Christian Character: Abiding in Christ
The Prime Principle
by Steve Brown
Focus: Abiding in Christ results in wonderful gifts of grace.
Summary: Before preaching this sermon, Steve Brown had given a message on what it means to abide in Christ. In this sermon, he describes five significant grace gifts given to those who abide. First is spiritual growth and the pruning that goes with it. Second is cleanness, or the forgiveness of sins. Third is productivity, which Brown illustrates with stories of people who are able to accomplish great things despite their own shortcomings. Fourth is the security that comes to saints who persevere. Fifth is prayer power, which increases as a Christian grows in Christ. Brown concludes with this formula: Faith plus fellowship plus willingness equals power.
Last time we studied these verses, we tried to condense all of the teaching into one significant sentence we could apply to our lives, and here’s the sentence:
Abiding in Christ is simply being with a friend who loves you and staying with him.
Now we’re ready to seek answers to this question: If I abide in Christ, what happens to me? If I really walk with him and abide with a friend who loves me and hangs in, what is that going to do to, through, and for me?
In these seventeen verses of John 15, there are thirteen significant grace gifts that flow directly from abiding in Christ. We’ll look at five of them today.
The first grace gift that comes from abiding in Christ is growth in Christ. John 15:2: “Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
When Jesus talks about fruit, he’s talking about our becoming more like himself. God gives you a mirror to see yourself the way you really are, but he doesn’t stop there. He gives you an image of Christ, and he says he’s going to take you from the first and make you like the second. That’s fruit. Bearing fruit means sharing your faith in Christ and seeing others come to know him the way you know him. Bearing fruit relates to Galatians 5:22, where it mentions the fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
The point is this: How does a branch bear fruit? How does it grow?
Does a branch say, “Oh, I have to grow and grow”? Of course not.
Does a branch say, “I’m going to see if I can turn and get those rays of that good old sun just in the right way so I can grow”? Of course not.
Does a branch say, “I’m going to grow if it kills me”? Of course not.
The branch simply stays connected to the tree because the natural outgrowth of being connected to the tree is growth.
Jesus is saying it’s the same thing with a Christian. If you read the Bible two hours a day and fast three days a week, if you’re good and pure and righteous and spiritual and honest and sweet and loving and kind, if you’re a good husband or a good wife and a fine father, if you really go to church every time the doors are open, if you’re the kind of person who really puts on a good show because you have a big, black Bible and you carry it everywhere you go—it won’t amount to a hill of beans. You’ll wither unless you’re connected.
◆ There’s a precious new Christian in this church who has a fantastic mind, and she’s been involved in all of those self-help kinds of things. She’s really a person who motivates other people and herself. She became a Christian about three months ago, and this whole thing is about to drive her up a wall.
She comes to me and says, “Tell me what I’ve got to know. I’ve got to know all of these things. I’ve got to work at them, and then I want to get out, and I really want to change the world tomorrow. Tell me what I can do.”
I always say to her, “Listen. Sit down. Just be still, and let him love you.”
One of the most terrible lies that Christians have believed is that production produces acceptance. Everything we’ve been taught has said that if we hustle enough, if we’re good enough, if we produce enough, if we sell enough, then our bosses or our parents or our pastors or our churches or our elders or our spouses will love us. God comes and says, “Production does not produce acceptance, because you can’t produce. Acceptance produces acceptance, and I accept you.”
You know what God’s real surprise is? God’s real surprise for us is that he’s not going to do it the way the world does it. He accepts us. Isn’t that beautiful? Production doesn’t produce acceptance. Acceptance produces acceptance.
I can’t leave that text; I have to teach it the way it says it. Let’s look at one of the ways fruit is produced in our lives. John 15:2b: “Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
If I’d been writing that, I would have said, “Every branch that doesn’t bear fruit he prunes so that it might bear some fruit.” It doesn’t say that: “Every branch that does bear fruit.” In other words, if you’re abiding in him and you’re growing, he prunes so that you might bear more fruit. What does that mean? It means that the Father must often cut in order to cure.
◆ I grew up in a neighborhood where I had twenty fathers and twenty mothers and just couldn’t get away with anything. It was a family neighborhood. When you looked up the street, there were beautiful maple and oak trees that grew up on either side of the street. It was a beautiful place for a tree house. It was a place where kids loved to climb and swing. You could hide from your parents up there and they couldn’t see all through the thick foliage.
Every few years the tree men would come and whack off the big limbs. It was just this old hunk of wood sticking up in the middle of the thing. I used to go and complain about what had happened to our beautiful trees, and the man who was in charge of that in our neighborhood told me, “Steve, do you really like the beauty of the trees? It’s the cutting that causes the beauty.”
That’s true for trees and for Christians. That’s how God works in our life. He prunes that we might bear fruit.