Abiding in Jesus: holiness
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service over the Internet.
The recording is long.
Before the talk, we had Bible readings from Genesis 1:26–28; John 15:1–20; Philippians 2:5–8.
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There’s a house on my estate that used to have a big thick hedge in its front garden. I often wondered why the hedge was so big, whether the owners of the house were hiding anything behind it. I’d wander past and think about what was behind this huge hedge. Then one day, fairly recently, I noticed that the thicket and greenery had all been stripped away, leaving just a row of nothing more than wooden sticks.
I thought the people have finally read my mind and cut down the hedge so that I can be nosy and see what they were hiding. Of course, they weren’t hiding anything. There was a small front garden in the house, the small front garden in front of the house. The only noticeable difference between their house and the next-door neighbours was that there was a broken pane in one window. Certainly, not worth growing a big hedge to hide behind.
Of course, they weren’t growing the hedge so that I couldn’t see behind. I’m sure that there was a good reason why they’ve now cut it back. Probably because it was the right season to do so in order for the hedge to grow bushier next season, maybe so that it grows more berries if it has berries to grow. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at John 15, and the way in which Jesus wants His disciples to abide or remain in Him.
He uses imagery common to the Jewish world about Him being part of a vineyard with Father God being the vine-dresser, cutting clean away the branches that bear no fruit. Jesus tells His disciples that by abiding, remaining in Him, it is like He is the vine and they’re the branches with the job of bearing fruit. It’s the fruit-bearing that somehow brings glory to God as they follow the commands of Jesus.
Jesus explains that as the disciples become adept at bearing fruit, so things become less formal than a rabbi-disciple relationship, and they become friends. This is a much warmer and closer description of the relationship that God desires with His people. It’s not about obeying rules to please God, but rather always about reflecting the character of God in our lives. We saw last week the depth of the lover looking for the beloved in a Song of Solomon.
We learned from a Spurgeon sermon that God can be found and held as He seeks us and as we look for Him. Another very warm image of relationship. The warm intricacies of Jesus’ relationship with Father God aren’t just in John 15. They may be the root to helping us grow in becoming like Jesus. Some call this holiness by bearing fruit and becoming image-bearers of Father God, which is our highest and yet most basic of callings.
Today, in a roundabout kind of a way, I’d like to see that these deep relationships between Father God and Jesus, the Son, have an impact on how we are commanded to live. This one might be known as the spiritual discipline of holiness, the way how Jesus describes His deep relationship with His Father and how Jesus links us to Father God through His life. Then His death and resurrection are not only interesting but important in how He is reflected in our lives and how we are reflected in His.
As we bear spiritual fruit, so we bear the image of God in us. Therefore, glorifying God and showing Jesus lives in and through us. We know that it’s not all plain sailing. It’s not all as clear-cut as I’ve just described because as Jesus knows and says in John 15:18-19, the world despises us, the world hates you. This is an important distinction to make between the love Jesus has for His friends and the world that hates their way of life because sticking up and standing up for the way of Jesus often involves difference, perhaps another way of saying holiness. Being different has its drawbacks.
For better or for worse, it can draw attention to ourselves. When I was in primary school, a new boy joined our class when I was about nine years old. There was nothing particularly remarkable about him other than he had one arm. As nine-year-olds, we all had questions about his heightened status as a one-armed boy. He seemed pretty independent other than that. After a while, his one-armedness didn’t really matter to us.
He was different, but then the difference melted away as we got to know him as a person. It didn’t matter any more. His one-armedness didn’t define him. Being different is not always a positive thing. I’m thinking of Christians across the world who stand out not because they have one arm, but because they follow Jesus in places where following Jesus just isn’t allowed, places where if you stand out for something different, where religious freedom is forbidden in favour of political structures, people can lose their lives.
That’s why prayerfully supporting agencies such as Open Doors are really, really important to somehow stand with our Christian family across the world because we do have the freedom to help. Being different, set apart, being holy has its drawbacks. When Jesus speaks with His disciples about them being branches of His true vine, there’s no denying here that Jesus is being very open about Him being the rescuer of the Jewish nation.
Isaiah 5, for example, is a whole chapter on the importance of the picture of Israel being a beloved vineyard. Any gardener knows that vineyards have to produce grapes. If they don’t, the vine branches don’t bear the grapes, and they take up valuable space for branches that do grow grapes. This abiding or remaining in Jesus that we’ve been talking about lately is simply doing what comes naturally to a vine, growing branches that will bear grapes for harvesting.
Jesus seems to be quite consistent in his farming stories. As followers of Jesus, the true vine, our job as branches is to grow good grapes. That’s the fruit that offers God the glory. It reflects His holiness in our lives as grape growers. Perhaps, this is yet another picture of what it is to be holy, to grow good grapes.
By using the analogy of Him being the true vine, Jesus encourages His disciples not just to hang on to Him or His teachings, but to actually become ingrained in Him just as He is of His Father. Just as it can be difficult to know where the branch begins and the vine ends, so close is the relationship between the two. Of course, John’s gospel is full of these gems that suggest the relationship between Father God and Jesus, the Son, are pretty well seamless.
John 15:9, we read this morning, “So the Father has loved me, so I’ve loved you.” “Everything I learned from the Father, I’ve made known to you,” in John 15:15. In John 14:10 and 11, we see this pattern again, “Don’t you believe that I’m in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words I say to you I don’t speak on my own authority, rather, it’s the Father living in me who’s doing His work.
Believe me, when I say that I’m in the Father and the Father is in me,” or perhaps more excitingly for those of us who came after Jesus in John 17:21-22, where Jesus says, “I pray that all of them,” us, “may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.”
There is this overarching sense of oneness, fellowship, unity, between Father and Son which transfers to humanity and to the whole of creation too. As we look at Genesis 1:26-28, we see that this was always to be so. The plan was always that creation reflected the glory of God back to God to offer Him glory and praise.
I wonder whether within this deep relationship closely bound up in and with another, that somehow this reflects the character of God. We only get to know someone’s character who they really, really are when we get to know them, acquaintances don’t really know one another. They know of each other. Someone’s character only really shines through when we spend time with them and get to know how they tick.
We are all drawn to people who might have the same character and we might also be drawn to someone who has a very different way of being. I would think that every parent hopes and prays that their children fall into a good crowd at school, so that good character rubs off on them, perhaps offering relief that they have good friends. We look at Philippians 2:5-6, it says in your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus, who being in very nature, God...
The thing that binds together our reading from John 15 and Philippians 2 is that relationship that Jesus has with Father God, and that we have with Jesus and with one another, both have an invitation and expectation to live in unity and holiness. When we look at Jesus, we see father God too. That’s what John talks about a lot. In Philippians 2, we notice that Paul says the father and son are of the same nature. The Greek is homoiousios, of the same substance, the same stuff.
He points out that our relationship must be of the same mindset, the same attitude that Jesus had to reflect God to be Holy. The word mindset is precisely what it says to have one’s mind set upon Jesus Christ. My concordance says that it might also mean to live in harmony or to take the view of things in the same way as Jesus. In other parts of the Bible, it talks about having the mind of Christ.
If you’re a visual person, imagine a set of Russian dolls, imagine the smallest doll fitting into the next size up doll, father in the son, and then the next doll as the disciples of Jesus or of all humanity might be in the son. The Russian dolls are made out of the same material. They are replicas of the one inside. They are identical in every way, except for size, which is where the analogy breaks down, in the same image as the one before.
As we read Genesis 1:26, where God makes humanity in his own image, although we are not made of the same substance as Father God and Jesus, His son, somehow abiding in his father bridges that God gap to humanity and so as we abide in Jesus and become more deeply rooted in Him as the true vine so we take on more of the character of the fullness of God, as He dwells in us, by His Holy Spirit.
To put it another way, we don’t become more like Jesus. We become image bearers of Jesus. That’s the difference between becoming like Jesus and having Jesus live in and through us. Paul puts it like this in 2 Corinthians 4, we always carry around in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. Maybe this is a spiritual discipline of holiness, not only being different from the world so much that it hates us but the holiness that is looking like Jesus because He lives both in us and reflects father God to us.
Being Jesus to one another is not what the world wants us to b,e but as Jesus lives more and more in us and nature change occurs that good character of His rubs off on us as we become closer. How do we know Jesus? He talks about it in John 15 by being his friends, by obeying his commands, by following his example, not in a sergeant-major, shouts the commands, and we blindly abide them way, but by way of having decided to follow Jesus, these are the ways we live by.
This is holiness and as our character becomes more like Jesus as we become deeper friends, the idea is that God looks more like me and you, and perhaps the other way round as well. The idea of a spiritual discipline is not that we only read the Bible or pray or serve, or perhaps are silent but that together as the community of Jesus friends, the church, we are trained and changed as God image-bearers to the world. I always liked the name Christopher for that reason, it means to bear Christ.
Let’s all be Christophers. Of course, there, there are different ways of being God image-bearers, because we each have different characters. Some of us are introverts. Some of us are extroverts: thinkers, feelers, those who are intuitive and just know as well as those who are studiers of situations and contexts and deep thinkers, character, and personality go together. We are all mixtures of various characters and personalities. Holiness is a discipline that we are given as reflectors of God.
It’s the thing that binds us through our friendship with God and as we encourage one another to continue developing that friendship, we see holiness in one another. Rather than feeling down that we’re not as Holy as so-and-so, we spur one another on by forgiving one another, loving one another, showing the world another better way to live the way of Jesus. Humans were originally designed to bear the image of God and Christ to the rest of creation. That’s our ultimate and initial position. Even when Adam and Eve muddled things up, that wasn’t the end.
Through Jesus Christ, everything was reconciled back to God. We don’t have time to go into it today, but there’s a whole exciting chapter that links to this in 2 Corinthians 5 about how, because of the person and work of Jesus in God and the world, everything is reconciled and that’s reason enough for us to abide in Christ. As image-bearers, to the whole of creation. We bear fruit. We carry on being good grapes to the world. We show Jesus to another. This is all about the message of formation and transformation. And transformation is exactly what we will be looking at next week as we round off this miniseries on spiritual disciplines.
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