“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7)
Yesterday we examined how to abide in Christ: to hold steady, to stick with one’s commitment to Him – fidelity. Today we consider two additional abidings: “let the words of Christ abide in you” and “abide in love.” Actually, Jesus spoke of His words abiding in us (vs 7) rather than our abiding in his word. But, as in the case of abiding in Jesus and He abiding in us, the concept is a reciprocal “in” relationship, mutual interpenetration, if you will.
As we shall see shortly, “to abide” includes the very deepest level of inner emotional responses, but it doesn’t usually start with the emotions, and it certainly doesn’t end there. Nor is it anchored there. Yet the dominant approaches among evangelicals to solving life’s problems are inward directed. They do their business in the arena of the subjective. There are problems with this. In the first place, our feelings or subjective experiences are subject to change, notoriously unreliable and unpredictable – the opposite of steadfast meno. A second problem occurs if the insights of the therapist or fellowship group leader – or the group as a whole, for that matter – are treated as final in authority. Sometimes they are treated as revelational as well – the authority is viewed as God’s own.
To abide in Christ, on the other hand, is to stick with His Word. “You are clean through the word…” (vs 3). “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask what you desire and it will be done…” (vs 7). “…all things that I heard from my Father I have made known to you” (vs 15). Our faith, though subjective, is based on objective, unchanging revelation. The Word alone is our final authority, and we are instructed to live in it and make sure it lives in us.
Many believers hold tenaciously to faith in Scripture, but the Bible for them is a constitutional monarch, reigning splendidly in theory while the choices of life are based on something else – tradition, subjective desires or impressions, cultural values. The task of bringing all of life under the functional authority of Scripture is hard work. To abide in Christ is to abide in His words – to study diligently, searching for the meaning intended by the author, and reflecting carefully on that meaning. For Christ to abide in us is to make sure His words abide in us – courageously applying those words to life in faithful obedience. To live with fidelity to Christ is to live with fidelity to His Word.
But many who study the Bible diligently and seek to obey it are not abiding in Christ in the deepest sense because the study itself has become their preoccupation or because the obedience has become legalistic. They are diligently accumulating knowledge and are faithful in choices, but the emotions are dormant. They have missed the third “abiding” of John 15- “abide in love.”
The faith of most believers, Kierkegaard said, could more accurately be described as resignation. Resignation can be a form of faith, but it is not complete, robust faith. I experienced this recently when the bludgeoning of life’s circumstances had numbed my spirit. My wife was slipping toward oblivion under the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease and my eldest son was taken in a tragic diving accident. I had resigned from leadership roles to care for my beloved just at a time when most men would feel they were reaching the peak of usefulness. I loved God so far as basic commitment was concerned, but the passion was gone. I wasn’t what lovers would call, “in love.” Yet Jesus said that to be in Him was to be in love (vs.9-17).
The model for love is the way the Father loves the Son (vs 9). We must do more than maintain our commitment and stick with the Word. If we love Him with the same kind of passion that unites the Father and Son, we will be abiding in His love.
The result of this loving relationship is joy. In fact, that we should experience full-bodied joy was at least one purpose He had in teaching us about abiding (vs 11). I had lost the joy. Was it because I had lost the love?
The evidence of “in-love-ness” is interesting. It is not measured by the temperature of the emotion but by two very external, objective measurements: obedience to his commands and our relationship to others. “If you obey my commands, you will abide in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and abide in his love” (vs 10). “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (vs 12, 17). So the critical element in love is volition – what do I choose to do? No need to speak of loving Him if I am unwilling to obey Him.
What a beautiful interplay of the three abidings: abiding in Christ, obeying His word, and loving Him are viewed as almost identical, each defining the other, each reinforcing the others in a marvelous interaction, each essential to experiencing the others.
To obey may be evidence of genuine love, but sheer obedience will not produce the intoxicating joy of a loving relationship. Love as a passionate affection will bring the joy, however, and that kind of emotion is inherent in meno. But for now, a word for any who, have lost the joy of a passionate love. When your spirit is numb by the Novocain of bitter experiences, keep learning that heaviness of spirit lifts on the wings of praise. As you focus on the beauties of the Lord, as we contemplate in great detail all that God is, all that he has done, all the gifts He has given, a passionate love for Him can flood your spirit. Begin again to abide in love. And the joy returns! So this is the big connection, the meno, the abiding: commitment in permanent fidelity to a wonderful person and to His words in a love-suffused oneness of life.