You know, the further I travel along this Christ-following journey, the more I’m persuaded there’s just one overwhelming priority for the Bride of Christ in this late hour.
There is no shortage of prophetic voices proclaiming numerous messages in the name of Christ: messages about the end times, spiritual warfare, cities and nations, world events, the economy, and other things that seek to occupy our minds and thoughts. But unless those prophetic messages have been received and wrestled with in the furnace of God’s consuming love they do little more than add more noise into the confusing chaos of the world around us.
Like many other Christ followers who watch and pray, I am aware of the signs of the times, the clash of the Kingdom of God with earthly kingdoms currently taking place. Beyond that watchfulness, though, there is an even deeper conviction that the Spirit is calling the Bride into one great and final commission – to be the bearers of Christ’s perfect love even as we walk among the bleeding ruins of this fallen humanity.
But how do we manifest to the world what we so often fail to manifest even to our fellow believers?
In His last hours with His disciples, Jesus steered the conversation to tell them He was about to leave them, and yet not leave them.
‘He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.’
Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, ‘Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?’ (Jn. 14:19-22)
The question being asked by one of the disciples back then was obvious. Lord, how will this work? It’s still obvious. Lord, how does this work?
Earlier Jesus had given them the commandment to love one another in the exact same way He had loved them (Jn. 13:34). His commandment has not changed. But then, as now, His followers struggled to love as He loves.
Like those first Christ followers, we are pre-disposed to legalism. Legalism is in our fallen nature as water is in the ocean. Our tendency to legalism is the fruit of the wrong tree. So when we read the word ‘commandment’ we immediately assume this is something we ourselves must fulfil if we are to please God.
Jesus knew about this.
He kept the conversation going. ‘Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.’ ( Jn. 15:4-5)
To paraphrase: This is how you do it, my friends. You abide in Me, because unless you do so, you can neither love one another nor do anything else for Me.
It’s a rather foreign concept to us, this ‘abiding’. This is a world where love affairs are carried on via Facebook, business deals can be sealed or lost on mobile phones, and our idea of how to conduct a relationship might be shaped by reality TV shows. In such a context ‘abide in Me’ sounds like something belonging to a long forgotten time when knights rode white horses and maidens played harpsichords.
Though we may understand ‘abiding’ in the more modern terms of ‘remain with’ or ‘live with’, the concept actually being conveyed here is somewhat deeper than just dwelling with someone. It means to ‘continue to be present’. Not only does Jesus tell us we need to ‘continue to be present’ with Him, He commits Himself to ‘continue to be present’ with each one of us.
This is a two way deal. It is not simply about us, as branches, drawing from Christ, but about Christ, as the vine, the life source, connecting to us in such a way that His life force flows continually to us. This is something He has covenanted with us to do.
So Jesus was telling them: Forget about the way you’ve done things before. This is a new kind of commandment. You simply draw from Me and I will enable you to do that which I require of you.
The disciples had a bit of identity confusion going on. I’ve suffered unnecessarily from the same identity confusion and I’d lay odds you probably have also. So Jesus spelled it out very plainly for them: He is the vine, we are the branches. Legalism deceives us into believing the opposite.
This is how legalism works: if I do this, this and this, and continue doing it, then I will bring forth fruit and I will please God. This faulty belief makes us the vine, not the branch.
This is how the New Covenant works: I am not the Vine, I am merely the branch, who can do nothing unless I am continually present in the Vine. The Vine has undertaken to provide all I need to bear fruit pleasing to God. He doesn’t ask me to be the Vine, He simply requires me to rest in the knowledge that He is the Vine and He is sufficient to make me fruitful.
Jesus shifted their focus from legalism to grace. He turned the order around. This loving one another in the same manner as He had loved them could only be manifested as they ‘continued to be present’ with Him, and He with them. And as we know, this new journey He was initiating for them would be a lifelong one.
So it is with us.
The truth is, if we haven’t already discovered it, we are utterly incapable of loving one another as Jesus loves us. So our usual solution is to try, and try harder, and fail, and beat ourselves up over it, and try harder again. Trust me, I am someone who has spent a good portion of my life perfecting the art of failing to love others as Jesus loves me.
Jesus knows about this too.
He is asking us, above all other ministry, above whatever other spiritual or secular responsibilities we may carry, to love as He loves – first with one another, then outflowing to the world around us.
As much as I want it to be otherwise, I confess I cannot love you as Christ loves you. But if I am sincere about following Him, there is something I can do about this conundrum. I can seek to abide, to be ‘continually present with Him’ and allow Him to be ‘continually present’ with me. But even that pursuit I can easily turn into law. Everything that I read in the Bible, if I am not reading or hearing from a place of rest and revelation, I will read through the lens of law, for this is my default.
Jesus knows that apart from His being ‘continually present with us’ we are hard wired to law. This is why the Holy Spirit was sent to us – to make us gracekeepers instead of lawkeepers.
In His conversation with His disciples on that fateful night, Jesus answered the question hanging in the air. He revealed the way it works. It works because the commandment is fulfilled out of the abiding, not because the abiding is fulfilled out of the commandment. Please go back and read that last sentence again. Put simply, if we are to love as He desires us to love, we must first abide as He desires us to abide.
For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
Jesus reversed the order. We will finally love as He loves when we ‘get it’ that He is our sufficiency. In. All. Things.
Love is our mission. Abiding is our modus operendi. The Spirit is our agency. Jesus is our sufficiency. We can do nothing else and we can do nothing otherwise.
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2015 and beyond. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.