In my book, Christ’s Empowering Presence, I include a couple of chapters which aim to show that the pursuit of a moment-by-moment mentoring relationship with the risen Christ possesses biblical warrant. Below is an excerpt from chapter five of the book. I hope you find it helpful–i.e., that it inspires you to want to abide in Christ in a theologically real rather than merely conceptual manner.
“Abide in me” – Jesus’ Call for Us to Remain Connected
At the same time, the New Testament makes it clear that such a spiritual communion with Christ needs to be maintained lest it be lost or rendered impotent. For example, in John 15:1–8 we find a passage that I believe can be interpreted in a way that serves to encourage us to engage in “the pursuit”:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Yes, I’m aware that this passage can be interpreted as simply a call for Jesus’ disciples to remain faithful to him and his teachings—to never defect from their commitment to his lordship or even allow themselves to be distracted in their discipleship. We might refer to this as a volitional-intellectual connection with Christ. Interpreted in this way, the passage need not imply an ongoing mystical-experiential communion with the risen Jesus after all.
Then again, why must we choose between these two interpretive options as if Jesus’ intention in this famous exhortation had to be one or the other? As important as it is for us to remain diligent volitionally in our study of Christ’s teachings (i.e., his “words”), isn’t it also necessary for us to experience an ongoing sense of his spiritual presence in our lives? Doesn’t the larger context of this passage (John 14–17) argue for a both/and rather than an either/or interpretation of this powerful passage?
I would make the same kind of argument with regard to another New Testament passage that can be interpreted in either a volitional-intellectual or mystical-experiential manner. In Galatians 2:20, the apostle Paul boldly states:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Of course it’s possible to interpret this passage, with its reference to Christ living within Paul, in a manner that’s entirely metaphorical and not in any sense literal. According to this interpretation, all Paul was doing here was insisting that his hope of salvation rested solely upon his faith in the cross-work of Christ and not in any futile attempt on his part to keep the law of Moses. According to this reading of Galatians2:20, Paul was simply indicating his commitment to maintain a volitional-intellectual connection to Christ.
Surely we shouldn’t miss this point. It is important to reject a legalistic approach to the Christian faith and to hold tightly to the message of grace. But once again, why must we choose between the two methods of interpretation—metaphorical and literal—and the two types of being connected to Christ that they yield—volitional-intellectual and mystical-experiential? Isn’t it at least possible to think that Paul might also have thought of the Spirit of Jesus actually residing within him, enabling and empowering him to live his life for the one who had died for him? Indeed, I’m convinced that a careful reading of related passages (such as Romans 6:1–14 and 2 Corinthians 5:14–21) will indicate that the apostle Paul believed that a dynamic, interactive relationship existed between a literal experience of the risen Christ in our lives and our ability to live for him! According to Paul, it’s vitally important that we maintain both a volitional-intellectual and mystical-experiential relationship with Jesus!
There you have it: my take on how the call to abide famously presented in John 15:1-8 can be interpreted as New Testament support for the pursuit of Christ’s empowering presence. For even more support, you’ll need to read the rest of the book! I could think of worse ways to spend a couple of hours!
Something to think about.