The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
May 24, 2020
To enjoy the vital and vibrant life God aches for us to have is to engage with Jesus. He’s where it all begins and where it brings us to – in an ever more intimate, interactive and transformative friendship: one in which our hearts become so closely knit that in truth He lives in us and we in Him. Neither the start nor the finishing of this life is by our resolve, diligence or improvement. It comes about solely by our relationship with the Redeemer who Himself initiates and fulfills every advancement. Jesus gets into us, and we get the best life ever.
Jesus and His disciples – minus Judas, whom Jesus surely thought of when He spoke of broken-off branches – have just left the Upper Room and are headed to the Garden of Gethsemane, where He will pray until His arrest. On the way to the Garden, He illustrates how His followers can have a joyful and fruitful life after He’s gone. Think of me, He says, as a grape vine, and each of you as a branch of it. If you keep growing from a close and consistent connection with me, you will bear clusters of fruit. Through our continuing contact, my life force will flow into you like a vine’s sap flows into a branch to cause it to bear fruit.
Christians develop their character, conduct and impact – not by working hard, thinking right or feeling God vividly (as good as each of those things is) – but by abiding in Jesus just like a branch remaining united and integrated with its vine. A Christian “abides in” Jesus by talking everything over with Him, remembering His commands to do them and hoping in His grace.
Those who trust Jesus to tell them the truth believe that they have in themselves no spiritual fruit to bring forth. For He says, “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me…Apart from me you can do nothing.”
Those who trust Jesus to tell them the truth also believe that, just as there is no fruit they can produce without Jesus, so there is no fruit they cannot produce with Jesus. He says, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit…If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
Thus, in order to grow in character, conduct and impact, wise Christians look, not to their own capabilities but to those of the Son of God. They see their contribution to the process as nothing more than their just becoming open and receptive to His infusing them with His strength and so enabling them to carry on His work. The great missionary in China, Hudson Taylor, once gave this testimony: “I used to ask God to help me. Then I ask Him if I might help Him. I ended up asking Him to do His work through me.” The great spiritual writer Henri Nouwen, whom I was privileged to know, bore the same witness. This insightful and articulate man talked about moving, as he put it, “from thinking about Jesus to letting Him think within me, from speaking about Jesus to letting Him speak through me, from acting for Jesus to letting Him act by means of me.”
In other words, when we abide in Jesus – when we stay close, connected and dependent on Him – He enacts His will in us and through us. We become indwelt and uplifted thereby, and our efforts become more than our own. We become supernatural.
We generate the best fruit, not when we do more or do better, but when we receive from Jesus and let what we have received from Him generate fruit from us as we never could. Jesus wants us to rely on Him to give us what He asks us to give.
Steve McVey led Grace Walk Ministries which seeks to help folks become faithful promise-keepers. McVey used to say that the first step in our becoming a promise keeper is to admit we don’t have what it takes to consistently keep the most crucial promises. He’d ask, “If you could keep your promises, wouldn’t you have done it by now? You keep rededicating yourself to promise-keeping because you keep being too weak to make good on your good intentions!”
McVey notes that most of us fail at promise-keeping because we rely on ourselves rather than on Jesus. McVey says, “We have tried to keep promises, but the Bible teaches that effective Christian living doesn’t come from trying.” It comes from trusting Jesus to transmit His life into us and so enable us to bring forth the good fruit of promise-keeping and every other kind as well.
“Thus,” McVey says, “before we can become promise keepers, we must become promise receivers.” The Bible promises that He who gave His life for us will become our our life for us. All we do is let Him live in and though us.
Jesus aches to see us enter the full joy of bearing the fruit of Christ-like character, conduct and impact. He will see it if we keep growing out of a close and consistent connection with Him and allow Him to infuse us with His life force.
We give Him that opportunity when we believe in His love, receive His Spirit, and abide in His presence. Jesus is where this joyful and fruitful life begins and where it brings us to – in an ever more intimate, interactive and transformative friendship!
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