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Sermon Illustrations on Abiding in Christ

Background

Disconnected from the Vine

Christianity can be such a pretty faith. God calls us to wonderful things, to noble deeds, and to be a people of love. We are meant to be kind, joyful, brave, and good. These are attractive qualities that most people would love to be known for, Christian or not. The trouble is, we can approach the Christian life in the same way we decorate a Christmas tree, by piling on pleasing spiritual adornments. 

We can dress up our lives with church commitments, community service, spiritual language, a clean-cut family, and an upbeat attitude. All of these things look so great—so Christian—while obscuring what is really going on underneath. Beneath all the spiritual glitz, we can exist cut off from our root system, without detection. We can appear to be thriving, even though we are disconnected from the vine.

Sharon Hodde Miller, Nice: Why We Love to Be Liked and How God Calls Us to More, Baker Publishing Group, 2019.

The Origin of the Word “Abide”

Abide is an old English word for “remain,” “stay steady” and “keep your position.” What it means to abide in Christ—that is, always to be resting on him, anchored to him, fixed in him, drawing from him, continually connected and in touch with him—is a pervasive theme in chapters 14—17. There is no more precious lesson to learn, no more enriching link and bond to cherish, no more vital connection to keep snug and tight, so that it never loosens, than this. Abiding in Christ brings peace, joy and love, answers to prayer, and fruitfulness in service. The abiding life is the abundant life.

J.I.Packer & Carolyn Nystrom, Abiding in Christ (LifeGuide Bible Studies), InterVarsity Press. 

The Sap, the Strong Bond of Love

The strong bond that unites the vine and the branches has to do with the sap that flows through them. Jesus does not here use the word “sap,” but nonetheless gives a lengthy excursus on love in a way suggestive of the sap in a vine; this is because he speaks of the love flowing in just one direction, from Christ towards the disciples, not in the reverse direction, just as the sap flows from the vine into the branches and not the other way round. The whole picture is centered on the love that flows and gives life, like the sap in a plant.

This way of speaking about love invites the disciple to understand that we receive before we give; that we are not the origin of the love, and that we are loved before we love. It is an invitation to learn something the disciple often has trouble putting into practice: to allow ourselves first to be loved by Christ, before attempting to ourselves love.

Allowing oneself to be loved by Christ, to be loved by God through Christ, is opening oneself to this love, just as the branch opens to the sap it receives from the vine and which gives it life. How easy this is for the branch, and how difficult for us! We have so much trouble accepting being loved by Christ, welcoming this love that Christ lavishes upon us and which gives us life!

Daniel Bourguet, Becoming a Disciple, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2016.

Stories

Letting Jesus Carry Our Burdens

In the old western days, a man was walking down the road carrying a bag of grain on his shoulder. Another man was riding along the road in a buckboard pulled by a horse. He came up beside the man carrying the grain and said, “Jump up here on the buckboard with me. It’s too hot to be walking today.”

The man said, “Thank you,” and got up onto the seat with his grain still on his shoulder. After a while, the driver said, “Why don’t you put that grain down and relax?” The passenger said, “Oh, no. It’s enough that you would allow me to ride—I would never ask you to carry my load, too!” This is what many Christians do. 

They say, “Lord, I know You can save me, forgive my sins, and give me a home in Heaven, but I wouldn’t ask You to carry my load too!” Friend, He said, “I want to abide with you. I want to carry your load and be your life.”

Paul Chappell, Abiding in Christ: Becoming Like Christ through an Abiding Relationship with Him, Striving Together Publications.

A Saint Like Us

For the most part, when we think of saints or heroes of the faith, we think of people who are altogether different than we are. They seem to embody a quality of communion with God that is impossible for the rest of us. On closer inspection, we find that most great “saints” are ordinary people who, in the midst of daily living, discover and interact with the reality of God’s presence.

One man like this was Nicholas Herman. His life seemed much like our own. Nicolas had a number of jobs in his life, starting out in the military and then in the transportation industry. After that, he found work in the food service industry, serving as a short-order cook and bottle-washer.

Eventually Nicholas became deeply discouraged by his life. He spent a lot of time, like us, thinking about himself. “Am I saved” was a particular question that burrowed deep into his soul. He struggled deeply with worry, until one day when everything changed. On that day, he was looking at a tree, not the most thrilling exercise, but something occurred to him: what makes a tree flourish is not its self-reliance, but it’s rootedness in something other than and deeper than itself.

With this in mind, Nick began an experiment to have a habitual, silent, secret conversation of the soul with God. Today we know Nick as Brother Lawrence, whose book, The Practice of the Presence of God has become a spiritual classic, continuing to beckon readers to a deeper, more intimate relationship with God 300 years after it was first written.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

The Truth Will Set You Free

Dallas Willard gave a series of lectures on the kingdom of God. In one, he discussed the popularity of the phrase, “The truth will set you free” by putting it in its proper kingdom context: 

The whole passage from John 8 is this, “When Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”   It’s amazing how people will just start at the end and come back and chop off what they want.

We have an elevator at USC [where I teach philosophy] in the humanities building that just says “The truth will make you free.” Apparently you don’t even have to know [the truth]. It just works, right?   Jesus really said, “If you continue in my word.” That means “If you put in practice what I do, if you walk in it.” 

Colleen Strachan

Analogies

The Evolution of the Rose

A couple years ago I got to take a tour of the Huntington Library in Pasadena, California. The name is a bit misleading because what they are most known for are their amazing gardens. And so we were on this tour and I got to learn something about the history of roses. And it goes something like this.

There have been roses since we have been on this planet, but the wild roses in Europe, while all different colors and quite beautiful, would only bloom once a year, and so for most of the warm months you would be looking at a bunch of ugly green canes with thorns, no flowers. But then, some botanists in the late 18th century began experimenting by grafting the Chinese wild rose, which was only green, but bloomed all summer, with the European rose, and after a bunch of testing, created what we know to be the modern rose, which blooms from June through October, but not only in green, but in a myriad of colors. 

Isn’t that interesting, so roses as we know them are really a modern invention, and because of the grafting of the wild Chinese rose with the roses of Europe, we have this stronger, much more beautiful flower than we ever had before. When Jesus speaks of the vine and the branches, he is speaking about a similar phenomenon. When we abide in Christ, we produce “fruit” we were never capable of producing before. 

Stuart Strachan Jr.

The Sap, the Strong Bond of Love

The strong bond that unites the vine and the branches has to do with the sap that flows through them. Jesus does not here use the word “sap,” but nonetheless gives a lengthy excursus on love in a way suggestive of the sap in a vine; this is because he speaks of the love flowing in just one direction, from Christ towards the disciples, not in the reverse direction, just as the sap flows from the vine into the branches and not the other way round. The whole picture is centered on the love that flows and gives life, like the sap in a plant.

This way of speaking about love invites the disciple to understand that we receive before we give; that we are not the origin of the love, and that we are loved before we love. It is an invitation to learn something the disciple often has trouble putting into practice: to allow ourselves first to be loved by Christ, before attempting to ourselves love.

Allowing oneself to be loved by Christ, to be loved by God through Christ, is opening oneself to this love, just as the branch opens to the sap it receives from the vine and which gives it life. How easy this is for the branch, and how difficult for us! We have so much trouble accepting being loved by Christ, welcoming this love that Christ lavishes upon us and which gives us life!

Daniel Bourguet, Becoming a Disciple, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2016.

Humor

The Truth Will Set You Free

Dallas Willard gave a series of lectures on the kingdom of God. In one, he discussed the popularity of the phrase, “The truth will set you free” by putting it in its proper kingdom context: 

The whole passage from John 8 is this, “When Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”   It’s amazing how people will just start at the end and come back and chop off what they want.

We have an elevator at USC [where I teach philosophy] in the humanities building that just says “The truth will make you free.” Apparently you don’t even have to know [the truth]. It just works, right?   Jesus really said, “If you continue in my word.” That means “If you put in practice what I do, if you walk in it.” 

Colleen Strachan

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Related Themes

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The Christian Life

Dependence on God

Discipleship

Jesus

Maturity

Obedience

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