pick up his toy phone and say, “blah blah blah blah…Dr. Thomas…blah blah Dr. Thomas…” My son did not really know Dr. Thomas, but he sure noticed that Dr. Thomas was an important person in my life. Over time, I started to think medically like Dr. Thomas, I started to have work habits and values like Dr. Thomas, and at the end of the day when I was tired, I even started to drag my feet on the floor like Dr. Thomas.

 

Similarly, to abide in Jesus therefore means, in a sense, that we not only keep our eyes open to make sure that we don’t go far from him, but that our hearts and desires resonate with Jesus, our thoughts are never far from Jesus, and our actions are in line with what Jesus would be pleased to do. It is practicing “WWJD”, or “What Would Jesus Do?”, to the fullest extent.

 

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h3<>. To abide in Christ means that we are connected to Jesus.

 

When our lives are connected to Jesus, we no longer do anything on our own, but that every thought, emotion and action intersects, revolves around or is affected by Jesus. When I wake up and look out the window, I give thanks to Jesus, the word of God through whom all things are created. When I honor God, I see Jesus’ smile. When I sin, I see Jesus crucified and paying the price of my trespass, and am moved to repentance. When I experience trials and temptations, I realize that Jesus knows exactly how I feel. When I suffer injustice, I am comforted by Jesus’ compassion, and am moved to show the same love to others. When I find it difficult to forgive others, I see Jesus on the cross, yet still full of grace,

 

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. (Luke 23:34)

 

I am no longer alone, and I am no longer my own. My heart is broken by those who hurt and suffer, just as Jesus’ heart would have been broken, and I am angered by what angers my Lord and Savior. I also rejoice at what brings Jesus joy.

 

Our connection with Jesus is in response to, and is reciprocal to his initiative to connect and identify with us first. We would have no knowledge of the Son of God if Jesus did not come down and condescend to our realm of existence:

 

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

 

The cosmic significance of Jesus’ living among us may not immediately cause us wonder, largely because so many of us have heard the story repeated to the point of desensitization. Yet, we often consider it newsworthy when one of our heads of state does something “common”. While it is not unusual for friends to gather for a few beers on the weekend, former President Barak Obama made headlines in 2009 when he invited a police officer (Sergeant James Crowley) and a Harvard professor (Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) to the White House for a beer with himself and former Vice President Joe Biden3. The underlying circumstances and motivation for the meeting were somewhat complex; however, much of the nation seemed more fascinated that the President invited people over for beer than any substance of the meeting itself4.

 

Jesus did not come down from Heaven to just have a beer with a few guys. He came to connect with us by experiencing and enduring the human condition:

 

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

 

Jesus came to earth as an infant, submitted to the care and authority of young, inexperienced parents, endured temptation, hunger, thirst, fatigue, anger, grief and pain, and was punished with the harshest penalty for our trespasses. Jesus is connected with us, and he understands us:

 

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

 

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h3<>. To abide in Christ means that we are dependent on Jesus.

 

As branches receive nourishment from the vine, we receive the same from Jesus, who is our life source. We realize that without Jesus we are nothing and useless. If we bear good fruit, it is because we were with Jesus, and the world sees that we are true believers by our fruit. If we walk out into the world without Jesus, we are vulnerable to temptation, and are destined to fall prey to the evil one, who prowls in search for someone who foolishly ventures alone, as a lion seeks out the one animal who has been separated from the protection of the herd. Even if we claim to be doing God’s work, without Jesus we are prone to discouragement and exhaustion if we try to labor by our own strength and initiative.

 

Dependency on Jesus naturally leads us toward submission and humility, for we realize that nothing that is good in us comes from our own selves. This attitude is modeled by Jesus, who readily declares his dependent relationship with the Father:

 

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. (John 5:19)

 

“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. (John 5:30)

 

Humility is the inevitable consequence of a dependent relationship. When good fruit comes out of the branches, it becomes natural not to credit the branches for the harvest, but to give praise to the vine and the vinedresser.

 

This posture of dependency on Jesus draws us to remain close to him. My poor natural eyesight has caused me to become highly dependent on my eyeglasses to see, and for this reason I have always kept my glasses within easy reach if I am not wearing it, and I have not misplaced or lost my glasses for many years. On the other hand, my wife and children, who also need corrective eyewear, are less dependent on them, and they are more prone to misplace or lose their glasses. Just as I do not feel confident walking more than a few feet without my glasses, we who are dependent of Christ should not seek to live even for a moment without him. It is only those who are confident in themselves, who think that they don’t need Jesus, who dare to separate on their own.

 

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h3<>. To abide in Christ means that I make Christ my home

 

Christ becomes my comfort in my distress. Christ becomes my shelter in times of trouble. Christ becomes my security in times of crisis. I lean and rest on Christ, my home, just as in my home I feel safe, comfortable, familiar, and understood. It is my base, where I return, reload, recalibrate, and re-engage. Travelers to distant lands eventually long to return to their own country, to their own town, to their own house, to their own bed, to foods, drinks, customs, relations and beliefs that are their own. My wife recently asked our son, who attends university in Indiana, whether he would like to go on a family vacation during his winter or spring school break, and his response was emphatic and immediate. He did not want to travel. He had been away for so long, he did not want to be away anymore, and wanted to just stay home for the week. At home, he would sleep in his old bed, visit his old friends, hang around with his favorite cat, and spend time doing things that he enjoyed doing. When I invariably wander in life’s journey, do I long to return to the comfort and security of Jesus?

 

There has been increasing fascination lately with the notion of the “retired nomad”. These are folks who have saved enough money to conceivably retire from their jobs, sell their homes, and spend the remaining days of their lives traveling the world, moving from itinerary to itinerary, sleeping in friends homes, cruise ships, hotels, and hopefully not in hospitals. They sound like used batteries that are not spent, but just lying around with wasted potential awaiting to be tossed into the trash upon expiration. Will they remain content to float to the end of their lives without direction or purpose, but to simply wander in meaningless pleasure and diminishing significance? May our lives be tethered to Jesus, who bids us to return to him and to live intentionally for God’s glory.

 

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h3<>. To abide in Jesus also means that we drink deeply from God’s word

 

It is through God’s word that Jesus connects with us and enters our lives:

 

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

 

Christ does his work in us through God’s word, which not only changes us internally, but overflows in abundance, and spills out visibly and audibly, as we edify our fellow believers through our words, praise, and action.

 

Jesus sets for us an example of abiding in the Father through attention to Scripture. When tempted by Satan, Jesus responded to every point of attack by quoting the written word of God, stating “it is written”, and refusing to dishonor the Father by yielding to Satan’s lures (see Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus’ hunger and thirst for God’s word was evident since childhood, as detailed by Luke:

 

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. (Luke 41-47)

 

The young Jesus was not only interested about Scripture, he was passionate about it, to the point where he spent three days in the temple. That he demonstrated deep understanding of the things of God for his age is evidence that he had spent much time in God’s word.

 

Jesus drank deeply from the Scriptures. He also charges believers to do the same. In the Great Commision in Matthew 28, Jesus provided his followers specific instructions in discipleship:

 

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

(Matthew 28:19-20)

 

Jesus wanted his followers to teach the new disciples of Christ “to observe all that I have commanded you”. Jesus’ commands to us are in the Scripture, as recorded by his disciples in the New Testament. His commands are in the “the Laws and the Prophets” of the Old Testament as well by extension, for he came to live a perfect life without sin, as the ultimate fulfillment of God’s laws:

 

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)

 

We do well to abide in Christ by taking the words of Scripture to heart. When we do, Jesus reiterates his promise to abide in us, for he said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” When Jesus says so, we can be assured that he is with us if we obey him.

 

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h3<>. To abide in Jesus means that we connect with other believers.

 

Jesus does not only abide in us – he abides in all believers. Therefore, when we connect and fellowship with others in the community of believers, we also connect with Jesus through them. Since Christ also abides in other believers, we see and hear Christ in them, and when we touch and serve one another, we do likewise to Christ.

 

God never intends us to exist in isolation, and even outside of creation He existed in Trinity as a model of perfect fellowship, perfect dependence and perfect harmony. As believers enter abiding relationships with Jesus, we also abide in our heavenly Father and the Spirit, and with all true believers in extension.

 

Being in the community prevents us from drifting away during times of weakness, and it is our duty to encourage and exhort one another to abide in the true vine.

 

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

 

The Father, the vinedresser, prunes us that we may bear more fruit. As we remain with the community of believers and hold one another accountable, it turns out that we become the instruments for his pruning, or purification. God desires the whole body of Christ to become fruitful and mature together, leaving none behind:

 

to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

(Ephesians 4:12-13)

 

The Christian walk is not a solitary journey. It begins with us staying in with and being connected to Jesus, realizing that we are utterly dependent on him, can be nothing without him, and can do nothing without him. We seek to know Jesus deeply, and we encourage our fellow believers to do the same as we walk, grow, and mature together in fruitfulness.

 

Notes:

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Mills, Watson E (Ed). Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. Mercer University Press, 1990, page 500.

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Johnson, Jeremiah. “Frequently Abused Verse: On Whose Door Is Christ Knocking?” Grace to You, October 5, 2015, www.gty.org/library/blog/B151005/frequently-abused-verse-on-whose-door-is-christ-knocking

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Tapper, Jake, et. al. “Obama, Biden Sit Down for Beers With Gates, Crowley“. ABC News, July 30, 2009, abcnews.go.com/Politics/story?id=8208602&page=1

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Dickerson, John. “Beverage Profiling: Why Obama is serving beer to the professor and the police officer”. Slate, July 29, 2009, www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2009/07/beverage_profiling.html

 

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Chapter 4: What are the barriers to abiding in Christ?

 

If you ask the average American what his or her New Year’s resolution is each and every year, the answer, most of the time, will include losing weight1. Why is the resolution the same every year? Because the average American has gained weight despite the resolution. Obesity has become the new epidemic in America2, and millions are dying prematurely due to its complications. Americans know that it is unhealthy to be obese, and Americans also know that they need to eat less and exercise more to lose weight. They want to lose weight, and many want to lose weight desperately. It is usually not a lack of motivation or knowledge that keeps us from doing what we ought to do.

 

Similarly, we have learned so far that we need to abide in Christ, and we have learned what it means to abide in him. Does this mean we have all that it takes to move forward unhindered? Unfortunately, whenever there is desire for movement, there is also inertia, and God’s enemy will do everything possible to derail and hinder our progress.

 

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h3<>. Unbelief

 

It is not possible to abide in Christ if one does not believe in Christ. Not everyone who claims to be a Christian is a believer. This is true since the very beginning, otherwise Jesus wouldn’t have told the parable of the wheat and the weeds, where “an enemy” has sown bad seed to grow in the midst of the good seed (Matthew 13:24-30). The wheat and the weeds look very much alike at first, and it is only during the harvest when the two are distinguished by the kind of seed, or fruit, each bears.

 

The church is replete with members who have prayed “the sinner’s prayer” and “accepted” Jesus, as if they were handed a nicely wrapped present like a box of chocolates, and they simply had to reach out the hand and take it. However, what is the Gospel according to Jesus? Notice what Jesus said to Martha near Lazarus’ tomb:

 

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

 

What word did Jesus repeat three times? It is the word “believe”. Jesus did not say “Whoever receives me” or “Whoever accepts me”. To believe in something new means that one needs to completely change his way of thinking, to have his thought and mind radically transformed. Once you believe in the new, you have to reject the old if it is in conflict with the new. Acceptance is not nearly as radical, and many claim to accept Jesus, while at the same time accept Buddha and accept Mohammed and accept crystals and accept astrology. I once spoke on the phone with the mother of a teenage girl who was diagnosed with severe Crohn’s disease, a potentially debilitating illness, and offered to pray for the girl’s healing. The mother happily accepted and was grateful, saying that she was open to have all sorts of people from different faiths send “positive healing energy”. This mother was not a believer, but she sure was a collector!

 

The primary reason why it is so difficult for some to abide in Christ is that they are only acceptors and not believers. The world hates and despises God, even though the world may desire the benefits of God. There are many among us who come to church for purely selfish motives, to meet people/socialize, to make business contacts, to find a potential mate, to get therapy, to feel good, to get relief from guilt. None of these by itself is bad, but if the reason for coming to church is not first and foremost Jesus, there will be no abiding in Christ. The consequence of unbelief is described in Jesus’ parable of the sower as the seed that fell on the path:

 

And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. (Matthew 13:3-4)

 

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. (Matthew 13:19)

 

There are those of us with hard hearts that will not believe the good news of the kingdom of God, who cannot abide and will not abide. Abiding in Christ is a non-issue for the non-believer.

 

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h3<>. Sin, shame and Satan

 

Nothing separates us quicker than broken relationships. Physical distance is no barrier to those who truly love and long for each other, for they keep one another in their hearts, thoughts, prayers, and in modern times, in communication via email, Skype, Facebook, or whatever form of social media they desire. However, once relationships are broken, the separation is complete even if the parties involved live in the same room.

 

Satan’s work is primarily to separate us from God, and he accomplishes this through sin. When God created mankind after His own image, there was open communication, there was no shame, and was no need to hide and cover:

 

And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

(Genesis 2:25)

 

However, once sin entered their lives through an act of disobedience, the first thing that happened to the human race is the realization that they need to cover themselves and to hide from their creator:

 

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

 

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

(Genesis 3:7-10)

 

With sin came shame, fear, and separation. The remainder of God’s written word is essentially the story of God’s redemptive plan to one day fully restore our relationship with him, and to have sin permanently removed through the blood and work of Jesus. However, even though Jesus has already atoned for the sin of believers, Satan’s work remains living and active, and he continues to accuse us of our sin, in order that we will continue to experience shame and fear from God, and continue to run and hide from him. Satan loves to have us feel so much guilt that we think it is impossible for even Jesus to save us, and forget that we are secure in Jesus:

 

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

(Romans 8:1)

 

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h3<>. Lack of true commitment

 

Many believe that it is acceptable to be a lukewarm Christian, and that it is better to take a more “moderate” stance in one’s faith than to be fully committed. I was the first person in my family to believe in Jesus, and my mother used to remind me that while it was fine for me to go to church and learn to be a good person, I should not be “too crazy” about my new religion. Fortunately, I did not take my mother’s advice to heart, and I am thankful that my entire immediate family eventually came to know the Lord, each in his or her own way, over the subsequent years. My decision to go “Jesus crazy” against my mother’s advice was a simple one – either I believed that God is real, that Jesus really died for my sins and rose from the dead, and that I needed to declare my full allegiance to Him, or that I really did not believe in God, and all my religious activity and posturing was a complete waste of time and an act of intellectual dishonesty. There could be nothing in between.

 

It seems to be human nature to walk the path of the uncommitted. Joshua knew this well. After leading the Israelites for many years in battle and taking the promised land, he reminded the people that they needed to commit themselves and choose to wholeheartedly follow the true God, and he himself declared his own household’s allegiance:

 

“Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14-15)

 

Jesus also saw the danger of being uncommitted when he called a man to follow him:

 

Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61-62)

 

Is there anything wrong with saying goodbye? Was Jesus actually being cruel to the man when he declared him unfit for the kingdom of God? While this is purely in the realm of speculation, I suspect that this man has friends and family members who, like my mother, also did not think it wise to go to such extremes in following Jesus, and by going to “those at my home”, he most likely would never return to Jesus.

 

The uncommitted Christian is picturesquely illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the sower:

 

Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.

(Matthew 13:5-6)

 

As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. (Matthew 13:20-21)

 

This person believes (or thinks he believes) and is numbered among believers for a while, but when the time of testing comes, instead of clinging closer to Christ, he abandons ship. If you’re on the ship to a destination and jump ship when the storm hits, the ship will still reach its destination, but you’ll end up in the bottom of the ocean. The rewards of beginning is reaped only if one perseveres to the end. Lack of commitment in marriage leads to divorce, broken families and broken lives. Lack of commitment in a medical student leads to years and hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted. Lack of commitment to Christ leads to one being cut off and thrown to the flames.

 

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h3<>. The lure of worldly concerns

 

Many new believers find it difficult to fully embrace Jesus because they are entangled with things of the world and lifestyles that are incompatible with abiding in Christ. The salesperson who profits from deceitful sales tactics may find the lure of financial success too great to change his ways. The young man or woman who is sexually active outside of marriage may be too unwilling to give up such a lifestyle. The successful corporate executive may be so passionately consumed with climbing the ladder of fame and fortune that he is habitually gaining at other’s expense, and has no time for Jesus. It is impossible to cling on to these ways and be a fruitful disciple of Christ. In the parable of the sower, Jesus describes these people as being “choked” by the world.

 

Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.

(Matthew 13:7)

 

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22)

 

 

John, who was not one to mince words, declared that love for the worldly cannot mix with the love of God:

 

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

 

What is “the world”? The desires of the eyes and the desires of the flesh and pride of life. In other words, money, sex, fame, power, self-interest. All these compete against God for our attention, allegiance and time. These things of the world may prevent one from believing in Jesus, and for those who are believers, entanglement with “the world or the things in the world” make us less effective in our work as disciples. The world loosens our hold on Jesus, and our abiding in Christ becomes weakened. All true believers bear fruit, some with few, some with more, and some with much. May we seek to bear much fruit.

 

Abiding in Christ seems to be a simple task if one loves Jesus; however, we need to be aware of the roadblocks that the enemy place in our path. We need to make our salvation sure by guarding against unbelief. We need to know the tactics of Satan, who draw us to sin, and sends us to hide and flee from God in shame. We need to gauge our spiritual temperature, and be alarmed if we are lukewarm in our commitment, and we need to be cognizant of how the world may be enmeshed in our thoughts, desires and actions.

 

Notes:

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Spector, Nicole. “2017 New Year’s Resolutions: The Most Popular and How To Stick to Them”. NBC News, January 1, 2017, www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/2017-new-year-s-resolutions-most-popular-how-stick-them-n701891

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Ogden, Cynthia L, et. al. “Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth:
United States, 2011–2014”. Center for Disease Control. November 2015. www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db219.pdf

 

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Chapter 5: How do we abide in Christ?

 

Abiding in Christ is not a passive phenomenon where the believer simply lies still and waits for Jesus to do something, like a car getting washed in the driveway. It is an active pursuit, similar to that of an athlete disciplining and training his body. It takes time, and it takes effort. How is it done?

 

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h3<>. Know Jesus

 

Jesus’ disciples spent three years with him. They walked with him, lived with him, ate with him, spoke with him, learned from him, were tested by him, and were rebuked by him. The disciples could not help but get to know their teacher, master, and Lord. We also need to know Jesus in our abiding in him. Although Jesus no longer walks among us as God incarnate, as a physical being whom we can see, hear and touch, Jesus is revealed to us via the inerrant word of God. We need to know the Bible in order to know Jesus. What would Jesus do (WWJD)? If we truly know Jesus, we would know the answer. WWJD? became a popular Christian slogan1; however, the truth is that if we have to actually ask WWJD?, we probably don’t know him as well as we ought to.

 

It has been many years since I have completed my three years of pediatric gastroenterology training. When I see a patient, I no longer ask, “What would Dr. Thomas do in this situation? How would he speak with the child and the mother? What kind of differential diagnosis would he formulate? What treatment would he prescribe? What diagnostic pitfalls would he advise me to watch against?” I no longer ask these questions because Dr. Thomas’ clinical experience and practice have been transferred to me during my training, so when I see my patient, what I think, what I say, what I do, and how I do/say already has my mentor in them. I no longer have to pause and ask, “What would Dr. Thomas do?”

 

We should seek to know our Lord and Savior to the point where our hearts, minds and souls beat in synchrony with Jesus. When we read God’s word, we must not read it superficially, but must study it with the intention of knowing our Lord more intimately. We need the word to marinate our lives as we meditate upon it, and allow it to permeate and take hold of us. God’s word is powerful:

 

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

 

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h3<>. Depend on the Holy Spirit

 

God’s word is powerful, but we cannot necessarily appreciate this by studying the Bible as if we are studying calculus, physics, or geology. Studying Jesus in an academic fashion may allow one to earn a Ph.D. in Christology, but it is not sufficient for abiding in Christ. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, so that the truths in Scripture can come alive in our hearts, thoughts and actions. The Bible has no real power to him who is not moved by the Spirit:

 

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)

 

On the other hand, the Holy Spirit instructs believers, and reveals things that are hidden. Oftentimes, a familiar Bible verse that has been read many times suddenly comes alive, and either excites us, motivates us, convicts us to repentance, moves us to joy or mourning, or provides guidance, as if God is speaking audibly to us.

 

For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. (1 Corinthians 2:11-13)

 

The Holy Spirit helps us to know Jesus and to abide in him. Indeed, Jesus promised to his disciples that the Spirit would come and abide in them in his place when he himself is no longer in the flesh.

 

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17)

 

How do we cultivate a deep knowledge of Jesus and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s revelation and guidance?

 

Bible reading – knowing God’s word

 

Study – knowing God’s truths deeply

 

Solitude – training our spiritual ears for God to speak to us through the Holy Spirit

 

Meditation – allowing these truths to seep deeply into our lives

 

Journaling – our spiritual journey and milestones are marked, allowing us to recount God’s work and grace in our lives

 

Fasting and prayer – our focus is drawn away from ourselves, and toward God and toward others

 

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h3<>. Become disciples of Christ

 

A disciple is a learner. He learns from his mentor and teacher, not only what is explicitly instructed in the form of lessons and training, but also implicitly, via perception and observation of what might not have been intentionally taught. The apostle Paul understood this when he addressed the believers at the church in Philippi:

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9)

Likewise, we need to put to practice everything that we have learned and received and heard and seen in Jesus. How do we put these into practice?

 

*
p<>{color:#000;}. By abiding in his love

 

There is no doubt that God the Father and Jesus, the Son, love one another with an abiding love. However, the Father also sent Jesus to experience under the hands of mankind injustice, suffering, and death. How is that loving?

 

We know that Jesus loves the Father by being obedient to Him. On the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus appealed to the Father that if it be possible, that he might be spared the agony of the cross, but he submitted fully to the Father’s will. As it is written:

 

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8)

 

It turns out that the Son’s crucifixion was the Father’s act of love, as it is the means by which the Son, who never seeks his own glory, is being exalted:

 

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

 

Jesus death and resurrection led to his exaltation, and his being given “the name that is above every name”, that is, “Lord”. Through the cross, Jesus, the good shepherd, also was given sheep, i.e., believers, who were promised to him by the Father:

 

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37)

 

Similarly, we may get a little snipping and purging here and there when we abide in Christ, that we may become even more fruitful. When we abide in his love, we will be able to endure the purifying work of God in our lives, for we trust in Christ that what happens to us is for good and not for evil. We trust that the vinedresser loves the vine and cares for the branches when he comes with his pruning instruments, even if the instruments are directed at us who remain steadfastly in the vine. We count it joy, for such testing makes us complete:

 

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

(James 1:2-4)

 

 

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p<>{color:#000;}. By obedience

 

True abiding demands obedience. Jesus called his disciples to abide in him by obeying his commandments:

 

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. (John 15:10)

 

What are the commandments? Since Jesus is God incarnate, the commandments of God the Father is also Jesus’ commandments to us. When challenged by a religious leader to state the most important commandment, Jesus quoted familiar parts of the Mosaic law in Deuteronomy 6:4 and Leviticus 9:18:

 

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

 

If we are to obey Jesus, we will need to put God above all else, even our own family, our work, our friends, our reputation, our comfort, our security, and our needs. If we trust in God’s sovereignty and goodness, it can be done. We will also need to put others above ourselves.

 

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p<>{color:#000;}. By love

 

Jesus also commanded his disciples to love one another:

 

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

 

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)

 

Jesus’ disciples are not distinguished by the way they dress, the kind of jewelry they wear, the kinds of cars they drive, or the bumper stickers on their cars. They are distinguished from the world by their love. It is a selfless kind of love, a sacrificial kind of love that Jesus himself modeled for us.

 

True love is not a feeling or sentiment. It requires that we place such a high value in another person that we are willing to suffer ourselves for his or her benefit. To love someone is therefore almost synonymous with “to experience pain for someone”. Interestingly, a common Chinese expression for “love” is 疼 (Téng), which is also a word for “pain” or “ache”. This expression is almost never used to describe romantic love, but is often used to describe a parent’s love for a child2.

 

When we abide in Christ, we also abide in the community of believers, each of whom abiding also in Christ. It is not enough to love in thought only; love requires action, and requires that we show love to others:

 

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12-14)

 

There is much joy in such abiding, but it also requires mutual forbearance and forgiveness in Christ. Through the community of believers we give and receive nourishment, and provide encouragement and support to one another. This way, if we somehow fall away from abiding in Christ, the community of believers can pull us back, lest we become completely lost.

 

How do we cultivate a deep desire and resolve to live and walk with Jesus, and to love and serve like Jesus?

 

Giving – putting others’ needs above my own comfort and security

 

Service – recognizing the importance of others over my own desires

 

Fellowship – mutual encouragement, mutual accountability, mutual support within the body of Christ

 

Evangelism – not keeping the gift of eternal life to my own, but freely sharing with others

 

Corporate worship – giving God all the glory

 

As disciples of Christ, we need to abide in him by seeking to know the Master, that is, Jesus, with all our hearts. We do so not by our own efforts, but by seeking the Holy Spirit’s instruction and guidance, that our eyes and ears can truly see and hear what is being revealed. We abide in Christ’s love when we submit to God’s pruning, for Jesus himself submitted to the Father’s will, to the point of death on the cross. We obey the commandments of the Father and the Son to love God above all else, and to love others above ourselves, even and especially if it involves inconvenience, discomfort, pain or sacrifice on our parts. We exercise our “abiding” muscles both within our minds, hearts and spirits, and within our body of believers and our community at large. Through our active abiding in Christ, God enables us to bear not just fruit, but good fruit and much fruit, by which He is glorified, and we have exceeding joy.

 

To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever, that is the chief end of man.

 

Notes:

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Smallwood, Karl. “The fascinating story of how the ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ slogan came about”. Today I Found Out, June 6, 2014, www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2014/06/origin-jesus-slogan/

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Brandner, Tobias, et. al. Beyond the Walls of Separation: Christian Faith and Ministry in Prison. Cascade Books, 2014, page 187.

 

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Epilogue: Abiding by cloud and by fire

 

It is nearly impossible to abide in Christ when one lives a life that is surrounded by material abundance and security. He is content, conceited, and sees little but his own ability to meet his own needs, and his achievements. On the other hand, a persecuted church is often a growing church, because this church has no choice but to depend completely on Christ, and such dependence throws open all of Heaven’s resources and riches that Christ lavishes on his beloved bride.

 

Dependence on our Creator, Provider and Savior can be hard, but also highly rewarding. Just look at the Israelites under Moses’ leadership in the desert, as described in the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy. They spent the days of an entire generation in a scorched, unproductive land where there was neither fruit nor grain, and they were surrounded by enemies. Their food was manna, which they ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and no one could hoard more than he could eat, not even an extra handful in the pocket. They did not know where to go or where to stay, except for the guidance of God’s presence as a cloud over the tabernacle by day, and as a fire by night. It was, in a sense, forty years of relentless training in abiding and dependence.

 

The result of this training in the desert was that an entire generation of infants, boys and girls grew up into mature men and women of God in this culture. When the time was ripe, they were ready to conquer the promised land beyond the Jordan River. They threw fear into the hearts of the nations around them, nations who were known for behavior and practices that were abhorrent to God. This generation of Israelites, at least for a while, remained faithful to God. This was a victorious generation.

 

However, there was also unspeakable tragedy in this story. Shortly after God lead the Israelites out of Egypt through Moses, He commanded Moses to send spies out to Canaan, the promised land, in preparation for their anticipated advance into it. They brought back report that it was a good and fruitful land; however, ten out of the twelve spies spoke against taking the land, and spread fear among the people that the inhabitants of the land were too numerous and strong for them. Only Caleb and Joshua trusted in God and pleaded along with Moses that the people not disobey God. Did the Israelites listen to these faithful men?

 

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:1-4)

 

The consequence of the people’s actions was that this entire generation of adults wasted away and died during their forty years of wandering in the desert, while their children were prepared to do what their fathers were unwilling and therefore unable to accomplish.

 

Jesus calls us to abide in him. We can be like the men and women who left Egypt, but refused to obey God and died in the desert, or we can be like their children, who entered the promised land after a generation of abiding and dependence on the Lord. How do we respond?

 

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41


Abiding in Christ: a call to intimacy from the Upper Room

"I am the vine; you are the branches..." Jesus reserved some of his most important words not for the crowd, but only for an audience of eleven (his disciples, sans Judas Iscariot) in the Upper Room. These private words are now spoken by extension to all disciples of Christ, and we are called to abide, or remain, in him always. The truth is that we don't always remain close to Jesus. Is it important? Why is it so difficult to abide in him, and what does it mean to do so? What hinders us from being close to Jesus, and how do we abide in him? Come discover the answers through the prism of the writer's life experience, news events and God's inerrant word to reveal a life that promises joy, purpose and fruitfulness, for His glory, as our eyes, ears, thoughts and hearts remain in Christ.

  • Author: Glenn Duh
  • Published: 2017-06-10 02:50:12
  • Words: 14491
Abiding in Christ: a call to intimacy from the Upper Room Abiding in Christ: a call to intimacy from the Upper Room