The word ^évœ, which is translated abide, is used about 120 times in the New Testament. Other English terms used to translate this word are equally significant—'remain, dwell, continue, tarry, endure' (Matt. 10:11; Luke 19:5; Acts 9:43; 27:31; 1 Cor. 13:13; 2 Tim. 2:13). The Apostle John employs this verb sixty-four times and in his writings the Authorized Version translators have rendered the word abide twenty-one times. The meaning of this Greek term is thus clearly indicated as that which remains, dwells, continues, tarries, or endures; it is what abides in the position in which it is placed. In reference to spiritual reality the word abide indicates a constancy in relation to Christ. It is also true that Christ referred to His own abiding in the believer (cf. John 15:5), which relationship could never fail since it depends only on His faithfulness. There is little basis, consequently, for the sentiment expressed in certain hymns wherein Christ is petitioned to abide with the believer.
The general meaning of the word abide lends itself to at least two ideas—one which suggests a continuing in union with Christ and another which suggests a continuing in communion with Christ. The most revealing passage is John 15:1-17, where the believer is enjoined to abide in Christ as a branch abides in the vine. This passage will not support the notion that to abide in Christ means to remain in union with Him; when this superficial rendering is accepted, only false doctrine ensues. On the other hand, it is clear that the word of exhortation directs the believer to remain in communion with Christ as He remained in communion with His Father. As the sap flows from the vine into the branch that remains in contact, so the spiritual vitality flows from Christ to the believer who abides. Communion depends upon agreement and agreement requires complete subjection of one to his superior: thus it is imperative that the commandments of the one shall be kept by the other. Christ said that by keeping His Father's commandments He abode in His love. There was, of course, no attempt on Christ's part to preserve a union with His Father. That had been unbroken and unbreakable from all eternity; but, on the human side, He did maintain communion by doing the Father's will.
Three verses in this context (John 15:1-17) set forth the doctrinal significance of abiding in Christ, namely,
John 15:2. "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."
Having asserted that He is the True Vine and that His Father is the Husbandman and, later, that the saved ones are the branches, Christ declares that a branch in Him—which terminology connotes the most vital and immutable union that could ever exist—may fail to bear fruit. It is at this point that the meaning of the word abide as used in this context is determined. The branch is not in Christ because it bears fruit; but being in Christ, the branch may or may not bear fruit. Thus it is demonstrated that abiding in Christ is not a matter of maintaining union with Christ, but of maintaining communion with Him. When communion with Christ is preserved on the part of one in Christ, the sap of spiritual vitality is imparted which results in fruit being borne. This verse declares plainly that there are those in Christ, by so much therefore saved and safe forever, who at a given time are not bearing fruit. Respecting such, God reserves the right to remove them from their place in this world (cf. 1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16), directly to heaven's glory. It should not be supposed that any ever go to heaven because they are fruitful, because they keep the commandments of Christ, or because they abide in Christ. Entrance into heaven depends only on union with Christ. A branch in Him will go to heaven without being fruitful, though unfruitfulness must be accounted for in the loss of rewards before Christ's judgment seat in heaven. Branches in Christ which are fruitful are not said to be saved or kept saved thereby, but are "purged" or pruned that they may bear more fruit.
John 15:6. "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."
This verse—most depended upon by those who contend that the believer's salvation is not secure— must be approached, as this whole theme of abiding requires, on the basis of the outworking of divine power in the one who is saved. Those believers who do not abide in communion with Christ, though saved, are powerless with respect to testimony and all service. Being broken off from communion, they are withered in spiritual power. The judgment which falls immediately upon them is not from God, however, but from men (cf. 2 Sam. 12:14). It is what James refers to when he states that justification is by works (James 2:14-26). Justification must be on the ground of works in the sphere of the believer's relation to men; for they judge only by that which they observe. Before God justification is by faith, but the world knows nothing of such a faith. It is, indeed, most demanding to require that the one who professes to be a child of God should adorn the doctrine which he follows. The Christian is admonished, nevertheless, to walk circumspectly before those who are without. By a reasonable manifestation of the divine life in the believer, the world may come to "know" and "believe" regarding Christ (cf. John 13:34-35; 17:21-23). To the children of the kingdom Christ said that the world, seeing their good works, would glorify the Father in heaven for this reason (Matt. 5:16). As used in this passage, the figure which likens the judgments which men impose to "gathering" and "burning" of withered branches is exceedingly strong and must be interpreted in the light of existing facts. Men do not gather and burn their fellow men in a literal sense; but they do enter into very drastic judgment of the one who professes to be saved and yet does not manifest the ideals which belong to that life. This warning of Christ's to believers respecting the merciless attitude of the world is timely and important. It is probably the only instance in which Christ introduces this theme when contemplating the Christian in his relation to the cosmos world. The unrelenting attitude of the world towards the believer is indicated by the words of Christ following verses 1-17: "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 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" (John 15:18-19).
John 15:10. "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."
This particular verse, referred to above, determines what is actually required of the believer to the end that he may abide in communion with Christ. The issue is stated simply: "If ye keep my commandments." Keeping the commandments of Christ is easily recognized as the ground of fruit-bearing communion with Christ; it is in no sense the ground of union with Christ, which is gained by faith alone. By keeping His perfect will, communion is sustained, which communion opens the way for the divine inflow of vital power by which fruit will be borne. No reference is made by Christ in this connection to the commandments of Moses. The phrase my commandments is not employed by Christ until He reaches the upper room and is an anticipation of the present heavenly relationship to Christ true of all who believe. Christ cites His own relation to the Father as an illustration—"even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love." He kept His Father's commandments, not to create or preserve union with the Father but to preserve communion with the Father.
The results of abiding are both negative and positive. On the negative side Christ said, "Without me [apart from me, or separated from life-giving communion] ye can do nothing" (John 15:5). On the positive side four effects are listed which flow from the abiding life: the purge which is pruning (vs. 2), prayer effectual (vs. 7), joy celestial (vs. 11), and fruit which is perpetual (vs. 16).
In conclusion, it may be restated that the context is addressed to those who are saved and does not concern their salvation nor its endurance; but it does concern a life-receiving contact or fellowship with Christ—an abiding in His love which results in the outflow of fruit to the glory of God, the experience of celestial joy, and immeasurable efficacy in prayer.
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