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.
(John Piper began this sermon by reciting Psalm 1, Psalm 16, Psalm 103, Romans 5:1–8, Romans 8, Matthew 6:25–34, and 1 Corinthians 13.)
The point of reciting these Scriptures is to motivate you by way of example to memorize Scripture in 2009. This message is a mingling of my testimony of the value of memorizing Scripture with Jesus’s testimony in the Gospel of John.
My testimony can be summed up in eight short sentences.
Memorizing Scripture makes meditation possible at times when I can’t be reading the Bible, and meditation is the pathway of deeper understanding.
Memorizing Scripture strengthens my faith because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ, and that happens when I am hearing the word in my head.
Memorizing Scripture shapes the way I view the world by conforming my mind to God’s viewpoint.
Memorizing Scripture makes God’s word more readily accessible for overcoming temptation to sin, because God’s warnings and promises are the way we conquer the deceitful promises of sin.
Memorizing Scripture guards my mind by making it easier to detect error—and the world is filled with error, since the god of this world is a liar.
Memorizing Scripture enables me to hit the devil in the face with a force he cannot resist, and so protect myself and my family from his assaults.
Memorizing Scripture provides the strongest and sweetest words for ministering to others in need.
Memorizing Scripture provides the matrix for fellowship with Jesus because he talks to me through his word, and I talk to him in prayer.
That’s my testimony. I hope it will motivate you to make your own discoveries. But what matters most is the testimony of Jesus. So focus for a few minutes with me on a phrase in John 15:7.
Jesus says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Let’s simply linger for a few minutes over the words If . . . my words abide in you. What does this mean, and why do the words of Jesus have the effect they do, and what does this have to do with memorizing Scripture?
More Than Memorizing
First of all, having the words of Jesus abide in you is more than memorizing them. We know this for several reasons. First, we know it because the devil can memorize Scripture. He quoted it to Jesus in the wilderness to tempt him (Matthew 4:1–10). Second, we know it because of what Jesus says in John 5:38. He said to the Jews who were questioning him, “You do not have [God’s] word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.” But these people knew much of God’s word from memory. Jewish people who are serious about their faith have always memorized Scripture. But Jesus says that God’s word is not abiding in them. So clearly when the word of God is abiding in us, it is more than mere memorizing.
What then does it mean?
It means that the words of Jesus take root and bear the fruit of faith and holiness. John 5:38 connects the word and faith: “You do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.” If the word abides in you, you will believe in the word and the one who spoke it.
His Words Finding a Home in Us
The abiding of Jesus’s word in us means that his words find a home in us. They fit. They belong. In John 8:37, Jesus says, “I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you.” That’s the opposite of the word “abiding” in us. When the word abides in us, it finds a place, a home. It’s not foreign. It belongs. You move other things around and even get rid of some things so that the word has room and “feels at home.”
The words of Jesus don’t “abide” without effect. When they take root, they produce faith and holiness. “Sanctify them in the truth,” Jesus says; “your word is truth” (John 17:17). So when his words abide in us, sanctification happens. We are transformed. Holiness, Christlikeness, happens.
So, in sum, the abiding of Jesus’s words in us means that the words of Jesus take root and bear the fruit of faith and holiness.
Why This Effect?
Why do the words of Jesus have this effect? There are at least three reasons we can see in the Gospel of John.
1. Jesus’s Words Are God’s Words
One is that Jesus’s words are the words of God. John 3:34: “He whom God has sent utters the words of God.” So when Jesus is speaking, God is speaking. No man ever spoke the words of God more perfectly or consistently than Jesus. When the apostles taught in their office as apostles, they spoke with the truth and the authority of God. But every time Jesus opened his mouth, we are hearing the word of God. And the word of God is powerful. That’s the first reason why the abiding of Jesus’s words in us has the effects it does.
2. Jesus’s Words Are Life-Giving
Second, the words of Jesus are life-giving. Jesus said in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” The Spirit of God gives life through the word of God. And Jesus’s words are those words. So his words are “spirit and life.” They quicken the spirit and impart eternal life. That’s why Peter says five verses later, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
3. Jesus’s Words Conquer the Devil
So the words of Jesus are the words of God, and they impart eternal life. And third they produce faith and holiness because they conquer the devil. We have a supernatural adversary, the devil. He hates us. He hates our marriages. He hates our children. He hates our church. And he hates God. In ourselves, we are not as strong as he is. That is why John says that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). The world has no defense against the devil. None.
But listen to what John says of the young Christians in 1 John: “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:14). Do you see the connection? “The word of God abides in you, and you have overcome [conquered!] the evil one.” The devil cannot stand against the indwelling word of God.
Awhile back, someone asked me if I thought a Christian or a Christian family could be cursed. My answer is this. If the word of God abides in you, you overcome the evil one. No demonic curse can stand against the gracious, liberating, transforming, devil-defeating word of God when it is abiding in our hearts.
What About Scripture Memory?
So we ask finally, what does all this have to do with memorizing Scripture?
I will come at this with a broad biblical answer and then a practical personal answer from our marriage.
1. Bringing God’s Word into Connection With Our Minds
First, the broad biblical answer. The Holy Spirit awakens life and faith and personal transformation (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and more, Galatians 5:22). God the Holy Spirit does that. But he does it through the word of God (1 Peter 1:23; John 17:17). How? If you carry your Bible around all day and never read it, will the Holy Spirit make the nearness of the word of God in your purse or pocket effective in changing your life?
No. He won’t. Why? Because “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). God gave us conscious minds. He gave us volition and emotion. The Holy Spirit makes the words of Jesus effective when they attach with understanding to our minds and then to our wills and emotions. Christ is glorified when his word is heard and understood and affirmed and enjoyed. So that is how God has ordained for change to happen.
Therefore, anything that brings the word of God into connection with our minds will work to strengthen faith and promote understanding and bring about the fruit of the Spirit and the transformation of our lives—and not just our own, but the lives of others also. Memorizing Scripture makes this kind of connection between God’s word and our minds more constant, more deep, and more transforming. Realistically, nothing else can take its place. That’s the broad biblical answer.
2. Making God’s Word Practical in Our Marriage
Finally, a word of practical application from Noël and me.
December 21 was our 40th wedding anniversary. We went away for a couple days. During that time, we read and prayed over Psalm 40 and Isaiah 40. We talked about the difficulties of the year gone by. We pondered how easy it is to get discouraged with painful circumstances. We recalled lunch times when we rehearsed a dozen things that were discouraging in our lives.
And it came clear to us that what we need to do is stop letting the voice of negative circumstances dominate our conversations. Yes, you have to be realistic. The painful things are really there. But we realized that the word of God, the promises of God, the works of God, the thoughts of God, the person of God—that voice was not being spoken into those moments. There may have been devotions in the morning, and there may have been devotions in the evening. But at that moment, God’s word was silent. That was mainly my fault. It’s a husbands’ role to lead with the word of God.
So we lingered over Psalm 40:5 and decided to make it our year-long marriage verse in 2009:
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
yet they are more than can be told.
We are memorizing it, and we aim to make it the banner that flies over our Monday lunch dates and all our conversations: “[God’s] wondrous deeds and [his] countless thoughts toward us . . . [We] will proclaim and tell of them.” To that end, I rededicate myself to memorizing the wondrous deeds and the thoughts of God toward us. Pray for us, and we will pray for you. And may Christ make his word dwell richly in us this year.