In the first ten verses of chapter 15, Jesus says the word “abide/remain” ten times and implies it several more times. It is a very important concept that Jesus wanted his disciples to learn. It is a very important concept that Jesus wants us to learn and do. The problem is simple, if we don’t remain in Christ, we will be cut off and throw into the fire by the gardener (technically, a viticulturalist, what a word!). The problem we have is actually doing what Christ wants us to do, abide in Him and bear fruit.
Over the centuries, spiritual leaders in the Church have recognized several practices that help us abide in Jesus Christ, to keep moving to the center. Some are commonly referenced; prayer, Bible reading, meditation, fasting, and tithing whereas some are not so common; solitude, silence, confession, worship, chastity, and service. There are many others that could be listed (see resources below). These are practices (also called disciplines) we need to have in our lives, some daily, some weekly, some every so often. But we don’t do them in order to win our way into God’s good graces. We don’t do them because they prove anything. We could do every one of the spiritual practices religiously and still not be close to God.
The whole point of the disciplines is to build on our relationship with God. Our goal is to bear fruit, that is, to see others brought into a relationship with Jesus. As we develop our relationship with God, it helps us lead others to Christ. Athletes do not go out and practice just for practice sake. They don’t point others to their hard work on the practice field and say, “See there, I am a great athlete.” No, they practice hard to win the big game, to finish the race, to be a winner. They point to their trophies, their championship rings, their gold colored jackets and say, “that is what I practiced for.”
We need to embrace the spiritual practices so that at the end of the day we can point to others and say, “Look, they live for Christ, they are my trophy.” As we move to the center closer and closer to the Father we help others to move closer to Him as well. The greatest aspect of the race we run, we are all winners when we finish the race.
I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. -Psalm 18:1-3 ESV
Resources Flatland Church Online Flatland Transformation Matrix Richard J Foster - Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth Dallas Willard - The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives Thomas á Kempis - The Imitation of Christ (a classic written early 15th Century)