Major Howard Webber
Retired SA Officer - Pastor
Howard Webber is a retired Pastor having served for many years in various appointments as a Salvation Army officer. He is an award-winning author and weekly contributor to this SA related blog.
On occasion, he favours us by sharing hitherto unpublished articles. Here then is one such offering; a three-part Bible study.
The FSAOF Editorial Board
John 15:1- 8
Above we came to the conclusion that our situation is an impossible one, that what God requires is unachievable, unreasonable. We see it elsewhere too. Jesus said, 'Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,' Matthew 5:48, and 'Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,' Luke 6:36. However we might translate the words, we are being called to have the character of God, something most clearly seen in Jesus! 'But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do,' 1 Peter 1:15.
Like St Paul, we might readily throw up our hands in despair and cry out, 'What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?' Romans 7:24. You see, we are trapped. We are prisoners of our sinful nature whatever our good intentions. But St Paul found the answer to his conundrum and ours, 'Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!' v25. In other words, through Jesus Christ we can be rescued! Hallelujah!
'I am the true vine,' says Jesus, 'and my Father is the gardener.' What Jesus is saying in that second important phrase is, 'I am not a law unto myself, but have subjected and submitted myself to the will of my Father.' His Father could do whatever he wished to achieve the ends that he had in mind. Historically, we human beings have proved to be incapable of being the fruitful vines that God desired us to be. In this passage we are not being invited to be vines like Jesus, but to be mere branches of the one and only True Vine, Christ Jesus.
A branch has no life of its own. It is an extension of the vine. The sap that runs through the vine is the self-same sap that runs through the branches. The key to living a successful life, fruitful and pleasing to God, is in dispensing with our independence and becoming totally dependent on Christ Jesus, abiding in an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus, where every thought, every motive, every word is expressed in relation to Jesus. It's more than trying to mimic him or live by a set of rules.
Attached to Christ like a branch to a vine, emptied of self and full of his Spirit, his sap if you like, we will naturally start to reveal what previously we were incapable of achieving ourselves no matter how much we tried. 'Remain in me, as I also remain in you,' Jesus said. The Spirit of Christ must fill us and take the place of our human Spirit: the spiritual in place of the carnal: the nature we inherited being replaced by God's nature. It is about dying to self and self-centred concerns. St Paul expressed it most clearly in Galatians 2:20, when he said, 'I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.'
The tragedy is that many Christians who give the appearance of being attached are not attached or abiding in Christ at all. They live such a frustrating life, trying to be what they can never be. It's no good cello-taping a branch on to a tree to give the appearance of being attached. It will not bear the spiritual fruit that pleases God and lasts(v 16), whatever the pretence or appearance. Others might think we are achieving much and doing sterling work, but Jesus, repeating himself, said 'I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.' v5
When I started my journey with Jesus, I thought that being a Christian was all about my effort and God helping me and providing the resources I needed to achieve what he wanted for my life. I was always praying, 'Help me to be what you want me to be.' And you know what? It seemed as though he turned a deaf ear to my prayers. It was years....I was an officer....before I realised that it wasn't about me and my efforts, my capabilities, but about me getting out of the way and letting him live his life through me.
Is your Christian life one of struggles, disappointments and failure?
Have you yet to be filled with the Holy Spirit?