But practically, what does this mean in our experience? What is this “staying vitally connected”? How do we do this? One important part of the answer is to make clear that abiding in Jesus is not the same as bearing fruit or keeping his commandments. Fruit-bearing and commandment-keeping is the result of abiding. If we abide, we bear fruit.
Jesus does not contradict this when he says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love” (John 15:10). This does not mean: Keeping his commandments is abiding in his love. That would be like saying: Fruit is being connected to the vine. No. Fruit is the result of our being connected to the vine. They are not the same thing. What Jesus means is that if you don’t keep the commandments, that is, if you don’t bear the fruit of love (for love is the sum of his commandments, John 15:12), you have ceased to abide in him. For the truth stands: “Whoever abides in me… bears much fruit” (John 15:5).
So the answer to our question, “How do we abide in Jesus?” is not “by bearing fruit” or “by keeping the commandments.” That misses the whole point. The point is to discover how to bear fruit. The answer is, by abiding in Jesus. And so the question becomes: How do we abide in Jesus? What does it mean in actual experience?
Practically, How Do We Abide in Jesus?
Jesus uses two other similar phrases that point to the answer. He refers to abiding in his love. And he refers to abiding in his word. Both of these point toward abiding as continual trust in the truth of Jesus’ words and in the certainty of his love.
Abiding Means Trusting in Jesus’ Love
Not to abide in Jesus’ love would mean that we stop believing that we are loved by Jesus. We look at our circumstances—perhaps persecution or disease or abandonment—and we conclude that we are not loved by Jesus anymore. That’s the opposite of abiding in the love of Jesus. So abiding in his love means continuing to believe, moment by moment, that we are loved.
Everything that comes into our lives under Jesus’ sovereign authority (Matt. 8:8) is part of his love for us. If it is pleasant, he says, “That’s how my Father cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field; how much more you!” (cf. Matt. 6:26-30). And if it is painful, he says, “Fear not, the worst that can happen is death, and I have overcome death. I will be with you to the end. And you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (cf. Matt. 10:28; 28:20; John 11:25-26; Luke 14:14). Abiding in Jesus means trusting that this is true—and true for you. That is, it means living on this truth moment by moment. It flows to us like sap flows to a branch. We receive it and get our life from it every day.
Abiding Means Trusting in Jesus’ Word
Similarly, this is true with the phrase, “Abide in my word” (John 8:31). This cannot mean merely, “Keep my commandments.” Rather it means, “Keep on trusting my word. Keep on trusting what I have revealed to you about myself and my Father and my work.” The context of John 8:31-32 confirms this: “Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'” The result of abiding in Jesus’ word is being set free. From what? From sin. That’s the slavery Jesus has in mind, as John 8:34 shows: “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” So freedom from sin is the fruit of abiding in the word. “If you abide in my word… the truth will set you free.” Not sinning is the fruit, not the definition, of abiding in the word. So keeping the commandments of Jesus, which is another way of describing liberation from sin, is not the meaning of abiding in his word, but the fruit of it.
So we conclude that abiding in Jesus—in his love and in his word—is trusting that he really is loving us at every moment and that everything he has revealed about himself and his work for us and our future with him is true. We are taken back to what we saw in the chapter on believing in Jesus (Demand #4). Believing in Jesus as our living water means drinking the water—savoring it and being satisfied with it. So it is with the sap that flows from the vine to the branch. We receive it, drink it, savor it, and satisfy our souls with it. This daily ever-renewed satisfaction in Jesus is the key to bearing fruit. This is what it means to abide in Jesus.
What Jesus Demands from the World.