Spiritual Maturity—The “Abiding” Principle
How then are we transformed? How do we stabilize our lives against the turbulence created by appetites and passions accustomed to gratification? Can we in fact reach a place of spiritual maturity? The answers to these questions are worth their weight in gold to Christians in quest of guidelines for victorious Christian living. And happily these answers are available to us.
Spiritual victory is not realized by giving mental assent to an abstract positional theology. Spiritual victory must involve us. Yet clearly it
…is not something that we achieve by ourselves in a state of isolation, (nor is it) something that we have as a personal possession. Rather, it is an achieved state of relationship with God.” Gordon Olson, Sharing Your Faith (Bible Research Fellowship), ch. 12, p. 6.
Or as Charles Finney wrote,
Our activity, though properly our own, is nevertheless stimulated and directed by His presence and agency within us, so that we can and must say with Paul, ‘yet not, I, but Christ liveth in me.’ Charles G. Finney, Sanctification (Christian Literature Crusade), p. 47.
He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit, for without me ye can do nothing. John 15:5
Not only do these words remind us of what we cannot do, they present us with a blueprint for action; they reveal to us what we can do. The gospel of John (chapters 15 and 17) supplies us with a definition and instructions for application of the power of God in sanctification.
The word sanctified actually means set apart. It is worth noting, however, that the biblical concept of sanctification does not stress being entirely removed. It rather conveys the idea of being “different in the midst of” or “in but not of.” Jesus prays for His disciples along this very line.
I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth. As thou didst send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:15–19 (NASB)
In an earlier chapter Jesus gives us the practical “how to” of being in the world but not of it. We find the word abide appearing ten times in the first ten verses of John chapter 15. Jesus is not offering teaching on salvation here. He is not talking to people who are not sanctified. He is dispensing the secret of maintaining our spiritual walk. In John 15:3 Jesus says, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” But he immediately then states, “Abide in Me” if you want to produce any spiritual fruit.
If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. John 15:6 (NASB)
A branch that is not abiding in the vine is symbolic of a life that is out of relationship with God. And a life out of relationship with God is cut off from the only life source in the universe. This is precisely why this life will dry up.
The Psalmist could say, ‘All my springs are in Thee.’ He is the fountain of life. Whatever of life is in us flows directly from Him, as the sap flows from the vine to the branch … Ibid.
Deliverance from sin as promised in the Gospel is impossible unless we are willing to live a life in communication with God, for it is the Godhead who must deliver us. If we do not want to take the trouble to maintain this happy, submissive life, then we are left to fight our own battles with gruesome defeat on every hand.” Gordon Olson, Sharing Your Faith (Bible Research Fellowship), ch. 11, p. 9.
So, in order to remain sanctified or “set apart” from sin and the world, we must abide in Christ. Not in some mystical, abstract manner, but in regular intimate communion with earnest desire.
The experience of abiding in Christ is like being in the eye of a hurricane. As long as our attention is focused on Him, we are kept in perfect peace though the winds of iniquity rage all about us. We are “in but not of.” Outside of Christ’s embrace, however, we have no more chance of resisting the maelstrom of sin than a leaf in a mid-winter gale. We must be reminded that:
…continual deliverance depends upon our having learned the secret of continual abiding in Christ, and that, therefore, it is not automatic. We must learn not only the ‘how’ but also the ‘when.’ Or, to put it more fully, we must not only learn how to look to the Lord in faith but must become sharpened in our spiritual perception and sensitivity to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so that we instantly recognize when we need to look to the Lord for deliverance. Ibid., ch. 12, pp. 4,6.
When will the Church understand that Christ is our sanctification; that we have no life, no holiness, no sanctification, except as we abide in Christ … Charles G. Finney, Sanctification (Christian Literature Crusade), p. 46.