God’s desire is that every single person come to know Him personally as their Savior, and be spared from judgment in Hell (2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”). God’s desire is not to send anyone to Hell, and in fact He does not send anyone there. John 3:18 says that anyone that does not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation “is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
God gave us a free will so that we could love Him (no free-will = no love), and after the fall of man (Genesis 3) from his original innocence, it became necessary to make a way back for the lost race of man. God knew that there was absolutely no way that sinful men could ever earn His favor through “good deeds” of any shape or size (Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”). That is why Isaiah 64:6 describes all the good things that we could ever do as “filthy rags,” like the ones that lepers used to wipe their disgusting skin. No, any kind of work would be insufficient for God to grant a man, woman, or child pardon from sin; so Jesus Christ had to die on a cross for the sins of all humanity, giving every person that has ever lived — you see, this death was predicted way back in the Garden of Eden, right after the fall of man (Genesis 3:15) — the opportunity to believe on this Savior, and trust His sacrifice alone. Salvation has always been, and will always be, “by grace… through faith” (Ephesians 2:8).
Now, when an individual accepts Christ by putting faith in Him alone, he is transformed into a whole new individual (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is such an exciting and miraculous transformation that no one could ever give God enough praise for that moment of new birth. But sometimes an interesting phenomenon takes place after a person accepts Christ as Savior — a phenomenon that has become all too common in 21st century churches. A believer, who has done nothing to earn or keep his salvation, may begin to live the Christian life as if the only part God plays in a person’s life is to save them from Hell. This person starts to worry and fret and struggle underneath a burden that God never intended for anyone to carry. He sees very little victory in his life despite how hard he has tried to quit the bad habits and start the right ones. That beer can still binds him, and the little circular tin in his back pocket still dictates part of his life. He sees temporary victory now and then, but eventually sinks back into the bad and out of the good.
However, the Bible still says “thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” How can someone who has been transformed into a whole new creature and has the promises of victory in Jesus to claim still wallow in the works of the old nature? Many of us have faced this same heartbreaking and agonizing cycle at some point in life and wondered if there was even a way out at all. Thankfully, John chapter fifteen gives us a solution that will always work. In John 15, Jesus tells His disciples:
“I am the true, and my Father is the husbandman. 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. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. 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.” (John 15:1-5)
Jesus begins with the illustration of a vine, which would have been very common to the geography of Israel at the time. Grape vineyards were all over the place in 1st-century Palestine. If you’ve never seen a grape vine, they almost look like little trees. Essentially when Jesus said He was the True Vine, He was saying that He was the trunk of the tree: the important and central part of the plant. Christ immediately informs us that He is, in fact, the important and central figure in the universe. He is God after all, and deserves all the glory and honor and praise of God. He then explains that as He is the vine, we as believers are the branches.
The truth that He draws from this illustration is so incredibly important for us to understand. A branch draws all of its nutrients and strength from what the trunk or vine gives it. It’s just like your arms and legs. They get blood from the heart and signals from the brain. A branch all by itself is about as useful and full of life as an arm with no body. The only way for a branch to exist and for it to be a healthy, fruit-producing member of the plant, is for its connection to the vine to be strong and healthy.
The Christian life is intended to be lived exactly the same way. You and I are just chunks of dirt: sinners saved by the grace of God. On our own, before salvation and after, we are just as useful and vibrant as a branch broken from its vine. Salvation doesn’t make you any more able to please the Lord with your self-produced effort. God does, however, intend for us to work for Him and produce fruit (such as the fruits of the Spirit and the fruit of seeing others trust the Savior); but He has a plan for just how that is supposed to happen. The secret to a victorious, abundant, and productive Christian life is found in the success of a branch. As long as you make sure that your connection to the True Vine, Jesus Christ, is healthy and strong, He will take care of the rest.
What this means is that you as Christian have to develop your relationship with God for yourself. Borrowed spirituality is killing our churches. God doesn’t want you to try to ride the coattails of anybody else, and He is not interested in what you can work up within yourself. What God is interested in is someone who is willing to get thoroughly and genuinely right with Him, someone who has that craving and thirsting for Him like David did (Psalm 61), and someone that is actively seeking and relying on Him. Yes, it will take sacrifice as you give up adequate time to get to know your God through Bible reading, study, memorization, and meditation and through prayer; but if the Lord of Heaven really did save you from eternal damnation in Hell and gave you a relationship with Him as well as an eternal home in Heaven, don’t you think that He is worth seeking with your whole being? The word “abide” means to dwell or remain. What we need today is some Christians who are willing to get with God and stay there.
Remember, this isn’t an option to successful Christianity. It is the only way to successful Christianity. Jesus leaves us with the same heavy and serious reminder that I will leave you with. Your life cannot please God unless you walk in the same faith that saved you. You cannot do anything for God unless you abide in Him. “…for without me ye can do nothing.”
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