We all understand the structure of a plant. It has two primary parts: the stem, (also called the vine or trunk), and branches. These branches draw their life giving water and nutrients from the vine. The association with the trunk permits the branches to be alive, beautiful, and productive. What would happen if one were to break off a branch? In a very short time, it would wither and die. It has no chance of surviving on its own.
Jesus said to the disciples: “I am the vine, and you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). These words are consistent with what Jesus taught to all those who would hear Him and follow Him (6:56; 8:31; 12:46).
The apostle John, in 1 John, deals extensively with the idea of “abiding” (using the Greek word meno, 24 times). This then, is obviously a very important concept to Jesus and His inspired apostle John. But do we really understand the implications of this great concept?
In our brotherhood, we are debating many questions: Who should we fellowship? Who is a Christian and who is not? Does doctrine matter all that much to faithfulness? Many other questions could be added to this list. Perhaps an understanding of “abiding” will help us answer those questions.
We must realize that our relationship to Christ is just like the branches’ relationship to the vine. Without a connection to Christ, we will die and be fit for nothing but to be thrown into the fire. Thus, we cannot overstate the importance of abiding to our hope of salvation. But this fact raises several important questions.
How Do We Establish this Connection?
The need for establishing the connection to Christ is clearly spelled out by Jesus Himself: “I have come as a light into the world, that everyone who believes in Me may not remain in darkness” (12:46). Everyone who has done evil is in darkness, and as long as he practices evil remains in that darkness (3:19‑21).
The Scriptures answer the question on how this vital connection is made. First, one must believe in Jesus. This is the same as having “His word abiding in you” (John 5:38). If one does not go to the Scriptures for all his authority then he does do not truly believe in Jesus.
Second, he must keep those words which he has heard. John says that “the one who keeps His commandments abides in Him” (1 John 3:24; cf. John 15:10). This continuing process must always be maintained (1 John 3:9).
But what is meant by “keeping His commandments”? Again, John answers that question. He writes: “by this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us His Spirit” (1 John 4:13).
The Holy Spirit is given to those who have “repented and been baptized” (Acts 2:38; cf. 5:32). Therefore those who have not forsaken their former lives of sin and been immersed into Christ cannot be said to be abiding in Christ!
In addition, John writes: “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God” (1 John 4:15). We know that confession is made unto salvation (Romans 10:9, 10). Therefore, those who have not confessed that Jesus is Lord and the Son of God do not abide in Christ.
By considering these points, it is fair to say that anyone who has failed to take these steps has never established a connection to Christ. He cannot receive all the spiritual blessings that are a part of being connected to Him (Ephesians 1:3‑9).
How Do We Maintain this Connection?
Certainly, the Scriptures do not support the idea that once one is in Christ that he forever remains there. However there is no excuse for not remaining in Christ if one does what the Scriptures teach (2 Peter 1:10).
What, specifically, does one do to maintain that connection to Christ? First, as Jesus said, he must “abide in My word” (John 8:31). The Greek tense here indicates active and continuous effort. One must continue to study God’s word and grow because of that Word being in his heart (2 Peter 3:18; 2 Timothy 2:15; James 1:21).
Notice that it is in the word of Jesus that one abides. His words form the basis of everyone’s judgment (John 12:48).
Second, one must “walk as He walked” (1 John 2:6). Jesus kept the Father’s commandments (John 15:10). He did His will and accomplished His work (John 4:34).
If one wants to maintain his life sustaining connection to Christ then he must actively do the will of the Father. This includes everything from being a part of Christ’s church to having a proper attitude and action in worship.
Third, he must “love the brethren” (1 John 2:10; cf. 4:12). This type of love involves going to any measure for the benefit of that brother – even to death (3:16). It is impossible for one to avoid the works and activities of the church for which Jesus died and still maintain that he loves God (1 John 4:19‑21).
Fourth, one must share and be generous if he hopes to abide in Christ. Note what John says: “But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). A child of God is one who is continually interested and involved in giving to his brethren.
Fifth, one must not practice sin if he hopes to maintain his connection to Christ (1 John 3:6, 9). Sin, John tells us, is “practicing lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Is worshipping incorrectly lawlessness? Is promoting methods of conversion other than the one faith and one baptism (Ephesians 4:4‑6) lawlessness?
Certainly, we know from the words of Jesus that just being active in His name does not make us law abiders (Matthew 7:21‑23). We must teach and promote the “one baptism” and the “one church” or else we will be going too far and will be guilty of practicing lawlessness.
What Are the Results of this Connection with Christ?
No discussion of this kind would be complete without considering the benefits of abiding in Christ. When we abide in Him, the Scriptures teach us that several events take place.
First, we have the love of Christ. Jesus said “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love” (John 15:10). Jesus is going to save those whom He loves (John 14:23).
Second, we have power as God’s children. Jesus instructed the disciples that “if you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7). The apostle John says virtually the same thing in 1 John 5:14‑15. When we abide in Christ then we have the heavenly Father’s eyes upon us and his ear attending to our prayers (1 Peter 3:12).
A third result of our connection with Christ is that we will “bear much fruit” (John 15:4). Those who are attached to the vine will be productive. If we are not bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) then we are not attached to the vine.
Are those who are in denominations, and encouraging others to join them, bearing fruit for God? When their contribution dollars are spent promoting “another gospel” (Galatians 1:6‑9) are they bearing fruit for God? They have, in effect, “established a righteousness of their own” (Romans 10:1‑4). Those who do this are in need of salvation according to Paul.
A word of caution needs to be extended here to our own brotherhood. Division is a clear sign that we are not disciples of Jesus (John 17:23). Just because a group claims that they are the “church of Christ” does not mean that they are truly Christ’s church. If all have the Word abiding in them, then unity ought to be easy and natural. But there are those among us that are promoting a “different gospel” than the one that is preserved on the pages of the New Testament. When one teaches different plans of salvation, or different ways of organizing the church, or different ways to worship, he is an example of one who does not have “the Word abiding in him.”
John says in 2 John 9: “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.”
From this we learn that only one teaching or doctrine is true. Anything else, everything else, is false.
Jesus said in Matthew 15:8, 9: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men.”
Consider then this truth, any worship other than that authorized by the Scriptures is the doctrine of men. If one adheres to or practices the doctrine of men, he does not have God. Therefore, it is impossible for anyone who is worshipping un-scripturally to have God. This involves everything from instrumental music, to women preachers, to various ways of observing the Lord’s Supper, to teaching and promoting anything that is separate from the New Testament pattern.
Certainly, we are not maintaining that one needs to be perfect and have a complete understanding of all biblical doctrines when they put on their Lord in baptism. There are many things a person may do and believe that are not in harmony with New Testament teachings. But as truth is learned, he or she is responsible to follow that truth. God allows His children to grow and mature.
Have we then answered some of the questions asked in the beginning? Yes. We have fellowship with those who are abiding in the doctrine of Christ as we abide in the doctrine of Christ.
If they worship or teach doctrines different from what is taught in the New Testament then it would be wrong to fellowship with them. Those who are Christians are those who keep His commandments, have His word abiding in them, and are bearing fruit for God.
All of these areas are defined by the Scriptures. It has not been left up to man to decide what commandments are, or what needs to abide in a person, or what fruit is. Despite what some may say or imply, following the correct doctrine or teaching is crucial to being considered faithful (2 John 9).
The Scriptures make it plain that everyone has something abiding in them. It is either the love of God (1 John 4:12, 16, 19) or the wrath of God (John 3:36; cf. 1 John 3:14).
Can we honestly maintain that we abide in Christ? Eternal life, for us and those we teach, is weighing in the balance (1 Timothy 4:16).