I imagine that most people who might read the title of this blog entry (though I am fully aware that when I say most I am being overly optimistic about the readership of this blog, lol) might think that this entry is about the saving power of the Gospel. In other words, it might be assumed that I am going to write about the Gospel's ability to transform those opposed to Christ (a.k.a. the "lost"). Indeed, this would be a valid and wonderful subject on which to expound, but it is not my topic of interest for the moment. The Gospel is not merely a introductory course for the new believer, but is to be the life blood and daily bread of the oldest, most astute Christian.
Apart from the person and work of Jesus (the Gospel) there cannot be any spiritual growth. If there is any perceived spiritual growth divorced from Christ, in reality it is an inflation of an individual's pride, self-righteousness, and a self-delusion of holiness. John 15:1-11 was the source of this shocking revelation in my own spiritual development. Jesus could not be clearer. If we are separated from him, we do not flourish. We whither and become useless fodder, meaning we become the fruitless, bitter, self-serving, joyless people you and I have come to avoid in the church.
There were two realizations that flowed from this passage that were chilling to my zealous religiosity a few years ago, and one powerful truth that warmly clothed my naked soul. The first realization was that I had not looked to Jesus as my life line. I was determined that I would forge ahead in my Christian life relying on my determination, my head knowledge, and (unknowingly at the time) my ability to deceitfully ignore my lack of love for God and for my brothers and sisters in Christ. Had God not awaken me from slumber, I was on the path to becoming what I had hated in churches I had attended and served. I would have continued the process of transforming into the hypocritical, self-righteous, prideful, arrogant, loveless, and bitter church member. God in His grace showed me that what I hated around me, was really what I despised about myself. My frustration with church, ministry, and Christian organizations was flowing out of a seething hatred of my own hypocrisy. I knew how to play the pious part so well in public, that I began to believe it in private. This piercing conviction awoke another realization.
The second chilling thing was that I knew so many people/churches that relied on good moral instruction as a substitute for Christian discipleship. Moral teaching flows out of biblical discipleship, but cannot be severed from a deep dependence and daily obsession with Jesus and his work on our behalf. Otherwise, it is not Christian morality. When we take the short-cut of teaching morality without digging into our identity based on and flowing out of the Gospel, we remove the branches from the vine to whither and die. We cannot have Christ-exalting, life-transforming ministries or churches unless they are fixed on the author and perfecter of our faith. This stark reality ignited a insatiable passion for serving in Gospel-driven ministry.
The third reality was the nourishment my anemic soul needed and has become a very precious truth in my life. If I loose everything, my job, my home, my family, in Jesus I still have everything I will ever need in this life. I am very grateful that God has given me a wonderful wife, a daughter on the way, a job doing what I love, and a roof over my head. But this passage John 15:1-11, especially v.11, made me realize that all the joy I needed to have a full, purposeful, meaningful life is found in Jesus. He is my heartbeat, my life-blood. It is from Him that I have an identity. I have been freed to live a life of repentance and faith. I do not have to be ashamed anymore to admit that I am a messed-up person who desperately needs Jesus everyday. This should be the confession of every Christian.
He is everything so that I can be content, even happy, being nothing. There is no pressure to measure up to some obscure standard others have set, because Jesus measured up to the perfect standard for me. I have to remind myself of that precious truth everyday. This motivates me to serve him out of love, not out of duty. I am a servant of my Lord because I adore him, not because I am obligated or guilted into service. This radically changed my life and is still doing so. Jesus is the Vine, I am merely a branch. Jesus is the Vine and you are only a branch. Jesus is the Vine; churches are only branches. Without Him none of us flourish; we all whither and die. In Him we have fullness of Joy, nourishment, and abundant lives/life. Are you connected to the Vine? Is your church?