iii) To Our Father s Glory This is to my Father's Remain in Me... glory 6 devotional studies on John 15 If you hold to my teaching

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1 iii) To Our Father s Glory If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit. John 15: 7,8 If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8: 31, 32 Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Luke 9: 23 God desires our lives to display his splendour for the world to see. But many Christian lives and churches are without fruit, without splendour, because we re not remaining in him. Our lives are the shop front for his church, for his gospel. Just like an old fashioned greengrocer s shop, if the fruit displayed outside looks good, people will come in to buy. If you re praying to bear more fruit in your life and ministry then prepare. God usually starts by sorting out your heart and home first. The fruit of resurrection starts in us before he can use us. It starts with our own repentance and returning to him, then a deliberate desire to hold to and know the truth that sets us free daily denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following him. This is God s great offer, how will you respond? Will you let God work on and in your life so that you can bear more fruit? Take a few moments to make your own response to God. Remain in Me... 6 devotional studies on John 15 Exploring Christian Life and Ministry How to use this guide Many Christians today are seeking to explore the nature of Christian life and ministry more deeply so that they are better equipped to follow God s call on their lives. This Remain in Me devotional booklet aims to explore God s desire for us to remain in him as branches in the vine. This remaining offers both rest and fruitfulness to our lives and provides the basis for Christian life and ministry. The devotional booklet contains 6 studies based upon John s Gospel chapter 15 verses Each study is divided into 3 sections. The Bible passages to be read are given at the start of each section. We suggest spending a few days on each section to allow time for personal prayer and application. The booklet is based on a small group study course which St John s Pendlebury ran for their own church members. If you have any queries about the material please feel free to contact us on A 5 week study course for small groups to explore this material is available for download at May God bless you as you read. Spend time in prayer responding to these challenges. Is there any help you need to take your response further? Talk your response through with someone else. 20

2 The Vine and the Branches John I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father s commands and remain in his love. ii) Our Responsibility If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. John 15: 7 Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37: 4 You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives. James 4: 2 & 3 Ask and it will be given to you Matthew 7:7 Our responsibility is to learn to remain in Christ and his words in us, then to ask so that he can give. Many have longed and worked for change in our lives, churches and communities. We thought we were waiting for God but the truth is that he s been waiting for someone to give his answer to. First, we have a responsibility to remain in him, to delight ourselves in him and him in us, then his desires will become our own desires and we will ask well. Secondly we have a responsibility to ask. We do not have because we do not ask God. Some feel God will work when he s ready so they wait patiently but passively. God needs us to ask, the highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to humankind. Psalm 115:16 Then thirdly we need to be ready to have the answer given to us. God may well want to use us to be an answer to our prayers. Many times we pray and then go off about our business as though we have done our part. God is waiting for men and women who will stand before him and ask him to use their lives as an answer to their prayers. He s looking for hands and lives that are ready to receive the answer he wants to give. Will you accept this responsibility to remain, to ask and to receive? 2 19

3 6 Ask Whatever You Wish i) God s Promise If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit John 15: 7,8 1 The True Vine i) Fruitfulness I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15.5 If we remain in him and he remains in us we can ask whatever we wish and it will be given us. What an incredibly bold promise God has made. In these words God commits himself and his work to us. But sadly our lives and churches often show little fruit because we re still trying to do it ourselves, trying in our own strength like the Old Testament vine. The less fruit we see the harder we try and it becomes a fruitless circle. Jesus says that remaining in him the true vine is the only way of Christian life and ministry. Then we can ask and he will give. If we long for change there s no point just praying about it, or working hard, or shouting out to God - we simply need to repent, return to him and then learn to remain daily in him. Change must start with us as we repent, return and then remain in him the true vine It won t take God long to answer our prayers when we re in the right place. But are we ready to deny ourselves and our self efforts, to take up our cross and return to remain in him? Only then can God entrust his work to us and give what we ask. Reflect on God s promise to you; if you remain in me... ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you. Will you learn to remain in him so that you can ask? We have fruit trees in our gardens in order to produce fruit In the same way God is looking for fruit from our lives Our fruit is not just for us, it s for God and others to enjoy God is looking for fruit that gives life Fruit of repentance Matthew 3:8, of the Spirit Galatians 5:22, of salvation Matthew 28:19 We plant fruit trees in our gardens because we enjoy their fruit. It doesn t matter if the fruit is worm ridden (!) and less attractive than shop bought fruit, it s fruit from our trees and we love it. We can sometimes wait years for a tree to bear fruit and if it doesn t we find why out not and what action we need to take. In the same way God is looking for fruit from his Church and from our lives - that s our very reason for being here. Fruit gives pleasure but is also an important food for life. The fruit from our lives gives God & ourselves pleasure but it is also intended to give life to those around us - our families, work colleagues and community. God is looking for fruit from our lives which gives life. He is looking for the fruit of repentance in us so that we can grow in relationship with him (Matthew 3:8). He s looking for the fruit of the Spirit in us as we carry his life within us (Galatians 5:22). And he s looking for our lives to bear fruit by seeing others come to salvation (Matthew 28:19). Take a look at your life, is it producing fruit? Can you see fruit in some areas but not in others? 18 3

4 ii) Israel the Unfruitful Vine I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine? Jeremiah 2: 21 My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit. John 15:1,2 Jesus told Nicodemus: Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. John 3: 5 & 6 In the Old Testament God says that he planted Israel as a choice vine of sound stock but that she turned against him. Israel tried to live to God s righteous standards by keeping the Old Testament Law, but she couldn t produce the fruit which God was looking for. In Luke 13:7, Jesus warned that the fig tree which doesn t bear fruit is about to be cut down. God the gardener wants fruit. Our situation is no different, God cuts off every branch in the vine which doesn t bear fruit John 15:2. Nicodemus was a religious man who kept the Law, fasted, prayed and tried to please God. But in John 3:5 & 6 Jesus told him that there was something intrinsically wrong with his nature, that flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. Nicodemus needed a new life in order to enter the Kingdom and so do we. No matter how hard we try in our own strength (flesh) we cannot enter the Kingdom of God unless we are born again. The term born again is sometimes wrongly identified with only certain Church traditions, but the essential reason that Jesus came is so we can be born again as God s children. iii) Returning to God In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength Isaiah 30:15 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. Galatians 2: 20 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8: 31, 32 God always gives a way to return. His passionate desire for our lives is that we remain in Christ and so bear much fruit. The starting point of returning is to stop and ask for forgiveness. Repentance is God s beautiful way to return in relationship with him and to begin again. We might not know how to make that journey, but if we ask for help he will come and help us to know personally the truth which can set us free. Only the truth of what Jesus achieved at the Cross can make us clean (session 2). Only the truth of the Cross deals with our weak sinful nature (session 3) and allows him now to live in us (session 4). We ve spent too long repairing cracked cisterns, we need to repent and return to the truth. If you remain is a personal choice and responsibility. Never mind those around you or behind you, they may also be busy with cracked cisterns but what s your own choice for your life? Do you know the forgiveness and freedom Jesus offers? Do you want to know more of his truth that can set us free? Have you tried to please God and at times failed? If Jesus has an easier way to be fruitful do you want to find it? Are you are living in your own strength rather than the Spirit? Prayerfully re-read these scriptures asking God to guide you. 4 17

5 ii) Turning from God My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Jeremiah 2: 13 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Galatians 3: 3 Israel had turned from relying on God to relying on herself. The church of Galatia had also begun by living a new life in the Spirit but then turned to relying on the flesh, on their own self effort. We can t underestimate the size of the problem. Many of us today, as individuals and churches, have turned away from the living water of God s presence and have dug our own cracked cisterns that can never hold the water of life. Cracked cisterns rely on our hard self effort rather than on God within us. They rely on endless church projects and new ideas. They rely on us living and working for God rather than on our resting & remaining in him, the vine. Our flesh life (self effort) cannot do God s work. Only the Spirit of God, the spring of living water can give life. The cracked cisterns we ve built for our lives and churches need constant maintenance to stop the cracks. They are hard work and can never hold water that will give life to us and to our world. Some like the church of Galatia have started well and then foolishly tried to attain their goal by self effort. We need to look at ourselves. Our goals can be good but how are we trying to attain them? Are we remaining in him or have we turned to our own energies and ideas? Do we need to return? Are you living and working by self effort or by God s Spirit? iii) Jesus the True Vine I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15.5 Jesus watched from heaven as Adam and Eve bit the apple and fell. He watched as Israel tried to keep the Law but failed because of the same fallen nature. He watched as the prophets sent to warn Israel were ignored or killed. Imagine the rejoicing in heaven when Jesus came and announced I am the true Vine. Israel was no longer the weak vine which had to try to produce fruit for God, now Jesus himself came to be the true vine. Jesus died and rose again for us not only to pay for our forgiveness but so that we could share his resurrection and be born again into his life. To place us as branches in him the true vine, with his Spirit producing his own fruit through us. Jesus made possible a whole new way of life and relationship with God, a new way of grace. We ll be exploring this further in the following sessions. Do you want to bear more fruit for God at home, work...? Look at Jesus offer to produce his own fruit through you. How could this affect your own life and your church? Over the week take time to reflect upon John 15:1-8. Is your life producing the sort of fruit you believe God wants? Do you want to know more about how to be fruitful in Christ? 16 5

6 2 Made Clean i) God s Desire I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion Hosea 2:19 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. John 15:3 Also read Ephesians 5: If You Remain in Me i) Our Choice I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you... If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love. John 15: 5-7, 10 God s desire first and foremost is to have us for himself. He wants to betroth us to himself in faithfulness forever as a wife to her husband. We sometimes forget how wonderful the forgiveness God has given us is, how beautiful he has made us in Christ. It s truly wonderful that God loved us enough to die for us when we were still sinners, but now we are clean and radiant in Christ it makes absolute sense that he should love us! God cleans us up for his own sake as well as for ours. He is jealous for us and cleans us so that he can present us to himself as his bride. He wants to marry us and be joined to us for ever. We re not pitiful sinners always to be conscious of our sin before him, but we re forgiven, cleansed and made holy in his grace. Repentance is now only for current trespasses which, as in any good marriage, should be quickly confessed and forgiven. We re raised as his bride to a place of honour in his heart and in relationship with him. His divine love and compassion have caused this forgiveness and brought us back to him as the most precious thing that he has. This divine union must come first and only then can we bear the fruit of that union for him. Pause to consider how precious you are to God. Jesus died to forgive you because he wants you for himself. We can agree that we need to remain in Christ in order to bear fruit but the ifs in this passage warn us that this is not necessarily so, we have a choice. A person can be born again, can be remaining as a branch in the vine and even bearing fruit but then lose their position with fatal consequences. If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown into the fire. How could we have all of this and then lose it, only to be thrown away as fruitless branches and burned? In our desire to know God s love and mercy we often skip over passages like this which show we have choice and responsibility for our future. This is a personal matter, you need to look at your own life to see whether you are bearing much fruit. If not, you must consider whether you are fully remaining in him and he in you. Don t look first at those around you, they may be making the same mistake that you are. God is prepared to throw away every branch that does not remain in him, whether one person or a whole church (Rev 3: 16). But Jesus warns us here so that we can check our own lives and if necessary take action. Look at the ifs in this passage and look at your own life. Are you remaining in him, are you bearing fruit? 6 15

7 iii) In Practice Jesus said, If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8: 31, 32 have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God. Galatians 2: 20 Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Luke 9: 23 At the Cross God dealt with our sins and our sinful nature. The truth is that every person who has committed their life to Christ has been crucified with Christ and Christ lives in them. But why is this a theory for many and not a personal reality? A fatal accident can occur which deeply affects those involved but if you don t know about it, even if you hear about it from someone else later, it won t affect you in the same way. What Christ has achieved for us is true but it only affects those who know it and experience it. Once we know for ourselves that we have been crucified with Christ and he lives in us, then we must learn to live by faith in that reality so it becomes our progressive experience. Daily denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following him. Has Galatians 2: 20 been your personal experience? Do you want to learn more about how to know this truth and how to experience its reality in your life? Spend time prayerfully re-reading these scriptures. Ask God to make you aware of Christ s presence in you. Continue to pray over Galatians 2:20 and its implication. ii) The Effect of Sin Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing Habakkuk 1: 13 Your sins have hidden his face from you Isaiah 59:2 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Mark 15:34 Sin is so dangerous not just because of its direct action but because of its effect to damage our relationship with God and to prevent his fruitfulness. When we re conscious of sin we draw back from God, we feel guilty, unworthy or just weak and unable to do what we should. We might draw back from prayer, from coming to church - excuses and distractions seem easier to find. It s the devil s greatest ploy to pull us away from the only one who can help us, from God himself. And then the deeper consequence of sin which is not cleansed is that it effects God himself. It makes God hide his face from us, even from Jesus on the cross. Our cries cannot be answered. When we don t feel forgiven we can t easily pray beyond our own need. We spend our time in prayer repenting over the same sins, wrestling with our own inadequacy. We find that we re not able to pray for others, why should God answer me when I m like this. Why do we do this? Through Christ God has made a way for us to be 100 % clean but often we don t know it or we aren t confident of it and so we struggle on. If we learn how to receive God s full forgiveness for mistakes in the past and if we learn how to deal quickly with new sins today, then we will become a very attractive people not only to God but also to the world. Take a few moments to look at how you feel about yourself. Has consciousness of sin ever made you draw back from God? 14 7

8 iii) God s Solution by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. Hebrews 10: 14 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53: 5 wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Psalm 51: 7 to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. Ephesians 5: 27 God s solution at the Cross is absolute, by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. We sometimes carry the guilt of past sin around like a permanent stain, which, no matter how often we wash will still be evident. We can carry regrets from past actions and feel that our relationship with God would be stronger today if only I hadn t as though our actions in the past must always mar our relationship with him. But Jesus came to wash us whiter than snow, to make us as pure as if we had never sinned. We live with the consequences of our sin before others and must do what we can to put things right, but God s forgiveness and restoration is absolute. Jesus paid the highest price to make this possible, what a waste if we don t accept it. He died to present us to himself as his radiant church, without stain, wrinkle or any other blemish. When we remain held back from God by sin it wastes the price that he s paid and robs him of the union he so desires. Jesus offers you perfect forgiveness forever Do you ever feel less with God because of your sin? If you re aware of sin, past or present, ask for forgiveness. ii) God s Work If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5 For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Philippians 2: 13 I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. Colossians 1:29 We have seen that God desires his Church to bear much fruit, but sadly that is often far from the case. We can spend a lot of time and energy working for God but having little to show for it. Jesus says that only if we learn to remain in him and he in us can we bear much fruit. Apart from him no matter how hard we try we can do nothing. As some congregations reduce in size people are working harder just to maintain the church. Even churches which seem lively can become tired with many projects, initiatives and ideas, always swimming hard against the tide of secular culture. Jesus offers here another way of life and ministry, a way that promises rest (Matthew 11: 28) but also fruit. He promises that if the branches remain connected in the vine then his own life will flow through us like sap and bear much fruit, fruit that will last. But if the connection between branch and stem becomes broken then the branch can produce nothing. St Paul learnt the reality of Christ living and also working in him. This is not a lazy life, but instead of trying in his own strength Paul contends with the energy God so powerfully works in him. The great relief for people who are tired is that Paul didn t even need the strength to will what was right, God himself is working in him both to will and to act according to his good pleasure. Are you working for God instead of letting him work in you? 8 13

9 4 And I Will Remain in You i) In You Remain in me, as I also remain in you. John 15: 4 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1: 27 Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?... it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. John 14: 10 But when God, who set me apart from my mother s womb and called me by his grace was pleased to reveal his Son in me. Galatians 1: 15, 16 God doesn t want us to try and serve him in our own strength because he knows that at some point or other we will fail. Just like Israel, Nicodemus and St Paul we will find that our own strength (sinful nature) is too weak. Jesus came as the true vine so that we can remain in him as he also remains in us. God s desire is for Christ to live in his people so that his Spirit, like the sap of the vine, can flow through us to produce his fruit. Christ living in us is the hope (the confident expectation) that we will see God s glory in our lives. No longer us trying to serve God but Christ himself living in us as we carry him into our homes, workplaces, church and community. This is a whole new life which God offers. Jesus knew the reality of the Father living in him and doing his own work. St Paul experienced Christ revealed in him and saw it as God s plan for the church. This life is offered to us now, Christ in us the hope of glory. Consider God s desire: Christ in you the hope of glory 3 Remain in Me i) Why? Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. John 15: 4 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28-30 No branch can bear fruit by itself. Remaining in Christ is the only way for our lives to produce the fruit which God desires and that the hungry world around us so desperately needs. Remaining in him has the sense of resting, remaining, finding a true home what a contrast to our often frantic lives and churches. The world will be attracted to the gospel when it sees Christians at rest with God and with themselves. Jesus uses another picture to illustrate the same truth. He invites those who are weary and burdened to come to him, to be yoked with him, to learn from him and by doing so to find rest for their souls. Animals are deliberately yoked together so that they can move and work together, pulling in the same direction. In the same way Jesus calls us to be deliberately yoked with him so that we can learn how to live and work as one with him. In our deepest hearts this is how we are made to function; it s the only way to find true rest for our souls. The world is full of expensive ideas to help us relax, to rest, and to get away from it all. How about learning to remain and rest in God himself? Look for a moment at your own life, how rested are you? Have you found this rest for your soul which Jesus speaks of? 12 9

10 ii) A New Life Jesus answered Nicodemus: Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit You must be born again.' John 3:5-7 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. John 1: 12 & 13 Many of us have tried hard for years to change ourselves and to do the right thing but have found that we can t. Some feel guilty, others give up, whilst others cover up. We saw in Session 1 how Jesus told Nicodemus that there was something intrinsically wrong with his life which needed to change. It wasn t a question of trying harder, praying more or just accepting his weakness. Jesus told Nicodemus that no matter how hard he tried in his own strength (flesh) he would never be able to enter the Kingdom. Flesh gives birth to flesh, only the Spirit can give birth to spirit. Nicodemus needed to be born of water and the Spirit and so do we. Jesus died and rose again not only to pay for our forgiveness but to allow us to be born again into a new life with him. So many sleepless nights are caused by us fighting with our selves, with our fears and anxieties. We try so hard to change ourselves (our flesh) but find that we can t. Jesus came to set us free to become children of God. Some feel that certain Church traditions have hijacked the phrase being born again but it is every Christian s basic right in Christ. When a person has committed their life to Him, their old life is ended and they are born again, born of God as children of God. Knowing this new life is the way to remain in him and he in us. Reflect on God s offer - a whole new life, born of God iii) How? What the Law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. Romans 8: 3 He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; We all, like sheep, have gone astray the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53: 5 & 6 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. Galatians 2: 20 If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit John 15:5 God knew that we could not please him in our own strength; like Nicodemus it s our actual nature which needs to change. St Paul says in Romans 8:3 that knowing what we should do (the Law) can t help us because own sinful nature (flesh) is too weak. God s solution at the Cross was not only to take our iniquities (sins), but also our iniquity - the very life which produces sin. When a person has committed their life to Christ their sinful nature (flesh life, iniquity) has been crucified with Christ, so they can begin a new life in Christ. When we know with confidence that we have been crucified with Christ and that I no longer live, then we can begin to know the reality in our own experience that Christ lives in me. God s solution is for us to be born again into this new life in Christ. Remain in me, as I also remain in you is another way of describing this. Have you ever failed and failed to do the right thing? Does it make sense that something in you must change? Praying over Galatians 2: 20 and its implication for your life. If you haven t committed your life to Christ consider doing so

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