Glorifying God by Bearing Fruit in Union with Christ

If such a thing were possible, if such a thing were conceivable — that one could be damned for loving God and loving perishing people enough to be damned for them — if such a thing could be, then Paul said in Romans 9:3 he would willing. And the way he said it is this: He would be willing to be “accursed cut off from Christ” — anathema apo tou Christou in Greek, cursed away from Christ. The ultimate opposite of union with Christ is to be accursed and cut off from Christ. It was the worst thing Paul could imagine. The absolutely worst thing.

And the best thing in the universe is to be united to Christ. To be “in Christ.” To enjoy union with Christ. When this is fully understood, nothing is greater experientially, and nothing is greater theologically. You cannot experience anything greater than the fullness of union with Christ. And nothing reaches higher in theology, and nothing is more theologically comprehensive than the fullness of union with Christ.1

My message tonight is primarily an exposition of John 15:1–11. One reason for choosing this text is that for many, this passage has been the place where the doctrine of union with Christ came alive — became a reality to be experienced, not just a doctrine to explain things. The reason we are closing this conference with a biographical message about Hudson Taylor is that this was true for him.

“That True Abiding of John 15”

Hudson Taylor was the founder of the China Inland Mission, and under God was responsible in the mid-19th century for leading hundreds of missionaries into China’s interior for the first time. In 1869, when he was 37 years old, he came he entered a new phase of life. He began to drink more deeply at the experiential fountain of John 15:1–11. He was given a deeper, and more constant, more satisfying experience of abiding in Christ.

His son Fredrick Howard Taylor wrote in 1932,

Here was a man almost sixty years of age, bearing tremendous burdens, yet absolutely calm and untroubled. Oh, the pile of letters! any one of which might contain news of death, of lack of funds, of riots or serious trouble. Yet all were opened, read and answered with the same tranquility — Christ his reason for peace, his power for calm. Dwelling in Christ, he drew upon His very being and resources. . . . And this he did by an attitude of faith as simple as it was continuous. Yet he was delightfully free and natural. I can find no words to describe it save the Scriptural expression “in God.” He was in God all the time and God in him. It was that true “abiding” of John fifteen.2

So this passage of Scripture has proved to be enormously important in both the experience and the articulation of the doctrine of union with Christ. I hope it proves to be true both ways for you tonight. I invite you turn to John 15:1–11 with me as I read it:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

The preceding paragraph ends like this (John 14:31): “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.” In other words, Jesus puts his entire ministry, especially these final saving hours, under the command of his Father. “I do as the Father has commanded me.” The Father is overseeing the whole thing. Jesus will give his life. Jesus will become the bread of life, and the water of life, and the door of life. But the Father himself is tending to every detail so that this work will accomplish exactly what has been planned.

Then Jesus says, in John 15:1, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” This is a picture, a metaphor, of what he has just said. “As I complete my work in the next hours, I become the source of all life and fruitfulness — the vine. And my Father is tending this vine. He is seeing to it that the vine will bear all the living fruit he intends. And that includes his attention to me, the vine, and to you, my branches.”

How the Metaphor Works

The way metaphors work is that they have a limited focus. If you broaden the focus of this metaphor — of Jesus as the vine and the Father as the vinedresser — beyond what Jesus intended, it will communicate falsehood, not truth. You can see this by glancing at verse 10: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” Jesus compares our abiding in his love to his abiding in the Father’s love. But the vine doesn’t abide in a vinedresser the way a branch abides in the vine. The metaphor breaks down. But that’s not what the metaphor was designed to show about the vinedresser. All metaphors break down if pressed too far. That’s why they are called metaphors.

What, then, was it designed to show? Why did Jesus even mention in verse 1 his Father as the vinedresser? Why didn’t he just begin with the words of verse 5: “I am the vine; you are the branches.” The whole paragraph is built around that metaphor, and would work without any reference to the Father as the vinedresser. Almost. But not all of it. Namely, verse 2: “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he — the vinedresser, my Father — takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he — my Father, the vinedresser — prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

So the reason Jesus builds into this metaphor not just vine and braches (he and his disciples) but also vine and vinedresser (he and his Father) is that there are two things the Father does that are important for us to know as we abide in the vine and get our life and our power from the vine. One is that God takes away fruitless branches, and the other is that God prunes fruitful branches. He cuts away the lifeless, and he cultivates the living. He destroys, and he disciplines. As Jesus said in another place, “To the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away” (Luke 8:18).

The Work of Judgment

Take these two works of the vinedresser one at a time. Verse 2a: “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he — the vinedresser, my Father — takes away.” I said this is a cutting away and a destroying. Why? Because of verse 6: “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” This doesn’t come out of the blue in verse 6. This is the completion of the work of the vinedresser in verses 2 and 6: “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away . . . and it withers, and the workers gather them and they are destroyed. They are burned.”

Jesus used another metaphor in Matthew 13 to point in a similar direction: “The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. . . . The weeds are gathered and burned with fire” (Matthew 13:38–40). So the first work of the vinedresser (the Father) is judgment — some of it now and some to it at the end of the age.

Which raises the question: Can a branch, a disciple of Jesus, have eternal life in union with Jesus and then lose it and be finally condemned? When I was a senior in college I was not a Calvinist. I hardly even knew what was at stake. All those great discoveries would happen in the next 24 months after college. And when I read Robert Shank, Life in the Son, my senior year I was shaken, because even though I had a flimsy foundation for it, I did believe in eternal security — that I couldn’t lose my salvation. And this book argued: that’s not true. You can indeed have eternal life in Christ and lose it. And the argument, as I recall it, was largely from this passage and especially from verse two. After all it says, “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away.” A branch in me can be taken away and burned up. Does this mean that union with Christ is not permanent, but may exist and then not exist? Can we be “in Christ” and then “accursed away from Christ” forever? Does Christ not keep his own?

United and Then Lost?

Let’s be sure we ask the question with precision because verse 2 says that there is at least some sense that a branch can be “in me” and then cut off and perish. What we are asking is: given what Jesus clearly teaches in the Gospel of John, can a person be born again (as in John 3:3, 5, 7–8) and then lost? Can a person be child of God through faith (as in John 1:12) and then lost? Can a person be one of Christ’s sheep (as in John 10:14–16) and then not his sheep? The answer is no. Jesus labors to teach the opposite especially in this Gospel — namely, that God has chosen a people for himself, that he gives them to the Son, and the Son keeps them infallibly forever. But there is a kind of attachment to Jesus — a kind of disciple, a kind of believing — that is not saving. And the difference between the two is abiding and fruit-bearing.

For example, Jesus says in John 6:37 and 39, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. . . . And this is the will of him who sent me, that I lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” In other words, God has a people before they come to Jesus. “Yours they were, and you gave them to me” (John 17:6). And they come. All of them come. “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (6:37). And when they come he never casts them out (verse 37). “I lose nothing of all the that the Father has given me” (6:39). Nothing. Not one branch.

Or as Jesus says in John 10:27–28, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” That’s how you know they are sheep. If they are not his sheep, they don’t believe. John 10:26: “You do not believe because you are not among my sheep.” But all the sheep do come. All those who belong to the Father he gives to the Son. They come and when they come (John 10:28), “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” Including the vinedresser, because the vinedresser and I are one (John 10:30).

These are the strongest possible statements about the security of those whom the Father gives to Jesus. “I will lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39).

“Believers” Who Are Not True Believers

So, who is this branch that is “in me” (John 15:2) and is lost? “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away.” The key is to realize that in the Gospel of John there are believers who are not true believers (2:23). And there are disciples who are not true disciples (6:66). And there is the chosen twelve, and one of them is a devil (6:70), and Jesus knew it from the beginning when he chose him (6:64). And in the same way there are branches who are not true branches. They are “in me,” but not truly “in me.”

For example, in John 8:30 it says, “As he was saying these things, many believed in him.” Then Jesus says (in verses 31) to “the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.’” Six verses later, Jesus says to these very so-called believers, “I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you” (8:37). So this is not the belief of a low-level Christian whose not a “disciple.” This is the “belief” of miracle-seekers. This was a “belief” that provided a kind of attachment to Jesus, but not a true one.

The same thing is true of the word “disciple.” In John 6:66, John writes, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66). They had been a kind of disciple, and kind of believer. But they had fallen away. So Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (8:31). There are disciples and there are “true disciples.” There are believers, and there are “true believers.” There are branches and true branches.

Judas As an Example

Judas is the clearest example of a branch that was attached to Jesus for three years. In the circle of the twelve. In a close relationship with Jesus. But not a true believer. John 6:64-65: “‘There are some of you who do not believe.’ (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)”

So my answer to the question — Can a person be born again and then lost? Can a person be child of God through faith and then lost? Can a person be one of Christ’s sheep and then not his sheep? Can a disciple be a true disciple and then not a disciple? — my answer is no. The branches that are broken off are the so-called believers of John 2:23 and 8:30, and the so-called disciples of John 6:66, and the Judas of John 6:65. They are the vine, “in me,” but not truly in me.

And the explicit link between these false disciples and John 15 is verse 8: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” This is parallel with John 8:31, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” Abiding in the vine, does not make you a true disciple. It proves you are one.

Two Great Things the Father Does

Now back to verse John 15:2. The reason Jesus doesn’t just say, “I am the vine you are the branches,” but includes the vinedresser in the metaphor (“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser,” verse 1), is that he wants us to know two great things that the Father does in tending the vine and the branches. One is that God takes away fruitless branches, and the other is that God prunes fruitful branches. He cuts away the lifeless, and he cultivates the living. He destroys, and he disciplines.

Jesus is preparing his disciples for two things that will come: defection from the inside and persecution from the outside. Sham from the inside and suffering from the outside. We’ve looked at the first one: Do no fear little flock. Do not think the defectors (the Judases and false disciples) will succeed. They will be broken off in due time and burned. The vinedresser has it all under control.

The Work of Discipline

But now we look at the second work of the vinedresser. The vinedresser — the Father — prunes the true branches, he cultivates, he disciplines. John 15:2b: “Every branch that does bear fruit — every true disciple — he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Pruning means cutting. It’s a sobering picture.

The best exposition of this work of the Father is probably Hebrews 12:6, 10–11.

The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” . . . he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

In the context of Hebrews 12, this discipline is happening through the persecution of sinners (Hebrews 12:4). And here in John 15:20, Jesus said, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” Persecution is not the only way the Father cuts and prunes the true branches, but it is one way.

And what Jesus wants us to see is that our union with him is not isolated from our external life experiences. It is influenced by these experiences. And he wants us to know: His Father governs these experiences. Persecution and hardship and calamity to do not come to the branches willy-nilly. They are not aimless or random. They are the work of vinedresser. And they have a purpose, namely, more fruit. Verse 2b: “Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

Which means that our experience of union with Christ (our attachment to the vine) is energized and intensified and enlivened by Father-controlled external experiences. There are great internal workings in union with Christ from the Holy Spirit and from Christ and from the Father. But here the focus is on the external element. The vinedresser is not the sap or the vine. But his work in pruning, cutting, caring has a profound bearing on our experience of the sap and the vine.

A picture of how this works would be 2 Corinthians 1:8–9. Paul writes, “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” Paul’s abiding in Christ — in God — was deeply assisted by this pruning that took him to the point of death.

So the point of verse 2 is that Jesus is preparing his disciples for defection from within and persecution from without. And he is encouraging and emboldening them that his Father is in control of both. No betrayer will escape, and all your hardships will draw you deeper into the enjoyment of union with me.

The Strangest Verse in the Passage

Now we might think that the stage has been perfectly set for the imperative of verse 4: “Abide in me.” And the reasoning that supports it: “I will abide in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4–5). Therefore, “Abide!”

So the stage is set in verses 1 and 2: Fruitless branches are destroyed, fruitful branches are disciplined. Therefore abide in me because without me you can do nothing! That makes total sense. You can’t do anything without Christ. Abide in him! Not just your fruit depends on him, but your existence depends on him. There are no branches without a vine. When it says anything it means anything: You can’t do anything apart from Christ. So abide in him for your life and your fruit and your all.

But Jesus did not think the stage was set for the imperative of verse 4. One more thing needed to be put in place before he commanded them to abide in the vine, verse 3. Something had to be put in place that would be distinctively Christian. Something that Jesus brought into the world unlike any other religion. Something at the heart of our Christianity, and something at the heart of what it means to abide in Christ and live the Christian life.

Verse 3 is perhaps the strangest verse in the whole paragraph: “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” Verse 2b: “Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear fruit.” Why is verse 3 here?

Cleaning and Pruning

The first thing to see is something you can’t see in the English vocabulary of verses 2 and 3. But if you thought long enough about the relationship between verses 2 and 3, you could see the idea. Jesus has just said God “prunes” you to make you fruitful. Then he immediately says, “You are already clean.” You stop and scratch your head. But trusting the Lord to speak wisely, you think: Well, I suppose pruning is a kind of cleaning. Cleaning: We talk about cleaning away brush. When you prune, you take way something to make what’s left more suitable, more fit, more effective. And when you clean, you take something away to make it more suitable, more fit, more effective. So maybe he is saying, God prunes you and already you are pruned. Or God is cleansing you, and already you are cleansed.

That much you can see in English. And that’s all you need to see. But to confirm it: in Greek the word of prune (in verse 2) is the same as the word for cleanse (kathairei). And the word for “clean” in verse 3 is a related word (katharoi). In other words, it’s more plain in Greek that Jesus is making a play on words. The Father prunes, that is cleanses, the branches to make them more suitable for fruit-bearing. But keep in mind: you are already cleansed. You are already pruned. You are already suitable, fitted.

Jesus has used these exact words, “you are clean” once before. In John 13, Jesus washes the disciples feet. Peter objects, “You shall never wash my feet” (verse 8). Jesus answers him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” That is stunning. There is no union between me and you, Peter, if you object to my cleansing your feet. Peter replies: “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (verse 9). And Jesus says (verse 10), “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean” (that’s the same wording as John 15:3 “already you are clean”). Then he adds, “But not every one of you.” Because, it says, “he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’”

Clean Already

So what’s the point in both John 13 and John 15 of saying that the disciples are already clean? Already “completely” clean (13:10). Already pruned, and made suitable. Yet they are to be washed and to be pruned. And if they reject being washed and pruned, they have portion in Jesus, no union with Christ. Your ready acceptance of being washed and pruned is the sign that you are already washed and pruned.

And this astonishing position of being already washed and already pruned, already clean, happened, Jesus says in John 15:3b, “because of the word that I have spoken to you.” The “word” here stands for the whole message of Jesus — his being the eternal Son of God (1:1–3), his coming in the flesh (1:14), his being without sin (8:46), his dying for his sheep (3:15; 10:17), his rising from the dead (10:18). Believing this word is the connection between a person and Christ. Believing this word is the joining that God creates between the branch and the vine, between the disciple and Jesus. And in the instant of that joining, the disciple is completely clean. Completely pruned.

Here is one of the clearest statements in all this Gospel of what has happened to you if you are true disciple (not like Judas who was not clean). John 5:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Already passed from death to life.

If you think it is astonishing for Jesus to say to Peter: You are already completely clean (John 13:10); and to say to the branches: You are already completely pruned, consider how astonishing it is to hear him say (in 5:24) of all true believers: You have already passed from death to life. You cannot come into judgment, because you have already passed through judgment. You are already on the other side of judgment. You will never be cut off from the vine and burned.

This is the part of the stage that had not yet been set for the imperative of verse John 15:4, “Abide in me.” Before he gave us this command, Jesus wanted to make sure we understand the how commands work for true disciples, true branches, who are in the vine. “Abide in me.” How are we to hear such an imperative? Such a command? We are to hear it as something we must do, and we must hear it as something that has already been done. This we must do: “Abide in me!” Why? Because, “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away” (verse 6). We must abide.

But verse 3: “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” My Father’s pruning and cleansing are simply fitting you to be what you are. Your obedience to my command is simply becoming what you are. You will not come into judgment. You have passed (already!) from death to life. That is the nature of the union you have with me.

The Father Is Not Wasting His Time

But my Father is not wasting his time when he prunes you and disciplines you. It is mere vain human reasonings to say: Well, if I am clean, and pruned, and beyond judgment, then I don’t need any discipline from the Father. Those who speak thus will hear Jesus’s rebuke to Peter: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (John 13:8). If my Father does not prune you, you are not clean. You are not my disciple.

Verse 8: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” My Father is not wasting his time in your daily pruning. He is sanctifying you and saving you and keeping you in ways that will prove you are real and will bring him great glory. Don’t begrudge the ministry of the vinedresser. Prove that you are a true disciple, that you are a true believer, that you are a true branch, by submitting to the pruning and the cleansing. And the point of verse 3 is: Do it because you are cleansed, you are pruned, you are a true disciple, already! (Compare to 1 Corinthians 5:7). Because you are united to Christ. “I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has already made me his own” (Philippians 3:12).

What It Means to Abide

So what is abiding in in the vine, in Christ? The clearest answer in this text comes from John 15:11. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” I have given you all these instructions about what it means to be in the vine so that you would enjoy with my joy. My joy would be in you as your joy. I’ll say it again: I have instructed you about abiding in me so that you would enjoy all that I enjoy with the very joy with which I enjoy it.

That is exactly what he says, “. . . my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Do you think he means that somehow the presence of his joy in you and the fullness of your joy are separate joys? That he would somehow put his own joy in you, but that yours would be full separate from his? We know that’s not what it means. It means: the reason your joy can now be full is because in union with me (the branch in the vine), you no longer enjoy merely with your joy. You now have my joy in you and you enjoy what I enjoy with my joy. This is what it means to abide in me.

When I say abide in me, I mean: keep on enjoying with my joy. Don’t disconnect and start enjoying with your joy. You are in me as your source of all, and I am in you as your all. Receive me and my enjoying as your joy. Welcome me and my enjoying as your joy. Thirst for me and my enjoying as your joy. Hunger for me and my enjoying as your joy. Eat me and my enjoying as your joy. Drink me and my enjoying as your joy. This is what it is to abide, to remain, to be in me and I in you. (See John 14:27 on Christ’s peace as ours.)

And that’s not the only way to say it. Verses 9–10: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” What is my Father’s commandment? Verse 12: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” That’s what my Father commands. They’re all summed up in this: Love each other.

So what does it mean to abide in my love (verse 9b)? It means the same as abide in my joy. Keep on loving with my love. Welcome my love as your love. Drink my love as your love. Live in my love as the flow of your love. When I say (verse 10) I have kept the Father’s commandments and abide in his love, I mean: When I love, in obedience to my Father, my loving is the experience of his loving. When I am loving you, I am loving you with the love with which I am loved by my Father. To abide in the love of Jesus and of the Father is to keep on enjoying being loved and loving with their love. This is abiding in Christ.

Pray for Abiding

Perhaps one last observation from the text. Verse 7: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). Verse 16 clarifies that the asking is for fruit-bearing: “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” The fruit in the foreground in this text is the fruit of love and the fruit of joy, not just in us but in others, and that means converts. Praying for people means praying that they would enjoy what Christ enjoys with the joy of Christ, and that they would love whom he loves with his love.

So the point of verse 7 is this: Abiding in my joy, in my love, in my life — my all — includes asking me for this. My Father is not passive in tending the branches, and you should not be passive. My father prunes for the sake fruit-bearing. And you should pray for the sake of fruit-bearing. He is not wasting his time in pruning. And you will not be wasting your time in praying.

Sharing in the Divine Nature

Let me close by relating these thoughts to the larger theological conversation about union with God by sharing his nature. 2 Peter 1:4 says that we “become partakers of the divine nature.” When we speak of union with Christ or with God, do we mean that we share in the divine nature? What we have seen here sheds light on the answer.

Here is the way Jonathan Edwards answered, which I think is exactly right:

[This union] is expressed in Scripture by the saints being made “partakers of divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and having God dwelling in them, and they in God. . . . Not that the saints are made partakers of the essence of God, and so are “Godded” with God, and “Christed” with Christ, according to the abominable and blasphemous language and notions of some heretics; but, to use the Scripture phrase, they are made partakers of God’s fullness (Ephesians 3:17–19, John 1:16), that is, of God’s spiritual beauty and happiness [his holiness], according to the measure and capacity of a creature.3

In other words, to share in the divine nature is not to share in the divine essence. We don’t become God in union with God, and we don’t become Christ in union with Christ. By “nature,” Edwards says, we mean “that property which is natural to anyone and is eminently his character.”4 Thus holiness would be the nature of the Holy Spirit, but his essence would be divinity, Godness.

Keep on Enjoying Christ

This is what we have found in John 15. Being branches in the vine does not mean that we become the all-providing, all-enabling vine (John 15:5). It means that we are united to his life, his joy, his peace, his love. Not just that we have life and joy and peace and love because we are in him, but that we have his life, and joy, and peace, and love because he is in us.

Therefore, on behalf of Christ, I urge you, abide in him. That is, keep on enjoying him and his joy — as your joy. Keep on enjoying him and his peace — as your peace. Keep on enjoying him and his love — as your love. And ask him — and the vinedresser — to cause you to grow in this experience of being filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19).


1See a list of accolades of this sort from various theologians in Robert Letham, Union with Christ in Scripture, History, and Theology, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2011, 1).

2Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, Kindle Edition, location 2,087. Emphasis added.

3Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957), 203.

4Jonathan Edwards, “Unpublished Letter on Assurance and Participation in the Divine Nature,” in vol. 8, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 639.

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