Are you happy being a Christian? I mean, are you enjoy being a believer in the living God? More importantly, is being a Christian the very source of your existence on earth?
We know that for a flower, it source, it’s existence, it’s ability to thrive and live comes from it’s stem, it’s vine, it’s root. And we know that if we cut a flower off from it’s source it will eventually die, even if we arrange it in a nice vase.
The same is true with us. We have been cut off from the source of life – Adam did that in the garden of Eden and humanity, like a flower in a glass, is wilting and dying. The wages of sin is death.
And so the image of a vine in this morning’s Gospel reading raises the question for each of us of whether we have life or are we dying. And the key issue to that question is are we in the Vine.
What does it mean to be in the Vine?
Well, the gospel reading is clear. Christ is the Vine. So the first question we must ask is “are we in Christ this morning”. In other words do you believe in all that Christ has done for you and do you accept him as your Lord and Savior. To say yes then puts us under a little examination. To say YES I am in the Vine – I am in Christ, requires a further question of whether we are bearing fruit.
That may be an uncomfortable question for us. What does it mean to bear fruit? Is he talking about conversions – how many conversions have I this week, month or year? Is he talking about what my Character is like – is it Christ like? Do I exhibit the characteristics of being a follower of Jesus? Am I being obedient to God’s commands in my life – is that what he means?
There is an element of these things in the passages we have read this morning but it is not the main point. Good works or good character cannot get us attached to the Vine. We cannot be In Christ because of our good works. That only happens by faith IN Christ. But being in Christ will change who we are and what we do.
The core issue about fruit in a Christian’s life is that it begins with us and God. Bearing fruit begins with a daily, personal relationship with God that involves prayer. If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ASK WHATEVER YOU WISH and it will be done for you. It all begins with a living and active relationship with God. And a living and active relationship with God involves speaking with God regularly.
Out of THIS foundation comes the rest; our witness, our character and our obedience. But the key thing is are we in a daily, personal relationship with God – because that is our life, our source, the very essence of our existence.
So what does having Jesus as the source of life look like? Well, we have been given examples in both the Acts and 1 Peter readings this morning. Acts reveals the ‘evangelism’ aspect of being in Christ. The Atheians, with all their alters, recognize that they may be ignorant of all possible deities and so they have an alter for an unknown God! Paul seeks to relieve them of their ignorance – even using their own poets – We are the offspring of god. Now the original poet was referring to Zeus but Paul takes this idea and points out that it is true – we are the offspring of God, not Zeus but of the living god – the God of the universe – and if God has created US – as complex as we are – then surely God himself is far more complex than statues of gold and silver and marble. And this God Paul declares to be the one who rose form the dead. Notice what Paul says about God – he says that In Him we live and move and have our being. There is very little for anything else. For Paul the whole of life encompasses God and this drives his witness to others.
Witness is an important aspect to being a branch of the true vine. Peter picks up this theme. We are to witness with gentleness and reverence – we are to be ready to give a response to anyone who asks “Why are you a Christian – Why do you believe in God”.
We are also to be Branches who are have love of the brethren – a tender heart and a humble mind. We are to be people who do not return evil for evil, or reviling for reviling. Our characters are important.
But above all there is an approach to life that is beyond anything that the world teaches. Peter draws from Ps 34 when he says He that would love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile; let him turn away from evil and do right; let him seek peace and pursue it.
Most of us want to love life and many of us probably do love life – but do we love life IN CHRIST. That is the question. Which brings me back to my opening question – do we LOVE being a follower of Christ? Do we love knowing the living God. Do we love the fact that Jesus has rescued us?
We can too easily end up loving life and tolerating Christ – and that is a very dangerous place to be according to St John.
To be in the Vine is to love life IN CHRIST. Not that such a life is a breeze or free from troubles and trials. Peter tell us that suffering comes as a Christian. Being in the Vine does not protect us from tragic and difficult times. Theologian Wayne Grudem put it well when he says To love life does not mean one has a trouble free life – it suggests rather an enjoyment of life and contentment in the life God has given, no matter what the outward circumstances.
How can we do that? How can we enjoy life and be content in life regardless of the circumstances? By standing on this incredible truth that if we are in the Vine if we are in Christ we have true life – and if Christ suffered, died, and was raised, so we too can be assured that, if we endure suffering for Christ or even death we will be like Christ and therefore we will be raised to eternal life too. That’s the promise.
This is why Paul writes in his epistle to the Philippians not to be anxious about anything – and that he has learnt to be content in every situation; whether with little or plenty. Paul knew the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection – and he loved Christ and he longed to be with him and had certainty that he would be with Him. Therefore everything else paled into insigificance compared to that truth – even suffering.
But this can only be true – this can only be a reality for us if we remain in the Vine.
If we are not, then we are a branch that is in danger of withering.
There are no true Christians without some measure of fruit. Fruitfulness is an infallible mark of true Christianity – the alternative is a withered branch that will eventually die.
Continuous dependence on the vine, constant reliance upon him, persistent spiritual imbibing of his life – this is the absolute necessity of spiritual fruitfulness.
So, from where are you drawing your life from? What is th source of your enjoyment and happiness? If it is not foundationally from Jesus Christ then you may not be connected to the Vine.
It really is all about Jesus and your relationship with Him. You may feel great right now; you may feel like a million dollars. You may feel that life is full and filled with enjoyment and good things. And that is great. But, if you are not attached to the true Vine; unless you have a continuous daily personal relationship with God; unless you are growing in that, both spiritually and physically, then you are simply like a flower that has been cut from the stem and placed in the vase you will eventually die.
Only Jesus gives real and true life. You know in your heart this morning if you abide in him – if you are attached to the true vine, if your love and enjoyment of life comes from the life of Christ. If you know you are then rejoice in the promises given this morning. Continue to grow and thrive, allowing the spirit to bless and use you. But if you know that you are not in Christ – if you know that your life does not come from Christ then you must get grafted into the Vine and that requires you to begin a conversation with God. You don’t need an introduction – he knows you better than you know yourself because he created you. As we heard read this morning from Acts, Paul says God is not far from each one of us. You start the conversation by saying Lord, I am sorry – You are not my life. Please, come this morning, and forgive me for my sins. I want to trust in you – to let you have my life. Graft me in to the Vine.” And then tomorrow continue your conversation, and the next day and the next.
Then read the gospels – read Jesus’ words. Start to understand how Jesus wants us to live life.
And then see what happens. See what happens when you give yourself to him; see what happens when you place yourself into his care; see what happens as you begin to draw your life from Jesus.
When we are able to acknowledge that In Christ we live and move and have our being, we will then be able to say with Peter; Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is right? But even if you do suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear , nor be troubled, but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord.