When we went through this in class, everyone raised their hand to wanting to abide in Christ. Everyone also raised their hand to wanting to bear fruit for God. However, nobody volunteered to have something they liked in their life taken away.
You've heard the saying, "Anything worth having is worth working for." Getting in shape means working out and going through the soreness that follows. Having a nice looking yard means taking the time and money to make it look that way. God says that whenever someone is producing fruit, He'll prune them in order that they can produce more fruit.
Pruning isn't fun. As with our class, it's not something that you just sign up for. However it's also necessary. Look at it this way: no matter where we are in life, there are bound to be parts of our life that aren't bad, but they're not producing anything for God's Kingdom.
For example, many nights after work, I'll come home to sit down and watch television. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with a spy show or a crime show or something like that. But watching TV isn't producing anything for God's Kingdom. God might choose to prune some of that TV out of my life so that in its place there can grow more fruit. It might be as simple as calling to encourage or reach out to someone, get involved in a Bible Study, watch/listen to a teacher of the Word or spending time talking with my wife.
The swap here is interesting. I lose dead wood and gain what God's Word calls "more fruit." Instead of asking, "Would anyone here like to have something you like taken out of your life?" perhaps I would have gotten a different response to, "Would anyone here like to trade in some dead wood and get fruit in exchange?"
There are 4 types of people discussed in this passage. One is the person who isn't connected to Jesus. That person is removed from the vine, withers and dies. Obviously, we don't want to be that person.
The second person is one who is bearing fruit. That's the person that gets to stay connected to the vine and gets to be pruned. This leads to the third person. Jesus said that the person who is pruned then produces more fruit.
However, there's a fourth person that we want to aspire to be. This is the person that produces much fruit. That's who we want to be. That's who God wants us to be. Do you know what you have to do to be that person? The same thing a branch of a tree does. Nothing. A branch does nothing to get its nourishment. A branch doesn't do anything except to be there. Jesus said that all we have to do is "abide in Me." We get on the tandem bike with Jesus and follow Him. Now, that doesn't mean you get to just lay back in the recliner and watch it all happen. Part of abiding means that when God leads to you something, you do it.
However, what you don't do in order to produce much fruit is to figure out what to do and put your plans into it. When you set out to do that, you get nothing. Just like the branch of an apple tree can't produce an apple if it's separated from the tree, we can't do anything for God's Kingdom if we disconnect ourselves from Jesus.
The question then becomes, what does it mean to abide? I'm not sure I can give you any pat answer. There's no Seven Steps to Abiding in Christ out there. Besides, if we sit around and go through some kind of checklist, we're doing it ourselves and defeating the purpose.
Instead, I'd offer up the following characteristics of someone who's abiding in Christ. Let these become part of your lifestyle, something that you become rather than something you do, and God's Word says you should start seeing much fruit in your life. This is far from exhaustive.
Abiding in Christ
Romans 12:1-2 TRANSFORM
1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
You can't do it like you are. Abiding in Christ means that when junk starts happening around you, you'll not react with anger, fear, worry, frustration or revenge. Instead, you'll have peace and joy. That doesn't happen without a transformation of your mind.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 PRAISE
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
It's kind of a no-brainer that abiding in Christ means that you're going to do the things that show God you know who He is and praise Him.
Ephesians 4:29 SPEAK
29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.
Your grandma taught you that "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." That's good advice and would lead us all to say a lot less. However, God's Word says that if you can't find anything good to say, say something good.
1 John 1:7-9 CONFESS
7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If we wake up in the morning and go through the day, we're going to make mistakes. There's going to be sin. It's part of life, especially if we're interacting with other people. No matter how holy and sanctified we are, it'll be there. The nice thing is, God knows. If we hide it, we're lying to Him and lying to ourseles. God tells us to just go ahead and get it out to Him so He can deal with it. Then we go back to having fellowship with Him and one another. If we have the confidence that God will keep his promise to cleanse us from everything and never turn His back on us, we can enter into a much deeper relationship of abiding with Him.
James 4:2-3 ASK PROPERLY
2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
You're going to have desires and wants. However, if you delight yourself in the Lord, He's promised to put His desires into you. (Psalm 37:4) We end up dissatisfied because in our own power, we sit around and want what we don't have and when we do get around to asking God for something, it's often a selfish request. If we're abiding in Christ, we're going to be asking for the things that He wants anyway and we'll then see him fulfilling our lives in a way that glorifies His Kingdom.
Phillippians 4:6-7 SUBMIT
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Praying with supplication means we have to put our agenda aside. Submitting isn't something that comes naturally. However, submitting is essential to abiding in Christ and producing much fruit for His Kingdom. Otherwise, the Old Man is still running the show and you'll be advancing your status on earth, but doing nothing for God.
Hebrews 11:6 FAITH
6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
Abiding with Christ without pleasing God doesn't fit. You will have to have faith in God in order to abide and be fruitful for Him. Then, what's the reward? Fruit.
1 John 4:7-8 LOVE
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
God is love. So how could you abide in Him without making love the center of your life? You can't. We can let God's love reign in us and spill over to the world around us and that's the essence of abiding in Christ.
I wish I could tell you there was one of these that was the key. They're interrelated. But don't wake up thinking, "Today, I'm going to speak good things to everyone. " I've done that. Then, I'll sarcastically bite the head off the first person to cross me. It's a matter of deciding to life within Christ and seeing your life start to resemble the characteristics above. Remember, be a branch.