1 “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 does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and 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 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I 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, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
We build our house using physical matters, bricks, mortar, woods, cement, steel, concrete, and so forth. But how are we to build character? We certainly can’t use food, or drink, or any other physical matters. As we all know, as all teachers know, as all philosophers and wise man and the gurus and religious leaders all over the world throughout all ages know, building one’s character starts with words. The right words, the correct words, the true words, the eternal words, those are the words that one uses to build character. Empty words, lying words, evil words, false words, will only damage one’s soul and destroy one’s character. Humanity strives for the building up of human character. For humanity’s success depends greatly on human character. A strong nation can be seen from whether the people of the nation have strong character or not. A wise king knows how to compile all the right words, the true words, the eternal words, in order to instruct the people and build their character strong. Confucius knew this secret 2,500 years ago, and thus he passed down the words of heaven to his disciples. And his disciples wrote them in what we now know as “the Analects of Confucius.” Great dynasties rose in China, all owed their success to Confucius. The Greeks rose to become the great nation they were, they owed it to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The maxim “Know Thyself” became their cornerstone of their glory. All nations in the world carefully keep the important words that they may pass on from generation to generation in order to continue the character building of their people. For they all know that without the building of the character of their people, their kingdom will crumble.
Greater than any philosopher, founder of religion, teacher, king, prime minister, counselor, or guru in this world, is Jesus Christ the Son of God. All others borrow their words from something or someone else. Their words do not originate from themselves. They compose words through observation of the world. They hold on to words that have been passed on by their ancestors. But Jesus speaks words that originate from himself. For he himself is the Word, the Eternal Logos. Peter admits in John 6:68-69 saying: “68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” And the Apostle John received a revelation from the Holy Spirit to write John 1:1-3: “1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” In him the entire universe has been made. The Creation account in Genesis 1 records that God spoke his words and the world came into being. For each day God created through speaking his words. On the sixth day, God created man in a special way. Genesis 1:26-27 records:
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
God created man in the image of God, after his likeness. Both male and female God created them in the image of God. Our ancestors Adam and Eve were created in the image and the likeness of God. 1 Adam and 1 Eve – Adam the man and Eve the woman – were created as the ancestors of all humanity. They were created in a special way in a special manner with special plan according to a very special pattern. They were not created through the process of evolution, like some people would argue. And the image of God is Jesus Christ himself as revealed in Colossians 1:15-20:
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Jesus is the Eternal Logos. He is the Word himself. Flowing within us is the word of God. And ever since the creation of Adam and Eve, God could then communicate with his creation through intelligible words, as documented in Genesis 1:28-30:
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.
These words that God communicated to the first man and woman have not the same quality with the words that brought the universe into being, but these words are words of command, words of communication to reveal God’s intention and will to his creation, and words of communion to build relationship. This never happened before on earth. That was the very first time since the world was created. God communicated to man as if he communicated with the persons in the Trinity in Genesis 1:26. And ever since, the Holy Scripture continues to record God’s words that he communicates to humanity.
When Jesus incarnated, he spoke words of eternal life to the people. Through those words he built his people. Those who have ears they hear. Those whom the Father has drawn to himself, listened to Jesus’ words. Through the words of Jesus, their life was reoriented. Through the words of Christ, their life was reordered, rebuilt, according to the pattern of the true image of God, Jesus Christ himself. Unlike other philosophers, religious leaders, and the like, Jesus spoke the original words out of himself. For he is God himself. He and the Father are One. John 10:30 records the saying of Jesus: “30 I and the Father are one.” This word of God is what Jesus called as the truth. In his high priestly prayer Jesus prayed for his disciples and all who would believe in the word, John 17:17: “17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” And three chapters before he prayed this prayer, he declared to his disciples in John 14:6: “6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the truth himself. Then Jesus commanded his disciples to abide in him in John 15. The abiding that Jesus meant was the abiding in his word. The word of Jesus becomes the key for staying in Jesus.
Jesus is not present with us today in his bodily form. But he is present with us in Spirit and in his truth – his word. God is building his people up on the foundation of his word, the eternal word. Ephesians 2:18-22 speaks of this building:
18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
The apostles and the prophets spoke only of the word of God. They did not speak their own words. They did not speak of other people’s words. They spoke only the word of God, the word of Christ Jesus. The Old Testament and the New Testament are the foundation of the building up of the people of God. Jesus Christ himself is the cornerstone that puts the two Testaments together. As his followers, we dwell in his word. We abide in his word. Abiding in his word produces within us abundant fruit. Without abiding in his word we cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit. Being unproductive the branches will be good only for burning. Only the productive branches are kept. The unproductive branches are cut and thrown into the fire.
Therefore, it is a contradiction to believe that we abide in Jesus while at the same time rejecting to dwell in his word. If we are lazy to read the Scripture. If we don’t bother to reflect and meditate on his word. If we don’t put any effort whatsoever to find time to listen to the word of God. How can we say that we abide in Jesus? For Jesus only builds his people through his words. The only way to abide in Jesus is if we abide in his words. David reflects on the necessity to abide in the word of God and says in Psalm 1:
1Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
Only abiding in God’s word will produce in the life of man the fruit of the Spirit as described by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23: “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” The fruit of wickedness, on the other hand, which is the product of the life not abiding in the word of Christ, is described by Paul in Galatians 5:19-21: “19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” The end result of wickedness is that those who practice them will not inherit the kingdom of God.
The aim of Jesus’ work to build up his people is for the saints to produce the fruit of the Spirit. And in the end to inherit the kingdom of God, together with him. All character building teaching will find no problem with the fruit of the Spirit as spelled out by the apostle Paul. Everybody in this world knows that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control are highly desirable characters that they want everybody to have and produce. These nine characters, which is the fruit of the Spirit, can only be built through the word of Christ. God has prepared all the infrastructure of humanity to match the word he has spoken. The creation of man testifies of God creating Adam and Eve in the image of God, Jesus Christ, who is the eternal Logos – Word himself. So when the word of God is spoken to us, our own construct matches the word. However, the Fall jeopardizes the match. So man is confused. The holy word of God is rejected by man. For man has died in sin. But the salvation in Jesus revives man. Whoever believes in Jesus has received the renewal of their infrastructure. Once again their construct matches the Holy word of God. For when man is redeemed in Christ, Christ then dwells within the heart of man. The Eternal Logos himself dwells within the heart of every believer through the Holy Spirit, and thus the holy word of God is no longer rejected. Instead, the word of God starts working in the life of the believer, to build them up. To restructure their life according to God’s will. To start producing in them, the fruit of the Spirit.
And now, as Jesus has been made known in the world of man, as the savior, the Lord, the King, and God himself, our life is to be rooted in him. We are being brought back to him, to enter into his kingdom that he is establishing. Jesus is building up the people who will enter into the kingdom. The process of sanctification is necessary to cleanse us. The word of Christ sanctifies us. The word of Christ is the truth. And the truth sanctifies us. Because man has always been confused of what is true or what is not true. This is because man took it upon themselves the task to judge what is true or false. Back in Genesis 3, Eve and Adam were facing a test. The test to whether to believe in the word of God as the only truth or to believe in the word of the serpent as the competing truth. They had to choose. Instead of choosing one or the other, they stepped outside their boundary, and made judgment for themselves. Therefore they left faith in God, and used their own faculty to judge which is right or not. Their very act turned humanity upside down. Ever since that event, humanity never knows what is truly true. They are always confused. Choosing which one is true becomes a huge task. The rise of science gives pseudo confidence on man. They think that through science man may know the absolute truth. Instead of knowing the truth, man has become more confused than ever. Scientists in the 21st century have begun to question the absoluteness of the Newtonian Physics, which for so many centuries has been held as an absolute truth. Albert Einstein’s Relativity Theory started the challenge. And now, instead of being certain of the absolute truth in the physical world, scientists begin to see its relativity. But in the Holy Scripture we find the absolute truth. And this can only be accepted through faith. Faith in the word. Faith in the word of God. Just like what Paul says in Romans 10:17: “17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Listen to what Jesus says:
1 “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 does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and 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 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
- The Business of Christian Education XCVII -