In Christ We must cherish our communion with our saviour above all
In John 15 the Lord Jesus Christ explains that Christians are united to him in a spiritual union. Our Lord uses the illustration of a vine and its branches and tells us that He supplies to all believers the grace of his Holy Spirit. This, like the sap, is the source of all the "fruit" that is in the believer's life.
By "fruit" our Lord refers to godliness, love and profitable service in the church and in the promotion of the gospel. As the vine cannot produce fruit without the sap, so we who profess to be Christians cannot do anything spiritually profitable without Christ's Spirit.
Just as the expert gardener prunes the vine so as to increase its fruitfulness, so God the Father prunes and cuts back the unfruitful branches in the believer's life. This is painful but also profitable. It is a procedure that involves us in being chastened and afflicted, yet enlarged in our usefulness so as to bring forth more fruit (v. 2).
The branches that bear no fruit at all are removed and burned in the fire (v. 6). These ominous words warn us all that an unholy Christian is a Christian in name only. Judas Iscariot, and all who are merely nominal Christians, will be removed sooner or later from the church and cast into hell. It is a most needful reminder to us in our own day that godliness, love and humble devotion to Christ are the genuine evidences of our being real Christians.
The history of all churches shows that many who profess to be Christ's people are sadly deceived. Christ's claim to be "the true vine" reminds us that as Head of the church He alone can supply grace to every believer and to every congregation. A man may have knowledge, gifts and church-office; but he is no more than a dead stick if he is not spiritually united to Jesus Christ.
We refer to the union that believers have with Christ as "mystical union". Christ and His church are mystically united (Eph. 5:30-32). "The sweet truth of the mystical union" is that every believer, who is a true believer, can say: "Christ is in me, the hope of glory."
However, there is a difference between our union with Christ as believers and our communion with Him. Union is permanent and unchangeable. It begins as soon as we are united to Him in the new birth. It will have no end. Hence heaven will be, for every believer, a world of love Christ's love for us as those for whom He shed His precious blood.
However, while our union with Christ is eternally unchangeable, our communion with Him in this life is liable to fluctuation. In other words, our "felt sense" of Christ's love to us now in this life waxes and wanes. This is largely owing to our carelessness as believers. We may lose the sweetness of Christ's presence through carelessness, prayerlessness or disobedience. So, when David had sinned, he cried to God, "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation" (Psa. 51:12).
Hence, we say that our communion with Christ in this life is liable to fluctuation. It is our great loss when we learn, as Christians, to live with only small awareness of the love of Christ. Churches decline visibly when their members labour and work, yet are unaware that they have lost their "first love" for Jesus (Rev. 2:4).
In the light of the above truths, we must not as Christians make a god of earthly happiness or peace. The greatest Christians have sometimes lived in times of affliction, trial and suffering. Sanctified afflictions drive us closer to Christ. Our fallen natures need to be sanctified.
But sanctification often involves painful pruning at the hand of God. No wonder therefore Samuel Rutherford could say, "Our pride needs winter weather to rot it". Again, he says: "O what owe I to the file, to the hammer, to the furnace of my Lord Jesus!" Great saints, much like Daniel's three friends, have to walk with Jesus in the furnace and in the fiery flame. God loves us too much to leave us to go to sleep in the lap of worldly pleasures. Those whom He leaves alone in their carnal hypocrisy are not His true children. We are not in union with Christ if we have no fruit of holiness and love.
Christ makes it dear that if we abide in Him we shall enjoy rich blessings in this life. Of greatest importance among the blessings of abiding fruitfully in Christ is this: "Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit" (v. 8). So, what matters supremely is that we, as Christians, should study holiness. This emphasis can be easily lost in the thinking of Christians and churches. But we dare not risk losing this as our priority. Churches decline when godliness loses its place. And godliness comes only as we study to maintain our union and communion with Christ.