John 15:4-7, “Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me, you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” I continue to study and appreciate the sayings of our Lord Jesus that we could classify as ‘essential doctrine,’ things that we must do if we are to live in a relationship with God.
These verses in John 15 make it clear that a one-time experience of hearing the Lord’s voice and responding to Him does not constitute a living relationship; our connection with Him must be constant and committed, like that between branches and vine. In previous generations, the term ‘continuing disciples’ was commonly used by some servants of God to refer to those who are daily experiencing this type of bond with the Saviour, in contrast to those who have been deceived into thinking that an isolated happening in their past, such as being sprinkled as an infant or going through some other ritual at some point in their life, has made them a Christian and a partaker of God’s promises. I’ve enjoyed finding many things in the Scriptures in which we must continue if our life with Christ is to be fruitful and fulfill the purpose for which we’ve been called.
Colossians 1:23,“Continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.” Faith is not just an understanding that God exists, but an awareness of His character and His interest in the intimate details of our life. This is part of the revelation we received when we listened to His voice in the beginning and responded to Him. Retaining this awareness of Him is essential to a daily walk with Him. True faith enables us to live without fretting and worry, knowing that a loving Father is more concerned for each of our needs than we could ever be.
Acts 13:43, “Paul and Barnabas … urged them to continue in the grace of God.” It is so essential that as Christians we retain our awareness of God’s grace, that is, that we were, are, and shall be saved, not through our works or our merit, but by His favour and kindness to us. This understanding, or lack or it, is manifested in very practical ways in the Christian outlook.
Those who do not fully grasp the truth of God’s grace often live in extreme situations, either feeling continually defeated and unworthy because they are not being ‘good enough’ to be God’s child, or else they live in smug, ugly self-righteousness, comparing themselves with others and congratulating themselves because they are so much better than others around them, feeling that they are earning their own way to Heaven by their goodness. The only way to continue with Jesus is to continue in His grace. In Acts 15:11, Peter summed up the understanding of all the apostles: “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” Even after years of knowing Christ, they understood that their salvation was only by grace.
John 8:31-32, “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Simply having heard the words of Jesus was not enough to be His disciples, but retaining them and allowing the words to live in their heart was what would bring understanding and freedom. How grateful we are that His teachings have been left on record for us, and we can daily feed our heart on His words. Regarding reading the scriptures, In I Timothy 4:15, Timothy was instructed to “give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” Answers to every kind of question can be ours when we continue in His Word. If we find ourselves plagued by doubts about life, our own direction, or God’s plan for us, giving ourselves continually to the Word will bring freedom and confidence.
Acts 1:14, “They all joined together constantly in prayer.” Continual prayer is essential for every follower of the Lord Jesus. True prayer is impossible without humbling ourselves before God. While prayer depends on the condition of the heart, not the position of the body, even the bent knees and bowed head that are characteristic positions for prayer encourage humility, helping us present ourselves before God with total dependence on Him and a minimum of trust in ourselves. When we pray for others we are acknowledging that there is hope for them, that undesirable situations don’t have to be permanent, that every soul is salvageable. Praying for those around us puts us in the position to be instruments that God can use to reach out to them in love.
I John 2:6, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” Just last night, Friends were telling me about a young girl who admired an older one so much that she imitated her in every way possible, including the way she walked. If we are in a continuing relationship with our Saviour, we will walk like Him also. One outstanding feature of His walk was His detachment from the world around Him. Mark 10, Matthew 19, and Luke 18 all tell of Jesus’ interaction with the rich young man who wished to walk with Him, but was unable to do so because of being too attached to his material possessions. Our attitude toward worldly goods can be quite a reliable indicator of our spiritual condition. Both Zacchaeus’s cheerful eagerness to part with his goods and this young man’s refusal to do so made the state of their heart obvious to the Lord.
A dear friend wrote to me a while back and shared some precious thoughts about the relationship between spirituality and materialism, and so some of the thoughts I’m sharing here are what she first brought to my attention. Jesus didn’t ask the young man to give ten percent of his wealth, or to deposit it in a trust fund and donate the interest, but to give it all. While He certainly doesn’t require all His followers to liquidate their holdings, He seemed to understand that in the case of this young man, money was his god. The true God can never be enthroned until every idol is dethroned. If Christ is not Lord over our money and possessions, He simply is not Lord at all. Regardless of the age in which we live, there is a powerful connection between the health of our soul and our attitude toward worldly goods.
In Luke 3, John the Baptist’s response every time that someone asked, “What should we do?” had to do with money and possessions. Acts 19 records the case of the Ephesian sorcerers who believed the Gospel and burned their scrolls, a value of fifty thousand days’ wages, yet treated it like common trash in comparison with the treasure they had found in Christ. The Christians in Acts 2 and 4 gladly sold their property in order to feed the needy among them. Examples continue to our day of true believers who find deepest joy in living unselfishly, preferring to store their treasure in an eternal habitation rather than to accumulate riches that will so soon decay and vanish.
I’ll quote a few sentences directly from my friend’s letter which have become engraved in my mind from re-reading them often: “It takes time to hover over our things, and that time must come from elsewhere, for instance, from time spent cultivating intimacy with God, from time spent in His Word and prayer, time spent visiting and helping the needy, and time spent developing relationships with people who need Christ.
Every item I add to my possessions is one more thing to think about, talk about, clean, repair, display, rearrange, and replace when it goes bad so I must ask myself if the benefits for God’s kingdom outweigh the liabilities ownership always brings. Will this commitment of my resources, which are God’s resources, contribute to or detract from my devotion to and service for my Lord?”
Romans 2:7, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, He will give eternal life.” Continuing to do good to others around us should be part of the daily Christian experience. I love the thought expressed in the hymn 183, “… that Thou, through us, mayest love the world…” We also sing about having, “hearts for needy ever searching,” that is, continually looking for people around us who need help that we can offer. While we know that the greatest help we can ever give consists of sharing our hope in Christ, often we pave the way for sharing salvation by the natural ways we find in which we can serve others around us, just as our Lord did.
Hebrews 10:25, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another: and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” The pace of life in the 21st century continues to accelerate, and the demands of society continue to increase. In the face of such pressures at work, at school, and in the community, some are finding it easy, as evidently some first century Christians did, to treat times of Christian fellowship as expendable. The apostle’s remedy, however, to the pressures of the day was just the opposite: meet together “all the more.” Remember that every increase in stress and turmoil is only one more indicator that the day is hastening when He will call His people to His side. Understanding this, can we afford to miss out on fellowship that will keep our thoughts turned toward eternity and away from the earthly pursuits which are so temporary?
Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” This simple, concise record of the lives of Christians in the early days of the church is a beautiful example of what the Christian life should be at all times. They continued to be taught and none of us ever comes to the place that we don’t need more teaching, and God has not neglected to provide teachers anointed by His Spirit.
They continued to seek out fellowship with each other. They continued to remember the Lord Jesus and the price He paid on Calvary as they broke bread together. They continued to pray, trusting God in each need. When these same things are the basic elements of our daily living, we can live a life of praise and gladness just as they did.
Acts 26:22, “I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike.” The apostle was appearing before the governor and the king to tell of his experience of hearing God’s voice and being converted from dead religion to know the living God. While the story of his initial encounter was still remarkable and spellbinding after many years, it would have mattered little except for the fact that through the years since, he had continued to hear the same voice and receive the same type of direction he had first received on the Damascus road.
The God who first called us has never wavered in His desire to live with us and walk with us, to be our God and we His people. May we likewise be purposed that in all things we will continue with Him, preserving the life-giving relationship so that there may fruit now and eternally.