Grasping the Secret to Vibrant Christianity
By LESLIE LUDY
Early one summer morning, I stood in line at a bustling local coffee shop waiting to place my drink order. As I waited, I absentmindedly glanced at a nearby bulletin board where various flyers and business cards were dangling from thumbtacks. One flyer caught my eye. It advertised a weekly Bible study that was open to the public and had a unique approach to recruiting new members.
“Only come if you are ready to finally be honest that your spiritual life is a mess and always will be!”
I studied the flyer more closely, realizing that I knew the hosts of this particular Bible study — a husband and wife who were openly caustic toward the idea of victorious Christianity. Through conversations with them, Eric and I had learned that they had tried, and failed, to live up to the standard of Scripture. As a result, they had become convinced that it wasn’t actually possible to be free from the controlling power of sin and that it was unrealistic and foolish to expect anything more. So now they were proclaiming a defeated version of Christianity and influencing others to do the same.
Sadly, theirs is not an unusual story. Today, defeated Christianity is often not only accepted, but applauded — while victorious Christianity is viewed as an unachievable fairytale. In fact, Christians who desire to go after something more in their walk with Christ commonly feel ostracized or criticized by fellow believers.
But is it supposed to be this way?
Early in our marriage, Eric and I grappled intensely with that question. We read Scriptures such as:
Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ… 2 Corinthians 2:14
…do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. Romans 6:12
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness… Galatians 5:22
And there were so many other verses! We wanted those victorious words to reflect the reality of our lives. We longed to have consistent victory over sin and live out a vibrant, joy-filled, peace-filled Christian walk, but there were a myriad of obstacles in our way.
The pressures of life and ministry, as well as cynicism from and defeat of other Christians, had taken their toll and caused us to occasionally wonder if we might be chasing a fairytale after all.
In the midst of our inner struggle, we stumbled across tremendous encouragement from Hudson Taylor’s biography. Hudson Taylor, known as “the father of faith missions,” was a world-changing, vibrant Christian who built his life and ministry upon the victorious promises found in God’s Word. But it hadn’t always been that way.
Early in his Christian walk, Hudson Taylor was controlled by doubt, discouragement, and defeat. It was only when he awakened to a critical truth from God’s Word that his spiritual breakthrough came — the principle of abiding in Christ. He began to experientially understand the reality of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27b). Just as a healthy branch clings tightly to the vine, Hudson began to cling to Christ alone as his spiritual life source — and it brought him from defeat to victory. He wrote,
It was in blessed reality, “Christ liveth in me.” And how great the difference! — instead of bondage, liberty; instead of failure, quiet victories within; instead of fear and weakness, a restful sense of sufficiency in Another.
Reading Hudson Taylor’s testimony reminded us that vibrant, victorious, fruitful, joy-filled Christianity was not only possible, it was God’s intention for us through Jesus Christ.
Even though other Christians scoffed at the idea of victory, we began to pursue it with all our heart. And
we discovered the same breakthrough that Hudson Taylor described — not by trying to rise up to God’s standard in our own human willpower, but by learning to abide in Jesus Christ and letting Him live the victorious life in and through us that we could never live on our own.
It wasn’t that we never struggled with sin or temptation again, but now we had the spiritual tools to say no to sin’s controlling power. And what a life-changing difference it made!
When we catch a vision for what God intended Christianity to be and how He intended us to live, there are three distinct ways we can respond.
Option #1 Become a Cynic
It’s a familiar scenario. A Christian sees the epic commands and promises in Scripture and tries to live up to them. When he realizes he can’t, he assumes that God never intended for him to walk in victory in the first place. He resigns himself to being under the thumb of sin’s control and reinvents his doctrine to fit his own experience. He accepts a sloppy version of Christian living, taking on the attitude, “I’m a mess, you’re a mess, and we’ll always be messes — but at least we are finally being honest about it.”
Option #2 Become a Legalist
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Christian who tries to rise up to the high standards of Scripture by sheer determination, discipline, and willpower. This type of Christian quickly becomes enslaved to self-imposed rules, believing that the only way to live a successful Christian life is to shroud herself in humanly constructed restrictions. She places her trust in a list of dos and don’ts, rather than in Jesus Christ.
If you have ever become either a cynic or a legalist in your Christian life, you know neither response brings true joy, peace, or freedom. In fact, the opposite is true. But there is another response that many of us overlook when pondering the epic call to victorious living that we see in Scripture.
Elisabeth Elliot said it well: “…God never issued instructions that He is not prepared to enable us to follow.” And with what does He equip us? Himself. Jesus gives us a very simple and straightforward answer to the question of how to live out the impossible calling He has given us. He says: Abide in Me.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5, emphasis added).
Option #3 Become a Branch
On our own, triumphant Christianity is impossible to achieve, any more than a branch is able to produce fruit while laying detached from the vine on the ground. But when we are in Christ and He is in us, our Christian life can flourish without striving and effort, simply because we are connected to the Vine. Christ Himself becomes our spiritual life source. This is what Paul meant when he said, “…it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13, emphasis added).
Hudson Taylor wrote, “The branch of the vine does not worry, and toil, and rush here to seek sunshine, and there to find rain. No; it rests in union and communion with the vine … Let us so abide in the Lord Jesus.”
Corrie ten Boom described the principle of abiding in Christ another way, using the analogy of a hand in a glove: “I have a glove here in my hand. The glove cannot do anything by itself, but when my hand is in it, it can do many things. True, it is not the glove, but my hand in the glove that acts. We are gloves. It is the Holy Spirit in us who is the hand, who does the job. We have to make room for the hand so that every finger is filled.”
I in Christ, and Christ in me. This is the secret to a Christian life that actually works. Abiding means refusing to disconnect from the Vine, refusing to depart from your Life Source — Jesus Christ. It means letting Him live and operate through your life, enabling you to do what you could never accomplish on your own — just as the glove can only move and act when it is occupied by the hand, and just as the branch can only produce through the life of the vine.
To “abide” literally means to endure, remain, dwell, continue, and stay … in Jesus. Anything good that flows from our lives can come only from a place of abiding in Him, of letting His life and power flow through us.
Andrew Murray put it this way: “However strong the branch becomes … all its beauty and all its fruitfulness ever depend upon that one point of contact where it grows out of the vine. So be it with us too.”
I’d like to share some biblical keys to strengthening that critical point of contact in your own life — your connection to Jesus Christ as your Vine.
Oswald Chambers once said, “There is no condition of life in which we cannot abide in Jesus.”6 That statement is biblical and true, but in today’s fast-paced and self-focused world, abiding in Christ can feel out of reach and even impossible. The enemy of our soul whispers many clever excuses in our ear to hinder us from clinging to Christ as our Vine.
If you are a mother of young children, the enemy will tell you that you are too tired and busy to cultivate your relationship with Jesus Christ. If you are battling a health issue, he will tell you that you don’t have the mental or physical strength to pursue a deeper relationship with Christ. If you are under stress and pressure, he will tell you that you should wait until things calm down before you go after more of Jesus. If you are in a difficult relationship situation, he will tell you that you are too emotionally weighed down and preoccupied to draw near to God.
And the list goes on.
These excuses sound reasonable and even wise. But Jesus said, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered…” (Jn. 15:6a). When we disconnect from the Vine, we spiritually wither and die.
If sin and defeat (e.g., fear, doubt, addictions, etc.) have a hold in your life, Jesus is ready to equip you with His freedom and power, but it doesn’t happen by accident. We must choose to abide in Him every moment of every day. This only happens when we cease from fitting Him into our lives, and instead build our lives around Him.
Jesus told a parable about a man who prepared a lavish banquet feast and invited all of his friends to come and partake of it. But everyone who was invited came up with an excuse for why he couldn’t attend:
“But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come’” (Lk. 14:18–20).
To each of these men, their excuses seemed completely justifiable. But they were passing up the most exquisite banquet feast they would ever experience — and we often do the same.
Each day, Jesus has prepared a spiritual banquet for us. He is ready to offer us every bit of wisdom, joy, peace, perspective, courage, comfort, and love that we could ever need. He is ready to fill us with all that He is. This is the essence of the abiding life. Yet how often do we say, “I have something more important to do, I cannot come”?
Are there any excuses that are keeping you from His banquet table today? Busyness, distraction, tiredness, personal pursuits? Ask for grace to overcome those excuses and cling to Christ with the same tenacity with which a branch clings to its vine.
There is not a formula for the abiding life. Abiding in Christ is a posture of soul. It means cultivating a continual dependence upon and availability to Him. And it’s made up of many small decisions throughout every day to not merely fit Him into our lives, but build our lives around Him.
Steps to the abiding Life
I would like to share a few practical steps that have personally helped me remain clinging tightly to Christ as my Vine, even in the hustle and bustle of daily life. I hope they will do the same for you.
- Find a quiet place, even if it is a closet or » the corner of a dorm room to create an environment of stillness.
- Silence distractions (e.g., device notifications) so you can truly have a quiet heart before Him. Ask Him to speak to you in your innermost being.
- Talk to Him during daily pauses instead of automatically scrolling on your phone or doing other mindless activities.
- Limit time on social media, mindless texting, and other time-wasters so you have more time to be in His presence.
- If you cannot get away from noise (e.g., you are a mom with young children), be purposeful to keep the gaze of your soul on Him, even as you are serving others.
- Journal your prayers and pour out your heart to Him. Share your struggles, fears, needs, and longings. He is the best listener we will ever have.
- Don’t be dependent upon emotions. Make Him a priority whether or not you have a strong spiritual high. Abiding in Him is not dependent upon feelings; it is a decision founded on faith.
- Practice turning to Him the very moment something difficult occurs (no matter how small), even if it’s just in the quietness of your own heart. As Amy Carmichael said, “Our loving Lord is not just present, but nearer than thought can imagine, so near that a whisper can reach Him.”
- Memorize key verses and repeat them throughout the day whenever you have a moment’s pause. Remember, Jesus is the Word of God who became flesh. When you meditate on His Word, you are meditating on who He is.
- Take it a step further and place key Scriptures in strategic places around your house, in your car, etc. in order to look at them often and be reminded of His truth.
- “Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it,” as Corrie ten Boom said — even if it means making sacrifices in other areas.
- Bookend your day with small nuggets of powerful truth. (e.g., classic devotionals such as: My Utmost for His Highest, Daily Light, Streams in the Desert, and Parables of the Cross are rich with powerful, bite-sized truths from His Word.)
- Listen to audio Scripture, sermons, and Christian biographies throughout the day to fill your mind with His truth.
As we are seeking to enter into the abiding life with Christ, it’s critical that we realize that our desire for a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ is not one-sided. Jesus is not scowling at us in disapproval, annoyed that we aren’t “there yet” when it comes to the abiding life. Rather, He is gently, lovingly, tenderly, and longingly inviting us into a place of deeper intimacy with Him. He is ready and eager to fill us with all that He is.
During the last supper, Jesus offered communion to His disciples as a symbol of the covenant relationship He desired to enter into with them. It was a precious, sacred, intimate bond between the King of all kings and those called to be His disciples. And Jesus made an astounding and beautiful statement about this significant act: “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you…” (Lk. 22:15).
He longs for unhindered fellowship with us, just as we long for fellowship with Him — with fervent desire.
Jesus tells us, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20).
He is standing at the door knocking, eager and ready to enter into intimate fellowship with us. And the moment we open the door to Him, He will come in and fill us with all that He is. So let’s respond to His invitation with a wholehearted yes!
The victorious Christian life is not a fairytale, nor is it only for a small handful of super-spiritual and special believers. It is available to each of us when we are willing to cling to the Vine and let His supernatural life flow through us. What an amazing privilege.