abide in Christ

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I wrote this commentary on John 15 as a way of explaining to myself what Jesus said to the Apostles the night of the Last Supper. In his words to his disciples Jesus promises great things, as well as explains many things. We learn what it means to abide in Christ.

The nature of the true vine

The following verses aren’t specifically talking about grapes. They could be referring to olives as well. Both plants are referred to almost interchangeably in the scriptures. They are both referred to as being grown in vineyards by a husbandman. The husbandman is the person who oversees the nourishing, pruning, and care of the plants of the vineyard. Vineyards are not pleasure gardens, but are the livelihoods of those who own them. They are serious business.

John 15 begins with a basic truth that refers to knowledge of plant husbandry that all those around him understood without having to explain it. They, as a society, lived very close to the soil and the ways of raising things. We, on the other hand, live very much away from the soil. Many people in the world believe that meat comes from a grocery store. They have no concept that animals are raised on farms, slaughtered, packaged then sold to dealers who bring their goods to our local markets.

When it comes to growing plants of most kinds, cutting off a branch of the plant is understood that it means the end of life for that branch. The disciples had seen it a thousand times, that a branch, once removed from the mother plant, couldn’t survive on its own, and once it dried or withered it was good for nothing but to be burned to clear it out of the way for more important things. That is just the way life works. A branch without its parent plant simply cannot survive on its own. All of its nutrients depend on what it draws from the main plant.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

Jesus begins by stating the premise of what follows. He is the mother plant, the true vine, whether you are thinking olive tree or a grape vine. Jesus is the plant itself, the giver and bringer of life. He who decides what is done with the plant is God, our Father. He is the husbandman. Yes, this makes Jesus totally dependent upon God for his own life, survival, and his own prosperity. It is all in the hands of the husbandman. Such is the way of nature as God has ordained it to be.

Our relationship with the vine

Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

Speaking as the mother plant, the true vine, Jesus shows himself as the giver of life for us. Without him, we die, it’s as simple as that. He is, of course, speaking about our spiritual life, for Jesus is our spiritual connection with God, the husbandman. If our Father sees that we are not bearing spiritual fruit, He cuts us off. If we are using the life-giving sustenance Jesus offers us then He purges or cleanses us of our sins so we can bring forth even more spiritual fruit.

Spiritual fruit is found in the good works we produce when we follow Jesus. They are the lessons we learn when we obey the commandments Jesus gives us, and when we keep the covenants we have made with God. Jesus gives us the covenants God wants us to make and live by, so we can become the best we can become. This is what He calls His fruit – it is our best selves.

Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

The purging Jesus refers to cleanses our soul, making us clean. This is the process of repentance through his atoning sacrifice. The more often we repent, the cleaner and more pure we become – hence we are purged or cleansed by our mother plant. It can come in no other way or means. So it is only in and through obedience to Jesus, the Christ, that we can become our best self and stand approved by God.

Abiding

In the April 2023 General Conference, Elder David A. Bednar talked about what it means to abide in Christ. Here are his words.

The Lord Jesus Christ extends to each of us the invitation to abide in Him. But how do we actually learn and come to abide in Him?

The word abide denotes remaining fixed or stable and enduring without yielding. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explained that “abiding” as an action means “‘[to] stay—but [to] stay forever.’ That is the call of the gospel message to … everyone … in the world. Come, but come to remain. Come with conviction and endurance. Come permanently, for your sake and the sake of all the generations who must follow you.” Thus, we abide in Christ as we are firm and steadfast in our devotion to the Redeemer and His holy purposes, in times both good and bad.

We begin to abide in the Lord by exercising our moral agency to take upon ourselves His yoke through the covenants and ordinances of the restored gospel. The covenant connection we have with our Heavenly Father and His resurrected and living Son is the supernal source of perspective, hope, power, peace, and enduring joy; it also is the rock-solid foundation upon which we should build our lives.

We abide in Him by striving continually to strengthen our individual covenant bond with the Father and the Son. For example, praying sincerely to the Eternal Father in the name of His Beloved Son deepens and fortifies our covenant connection with Them.

We abide in Him by truly feasting upon the words of Christ. The Savior’s doctrine draws us, as children of the covenant, closer to Him and will tell us all things what we should do.

We abide in Him by preparing earnestly to participate in the ordinance of the sacrament, reviewing and reflecting on our covenant promises, and repenting sincerely. Worthily partaking of the sacrament is a witness to God that we are willing to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ and strive to “always remember him” after the brief period of time required to participate in that sacred ordinance.

And we abide in Him by serving God as we serve His children and minister to our brothers and sisters.

Elder Bednar’s comments describe the relationship Jesus is referring to when he calls himself the true vine and we the branch. All of our spiritual life and experiences come from him as the provider of life. Spiritual life exists nowhere outside of Christ. Everything that happens with the Holy Spirit does so at the behest and command of Jesus, for the Spirit gets His directions from Jesus. His purpose is to lead us to Christ and to teach us of our Father and His only begotten Son.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

Jesus teaches us an important lesson here. Just as we are to live by all that we receive from Jesus, so too does he become an integral part of our life. Remember that it is only from him that we receive our spiritual sustenance. The closer we draw together, the more at one we become, acting with the same intent, desire, and purpose to bring about goodness that glorifies our Father in Heaven. When we do this we produce the fruit that the husbandman talks about – goodness.

He is always willing to abide in us, meaning stay with us through thick and thin, and do whatever it takes to bring us closer to God, our Father. His faithfulness never waivers. It is our faithfulness that is being called into question.

If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

The conditions of abiding

If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

When “ye ask what ye will” Jesus is telling us that when we are abiding in him, our desires will be righteous ones, and he will fulfill our righteous desires. We cannot expect him to fulfill unrighteous requests, but anything that is good and praiseworthy is fair game. When Jesus says in the New Testament that he stands at the door and knocks, and that those who let him in can ask for anything and it will be given to them, he is referring to those who have invited him to abide with them, as they wish to abide with him. Elsewhere Jesus refers to those who keep his commandments as friends. Friends are on a higher plane than just servants, for God shares with friends his intents and purposes, those things that are generally hidden from mere servants.

Note: Though I stand by what I said in the above paragraph, I think it is important to recognize that God has always promised us that we will receive whatever it is we desire most. He (God) is referring to life or death, exaltation or eternal damnation. This is discussed extensively in the Book of Mormon by prophets such as Alma and Jacob. In the above paragraph I am only referring to our righteous desires, because Jesus used a conditional sentence by stating if/then. While both are true, that God will grant us life or death according to our heart’s desire, I prefer to focus on the granting of righteous desires. But that’s just me. :)

As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.

As the husbandman cares for and keeps the plant in his vineyard healthy and growing, so too does Jesus for us. This is how we are one with Christ as he is one with the Father. Jesus loves us and promotes our health and growth in all things spiritual, just as God, the husbandman, blesses and cares for Jesus, who represents Him to His children (us).

10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.

11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

Let’s reverse the statements of these last two verses. Jesus’s joy is full, because he abides in his Father’s love. He abides in God’s love by keeping the commandments God has given him. We can also experience a fullness of joy by keeping the commandments Jesus gives to us. This is the pattern God, Himself set down for the plan of salvation. As His relationship is with Jesus, so our relationship is from and with Jesus. The whole plan of salvation revolves around Christ. He represents God, our Father to all of God’s children. Jesus shows us how their relationship works by offering that same relationship with us. We can’t have that same relationship with God, because only Jesus is worthy of it. Only Jesus is sinless.

Jesus can offer us the same kind of relationship he has with God, because he has provided us with a way to repent of our sins. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit in our life we can be purged, cleansed, made better, made more Christlike. We become better versions our own selves, and Jesus exalts or elevates us through the Spirit so we feel more comfortable living life as God does.

Learning love

12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

Jesus makes it clear that all that he does is fueled and backed by love, that same love he learned from God, our Father. When we learn to love as Jesus loves, it is because we are keeping his commandments and becoming more like him. We are becoming his friends.

16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.

It is important that we remember that this relationship is not of our invention. We don’t control this relationship opportunity. It is Christ who offers this friendship and all of its blessings. It is he who has called us out of the world to come and be one with him and God. We are the ones being offered a supreme privilege.

Hate from the world

These next statements are also basic facts of life. They follow from the war in heaven. Satan, and those who follow his teachings, hate the things of God. By hating the things of God they also hate those who teach and live the things of God. We are not special or cursed just because the world doesn’t love us for the choices we have made.

17 These things I command you, that ye love one another.

18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.

19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.

Verse twenty teaches us of an important connection between all those who choose goodness over evil. If they don’t love God then they won’t love us. If they will keep God’s commandments then they will keep those same commandments if we teach them as well. This is important to remember when the Prophet and Apostles teach us the words of Christ. If we reject their counsel then we can’t expect that we would have kept Christ’s counsel, let alone the Father’s counsel. This is a war between opposites – good and evil. We either teach and accept the goodness that comes from God and anyone who comes with His authority, or we reject both God and His authorized representatives. This is a non-negotiable fact of life.

Jesus teaches us of himself

21 But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me.

22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.

23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also.

24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.

25 But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.

Remember that the Jews had not seen a prophet in many hundreds of years. They had been operating without any saving ordinances, and hence had lost their way in the spiritual realm. This is why Jesus says that if he had not taught them the truth they couldn’t be held accountable for their sins. But he did teach them the truth, which they rejected wholeheartedly, so now they would be judged accountable for their evil ways. Jesus did nothing to cause them to hate him. They hated him without cause, only because he threatened to end their power and station among the people. That was more important to them than their actual salvation.

The following two verses contain a promise to the disciples. Jesus has stated multiple times that the Spirit could not come to them as long as he was with them. But once he was gone he would send them the Spirit who would teach them all things.

26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:

27 And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.

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Commentary on John 15