What did Jesus mean when He said to the eleven on their way from the upper room to the garden, "Abide in me"? There are two very different views propagated, and even as you read this post, you might not comprehend it yet.
To many, maybe even most professing Christians, "abide in me," is some kind of unique brand of Christian life, to abide in Christ. You might be a Christian and not abiding in Jesus. They would say it's some kind of special closeness, a mystical concept. I'm writing that it is not that.
Judas had left the other eleven. He had defected. He had departed. He had not remained with Jesus and them. He didn't stick around. He wouldn't persevere. He couldn't overcome. He pushed the eject button on the Christian life. He apostatized.
That very night would be one of great affliction in which they would be tempted to follow Judas's footsteps. They would be tested mightily. Peter would deny the Lord three times, which would lead him to go back fishing.
Again and again in the upper room, Jesus said that if the men loved Him, they would keep His commandments, His words, His sayings. Those who would not keep His commandments did not love Him and were essentially defectors. The promises of chapter 14, intended as comforting realities and calming truths, were for those who loved the Lord Jesus Christ.
The vine and the branch analogy of John 15 was a metaphor. It was one used for God and the nation Israel, a very familiar one for Israel through the Old Testament. God had warned Israel through His prophets about defecting, at not remaining or staying with Him, and losing out on His blessing. Israel's apostasy itself brought the eleven to this point with Jesus.
One of the first vocabulary words in first year Greek is the verb, meno, which means to remain or stay, not go elsewhere. It's a simple word. If you stayed, you weren't taking off. While they walked to a very difficult trial, Jesus was saying, "Don't take off." He said, "Abide in me," because of the vine and branch metaphor. The branch needed to abide in the vine or else be thrown into the fire.
"Abide" is an aorist imperative, which is constative. Daniel Wallace uses this very verb as an example of the constative aorist in his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. A. T. Robertson calls it a constative in his Word Pictures. Wallace says the constative means, "Make this your top priority," without emphasizing the start of the action or expressing the continuation of it.
People who are saved will not leave the Lord Jesus Christ. Defectors like Judas are not saved. They will be cast into the fire. This is not talking about how to be a better Christian. People who abide are saved people.
Jesus spent much of John 14 speaking to them about God indwelling believers. He was with them but then He would be in them. The ones He indwells are those who overcome, who persevere. For everything that God does to keep believers, so that no man can pluck them out of His hand, believers will cooperate in continuing in Him. Jesus is the Vine. They will remain attached to the Vine, which is abiding in Him.
"Abiding in Christ" is not an instruction for how to be a better Christian. Those who abide in Him do in fact keep loving Him and keeping His commandments. Faith in Christ is not a dead faith, but a living faith, a persevering faith. A person born of God will keep on believing in Jesus as a practice. God indwells him and enables him to love Christ and keep His commandments.
Those who abide in Christ bring forth fruit. The fruit reveals the reality of their abiding in Christ and Christ in them. They also have the capacity through God the Father's pruning process to bear even more fruit.
Two different types of Christians in John 15:1-8 fit a theological presupposition seen in Keswick theology. It is a Keswick interpretation. Abiding in Christ is a higher life to be attained for a Christian in Keswick thinking. A Christian can be a spiritual one, who abides in Christ, or a carnal one, who does not abide in Christ. Abiding in Christ describes to a Keswick believer a victorious Christian life, but someone not abiding is still a Christian. Whether someone bears fruit or does not bear fruit do not indicate any difference in eternal outcome. Both go to heaven in the end and in complete contradiction to everything Jesus says in John 13-14 so far.
Taking passages like John 15:1-8 in such Keswick fashion allows for numerous professions of faith, not accompanied by perseverance or abiding, to be counted by the workers or ministers as fruit for them. These non-fruit bearing individuals are counted as their fruit, because they saw them make a profession of faith. That's all that matters.
Abiding in Christ is not mystical. It speaks of true Christian conversion differentiated from a false profession that does not abide, does not bear fruit, and will in the end go to Hell. What Keswick theology does is give this false conversion false security that will inoculate him from the truth that he is not saved. This is a tragedy that exists in churches all over America and the world that is of an indescribable monumental proportion. It is bad enough to mark as something akin to a false gospel, worthy of separation.