The word “Christianity” (used to denote the christian profession) is not found in scripture, but the word “Christian” is found there. It is used thrice only. Once to designate those who professed the name of Christ (Acts 11: 26). Secondly, Peter uses it with regard to a believer who might suffer for bearing that name (1 Peter 4: 14, 16). A third time it is used by Agrippa in Acts 26: 28. The Holy Spirit does not speak in scripture of a system of religion connected with the name of Christ. He does so speak of the religion of the Jews, calling it Judaism.
There is a word in scripture often used to express the conduct proper to Christians – “piety” or “godliness.” This word has in the original language the idea of reverence for a Person. In accord with this we read in I Timothy 3: 16 that the mystery, or secret, of godliness is great. It must be; for the first element in it is that “God has been manifested in flesh.” This is not a rule of life, like the law given by God to the Jews, but a very Man, and yet very God, has lived and walked among men in this world. In Him there was the reality of godly conduct and walk toward God and toward man. In regard to the first He said, “I do always those things that please him.” But to men He said, “Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.” Note how He became neighbour to men in the parable of Luke 10: 30-37; and His injunction to the lawyer, “Go, and do thou likewise.”
The other element of piety is as great — that Man in His person has been received up in glory — Man perfected in glory; and such is the risen Lord and Saviour, set before the believer as that to be apprehended; and as he contemplates the glory of the Lord, he becomes changed into the same image by the Spirit of the Lord. No such thing could possibly be found in the formality of a system; nor could there be in the confined state of Judaism the going forth of the gospel concerning this blessed Person to the whole creation under heaven. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
The effect of this Spirit of liberty by which an Object and a goal are before Christians is that they press toward the Object, Christ Himself in glory; while the goal is conformity to His image and likeness in resurrection. Then, as being still down here, Christians are exhorted to be followers, or imitators, of God as dear children, and to walk in love as Christ has loved us. Mark, how everything for Christians centres in a Person, God manifest in the flesh. Further, note how that blessed Person when here on earth gathered round Himself those who believed on Him. He disentangled them from their old associations, and bound them with cords of love to Himself.
All this involved an entirely new beginning. I turn to John 15 for this new beginning and its continuation. In the end of chapter 14, Jesus said, “Arise, let us go hence.” They were to leave the supper table. It had been a wonderful place of intimacy and communion with “His own.” He had been unfolding to them the truth as to His departure out of this world to the Father. The supper table supposed His death, but the holy links formed there between Jesus and His disciples would not terminate by His departure. Hence, beyond the supper table, so to speak, Jesus takes up a new position before He left this world, saying, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.” In Judaism the vine brought out of Egypt was a nation — a people congregated by the Lord pitching His tabernacle in their midst, and conducting them through the wilderness until He planted them in Canaan; but the grapes brought forth were wild grapes. Such was man under the best treatment. The new position taken by Jesus as the true Vine depended on the fact of life being in Him. All through the Gospel of John the life which was in Him moves on, even through death — “I lay down my life,” He said, “I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” So His position as the true Vine lay beyond the supper table.
For all this to be effective with us, we have the Son of God in resurrection as the source of fruit-bearing. While He was personally present with His disciples, He could say as having life in Himself, “I am the vine, ye are the branches.” But His thought was that what had begun with them should be continued. To this end He said, “Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.”
Here let me ask my reader to note the word “abide,” sometimes translated “continue” and “remain.” It is characteristic of this chapter. Everything that is properly christian character depends on abiding in Christ, and as a consequence “I in you”; for working for Christ is not the same as fruitbearing. We read in Colossians 1: 10 “bearing fruit in every good work” (New Translation).
On the contrary we find in Revelation 2: 2, “works and labour and patience” – all known to Christ — but the love which should have given character – the personal attachment of Christ — had waned, the first love had been left. There was working for Christ, but not abiding in Him. Hence the deterioration of the works when compared with 1Thessalonians 1: 3.
We get a further use of this word “continue” or “abide” in verse 9, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.” It does not say continue to love me, but “continue ye in my love.” Do we realise the blessedness of our walk and life and ways being directed by the commandment of One who loves us? This would result in the practical abiding in His love. In verse I2 we have another of His commands of love, “That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” How is this brought about? By continuing in His love. This is how Christians are formed in the likeness of Christ. Deep, divine, everlasting love has laid hold of the Christian and he is to continue in it. Thus what began with Christ is continued in those who abide in Him, and fruit is brought forth to the Father’s glory.
It may be asked, How can there be this abiding in Christ now that He is in the Father in heavenly glory? The answer is found in chapter 14: 19, “Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.” This is connected with the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, taking the place of Christ with His disciples, so that they should not be desolate, but an intimacy of love be established such as they had never known before. “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you,” and this Comforter is present with us.
How this separates us from the world, for the world only loves its own; but how it glorifies the Father when Christ is reproduced in His disciples! No doubt, it is by the Holy Spirit’s power, but the point of the chapter is abiding in the Vine. All the fruit that has been borne for the Father’s glory throughout the history of that which is called Christianity upon earth, has resulted from the witness of the twelve to the Person of the Son, the true Vine; they have declared it as a “word of life” to generation after generation of those brought to believe in Jesus down to the present moment. True Christianity is not a system of doctrine or profession merely, but a “word of life” to be believed and expressed in us!