|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||The Believer's Union & Communion with Christ|
|Text||John ch.15 vv.5-6 |
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"I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned" (John 15, 5-6).
The subject which I would like to bring before you this morning is the subject which the Lord Jesus Christ announces to us here in this passage of Scripture. We give to it a name. We call it 'The Believer's Union and Communion with Jesus Christ'.
It would be suitable to begin with the question - What really do we mean by a 'Christian'? It is the most important question that we could ever ask. It is a question upon which many people have entirely wrong and false answers. So we begin with the question - What is a Christian?
A Christian is not simply someone who has been baptised as a child. There is, we believe, a place for baptism; and there is a place for baptism, we believe, for the children of believers. The water of baptism does not make a person into a true Christian. You understand there are many thousands of millions of people who have been baptised, and that of itself does not make them true Christians. It may be said to make them nominal Christians but it does not make them real Christians.
Now again, another idea which some people have is that a Christian is someone who has been born and bred in a Christian country, so called. Everybody knows that Britain, at least in the past, has been regarded as one of the Christian countries of the world - much less so now than it used to be. But this again does not make a person a true or genuine Christian. There are many persons, as you very well understand, in this country, especially today, who have not the slightest interest in any sort of religion - certainly not the religion of the Bible.
So then what exactly does make a person into a real Christian? The answer is this. A true Christian is someone who is 'In Christ'. The Bible continually refers to this expression: 'In Christ'. Not everybody is 'In Christ'. To make matters a little bit easier let me say to you, there are two men mentioned in the Bible who are both referred to as Adam. I think this is the best way to explain the point.
1. THE FIRST ADAM
2. THE SECOND ADAM
The first Adam was the first man created by God, and in a physical sense, he is the father of us all. That is very definitely the teaching of the Bible. Adam and Eve were the first pair, the first man and woman, and God brought them together in marriage. From them have descended all human beings who have ever lived. So he is the first Adam.
But then the Bible tells us that there is a Last Adam. You may say, who is that? The answer is, the last Adam is the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He is called Adam because He is the Second Head of the human race. These things I know are very puzzling to people who are not very familiar with the Bible. Let me just pause a moment and explain what the Bible means by talking about the first Adam and the Last Adam, Jesus Christ.
The first Adam sinned against God by disobedience, and as a consequence of his first sin the entire human race is under the judgement, the anger, the displeasure and the punishment of God. That's why we have to die. We don't die simply because we get older. If man had never sinned, man would never die. Death is not a natural thing. Death is the punishment for sin. Death is said to be, in the Bible, the wages of sin. So all who are in Adam must die. The Bible says that very clearly. In Adam all die.
Now, everybody is born in Adam; that's the way the Bible puts it. We're all born in Adam for the obvious reason that we are all his children; we are all his grandchildren if you like. And so the sin of Adam is passed on from generation to generation, and the guiltiness which was his for disobeying God, comes down to us. The way we put it technically when we study the Bible is this: Adam's first sin is imputed to all his children who derive from him by ordinary birth. That is the condition of all who are born into this world. They are born evil, born sinful, born enemies of God. That is the condition in which I was born, and the condition in which we were all born. It explains at once why the world is the place it is. Anybody would sit down and say, what has spoiled this world? Why is the world we are living in, the place it is? Why so much cruelty, so many wars, so much disease, so much crime, so much dying and sickness? If we don't come to church we will never understand these things. The poor people who don't read the Bible and never come to church, they will never, never understand the real answer to these things. They just take life as they find it, without stopping to ask the question, why is the world the place it is? The Bible answer is just this. The world is the sad place it is because of the disobedience of our first father, Adam. The sinfulness, which was his, derives down and comes down to us. We are all born in this sad and sinning world.
And that would be a very terrible message for people to hear if it was all the Bible has to say. So we refer to that as the Bible's bad news. The Bible does have bad news to the background against which it gives us the good news. The Bible has bad new first, but it brings the good news next. You and I must drink in the bad news; we mustn't hurry over it, we mustn't gloss over it. The bad news is very bad. It could hardly be worse. We must take it in and take our time to reflect on it. This is why we are as we are. This is why you and I are so imperfect, why we sometimes say things we bitterly regret, and do things we are ashamed of after the event. You've done and I've done it; we've all done it. We might say why did I behave like that? The answer is, because we are Adam's children, and in our heart-of-hearts we are very wicked.
We are capable of terrible sin, every one of us. We are capable of idolatry. We are capable of murder. The Bible tells us, that out of the heart of man (and woman) come all these terrible things. We are capable of it. Let no one imagine that they are above committing great sin. We are not above committing even the worst of sin. It is only by the mercy of God we are not locked up in prison, you and I. Because many a time we nearly so lost our temper, didn't we, that we could have killed somebody? That's in us. It's the mercy, I say, of God, that we're not locked up in prison.
There are many people in prison who have done perhaps only one terrible thing in their life, which they deeply regret. That's why they are there today and we should look at life like that. We're all guilty; we're all sinners in the sight of God. Our hearts are deceitful above all things, and our lives are far, far, far from what they should be. That's the first Adam, and the reason why we're in this condition is, we are his children. Those who are in Adam are viewed by God as sinners, liable to death.
When the Bible talks about death, you must understand it means not simply going to a state of dust, it means punishment after death. Perhaps you say, how long does this punishment after death last? I have to say to you, it's eternal punishment. After death those who go to that place of punishment will be there forever, suffering forever. That's bad news, and it's the duty of a minister to give people the bad news first. The Bible has good news and I'm coming to that just in a moment, but let's not rush past the bad news. I say again, the bad news is that men and women will die, children will die and after death there is the judgement. For those who are dying in Adam, I have to say with great sorrow and great sadness, that there is nothing but eternal punishment after death. And it is no kindness for a minister not to tell people these things, because they are extremely clear from the Bible, which is the Word of God. They are extremely clear. You have to be blind in both eyes before you can fail to see this in the Bible. It is absolutely as clear as clear can be.
Let's now leave aside the bad news just for a moment, and come to the good news. The good news my dear friends is that God in His love for the world sent a second Adam to help us, to undo all the misery which the first Adam had brought into the world by disobedience. And the second Adam, you understand, is the name given to our blessed Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. If you want to put it in clever language you could say, that the work of the second Adam was to un-knit all that the first Adam had knitted, or to undo all that the first Adam had done, or to repair if you like, all that the first Adam had spoiled. We see that happening all the time, don't we, in life? Somebody has a car, they have an accident, and the car is broken, damaged. What happens to it? It has to go to the maker or the garage, and they put new plates on it and new wings and new this and new that, and they restore the old car - or the broken car. That's what God is doing through the Bible, through the Christian message. He does it only in Christ. There is no health, no healing, and no repair except only in Christ. So a Christian is someone who is 'In Christ'. I'll explain the meaning of that.
A Christian is someone who is 'In Christ'. That forces upon us the question, how do individuals, persons come into Christ? I'm going to work towards an answer to that question. At this point I want to explain, true Christians are in fellowship with Jesus Christ. You understand that Jesus died, but He did not remain dead. He rose again from the dead, He ascended to heaven, and He sits at the right hand of God the Father in glory. There He is; He's alive! He is in fellowship with all those who are His own people. He is not in fellowship with the wicked, but He is in fellowship with those who are His own people. That's why Jesus explains that there's a difference between Christians and non-Christians. Look at verse 18. "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." (John 15, 18) Now no words could be clearer than that. Jesus is saying to all true Christians, that the world will hate them, and it will hate them just as it hated Him, for this reason, that the world recognises there's a difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. Because there is this difference, the world - or those who are non-Christians - will hate the Christians. There is no avoiding that. It doesn't matter how nice you are, or how kind you are, or how generous you are, or how well you treat people; those who are not Christians, they have this hatred for Christ and for His people. So you could put it like this, that those who were in Adam on the one hand, they are opposed to those who are in Christ. Therefore, we talk about the human race, but the human race has a great division within it. This is the important division, the only division that matters: whether people are in Adam or whether they are in Christ. This is the only division that God recognises. It doesn't matter what language you speak. It doesn't matter what colour your skin. It doesn't matter what country of origin you have. These things with God are of no importance. But what is of importance is whether we are in Adam or whether we are in Christ. The way in which the world treats the Christian is exactly as the Lord Jesus Christ; I've explained it. You must expect the world to hate you. It can't love you because they don't love Christ, in whom you are a Christian.
The Lord Jesus Christ is talking to believers then about this 'union and communion', which they have with Him. In order to make it clearer and simpler for us He uses an illustration. Indeed the Bible, I should say, uses four very notable illustrations to convey to our minds what is intended by this 'union and communion of the believer with Christ'. I'll tell you what these four illustrations are, beginning with the one that we have right here in this chapter.
He's talking here about the vine and the branches. A vine is clearly a form of tree which produces grapes and these grapes are of value to man for his health and for his life. It is a fruitful tree or bush or shrub if you like. Our Lord is saying that He Himself is the main stem, or the main trunk, and all Christians, like the branches of a tree, are grafted into Him or they are inserted into Him. That's the first illustration: that of a vine and its branches. It is of course, simply an illustration. What then is our Lord teaching by this illustration? He's teaching that the spiritual life, which Christians have, is all derived from the Lord Jesus Christ. We can understand the illustration even if we are only children, because we know very well that in the case of a tree, any kind of tree, the moisture, which goes up the trunk, which we call the sap, rises and it affects the life of the whole tree. That's what's going to happen in a few weeks time, God permitting, if we are spared to see the spring. All these trees, that look now so dormant or even dead, they'll begin to put forth buds and then leaves and then fruit. And then they'll be in their new spring dress, and beauty and glory. And in the autumn they'll bear fruit. That illustration our Lord takes, and is a fitting way of describing one aspect of the union which we have with Him. All our spiritual life comes from Christ. It comes from nowhere else. It doesn't come from our own efforts. It doesn't come from willpower. It doesn't come from determination on our part. All our ability to do anything acceptable to God, comes only from Jesus Christ, our blessed Saviour and Lord.
He is referring of course, to the fruit, which this vine bears. It bears grapes as everybody knows. The grapes will not be there if the branch is not properly knit together into the stem. If anything should sever the connection between the branch and the stem, there will be no fruit. And so it is with men and women. If we are not 'In Christ' there will be no spiritual life within us. We may be virtuous, up to a point; we may be decent and moral, up to a point; we may be good citizens; we may be good fathers and mothers in our way, but we will not be Christians. We will not be godly. We will not bring forth the fruit of holiness in our life, unless and until we are grafted into Jesus Christ. He alone can supply this quality of life, which is called spirituality. And that's why in the text at verse six, He says, "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, (that means, of course, eternal punishment) and they are burned (eternally burned)" (John 15, 6). So there's the first illustration.
Let me pause to make some points. My beloved friends, this is why the Christian is immediately recognisable as someone who is different from others. Christians are different from others. Not that they are trying to be; they're not putting on an act. They don't practise being different; they are different because Christ is in them and they are 'In Christ'. There is this reciprocity, if you like, this giving of grace from Christ to them and the bearing of fruit in their lives, from Christ. It is all His work, in them. Why do they wish to pray? Why do they love prayer meetings? Why do they hunger for the Word of God and for fellowship with one another? Why are they desirous to witness, to go in the open air and tell others? Why are they even often prepared to suffer and, in certain cases, even to die for Christ? The answer is, because they love Him! They love Christ! He is their life! Just as a little child, you could say, has his life in the smiles of a mother, so the Christian's life consists in a desire to please Christ in everything. It is natural for a little child to desire to please its mother and its father. That's only the way we are made and that's the way it should be. A child is very sad when it displeases its mother or its father, so is the Christian very sad and sick whenever he or she displeases the Lord Jesus Christ. So the Christian is different, and you can't create this artificially. It's not just simply something stuck on. You can get a branch of a vine and you can tie it on with string and tape to the branch but, of course, the gardener would laugh. He would say there is no way that's going to bring forth any grapes, my friend. It has to be naturally grafted in, and so the sap moves along. So it is with a man or a woman. If we are still in Adam and not 'In Christ', then we are not real Christians. We may be able to talk a little bit, we may know a little bit, but the essence of the matter is not there.
So my dearly beloved friends, let me ask you and challenge you, are you 'In Christ' this morning? Do you know what it means to have this fellowship with Him: this union and this communion with Christ? There is a difference between union and communion, but we need to work towards that point. I'm not going to stop on it just now. This is the secret of the Christian, and you know I think as well as I do, that the Christian is a different sort of man or woman. Indeed even before I was converted, long years ago - nearly fifty years ago, I can remember as a young teenager I met one of the very first Christians that I ever met in my life. I still remember his name. He was a Welshman. He was in a certain very dead and poor church that I was going to, where there was no Bible teaching. The minister was a liberal who didn't believe the Bible anyway. I had no knowledge at all, but there was one man, and I noticed whenever he came into the room, it was as though you had switched a light on. There was light in his soul, light in his personality, light in his character. He was different from others. That's the way the Lord's people are. The secret is that they are 'In Christ'.
You might want to say to me, but how do you get this experience of being 'In Christ'? That's the greatest question you could possibly face if you're not a Christian. How can you get 'Into Christ'? And I'm not going to answer it just now. I'm going to leave the question with you to do some thinking about. Ask yourself how you can get from being in Adam to being 'In Christ'? How you can have this experience of being grafted in to Him as the vine and the branch are united, so there is this spiritual sap in our lives. That is the greatest question in all religion. How can we get there? I'll pause and I won't answer the question just at this moment.
What I will do, I'll hasten on to a second illustration, which is found in the Bible on this very same theme of the 'union and communion of believers with Christ'. The second illustration, which the Bible gives us, is that of a building and its foundation. It's to be found in a number of passages in the Bible. Let me not stop to give you the references now. There are a number of them. And I can assure you this is one of the illustrations the Bible gives for this union between Christ and the believer. It's a different one.
Now in what sense is the believer said to be like a building on its foundation? Well the answer is stability and security. Every building, if it's going to last for very long, has got to have a good foundation. You don't need to be a master builder, do you, to know that a building built on sand is not going to do too well for very long? It may look good for the first six months but then the cracks appear all round the wall and bits of the roof fall down and so on, especially when there are strong winds and pressures and maybe movements of the earth. There's got to be a foundation! The foundation of a Christian's life is Jesus Christ. There is no other foundation.
On the other hand, those who are not Christians, the foundation of their life is sand. That's all they're building on, building on the sand. Their life is insecure in many, many ways. When the storms of life blow then, as we say, they have nothing to hold on to. But the Christian has something to hold on to. He is grounded, established, rooted, built up upon the great foundation of Jesus Christ. That is why the Christian can face life's problems. One of the sad facts today is, my very dear friends, that people can't face their problems. They run away from them. They run to drink, or to drugs, or they just try to pretend they're not there. Filthy living is all part of what so many people are doing and, the poor things, you feel sorry for them because they are trying to escape from the sad facts of their lives.
I had a telephone call quite early this morning, just to illustrate it, from somebody you wouldn't know, who's a psychiatric patient in a psychiatric hospital in Scotland. I correspond with this man and his wife; I have done so for some years, trying to give them some comfort. They are Christians; they're lovely Christians but this is what he said to me on the telephone this morning. "Oh," he said, "Mr. Roberts, you've no idea how difficult it is for me and my wife to live in this hospital. The filthy talk, the blasphemy, the lack of love for anything decent is terrible. And we've got to hear it because we are in this ward." And I tried to say a few little comforting things. "Oh," he said to me, "before you hang up, tell me a verse of the Bible to comfort me." Of course I happily did so. But you see there are people like that and they're living in this filthy world, filthy talk, filthy language, and in a sense they are trying to escape from themselves and their problems. They can't face up to the problems of life. Why not? Well, because they have no foundation to build on. They're insecure. Their life cracks as soon as any pressure comes on it.
You know how they test steel? They test the quality of steel by subjecting it to pressure, and if it's the real thing it won't crack. But if it's not the real thing the cracks soon appear. So it is in our lives. My beloved friends, how can we face up to the pressures of life unless we have this steel put into us by God? He does that whenever we come to Christ and have this fellowship with Christ. You come sometimes in your experience as a Christian to wonder how you're going to live another day. All these problems, all these difficulties: not your own of course, but other people's very often. Young people have thousands of problems and you wonder how you can bear with all these things that are being brought to you. Well that's the way life is. And the Christian can take it because he is grounded upon the Rock. Christ is his strength; Christ Himself will put strength into us. His Spirit can give us new energy, new life, new vitality. We don't need to crack up, because Christ is in us the hope of glory and the hope of heaven. And His grace is sufficient for us even in the worst of times.
That's the second illustration. Let me, and I must hurry on to the third and fourth. The third one in the Bible is this, that 'the believers union and communion with Christ' can be compared to the human body and the human head. There's an illustration we can all readily understand. Christ is said to be the Head and His people are said to be the body. I don't know to what extent we realise this consciously, but everything that happens in our body, first of all, is controlled by the head. It is the brain that governs all the functions of the body. The brain controls the way we grow, the way we develop, the way we move. All our eating and drinking and everything to do with our life in this world, it's all controlled by the brain. The brain is the computer. The brain is the mastermind, if you like. God has made us that way. So that is the way we are to look at our relationship with Christ. Christ is the brain and we are to be in obedience and subjection to Him. And that's the way the Christian is. The non-Christian is not; he's like a limb shorn away from the body by amputation. But a Christian is part of the body of Christ. That means to say that the Christian's life is a life which is controlled and directed by the supreme intelligence of heaven.
We've just recently seen a great war, and a very important war, in Afghanistan, a very remarkable war. Aeroplanes were sent into two great towers in New York, and how does that nation respond? They organise themselves. Ships went across to the Gulf. Aeroplanes were shifted to nearby countries. Soldiers were sent over there. Bombs were dropped. These evil persons were blasted out of their hiding places. Now they are being captured and put in to cages and prisons ready for trial, so we hear. All of that had to be masterminded somewhere in America. Some brains were in America working it all out. I'm not dealing with the morality of it, that's something I'll leave you to work out for yourself. I'm talking now about the logistics of it: what actually has happened. It was all done because brilliant people were working out a strategy. That's how the Christian's life is. The brain of a Christian is not in his own head; it's in Christ's. And Christ guides the Christian church and the Christian community and every individual Christian with intelligence where it is manifest in the Bible. He gives us understanding of the Bible. So that's why the Christian's life is so very different. His standards are the standards of his supreme intelligence, Jesus Christ, Who is by the Spirit and through the Word, teaching him continually how to live his life. We sometimes call this sanctification: the growth in holiness of the Christian. It's not something he does himself, he doesn't devise this, it's something which is communicated to him because of his union and communion with the great Head, Who is Christ Himself, pouring light, and knowledge, and understanding upon his mind and upon his soul and directing him. When the Christian goes wrong he hears, as it were, a voice behind him saying, "this is the way, walk ye in it" (Isaiah 30, 21). If he goes to the right hand or to the left and leaves the path, then Christ is correcting his life: putting it right. And Christ is giving him knowledge all the time as to how to speak and when to speak and when to keep silent. How is He doing this? Well He's doing it through the Bible. The Bible is the repository of Truth and Christ uses the Truth that we read in our daily reading of the Bible and our weekly sermons, to give us the understanding as to how we should live our life, which is the hardest thing we will ever have to do here in this world.
Well that then is the third illustration, which the Bible gives to us of our union with Christ. It will be profitable to ask yourselves, is your life reflecting this supreme intelligence of Christ? Or is your life full of frivolity and vanity. What about the way you speak? Is it controlled by the standards of the Bible? Do you respect the reputation of your neighbours and of your friends and of others? Are you careful what you say, and the way you live and the way you work? Are you honest? Are you faithful? Are you trustworthy? Is the character to be seen in you, which is to be seen in Jesus Christ? Well that's what Christianity is all about. It's growing in likeness to Christ; becoming Christ-like, because of this union and communion with Him.
That gives me time just to mention the fourth illustration, which is the most wonderful and sublime of all. I will give you the first three again so that we have them in our memory.
i. THE VINE AND THE BRANCHES. Illustrating how the believer is 'In Christ' and fruitful in his life.
ii. THE BUILDING AND ITS FOUNDATION. The security the stability, the certainty of a Christian. He knows that he is all right. He knows he's safe. He knows he's saved. He knows he's on his way to heaven. He doesn't need to worry about death or eternity. He knows all will be well. He's building upon a sound and a sure foundation.
iii. THE HEAD AND THE BODY. He's not left to his own devices. When things go wrong he doesn't have to fly into a panic, wondering whatever he is going to do. He sits down and he prays for help. And he turns to the Bible. "Oh, God", he says, "I don't know what to do in this situation. Guide me through Thy holy Word." And the Christian takes his time, doesn't do anything in a hurry. He studies the Bible and tries to find the answer. What should I do in this situation? And God will guide him. Intelligence in heaven will guide him, and he will be more than a conqueror against all his foes if he goes about it in that way.
Now the fourth illustration that Christ gives us is this. That the Christian is related to Christ as the wife is related to her husband. All Christians bear this relationship to Christ. He is the husband and His people are His spouse, or His wife. They are married and that, of course, is a most beautiful illustration. Christ and His people are bound together as man and wife. He is obliged to His people. It is not really a matter of option on His part, although it is all a matter of grace, but He is pledged to His people. It's not a matter of His saying, well I might want to help him on a Monday or a Tuesday but I'll certainly not do anything for him the rest of the week. He can get on for himself. No, He is the Husband of His people every day, all the days of their life. He is pledged, promised, sworn, avowed that He will look after them. He will never leave them nor forsake them. He will show His love for them, in their hearts, in their lives, in their experiences; some of them sad ones but all of them sweetened by His love. And He's able to put a cup of comfort to their lips in times of evil. He can give them joy, unspeakable and full of glory, when all seems bleak and black and dark and terrible: Christ is able to lift them up on eagle's wings, so that they run and are not weary, they walk and do not faint; and all of that because He is unspeakable in His love, and grace, and kindness.
Dearest friends, there is no one like Christ - no one to compare with Him. And the believer has Christ, the believer is 'In Christ' and He is in them. So here is the great question with which we must finish. Do we know how to get into this blessed relationship with Jesus Christ so that He is another Adam to us: the Last Adam, the Saviour. And if we have this relationship with Him, then for us all things are working together for good. And when we die we shall not wholly die, and our souls will go to glory. Our eyes will behold Jesus Christ, Himself. And we shall be with the Lord, and we shall worship Him, and kiss His feet, and adore His blessed name. We shall cast our crowns before Him; say 'worthy is the Lamb'. This is the hope, the life, the glory, and the destiny of every true Christian. Not simply of the clever but of the dull. Not simply of those who are gifted, but of the ungifted. He loves them all alike; they are all His if they trust in Him.
And so my very dear friends, this is the teaching of the Bible on this amazing and delightful subject of the 'Believers Union and Communion with Christ'.
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