On our part contact with God is maintained not only by the law of reckoning but also by the life of abiding. Holiness flows from union with Christ, and apart from abiding in Him we have no purity or fruitfulness. Thus Jesus 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. 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 (that is, apart from Me) ye can do nothing." (John xv. 4, 5.)
Abide is a familiar but interesting word. The Greek verb is meno or menein, from which comes the English word remain, and which is rendered in the Authorized Version by a number of expressions, for example: abide, dwell, remain, continue, tarry. endure, be present. etc. With reference to our union with Christ a good translation would be live. Thus in John xv. 9, "Continue ye in My love," the force of Christ's command would be better brought out by reading, "Live ye in My love."
To abide in Christ means two things, namely: Obedience and Fellowship. By keeping the commandments of God and by communing with Him through the Spirit we abide in Christ.
In I John iii. 24, abiding in Christ is described as a life of obedience:
"And he that keepeth His commandments dwelleth (that is, abideth) in Him and He in him."
One of the ringing messages of the Old Testament is the absolute necessity of perfect obedience. Thus, the high estimate which God placed upon the observance of His law is seen in the solemn words of Samuel the prophet to Saul the rejected king:
"Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice and to hearken than the fat of rams.
"For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry." (I. Samuel xv. 22, 23.)
But Israel did not keep the law nor obey the voice of the Lord. Yet the cause was not in the law, which was "holy, just, and good," but in the people who were weak, wayward, and wicked. In the midst of the national failure, however, the prophets foretold a time, when the law of God would be obeyed and when His voice would be obeyed:
"But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people." (Jeremiah xxxi. 33.)
"And I will give them one heart, and I will put My Spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh:
"That they may walk in My statutes, and keep Mine ordinances, and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God." (Ezekiel xi. 19, 20.)
"Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and give you an heart of flesh.
"And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them." (Ezekiel xxxvi. 25-27.)
Literally, these glorious promises must be referred to Israel, but spiritually they may be applied to the Church. For the Church they were fulfilled at Pentecost, and are for believers to claim in the present age.
Even more strongly, if possible, than the Old Testament does the New Testament emphasize the absolute necessity of perfect obedience. Thus, in His parting address to His disciples Jesus said:
"If ye love Me keep My commandments."
"He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me; and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and manifest Myself to him."
"If a man love Me, he will keep My words; and My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." (John xiv. 15, 21, 25.)
"If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."
"If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love." (John xv. 7, 10.)
Now, although Israel could not obey the law of God, yet Christians can keep the commandments of Christ. Indeed, Jesus made obedience an essential mark of true discipleship. "Ye are My friends (that is, disciples,) if ye do whatsoever I command you." (John xv. 14.) In Ezekiel xxxvi. 27, we read:
"And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments and do them.
Here the prophet declares that the incoming of the Holy Ghost will have a causative power unto obedience. As a result of the Spirit's indwelling, the promise is, not that we may but that we shall obey the voice of the Lord and walk in His holy ways. Again, in Romans viii. 3, 4, we read:
"For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned in the flesh;
"That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
Here the apostle declares that the purpose of the incarnation of Christ and the incoming of the Spirit is "that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." In other words, the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives will be to produce that renewal of character and righteousness of conduct which the law failed to produce.
Christians today, therefore, do not have to try to keep the commandments of Christ in the same way that Israel of old tried to keep the commandments of God, and utterly failed. For, in their efforts to observe the law of Moses and obey the voice of the Lord the chosen people struggled hopelessly against an evil heart and a perverse will. To believers, however, has been given a changed heart and in their inmost parts has been written the Divine law. Thus, obedience is the product of holiness-the fruit of the incoming of the Spirit and the indwelling of Christ.
In a popular manual on the deeper life the writer tells of a wilful and wayward boy, whose mother had, without avail, tried every means within her power to make teachable and obedient One day in despair, she said to a sympathetic friend, "I wish I could get inside my boy, and think through his mind, and love through his heart, and act through his will. If I could only do this, I would soon make him teachable and obedient, for I would cause him to think pure thoughts, and love good things, and always do what is right."
Beloved, the futile wish of the fond mother for her boy, is gloriously realized by God in the lives of His children. Though we often desire to do right, yet in ourselves we are weak and wayward, with a rebellious will and a disobedient heart. In our own strength we cannot keep the commandments of Christ, nor fulfill the perfect will of God. But Christ Himself by the Holy Spirit will come and live within us. To us He will give the hearkening ear to hear "the still, small voice," and the yielded heart to "walk in the Spirit." Then shall we be enabled to keep His commandments and please the Father in all things. Thus, through our minds will throb the lofty thoughts of God, through our hearts will pulsate His holy desires, and through our wills will be wrought out His sublime purposes. May we not pray:
"Live out Thy life in me,
Live out Thy life in me;
By Thy wonderful power,
By Thy grace every hour,
Live out Thy life in me."
In John vi. 56, 57, abiding in Christ is described as a life of communion or fellowship:
"He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood dwelleth (that is, abideth) in Me and I in him.
"As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father, even so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me."
Fellowship is an attractive and suggestive term. The Greek noun, koinonia, literally signifies partnership or participation. The word is used to express the intimacy communion, and oneness, which exist between Christ and the believer.
"He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit." (I Corinthians vi. 17.)
...and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ."
"If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin." (I. John i. 3, 7.)
Our Lord's chosen symbol of the union and communion of the believer with Himself was the vine and the branches. Now, the relationship between obedience and fellowship may be illustrated by the connection between the grapes and the sap. Grapes are the fruit of sap, while sap is the source of grapes. Each is related to the other, while both in turn are dependent upon the vine. So obedience is the fruit of fellowship, while fellowship is the spring of obedience. Each is related to the other, while both in turn are dependent upon Christ. In fact, without true fellowship there can be no practical obedience; and without practical obedience there can be no true fellowship.
Glorious, however, as is the reception of the Holy Ghost, it is not the climax of spiritual life; it is only a unique crisis, which marks a new beginning in Christian experience. After the baptism comes the fullness of the Spirit. After the bond of union with Christ has been established the life of communion with Him must be maintained. Indeed, in the blessed experience of sanctification we shall never be able to comprehend, much less to compass, all the heights and depths, the lengths and breadths, of the matchless love and infinite power of God. In I. Corinthians xii. 13, we read:
"For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free, and have all been made to drink into One Spirit."
Again, in Ephesians v. 18, Paul exhorts believers:
"Be filled with the Spirit." (Literally, in the Spirit.)
Now, the fullness of the Spirit marks an advance upon the baptism of the Spirit. The Divine gift of the Spirit, like the new birth by the Spirit, is, as have seen, a distinct act and a definite transaction. There is a time when we take Christ to be our Saviour; and there is a moment when we take Him to be our Sanctifier through the incoming of the Holy Ghost. The fullness of the Spirit, however, is quite different from these experiences. Unlike them it is not an act, but a process; it is not a transaction, but a habit. Having received Christ (act), we grow up into Him in all things (process). Having received the Holy Ghost (transaction), we drink, and keep drinking, of His fullness (habit). Thus, the infilling of the Spirit is the life of fellowship with Christ.
But this is just the point where many earnest children of God who are seeking the fullness of Divine blessing fail of the complete satisfaction of every need of spirit, mind, and body. They have received the Holy Ghost; this they dare not doubt. Moreover, they have had what to others as well as to themselves is clear and convincing evidence that "the Comforter has come." Yet their lives are without rest and joy, without power and fruit; indeed, their hearts are "one vast continent of unexplored longings and unsatisfied desires."
Beloved, is this your experience? Have you been wondering what the trouble is? Let me tell you. You have taken Christ to be your Sanctifier, but you have not "followed on to know the Lord." You are not living in His love. You have received the Holy Ghost as your Abiding Comforter, but you have not been drinking in His joy and power. You are not "filled with the Spirit." What do you think would happen to a diver who under water should not breathe through his air tube? Dear friend, you are spiritually starving. Your life is like a bottle corked tight in the ocean. All around is the limitless sea, yet the bottle inside is empty and dry. Spiritually open up your whole being to God. Wait upon the Lord. Study the Word. Feed upon Christ. Drink in the peace and rest, the joy and power of the Holy Ghost. Learn to live by the moment. Every time you feel spiritual hunger, feed upon the Living Bread. Every time you feel spiritual thirst, drink of the Living Water. Thus will you know the joys of fellowship with Christ, and your whole life will be kept fresh, fragrant, and fruitful in the fullness of the Spirit.