Solid Food Series: Lesson One: Part Two: Section One
Welcome back readers and students of the Word! This is Lesson One, Part Two, in the Solid Food Series; if you haven’t read the prior posts leading up to this post, it would behoove you to do so. This part is the area in which I particularly enjoy; although the practical application is equally as rewarding, this is where the Spirit gets to use me and I get to in some ways sit back and relax!
The Progression of The Solid Food Series:
Lesson One: Part Two, Section One….YOU ARE HERE
In my many years of exploring the Bible, I have found this chapter in John to be a goldmine of spiritual truths, and many other verses throughout the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, clearly echo its mysterious teachings. I think most would agree that any verse in the Bible, at first glance or at first reading, is simple in its basic truth. However, I compare study in the Word to be like the game of chess: it is not too difficult to grasp the basic functions of each piece and one can “get by” without fully understanding all of the strategies involved, but to really understand chess and to progress in the true essence of its beauty takes years of study and much “hands-on” training. In other words, it is easy to learn but almost impossible to master. The more you allow God to enlighten your eyes, the more there is to be seen.
We also must come to the realization that grace functions hand-in-hand with discipline. I know there are teachers out there that tell us that grace, love and mercy will get us to where we need to be. This is simply not the case; if it were the case, then I would gladly admit it. Contrary to the belief that God will do all the work for us, we must embrace the disciplines that the Lord has ordained: prayer, meditation, fasting, and immersion in His Word. If it were so easy, then there wouldn’t be a Christian alive that didn’t walk in complete victory! These disciplines are the strategies, if you will, of what Christ means when He says, “Abide in Me”. Some would say, “Well, the Bible teaches that we must walk by faith, and that it is impossible to please God without faith” (Hebrews 11:6). These statements are indeed true; however, we must discover how to receive and grow this faith. Contrary to some doctrine, faith is not the same as belief. The Bible clearly states that God has dealt a “measure” of faith to each person (Romans 12:3, 1 Corinthians 12:9) as a gift, that faith can be increased (2 Corinthians 10:15), and that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). One cannot “muster up” or “conjure up” faith by themself! We start by believing, He finishes by giving faith. Hearing a preacher is wonderful, but continuing to hear and learning to hear from God every day is the true way of a disciple. Jesus Himself said that “My sheep hear My voice”…so we ask ourselves, “Are we hearing His voice?”
So defining what it means to hear the word and also discovering how to ask for faith and growing therein is absolutely crucial to becoming a disciple of the Master. Of course I recognize that without grace, love, and mercy the whole system wouldn’t exist to begin with…we cannot earn salvation, for it is a gift; but what we do with that gift is paramount! If I gave you a new Mercedes convertible, that’s great; but if you never drove it, what is the point? Being born again is great, but if we crawl around as an infant our whole life, what good are we? Is that harsh? Good! I want to be a little harsh here because I see an abundance of infants in Christ all around me. We must not take the free gift for granted and should be faithful to live life in this free gift…not put it on a shelf for Sunday mornings. In John 15, we are told the keys to a powerful, magnificent existence right here and right now. Too many of us are so longing for heaven, that we allow our present lives to be hell! Eternal life can start right now if we listen to what Jesus is teaching. In the introduction to the Solid Food Series, I outline what it means to be a maturing Christian. Part of being a maturing Christian, as defined by the Apostle Paul, is moving forward from the foundation laid by the “milk”. I love writing “milky” posts that are filled with love, abounding in grace, and overflowing with mercy. These are meant as invitations to my readers, to foster a heart desire to grow closer to a Lord and Savior that yearns for you to be blessed and wants you to know Him more. Like any other relationship, we must invest time into that relationship to grow into the fullness thereof. So don’t be turned off by my tone; no one enjoys basking in the “milky” gifts as much as I do, but there is a sobering reality that shouts to us from not too far away, that walking in the spirit is not only an honor but also a necessity.
Whew! Are you glad that I’m jumping off my soap-box now? I know I feel better! So, are we ready to dig out some treasure? Let’s go…
Cold, Hard Reality
In verse 1 and in the first part of verse 5, we see the relationship that we discussed in Part One: mainly that the Father is the vinedresser, Christ is the vine, and we are the branches. At the onset of this chapter, we see a cold, hard reality in the first half of verse 2: “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit he takes away…” Ouch! How does this verse strike you? The plain and simple truth being stated here is two-fold: 1.) You can be in Him and then be removed and 2.) You need to bear fruit. I will first examine the branch that is removed, and later we will examine what bearing fruit actually means.
“Branch in Me” suggests that at one time, the branch was in Christ. Does that mean that we can be removed? Ahhh, let me see…how can I put this gently? Yes! It is beyond my wisdom or territory to interpret what it means to be removed. I just know I don’t want that for myself or for anyone else. I guess for some it means going to hell, for some it means missing out on a spiritual life, and I’m sure there are other “softer, gentler” interpretations. I can’t and won’t go there. Just like in Revelation when the Lord speaks of vomiting out the lukewarm church from His mouth (Revelation 4:14-22), I don’t know what that means but I sure don’t want to experience it!
This act of being “removed” is reminiscent of the Parable of the Soils in that some seeds find the wayside, some find stony ground, some grow among the weeds, and some find fertile ground (Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:4-15). Please note that this parable is in every gospel except John. That is one of many reasons that I draw the parallel. I wish the seed of the Gospel found fertile ground every single time, and I know that God feels the same way; for the Bible says that he desires that NONE should perish (2 Peter 3:9). So what is fertile ground? Fertile ground is a heart prepared for sowing. I believe this hints at a broken spirit and soul. Think of how difficult it is for a rich man to enter…why? He doesn’t see himself as wretched; he doesn’t feel anything is terribly wrong, he seems to be doing quite well. A heart can be “tilled” if we allow that painful process to occur, but some of us (including myself) have had our butts handed to us throughout our lives and gladly accept the fact that we are broken; we have been tilled and our soil has been “broken up”. Our Lord loves to take the weak things of this world and make great masterpieces. So if you don’t feel weak, I strongly advise you to seek that weakness, that powerlessness, and that helplessness. We humble ourselves before the Lord, that He may lift us up! (James 4:10). I am convinced that some folk have to really seek hard after this part of becoming fertile soil. The ridiculous beauty of being a self-confessed wretch is that you are tilled and ready for “a new life”. I didn’t write the rules; I’m just keeping it real here! Blessed are the poor in spirit. Amen to that!
Just a side note here: Many people that know me or have seen my life through their own eyes ask me, “With all the crap you have been through, how are you so full of joy?” Seriously, I’ve lost both my parents prematurely to the hands of cancer (we call it the “C”-word in my family), I almost died in a car crash (I still have back problems), I was an addict, an alcoholic, and there have been too many tragedies in my life to mention or bore you with. What they can see at closer inspection is that it was these things in my life that “tilled the soil”, and I am more than happy to tell them of my testimony. You see, it is easier for me and my fellow down-and-outs because there is no doubting in our hearts that we are completely lost and useless without our Savior. Would you do me the favor of asking yourself this question and being honest with yourself? Question: “Would I consider myself completely lost and useless without Christ?”…I mean be completely honest here…do you ever inadvertently or on purpose say to yourself, “Thank you God for helping me in my times of trouble, but in these small things…I got this”? I played that game for a while and quickly realized that everything I touched turned to crap…I had the anti-Midas touch! Selfishness for me is no longer an option…what about you? Do you sometimes do like Joshua and ask for guidance and help with the impossible (the taking of Jericho) and then take the small stuff for granted (like the epic screw-up of Ai)? Gentle reader, please heed me when I tell you and echo the Scripture: “In ALL that you do, do to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
So here is the correlation: if one is not bearing fruit as stated in John 15, one is in the same condition as the seed that fell upon something other than fertile soil. The branch will be removed or the seed will fail…it is the same thing. A little hope here: maybe we get more than one shot at it! I know from personal experience that this is the case, but we never know how many shots we actually get. That is why the gospel is so immediate, that is why our call is so very urgent, and that is why we Christians need to fully comprehend what is actually at stake, not only in our lives but in the lives of others we are trying to reach.
Cleansed by the Word
The striking clarity in the second half of verse 2 through verse 3 is somehow missed; I am guilty of not making the connection as well. The reason for the confusion is the word “prune” vs. the word “clean”. As we saw in Part One, they are virtually the same thing. Let’s go caveman here: “Prune…pain…no good, Clean…painless…good!” Here is the kicker: it can be painful, but doesn’t need to be! As we will discover in the “Part Three: Practical Application” post coming soon to a theatre near you, there is the option of the “maintenance program of God” as opposed to the “I can’t believe I let this house get into such a mess” option. The spiritual truth here is that we are clean as soon as we are washed in the spoken words of the Master, and that when we begin to bear fruit, we will need to be continuously “refreshed” or “purified” by the continuing washing in His word.
The first thing said is that “every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Think, think, think…we are meant to “bear more fruit”. So when we think we have gone far enough with God or that God has lifted us into the glorious realm of His Kingdom far enough and that is the end, we are mistaken. That is why you will hear teachers tell you that God’s plans for you are way, way above and beyond what you could ever imagine. God wants to prosper us, He wants to always have you as “a work in progress”, and He is never done with us! This is an expression of just how much He loves us. The bearing of fruit is not only our privilege, it is our inheritance. As we will see, the bearing of spiritual fruit is a blessed gift. There are many facets to what this fruit actually is. In one way, the fruit facilitates the sowing of more seeds or rather spreading the Gospel, which is the great commission; and in another way refers to the spiritual fruits mentioned by Paul: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). Now honestly, who doesn’t crave these things? Believer or non-believer, what human doesn’t crave love, doesn’t long for peace, and doesn’t pursue joy? Who would reject the upward call of patience, kindness, and self-control? These are mighty promises!
So the final word here is simple: we are clean by the word and we are maintained and cleaned as we bear these fruits. In my little brain, I think of being pruned as being purified and sanctified by the process of refinement. The refining fire of the Holy Spirit continues to “burn us up”. When one is refining a precious metal (this metaphor is peppered all through Scripture), it must be heated to high temperatures. When you first fire a metal, you remove a lot of “dross” or impurities. When the metal begins to cool down, some oxidation occurs and some impurities still remain and are actually formed on the surface. Only through repeated firings, can one completely purify the precious metal. And taken to the natural conclusion, even pure metal (a saint in the holy priesthood…see 1 Peter 2:4-5) needs to be polished regularly! So do we think the Bible uses this metaphor by accident? Do we not think that God, the author of science, knows the ins-and-outs of purification and the refinement of metal? Did God in His wisdom not know that as we progressed in knowledge throughout time, that this metaphor would become more and more profound and acute in its relevancy? I so love our Almighty God! Do you realize that today, with all the scientific discoveries and technological advances that we have made, we have a more clear picture than our ancestors? We are in fact, better equipped today for the advancement of the Kingdom than ever before in history! How sad, that we humans in our pride have taken for granted the great truths being revealed in quantum physics, cosmology, cellular biology, and all other forms of science. I love science for this reason: it reveals more and more of just how awesome our God truly is! Let us understand and embrace the truth “hidden in plain sight” that points directly to a God that wants to be more understood and revealed. But alas, I am waxing on you…the point here is this: the process of being pruned or refined is an ever-ascending purification with no limits. As the “cloud of witnesses” increases; it bears testimony of average, flawed men and women who have whole-heartedly submitted themselves to being refined even more, gladly humbled themselves to be pruned even more so that the name of God can be glorified. He wants the process to continue; we are the ones that limit God. Do you want more of God?…then give Him more of you!
I promised myself that I would keep these posts in manageable form and not get too wordy. Well, I have pushed the parameters…again! So, I will have to meet back with you in a few days to continue Part Two. What you have to understand is that I am writing this as I go so I can let the Spirit lead…I have no control over how long a section will last. Suffice it to say, the next section will pick up where this one has left off. I will get into the heart of the matter in the next post as I move into verse 4 and the spiritual implications of “Abide in Me, and I in you.”
I hope you are enjoying this journey with me! Remember, in the introduction I warned that this will be a small book, so you can’t be ill with me over its length!
May our Lord bless you with love, peace, and joy,