Dec. 29 Sunday School lessonscomment (0)
December 29, 2013
Bible Studies for Life follows Explore the Bible
Explore the Bible
By Dale Younce, Th.D.
Professor of Christian Ministries, University of Mobile
STAY OPEN AND OBEDIENT
Genuine love for others, much less genuine love for God, is in short supply in today’s self-centered world. There may be a lack of understanding about the relationship between salvation (a gift of God’s unmerited favor) and loving obedience to Him (the proper evidence of salvation). Some church members adopt the attitude that love and obedience are optional or only for “super-Christians.” Others understand that love for Jesus and love for others as well as obeying His teachings are not good works that merit salvation, ratherthey are the evidence of a genuine relationship with Christ.
STAY OPEN TO PRUNING (1–4)
John 15 is considered part of the Upper Room Discourse. The last verse in chapter 14 records Jesus saying, “Get up. Let us go from here.” Somewhere between the Upper Room and the Garden of Gethsemane, in the darkness of the early Friday morning hours, as He passed through a vineyard, Jesus spoke the words recorded in chapters 15 and 16.
“I am the true vine” is the seventh and last of the “I am” statements found in John’s Gospel. Jesus is saying that the nation of Israel is not the genuine vine, though it may have been pictured so in Judaism. Jesus is the genuine vine and God the Father is the Caretaker of the vine. By the use of this exceptional figure of speech, Jesus makes it clear that it is not your identification with a religion or a ceremony or an organization that is essential, but it is our identification with Christ that is necessary. The moment we trust Christ, we are in Christ by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. “In Christ” is what it means to be saved. Just as the branches are joined to the vine, so believers are joined to Jesus for purpose of fruit-bearing.
This teaching is directed toward believers, people who have already trusted Christ. Just as the branch of a grapevine draws its life from the vine, so the believer is to draw his life from Christ and, as a result, produces fruit. In fact, in the first 10 verses “fruit” is mentioned six times, pointing out three levels of fruit-bearing: fruit, more fruit and much fruit.
The words “every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He takes away” have been understood in a variety of ways. Perhaps the most contextually adequate understanding is to take the verb “takes away” as “lifted up” (John 1:29) as when an actual vinedresser lifts up a fallen branch in order to expose it to sunlight, air and rain so that it may bear fruit. For the branch that bears fruit, the vinedresser prunes (cleanses) it again, so that the branch may bear more fruit. The pruning agent is the cleansing power of the Word of God.
STAY OPEN THROUGH OBEYING (5–8)
The key to bearing fruit is abiding in Christ. (“Abide” occurs 11 times in vv. 4–10 and at its base means stay or remain.) To abide in Christ means to live in conscious, constant, daily 24/7/365 awareness of our relationship and communion with Jesus. It means fellowshipping with Jesus so that His life can flow in and through us to produce fruit. Studying God’s Word, obeying Jesus, confessing sin, repenting and the filling of the Spirit are all a part of abiding.
There are several kinds of spiritual fruit mentioned in the Bible. These are the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23); the fruit of evangelism (Rom. 1:13); the fruit of spiritual service (Col. 1:10); the fruit of spiritual growth (Rom. 6:22) and the fruit of our lips, vocal praise to God (Heb. 13:15).
STAY IN JESUS’ LOVE (9–10)
Jesus exhorted His men to remain in His love, that is, to live in a continuing awareness of His loving us. We show that we are fully secure in, guided by and energized by Jesus’ love when we obey His commands.
STAY READY TO LOVE OTHERS (11–17)
Clearly God takes the initiative in our salvation and spiritual growth. Yet He commands us to love Him and to love one another. When we obey His command to love others sacrificially, we produce the lasting spiritual fruit that pleases God and that He desires from us.
Bible Studies for Life
By Thomas L. Fuller, Ph.D.
Beeson Divinity School, Samford University
An Identity You Must Embrace
In the first five chapters of Romans, Paul concentrates his attention on justification by grace through faith. So radical is this gospel of grace — that God freely forgives sin and reckons righteousness on the sole basis of faith in Jesus Christ — that Paul has left himself open to the charge of encouraging people to sin all the more (3:8). Beginning in chapter 6, Paul addresses this misrepresentation of God’s grace, calling believers to embrace their new identity in Christ.
The paradigm for understanding new life in Christ is Jesus’ death and resurrection. His death was a singular and completed event, never to be repeated, by which the penalty for sin was fully satisfied. His resurrection, while also a past event, finds significance in the present life Jesus now lives, never to end. That life is lived in service to God rather than in subjugation to sin and death. He broke the power of sin; He is free forever from death’s claims; He ushered in the reign of God’s grace.
By faith, expressed in baptism (6:3), we share in Jesus’ death and resurrection. We died with Him, sharing His victory over sin and death, and we were raised with Him to live in a new way. The Christian’s life is a new reality. Each of us must accept it and live into it in much the same way that a man or woman must conform to the new reality of marriage. What, then, are the implications of this new identity?
Rather than being freed by grace to sin with abandon, we must fight against sin because we are free from its power. Remember Paul’s logic is rooted in the purposes of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He rendered sin powerless and lives to serve God. As followers of Christ, who died with Him and were raised with Him, we too live to serve God rather than giving in to our sinful desires.
Notice in these verses the language of sovereign and subject: reign, obey, presenting oneself as an instrument, dominion. In a very real sense, Paul is saying, “Why live as a loyal and devoted subject to a defeated king, stripped of any real power or authority? Serve the Victorious One, who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” Paul urges the Romans not to continue giving themselves (present tense) to unrighteous ways, but to give themselves (decisive act) to God. This reminds us that fighting sin is not simply abstaining from wrongdoing but acting to serve God and neighbor. We are free to do so because we are no longer under the curse of the law for our justification. We serve and obey now as a grateful response to God’s amazing grace.
In v. 15, Paul repeats the question with which he began in v. 1, though here in reference to our being “not under law but under grace” (v. 14). The answer is the same to both phrasings of the question: “By no means” are we to continue in sin. We are, instead, to pursue obedience in keeping with our righteousness. Paul trades the sovereign-subject language of vv. 12–14 for a master-slave paradigm here. He likens the decision of faith to trust Jesus Christ (conversion) to the decision one might make to enter into voluntary slavery.
Obedience to a master (slavery) is a fact of life. God’s grace has set us free from slavery to sin, which only repays us with death (6:23). That same grace makes possible our allegiance to a new Master (Matt. 11:28–30), whose industry is righteousness and life. “Thanks be to God,” Paul declares, for the blessing of serving Him and our neighbor in faithful obedience as humble servants.