My church in California used to present two plays each year — one on the Sunday before Christmas and one on Good Friday. Often, I got to help with both writing and directing. After one Good Friday play, one of the actors I’d directed gave me a thank you gift: Andrew Murray’s book, Abide In Christ.
The book left me frustrated, convincing me yet again of my failure to achieve intimacy with Christ.
Being in a Charismatic church, I’d been taught that God wanted to satisfy me completely and only with Himself. In fact, my desire to be married (the woman who led the Women’s Ministry assured me) indicated a profound deficit in my relationship with Jesus. She gave me The Song Of Songs by Watchman Nee to help me understand Jesus as my Husband. A pastor’s wife gave me Hannah Hurnard’s Hinds Feet In High Places for the same reason. And each of those books left me feeling guilty over my apparent inability to abide in Christ.
Avoid those books and others like them. While promising joy and fulfillment, they actually place burdens on Christians to develop a type of intimacy with Christ that goes beyond what the Bible describes. Yes, Jesus does call us to abide in Him, and He promises to abide in us. But elevating those principles to the level of mystical experience deviates from the clear teaching of Scripture and sets people (especially single women) up for unnecessary frustration. Therefore, why don’t we take a few minutes to talk about abiding in Christ from the Lord’s perspective?
Just before His arrest, Jesus made a lengthy discourse to his disciples, preparing them for the persecution they would endure. In the middle of that discourse, He emphasized the essential duty of abiding in Him:
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. 9 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11 These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. ~~John 15:1-11 (NASB)
Abiding in Christ happens as we discipline ourselves to be in His Word.
But that’s too simple, some would argue. There’s got to be some secret to abiding in Christ beyond just knowing and obeying His Word. I remember thinking that way, and struggling to figure out how to apply the principles that Andrew Murray, Watchman Nee and Hannah Hurnard put forth. Although people in spiritual leadership told me on one hand to relax and rest in the Lord, the same leaders on the other hand subtly suggested that I didn’t try hard enough to abide in Him. Because I don’t believe my experience is unique, I want to make it clear that no one needs to complicate the beautiful nature of abiding in Christ.
Keeping the Lord’s commandments necessitates knowing His Word, as we see in verses 7 and 10. Yes, that knowing does require a certain effort to read and study Scripture both consistently and responsibly. In that respect, abiding in Christ does take work on our part, and I’d be guilty of misleading you to deny it. At the same time, abiding in Him doesn’t require anything deeper or more mystical than knowing and obeying His Word.
The impulse to turn abiding in Christ into a cause for the mysticism compels people to complicate John 15:1-11. Such complications, however, result in bringing Christians under bondage as they try to figure out how to reach this enigmatic state of abiding. Occasionally, a Christian might achieve feelings that she interprets as a state of abiding, only to find that those feelings disappear all too quickly. Maintaining mystical experience, it turns out, takes even more effort and energy than reading and obeying Scripture does. Thus, complicating abiding in Christ into a mystical experience to be sustained experience merely sets people up for disappointment.
Christ wants us to abide in Him, and He told us how to do it. We can praise Him for making it so beautifully simple.