Abiding in Christ: What Does it Mean? part 1 of 9, Word Study
What does it mean to abide in Christ? John 15, and other texts of Scripture, clearly teach that abiding in Christ is extremely important. To understand this essential, but too often misunderstood Biblical teaching, we are going to look at the New Testament references where the Greek word meno, translated "abide," appears in Scripture. We will also look at background to John 15, and then exegete the passage in John 15. May God use this study to help believers to abide more deeply and sweetly in Christ as they understand what it means to do so.
Note in the texts below that a sense of "remain," "endure," "persevere," or something of the sort is clear in many of the texts with the Greek word meno, "abide."
Mt 10:11 And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence.
Mt 11:23 And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
Mt 26:38 Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.
Here “remain/stay” is the sense as well. Consider that this text contains an identical imperative to that in John 15. The disciples were to stay there, while, v. 39, Christ went away from them a little farther. The word, of itself, does not indicate that fellowship with Him is involved in remaining/abiding/staying. Note that the Lord rebuked them for not “watching” (v. 40ff.) but not for not “tarrying” with Him, for they did stay there instead of going somewhere else, although they certainly had no sort of living fellowship with the Lord, for they were asleep.
Mr 6:10 And he said unto them, In what place soever ye enter into an house, there abide till ye depart from that place.
Here “remain/stay” in the sense of “dwell” is the idea. This use also is not one of living fellowship; one does not have fellowship with a house.
Mr 14:34 And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch.
Lu 1:56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
Mary remained/stayed/lived in Elizabeth’s house. Certainly Mary and Elizabeth had good fellowship, but they were both abiding in Elizabeth’s house, not abiding in one another. Note the last part of the verse.
Lu 8:27 And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs.
The man stayed/remained in the tombs, rather than in houses. No fellowship aspect appears in this usage either.
Lu 9:4 And whatsoever house ye enter into, there abide, and thence depart.
Here also, the command was to remain/stay in the house. Here, as in many of the previous references, location is in view.
Lu 10:7 And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house.
The preachers were to remain/stay in this house while they were in that city, rather than moving from one house to another and exploiting everyone’s hospitality.
Lu 19:5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.
The Lord Jesus was going to remain/stay in Zacchaeus’ house. The Savior would be his guest that day. Certainly fellowship would go on, but this fact is not required by the word itself.
Lu 24:29 But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them.
Both the command and the fulfillment are to remain/stay with someone, to continue in his physical presence.
Joh 1:32 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.
Here, and in v. 33, meno indicates a location. In v. 32 the Spirit came to abide on the Lord, and in v. 33 the Holy Ghost continued to remain on the Savior.
Joh 1:33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
Joh 1:38 Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou?
Here meno is equivalent to remain/stay. The two disciples asked the Lord Jesus what house He was staying in.
Joh 1:39 He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour.
The uses in v. 39 are like those in v. 38; they remained/stayed with the Lord. Surely the disciples had fellowship with Christ while they stayed with Him, but this result is not involved in the verb meno on its own.
Joh 2:12 After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they continued there not many days.
The people specified in the text remained or stayed in the city.
Joh 3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
The wrath of God stays or remains upon the unbelieving one.
Joh 4:40 So when the Samaritans were come unto him, they besought him that he would tarry with them: and he abode there two days.
The Samaritans asked the Lord to remain/stay with them, and so He did.
Joh 5:38 And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.
Here, when the Word remains or stays in one, it produces effects (although perhaps the statement that the Word did not remain in them is simply an affirmation of their ignorance of Scripture entirely, explaining hence the command of v. 39). See 8:31, where endurance in the belief and practice of the Word is indicated. Enduring obedience is associated with love for God, v. 42.
Joh 6:27 Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.
Spiritual food will continue/remain/endure/abide, unlike physical bread, which will perish. In relation to John 15, note that here meno is even rendered endure. The Online Bible version of Thayer’s Greek Lexicon provides the following statistics for the translation of meno: KJV – abide 61, remain 16, dwell 15, continue 11, tarry 9, endure 3, misc 5; 120 (total).
Joh 6:56 He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.
Here it looks like the spiritual union of remaining or staying in Christ, en Christo, is in view. The one who has spiritual fellowship with Christ, who believes in Him, who eats His flesh and drinks His blood, is in Christ, and Christ is in him. The spiritual union here would, based on other passages of Scripture, be unbreakable; one cannot be in Christ and then no longer be so. There is no command here to remain in the en Christo position; it is a declarative statement. It looks like, contextually, this statement is something like, “He that believes in Me, remains in Me, and I in him.”
Joh 7:9 When he had said these words unto them, he abodestill in Galilee.
The Lord remained/stayed in Galilee.
Joh 8:31 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
Christ commands the believing Jews to remain or stay in His Word. This appears to be perseverance in obedience to it. The verse does not establish any mystical idea in abiding. This is not to say that God does not do great things by His Spirit in His people through the Word, nor does it deny that He does in fact hold glorious communion with them (1 John 1:3); it is simply dealing with the much narrower question of whether John 8:31 proves that He does these things. One should note as well that this verse is a statement that only those who, having received a new nature by grace, continue to follow the Lord are truly converted; the verse does not make a distinction between some sort of higher Christian life as a disciple versus a lower “Christian” life of perpetual carnality is in view, rather than a distinction between the saved and the lost. Those who do not continue and are not “disciples indeed” do not “know the truth” and are not “free” (8:31-32). All believers know the truth, and no unbelievers know the truth (John 1:17; 14:6, 17; 17:17, 19; and this knowledge leads to a changed life as its certain result: “Every one that is of the truth heareth [Christ’s] voice,” John 18:37; and consequently becomes a true worshipper (John 4:23-24), follows Christ (John 10:27), and “doeth truth . . . that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (John 3:21). Furthermore, in the immediate context of John 8:31-32 (namely, in v. 36), and everywhere else in the New Testament, being made “free” is an event that takes place at the moment of regeneration (John 8:32, 36; Romans 6:18, 22; 8:2, 21; Galatians 5:1). While the believer is to renew his discipleship daily (Luke 9:23), the call of the Lord Jesus, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34) is a call to repentance and faith, to conversion: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it [eternally in hell]; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake [repent of his sin and his own life and way] and the gospel’s, the same shall save it [will go to heaven]” (Mark 8:35). Those who do not become disciples lose their own souls eternally in the lake of fire (Mark 8:36). While there can certainly be false or unsaved disciples (John 8:31; 6:66) just like there can be false believers (John 2:23-25; cf. 3:1-21), every true believer is a true disciple, and every true disciple is a true believer.
The Lord Jesus Himself, who knew that He was speaking to true converts (John 8:30-31), gave them assurance based on the evidence of the new birth and new nature (John 8:31—a certainty in every truly converted person, John 17:17). How much the more should His people, who do not know infallibly what has gone on within a professed convert, follow His practice! Believers must not give assurance to those who claim conversion but manifest no change of life.
Joh 8:35 And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever.
The servant does not remain or stay in the house, but the Son does.
Joh 9:41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.
The Lord Jesus tells those who oppose Him that their sins were remaining or staying upon them.
Joh 10:40 And went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John at first baptized; and there he abode.
Christ remained or stayed in a location beyond Jordan where John had at first baptized.
Joh 11:6 When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.
Joh 12:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
The grain of wheat remains or stays on its own.
Joh 12:34 The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man?
The Christ remains or stays to rule forever.
Joh 12:46 I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.
The believer will no longer remain in darkness, but will be in the light instead.
Joh 14:10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.
The Father has a position of being in the Son, and the Son is in the Father (see also v. 11). It is certain that the Father and Son have an ineffably deep fellowship, but what in the text indicates that “dwelleth” specifies this fellowship, rather than representing the ontological indwelling, the interpenetration of the three Persons in the Trinity?
Joh 14:16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
The Spirit would come to remain/stay with the saints forever. See also v. 17.
Joh 14:17Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwellethwith you, and shall be in you.
Here the Spirit is known because He dwells with, and shall be in, the saints. Dwelling or abiding is not synonymous with being known, but the Spirit’s indwelling is the cause of fellowship. This verse does establish an explicit connection between fellowship and indwelling for the inward work of the Spirit. Perhaps a parallel to this in the earlier texts is found where the Lord Jesus stayed in someone’s house; fellowship on that account would be a definite result. So knowing the Spirit because He dwells within is established here. “Ye know Him, because He dwelleth with you, and shall be dwelling in you.” The Lord does not use meno of the relation of the Spirit within the Christian here; the Spirit who at that time was “with” them dwelt or abode with them; at the coming day when He would be within them, He would at that time dwell in them. The verse also supports the conclusion that believers also know the Father and the Son because both of them similarly dwell in the saints; cf. vv. 20, 23. Note the present tense use of meno in John 14:17.
Joh 14:25 These things have I spoken unto you, beingyetpresent with you.
While still remaining or continuing with the disciples on the earth, Christ said these things to them.
See the complete study on meno or "abiding," which includes the passages not only in the KJV but also in the Greek NT (not present in this series of blog posts), by clicking here.