I recently participated in a Bible study group in which one of my friends prompted reexamination of my faith and the faith of my community as a whole. He confidently asserted, “For me to grow closer to God, I need to take more time to read my Bible and pray.” I realize that this wasn’t the first time I have heard this belief proclaimed with such fervency. Many in my church community believe that to achieve closeness with God, one must diligently practice spiritual disciplines or work to gain access to God. I will confess that this was a strong belief of mine; I must “do” to get close to God. Yet, our faithfulness to disciplines shouldn’t dictate our proximity to God. Isn’t the omnipresent God already abiding with us and in us? Aren’t we already in justified relationship with Him? So why do we need to do work for nearness? For us to understand what it means to be close to God, to understand what it looks like to partake of and serve Him, we have to examine what it means to abide in God.
Observing American culture, one may detect its performative mindset: “If you put this amount of work into goals, you will get the best results.” It seems that this framework has somehow bled into believers’ faith; if we aren’t reading our Bibles every day or attending every church service, there is something wrong and we are not close to God. Yes, spiritual disciplines are vital to faith — they help us grow and understand the beauty of God and why we follow Him — however, they shouldn’t be what faith is built on. Abiding in Christ is not based upon works, but simply upon obedience in love. Obedience doesn’t mean we have to perform; it means we commit ourselves to Him in love. Alicia Myers takes this idea a bit further: “The one who loves is loyal to their beloved, fulfilling their desires.”
Abiding in Christ is not based upon works, but simply upon obedience in love.
In John 15, Jesus shares what it looks like to abide in Him. He gives imagery of the Father as a gardener, himself being “the true vine,” and the disciples as well as those who will follow Christ in the future being branches that bear fruit (John 15:1-17). Abiding in Him, in love, produces fruit that reveals true discipleship (John 15:8). Jesus goes on to say that those who choose to obey his commands abide in Him, and His directive is simple yet profound: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). Jesus set the example of loving God and his neighbor; He was in perfect relationship with the Father, loving Him in total commitment, and demonstrated that love to the world. Jesus healed the sick, mourned with those who mourned (John 11:35,36), gave dignity to the marginalized (John 4:1-42, 5:1-14, 8:1-11), and associated with the outcasts of society and called them friends. The love that Jesus showed pushed against the religious narrative of his time. The religious system had become very legalistic, making it difficult for many to follow Yahweh. While many of the religious leaders cared more about pleasing the political leaders of the Roman Empire, the marginalized were oppressed and outcasted.
The love that Jesus showed pushed against the religious narrative of his time.
We are not commanded to follow a religious discipline to abide in Christ; we are commanded to love our neighbors, to lay our lives down for others. Love looks like mourning with those who have experienced tragic loss because COVID-19, standing with our black brothers and sisters in the fight for racial justice, wearing our face masks in compassion for our neighbor, helping fight against the injustices of those experiencing homelessness, and uplifting the voices of those who are fighting for equal rights. Loving our neighbor is saying no to the systems that oppress people.
Personally, what does it look like to abide in Christ? In my own faith journey, I have learned that God desires for me to be present with Him rather than preforming for Him. It’s about sitting with Him, listening and learning about who He is. As I abide in Him, I learn to love Him and my neighbor more fully. I care more about having fellowship with Him throughout my day rather than trying to check off a spiritual to-do list. As I abide in Him, I care more about social justice, the lost, the marginalized; I yearn more for the Kingdom of God.
I have learned that God desires for me to be present with Him rather than preforming for Him.
Our faith shouldn’t be defined by how well we perform, but by how we love. Our love and commitment to God should stir us to practice disciplines that help us grow and understand our faith more. Alicia D. Meyers explains it this way, “This command of love is the core for the abiding unity that Jesus describes as existing between himself, his disciples, and the Father”. Abiding in God is living in unity with Him, being as committed to Him as He is to us. Abiding in God is about loving Him and our neighbor.
Myers, Alicia D. Reading John and 1,2,3 John. Reading the New Testament 2nd. Macon, Georgia: Smith & Helwys Publishing, 2019.