GCI Sermon for May 9, 2021 …
The Radical Choice of Jesus
Have you ever grown something yourself? A garden or a houseplant? You get your potting soil; you get a special pot picked out with just the right colors. Or you work on that square in the backyard in the hot sun. You put the seeds in, and you wait.
Somehow, between water, sunshine, fertilizer, and the power of life, a shoot breaks through the ground one morning. Soon enough, that small shoot grows branches and leaves and eventually becomes a full-fledged plant.
Even the most experienced farmer will tell you there’s an X factor here — there’s always a bit of doubt that maybe the seeds won’t sprout this year. There’s always a small catch of breath when, once again, the brilliant green breaks through plain old soil.
It’s this X factor, this connection, that Jesus describes in John 15. Let’s read the passage:
Read John 15:9-17 …
Just prior to this passage, Jesus introduced himself as the “true vine” and his followers as his branches who will bear fruit. That connection is an indecipherable mix that experienced Christians rely on. We know it is Christ’s power in and through us, and yet we present ourselves every day and take up our cross. In short, we “abide.”
Just as the plant’s metabolism works somehow to make dirt, sunlight and rainwater into corn, so God works with us to bring forth fruit, sometimes more than we could ever imagine. A small, drab-colored seed goes into the ground and becomes a glorious tree. So God works through the small, drab-colored group of people he calls the church to bear fruit in the world.
In this passage and right before it, Jesus uses two important words to describe us, and that’s what we’ll look at today.
Jesus calls us:
I am the vine; you are the branches. (John 15:5 ESV)
When looking at John 15, you have to pay close attention to the details of the wording. First, this is one of the powerful “I AM” statements of Jesus, along with I am the good shepherd, I am the way, the truth, the life, and several others.
The vine was an important symbol of Israel, used throughout the Old Testament to describe God’s blessing through them to the world. In the brief Jewish independence after Christ, 68-70 AD, Jewish coins were minted with a picture of a vine on them. This was imagery deep within the Jewish consciousness.
So for Jesus to say “I am the vine” was phrasing rich in symbolism. Jesus was saying, as he did in so many other places, that he was the true Israel-in-person and that God’s purposes for Israel found their completion in him.
Chapters 14-17 of John, called the “farewell discourse” of Jesus, is his last prolonged dialogue before his death. Here he reveals more theology verbally than anywhere else—most of the time he reveals it by action and miracle. But here he is essentially giving us all a peak at the blueprints, a nose behind the curtain, a glimpse of the map.
So he calls himself the vine and us the branches, and he uses a certain word over and over again: abide.
He uses this word 11 times in this chapter in John. It’s a word that means to stay, to not become separate, to be held, kept continually. As one theologian said it, “not the holding of a position but an allowing oneself to be held.”
Abiding is an action and yet somehow something that happens to you. It’s holding on and letting go at the same time. It’s like the strange X-factor of the measly seed that somehow becomes a colossal sequoia tree.
Action words like this make us Protestants, especially in the evangelical tradition, a little nervous. Is Jesus talking about us “earning” God’s love? Somehow meriting his favor or blessing and staying in his good graces? Didn’t Jesus take care of that? Absolutely, consider this:
Our identity is set by Christ even before we become a Christian—we can’t change that fact; we can’t make God go back on his promise. It’s after this that we get down to the work of abiding, of allowing ourselves to be held.
To abide is to live in our destiny as Christ-followers. Our destiny isn’t just a far-off “I’ll fly away” reality for when we die, but it is the daily activity of “being held” by Christ. It is abiding in his strength and love as we go about life.
Think of a down-to-earth example: getting along with a difficult co-worker. It’s something we’ve all faced before. You’ve tried avoiding them—impossible. You’ve tried blowing off steam by gossiping about this person at happy hour—diminishing returns. You’ve tried confronting them—deaf ears.
And so you approach the situation with prayer. You approach it asking Jesus to let you see this person and these circumstances through his eyes, setting your mind to “abide” in the Lord who loves and pursues that person. You approach with forgiveness and the knowledge that the resources to “win” the situation are beyond your grasp.
Will this magically make this person less annoying? Probably not. Will he/she continue to eat the labeled yogurt in the shared fridge and get their work in past deadline? Probably. But the change will come to you. You’ll find yourself with more patience, more peace and more centeredness in this situation. You’ll find yourself seeing this situation, and more importantly this person, as Jesus does and always has.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide. (John 15:16 ESV)
This is that work of bearing fruit. Maybe it’s not dramatic, but in a world of increasing negativity and dog-eat-dog cynicism, the small fruit of kindness can be like an oasis. Add up these small fruits over time and the harvest is rich.
You are not trying to please God by your works—you are joining him in his work.
You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:14-15 ESV)
C.S. Lewis described philia, or friendship love:
Hence (if you will not misunderstand me) the exquisite arbitrariness and irresponsibility of this love. I have no duty to be anyone’s Friend and no man in the world has a duty to be mine. No claims, no shadow of necessity. Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.
This “exquisite irresponsibility” is unique to friendship in relationships. Children have a physical need for their parents and their parents a duty to them. Business partners have a relationship that helps them both make money. Lovers are united by physical attraction and procreation.
Friends, well, they’re just friends. They either meet as peers or there is a peer element to the relationship. There’s more choice involved in friendship than any other relationship.
The theme of friendship in the Gospel of John is very strong—all the way through to the end where Jesus asks Peter, “Do you philia me?” (21:17). John is fixated on friend love—philia, in the Greek. And we see that here.
Slavery or servanthood was a tragic part of daily life in the ancient world. These people had no knowledge of the master’s plans because they were machines used for a certain purpose; they are rarely informed why.
And here is Jesus informing his disciples in this long dialogue of how it all works. He’s showing them how he relates to the Father and how they now relate to him. He has called them friends.
He then expands the depth of this friendship with one of the most famous lines:
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13 ESV)
Look at the theme of friendship here. Laying your life down for your friends. You would lay your life down for your kids or for your spouse—that’s family. You’d lay your life down for your country—that’s patriotism. But laying down your life for your friends—for those who should be able to defend themselves and don’t “need” you in the physical sense—this is a choice that goes beyond social expectations. As Jesus said earlier:
For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. (John 10:17-18 ESV)
Jesus chooses to do this, to lay down his life for his friends. He lays down his life for those he doesn’t need, for those he’s not depending on in any way, for those who might not even recognize or appreciate what he has done.
This is his radical choice: to have branches grafted into him that will hurt him and drain him; to reach out to friends that may never reach back. To write himself into the chaotic patchwork of the human story.
And so he calls us branches…
What does it mean to abide? It means to fully embrace the identity you’ve been given in Christ. This means worshipping, meditating, and praying; it also means serving, obeying and being part of the kingdom breaking into the world.
The kids’ song “Read your Bible, pray every day, and you’ll grow-grow-grow!” isn’t too far off the mark!
And so he calls us friends…
Are you friends with Jesus? Sure, you love him, you obey him, you trust he’ll be standing there “when the roll is called up yonder.” But do you fellowship with him? Do you speak to him, as best we can in this life, face-to-face? Do you have an “unnecessary friendship” with Christ? He offers it freely.
Sermon REVERB …
Our keynote passage …
- John 15:9-17 (KJV) … As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. 10 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. 11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. 12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. 13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. 15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. 16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. 17 These things I command you, that ye love one another.
Is there anything that’s especially noteworthy to you?
- John 15:9-17 (ESV) … As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
Five (5) things (among others) that jump out at me …
- John 15:10 … If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love
- John 15:11 … that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full
- John 15:12 … This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
- John 15:15 … but I have called you friends
- John 15:16 … You did not choose me, but I chose you …
- How do you read John 15:10? Is it saying God will love you more if you obey Him?
- What is the main theme in John 15:11? Whose?
- John 13:34 (which is similar to John 15:12) speaks of the commandment as “a new commandment”. What is new about the commandment?
- What is the significance of being called a “friend” by Jesus … as John 15:15 says?
- What does John 15:16 mean for you? Who chose whom?
SOME THINGS TO NOTE …
We don’t have to obey God for Him to love us … or even love us more. See 1 John 4:19 … God loved us before we loved Him … before we could even think about obeying Him. … I think the verse should be better understood as “If we remain in His love, we will obey Him.” See John 14:15
The focus of John 15:11 is JOY … but whose joy is Jesus speaking of? … NOTE Galatians 5:22-23 … Interestingly, the Greek for “fruit” is masculine, singular … implying that the following traits are somehow bundled together into one package, suggesting that we can’t have one without the other … POINT, howver, is that “joy” is a fruit of the Holy Spirit … Joy is in us because the Holy Spirit is in us … so it is really the Holy Spirit’s joy – or Christ’s joy – which we manifest.
The new dimension of the commandment in John 15:12 is “as I have loved you” instead of “as (you love) yourself” … And how has He loved us? … See John 15:9.
Somehow, the word “friend” doesn’t mean the same today, as it did back then … so, if we are not careful, we can undervalue what it means to be called a friend of Jesus (as Abraham was called “friend of God”) … By way of example, check ou the story (from Greek mythology) of Damon and Pythias …
When it comes to your salvation … Did you choose God … or did God choose you? … Some say God chose us (as John 15:16 says … but others say they chose God (perhaps by praying the sinner’s prayer … or responding to an altar call … or deciding to get baptized, etc.) … Why would they say that? Probably because of passages like Deuteronomy 30:15-20,19 … BUT there’s ANOTHER POSSIBLE reason … They believe their salvation depends on them … That’s another way of saying they believe they chose God because of their theology.
That last point provides a good segway into a discussion about GCI Theology vis-a-vis WCG Theology … or GCI Theology in Context …
How should we describe GCI Theology?
- As Trinitarian Incarnational
Is GCI theology mainstream?
- I’d say YES, but … it is not one of the two main theologies that influence most Christian churches … Calvinism and Arminianism.
Which churches (denominations) would be considered Calvinist?
- Evangelicals, Presbyterian, Reformed Churches and many Baptist denominations
- Most grace-based churches
- The ranks of well-known Calvinists include Augustine, the Reformers of the 16th century, the Puritans of the 17th century, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon.
- Most grace-based churches
- More recent Calvinists include Charles Hodge, A.A. Hodge, Gresham Machen, Martin Lloyd Jones, J.I. Packer, Francis Shaeffer, R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur Jr., Charles Stanley (?)
Which churches would be considered Arminian?
- American Baptist, United Methodist, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, Church of the Nazarene, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Worldwide Church of God ….
- Most performance-based churches
- The ranks of well-known Arminians include historical and current day Roman Catholics, the Remonstrants of the 17th century and John Wesley and Charles Wesley.
- Recent Arminians include Charles Finney, Dwight Moody, Billy Graham, Rick Warren and most other “mainline” preachers and evangelists.
How should we relate to Christians who subscribe to one or the other of the two theologies?
- Consider the following quote by Tim Challies, blogger, author, book reviewer …
Interestingly, despite the fact that Arminianism arose in response to Calvinism, it is the Calvinists that are on the defensive today, needing to defend their beliefs against the majority of Christians who are Arminian. Whereas by rights Arminianism should be defined in light of Calvinism, the opposite is generally true.
It is also very important to note that the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism is not a salvation issue. Though the two viewpoints stand in contradiction to each other, meaning that one must be right and the other wrong, there are no beliefs in either tradition that would leave people believing the opposite outside of salvation. Christians should not allow the differences between these viewpoints to become divisive in their unity with other true believers. That being said, it is still important for Christians to search for the truth and to discern for themselves, in the light of the Bible, which viewpoint is more Scriptural.
How has GCI progressed?
- WCG (CoG-7thD, SDA, JW) …………………………………………… GCI (Trinitarian Incarnational)
- Armstrongism —> Arminianism —> Calvinism (4-Point) —> Trinitarianism
ARMINIANISM vs CALVINISM
The following material from Romans: An Interpretative Outline (pp.144-147) by David N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas, contrasts the Five Points of Arminianism with the Five Points of Calvinism in the clearest and most concise form that we have seen anywhere. It is also found in their smaller book, The Five Points of Calvinism (pp. 16-19). Both books are published by The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Philadelphia.(1963). Messrs. Steele and Thomas have served for several years as co-pastors of a Southern Baptist church, in Little Rock, Arkansas.
According to Calvinism
- Salvation is accomplished by the almighty power of the Triune God.
- The Father chose a people; the Son died for them; the Holy Spirit makes Christ’s death effective by bringing the elect to faith and repentance, thereby causing them to willingly obey the gospel.
- The entire process (election, redemption, regeneration) is the work of God and is by grace alone.
- Thus God, not man, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation.
According to Arminianism
- Salvation is accomplished through the combined efforts of God (who takes the initiative) and man (who must respond) — man’s response being the determining factor.
- God has provided salvation for everyone, but His provision becomes effective only for those who, of their own free will, “choose” to cooperate with Him and accept His offer of grace.
- At the crucial point, man’s will plays a decisive role; thus man, not God, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation.
How does T U L I P relate to Calvinism and Arminianism?
- TULIP is an acronym that people use to differentiate between the two theologies.
- Below is an explanation of each aspect of the the Calvinistic TULIP … followed by the Arminian response.
T … Total Depravity or Total Inability
Because of the fall, man is unable of himself to savingly believe the gospel. The sinner is dead, blind, and deaf to the things of God; his heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt. His will is not free, it is in bondage to his evil nature, therefore, he will not — indeed he cannot — choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. Consequently, it takes much more than the Spirit’s assistance to bring a sinner to Christ — it takes regeneration by which the Spirit makes the sinner alive and gives him a new nature. Faith is not something man contributes to salvation but is itself a part of God’s gift of salvation— it is God’s gift to the sinner, not the sinner’s gift to God.
- Free Will or Human Ability … Although human nature was seriously affected by the fall, man has not been left in a state of total spiritual helplessness. God graciously enables every sinner to repent and believe, but He does not interfere with man’s freedom. Each sinner possesses a free will, and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it. Man’s freedom consists of his ability to choose good over evil in spiritual matters; his will is not enslaved to his sinful nature. The sinner has the power to either cooperate with God’s Spirit and be regenerated or resist God’s grace and perish. The lost sinner needs the Spirit’s assistance, but he does not have to be regenerated by the Spirit before he can believe, for faith is man’s act and precedes the new birth. Faith is the sinner’s gift to God; it is man’s contribution to salvation.
U … Unconditional Election
God’s choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world rested solely in His own sovereign will. His choice of particular sinners was not based on any foreseen response of obedience on their part, such as faith, repentance, etc. On the contrary, God gives faith and repentance to each individual whom He selected. These acts are the result, not the cause of God’s choice. Election therefore was not determined by or conditioned upon any virtuous quality or act foreseen in man. Those whom God sovereignly elected He brings through the power of the Spirit to a willing acceptance of Christ.
Thus God’s choice of the sinner, not the sinner’s choice of Christ, is the ultimate cause of salvation.
Election refers to the concept of how people are chosen for salvation.
Calvinists believe election is unconditional.
Before the foundation of the world, God unconditionally chose (or “elected”) some to be saved. Election has nothing to do with man’s future response. The elect are chosen by God.
- Conditional Election … God’s choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world was based upon His foreseeing that they would respond to His call. He selected only those whom He knew would of themselves freely believe the gospel. Election therefore was determined by or conditioned upon what man would do. The faith which God foresaw and upon which He based His choice was not given to the sinner by God (it was not created by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit) but resulted solely from man’s will. It was left entirely up to man as to who would believe and therefore as to who would be elected unto salvation. God chose those whom He knew would, of their own free will, choose Christ.
- Thus the sinner’s choice of Christ, not God’s choice of the sinner, is the ultimate cause of salvation.
- Election is conditional.
- Election is based on God’s foreknowledge of those who would believe in him through faith. In other words, God elected those who would choose him of their own free will. Conditional election is based on man’s response to God’s offer of salvation.
L … Limited Atonement … or Particular Redemption
Christ’s redeeming work was intended to save the elect only and actually secured salvation for them. His death was a substitutionary endurance of the penalty of sin in the place of certain specified sinners. In addition to putting away the sins of His people, Christ’s redemption secured everything necessary for their salvation, including faith which unites them to Him. The gift of faith is infallibly applied by the Spirit to all for whom Christ died, therefore guaranteeing their salvation.
- General Atonement … or Universal Redemption … Christ’s redeeming work made it possible for everyone to be saved but did not actually secure the salvation of anyone. Although Christ died for all men and for every man, only those who believe on Him are saved. His death enabled God to pardon sinners on the condition that they believe, but it did not actually put away anyone’s sins. Christ’s redemption becomes effective only if man chooses to accept it.
I … Irresistible Grace (The Efficacious Call of the Spirit)
In addition to the outward general call to salvation, which is made to everyone who hears the gospel, the Holy Spirit extends to the elect a special inward call that inevitably brings them to salvation. The eternal call (which is made to all without distinction) can be, and often is, rejected; whereas the internal call (which is made only to the elect) cannot be rejected; it always results in conversion. By mean, of this special call the Spirit irresistibly draws sinners to Christ. He is not limited in His work of applying salvation by man’s will, nor is He dependent upon man’s cooperation for success. The Spirit graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ. God’, grace. therefore, is invincible; it never fails to result in the salvation of those to whom it is extended.
- Resistible Grace … The Holy Spirit Can Be Effectually Resisted … The Spirit calls inwardly all those who are called outwardly by the gospel invitation; He does all that He can to bring every sinner to salvation. But inasmuch as man is free, he can successfully resist the Spirit’s call. The Spirit cannot regenerate the sinner until he believes; faith (which is man’s contribution) precedes and makes possible the new birth. Thus, man’s free will limits the Spirit in the application of Christ’s saving work. The Holy Spirit can only draw to Christ those who allow Him to have His way with them. Until the sinner responds, the Spirit cannot give life. God’s grace, therefore, is not invincible; it can be, and often is, resisted and thwarted by man.
P … Perseverance of the Saints (or Eternal Security)
All who are chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and given faith by the Spirit are eternally saved. They are kept in faith by the power of Almighty God and thus persevere to the end.
- Falling From Grace … Those who believe and are truly saved can lose their salvation by failing to keep up their faith. etc. All Arminian, have not been agreed on this point; some have held that believers are eternally secure in Christ — that once a sinner is regenerated. he can never be lost.