Monday, February 27, 2017

"Abide in Me," John 15:1-8: Saved or Unsaved, Not Christian or Better Christian

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.


Anonymous said...

It was a distinct turning point in my life and understanding of salvation in Christ when I began to realize that "abide in Christ" was not instruction on how to be a better Christian.


Kent Brandenburg said...


Thanks. I appreciate the comment. Many are messed upon their understanding of salvation. To a non-saving extent? In most of those cases, yes.

Tyler Robbins said...

Good article, thanks.

I once had a long discussion once with somebody (a Christian with a PhD in NT) who argued that Jn 15:1-8 wasn't describing true believers who persevere. I argued that it was describing the Christian life; we remain in and abide with Jesus day by day. It's descriptive of what the Christian life looks like. John said much the same thing in 1 John.

Bill Hardecker said...

Keswick hermeneutics is total confusion. You've got to abide and let the Christ-life flow through you but what then about subsequent sins? Did the Christ-life fail?

KJB1611 said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

I believe that the following quote on John 15:6 strongly buttresses the point of your post:

The one who does not, as a summary of his life, abide (aorist tense), or continue faithful to Christ, is cast into hell fire, where he will be continually burned (present tense) for all eternity. The branch without genuine connection to the Lord pictures an unregenerate person with only an outward profession of Christianity. John 15:6 does not picture a loss of reward for a disobedient believer. Other than John 15:6, the verbs “cast forth” (ballo) and “burned” (kaio) are found together only in Revelation 8:8 and 19:20. Neither reference speaks of believers being cast forth or burned. Revelation 19:20 (cf. 20:11-15; 21:8, “the lake which burneth (kaio) with fire and brimstone”), however, demonstrates that the lost will be “cast (ballo) . . . into a lake of fire burning (kaio) with brimstone.” Furthermore, out of 125 instances of the verb “cast forth” (ballo) in the New Testament, believers are never once said to be cast forth by God, but the lost are, over and over again, said to be cast (ballo) into the fires of hell (note Matthew 3:10; 5:13, 25, 29-30; 7:19; 13:42, 48; 18:8-9; Mark 9:42 (cf. vv. 41-48), 45, 47; Luke 3:9; 12:58; 14:35; Revelation 2:22; 12:4, 9, 13; 14:19; 18:21; 19:20; 20:3, 10, 14-15). Thus, the verse indicates that a lack of fruit is evidence of a non-living connection to the vine. The present tense of ballo, in “cast” them into the fire, refers vividly (cf. the present tenses in Matthew 3:10; 7:19; Luke 3:9; Revelation 2:22) to the unconverted being cast into eternal torment. The judgment of the lost in hellfire is associated with a similar plant and fruit-bearing image in John 15 as in Matthew 3:10; 7:19; Luke 3:9. These unregenerate, apostate, “withered” and fruitless branches (cf. Jude 12; Job 8:11-13; James 1:11), of which Judas is the contextual example, are often “cast forth” (also ballo, here aorist, as in Mark 9:45, 47; Revelation 20:15) in a certain sense in this life, through outward apostasy from the church, to which they had been outwardly united (cf. Matthew 13:47), whether voluntarily or through church discipline, but their ultimate rejection and separation from the elect will take place at the day of judgment. At that time the wheat and chaff, the branches truly united to Christ and those only professedly so, will be “gathered” (sunago, cf. Matthew 3:12; 13:30; 25:32; Luke 3:17) to their respective destinies of eternal joy or torment. The branches without union to Christ will glorify God’s justice in their miserable damnation; they will not glorify God here by good works, but they will glorify His justice by their being burned eternally (Ezekiel 15:2-5; Romans 9:22).

Christ in this verse says “if a man” abide not, rather than “if ye abide not,” for, Judas having been separated from them, the remaining disciples were all genuine believers. (from

Unknown said...

Dear jackhammer,
This is one of my favorite passages. As I read through the chapter verse 5 stuck out to me. "For without me ye can do nothing". Thanks for the post. Craig

JMark said...

Thank you for the article.

We have far too many churches preaching a gospel littered with no repentance and as a result there is no abiding fruit. My family just left this type of church. I know God has a place for us somewhere. Thank you for all the articles on Salvation. Scripture on the gospel makes so much sense when you apply the right understanding.

Unknown said...

Kent's right you must persevere, overcome and keep going! Keep our eyes on the true vine. I want to say you are a better Christan for taking a stand, but that would kinda be contradicting Kent's post. I'll just say God is purifying his church and He uses us as he sees fit.
The story of Abraham separating from Lot was very helpful to me in understanding the dynamics of separation. Abraham saw the good in Lot, but he saw the need to separate.
I'm glad people are sharing it is good. Craig