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Explore: Stay open and obedient

• The Explore the Bible lesson for Dec. 29 focuses on John 15:1-25.

John 15 is a hallmark chapter in the New Testament. It would be impossible to overemphasize its significance. And—while everything Jesus said is important—if all we had was this one chapter, I believe we would have the key to understanding how to have a great relationship with God.

My wife, Debra, and I have had the great privilege of mentoring many couples as they prepare for their wedding day and life-long journey of marriage. I am more than excited to perform a wedding ceremony for any of them, but it is our time together before that service that matters most to Debra and I. We do not pretend to know everything about how to have successful marriage, but we have learned some biblical concepts over the years we have found helpful.

Basically, John 15 works the same way as premarital counseling in regard to our relationship with Christ. Before we enter into this relationship, we should know what is expected of us and what our roles and responsibilities will be. We also should know what we can expect from the other half of this union—in our case, that is Christ—and how we can avoid the pitfalls that can damage our walk with God.

If we fail to recognize we have a relationship with God, then we miss the point of John 15. Being obedient to God should come out of love for him, not a sense of obligation or duty. God does not want followers who just go through the motions. This passage answers our questions as to how to have a wonderful, dynamic relationship with God through Christ.

Jesus is the source

In this relationship, the roles and responsibilities are defined quite well. God is the Creator, and Jesus is the source of all we are and have. We are the branches. Jesus fully gives himself to us as part of this union. He opens himself up and shares all we need. Our job is to see him as our source and not to try and find some other way to satisfy our needs.

God makes us ready

The Scripture also makes it clear God is the One who is doing the pruning in our lives. No one really likes the pruning process. God uses all kinds of things in order to get our attention and make the necessary changes in our lives—illness, difficult relationships, financial problems, etc. But always remember, God is our Father and is disciplining us for our good and his glory. This is God’s role—to mature us as we follow Christ. We need to trust the Master Gardner while he works. As Philippians 1:6 tells us, “being confident of this, he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Stay connected

One of our jobs is to stay connected to the Vine. This sounds so simple but proves to be much more difficult in practice. Jesus spells out the simple formula for us here—but again, we have to remember the relationship context. A successful Christian life comes down to knowing and applying God's word, spending time with God in a real, engaged prayer life and being obedient to what you know he is calling you to do each day. Being physically healthy comes down to eating right and exercising, yet many people try to find shortcuts through pills and fad diets. In the same way, the Christian life comes down to these simple things—Bible study, prayer and obedience—but many do not put in the effort required.

Love each other

The main command Jesus gives his followers is love one another. This is crucial to what God wants to do through us in this world. Our world is hurting and in need of grace and love. The world has to be able to find that within a local group of believers. Failing to carry out this command will have a devastating effect on our outreach. But remember, the opposite also is true. When we show love—through forgiving one another, meeting each other’s needs, laughing with each other, mourning with each other, etc.—we are creating an environment attractive to the outside world. We have to be experts in this one command: Love one another.

Bear fruit

The end result of all of this effort—Christ’s effort as the source and ours as the branch—will be real and lasting fruit. We always are bearing fruit, but sometimes the fruit of our lives is not what God wants it to be. Other times, we are revealing Christ to others through our attitudes and actions. The answer, when we see bad fruit in our lives, is never to try and turn over a new leaf or put in more effort. Instead, we have to remember we are just branches. If you want fruit in your life again, get connected to the Vine. Get back into that great relationship with him and let him do the hard work of producing something great in and through you.

Andrew Murray wrote an entire devotional book revolving around John 15 well over a century ago called Abide in Christ. The following is one of my favorite quotes from Murray and something that should be a daily prayer for all of us: “May not a single moment of my life be spent outside the light, love and joy of God’s presence.”

That sounds a lot like John 15.

       
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