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A Righteousness by Faith #9: Does remaining in Jesus mean being passive?

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5

Since I am talking about righteousness by faith, let me navigate around an open pit that I have seen some people fall into as they have grappled with what it means to remain. I know people who think that to remain means to be passive. In their thinking, if we do anything that is not spelled out for us by the Spirit, we are probably doing it in the flesh. That we should wait upon the Lord, sitting like a pawn on a chessboard, waiting for him to move us into action. I know a man so entrapped by this idea that his current life revolves around study and prayer without any real engagement in the world—not even a job!

What we see in the disciples after Pentecost is urgency. Getting out into the streets with the message. Heal people, and if it offends the political leaders—tough. Care for one another deeply enough to sell your extras and share it with the rest. Refuse to back down, even if it costs you your life. Turn the world upside down.

What I have learned is that remaining is about confidence in his presence even as I go on with living. After all, our living because he lives, is what this is all about. We remain and trust his guidance, his power. We look to see what he is up to and aggressively join him.

What we need to add to our understanding, though, is that the results may not look fruitful.  Yes, Jesus did say that by being the branches to his vine, we would produce a lot of fruit. But the desire to have everything we do work out into something that looks like a human success story is one of the fallacies of learning to rest in Jesus.

Bill Gillham talked about this in his book, Lifetime Guarantee. He tells the story of a woman who wanted to please her husband by cooking his eggs over easy perfectly every morning. Except she had a hard time not breaking the yokes. So she prayed that Jesus would cook the eggs through her. And thereafter, when she cooked eggs with unbroken yokes, she believed Jesus was holding up his end. Yet, when the yokes ended up broken again she felt she was failing to ‘remain in him,’ allowing Jesus to cook the eggs. She thought her flesh was getting in the way.

Gillham observes that the problem was that the woman was looking at the outcome for confirmation of her trust in Jesus. She was making success in cooking perfect eggs the evidence that she was remaining, instead of trusting that Jesus had a longer view. Gillham pointed out that Jesus wanted her to walk by faith, not sight. That Jesus was in charge of the outcome, which was about transforming her so she would trust.

Gillham admits this is a homely illustration, but it does get to the point. Remaining in Jesus empowers us to act and bear fruit. But remaining also means that the fruit that our actions produce are Jesus’ call, not ours. Our peers—or more so, our emotions—might tell us we are failures. That we struck out in trusting Jesus. Or, we can strut around saying that our actions have produced much fruit for the kingdom. Success is ours. And in both cases, we could be wrong. Our failure produced much because Jesus was in it and the thing we bragged on meant nothing eternally. People applauded, but it was a monument to our efforts, not the Spirit.

If you need an example of this, think of Jim Elliot. Twenty-eight years old when he was cut down by a primitive tribe he had aggressively gone after with the gospel. He did not leave a single convert behind. But because he remained in Jesus, this passionate man, along with the other four missionaries who died with him, sparked a mission movement that swept his generation. Many people heard the gospel and believed—including the tribe that killed him—because of his ‘failure.’

-Steve Smith