Jesus' Parables for Disciples
Icon of Christ the True Vine (late 20th century), Dormition Convent, Parnes, Greece, based on an early 15th century by Angelos Akotantos at Malles, Hierapetra.
A couple of would-be disciples want to check out the man Jesus that John the Baptist pointed to as the Lamb of God. So they approach him:
"They said, 'Rabbi' (which means
Teacher), 'where are you staying?'
'Come,' he replied, 'and you will see.'" (John 1:38-39)
They follow, and become Jesus' disciples.
The first disciples learn as they walk with Jesus, as they "hang out" with him. Indeed, walking with him, keeping up with him, listening to him as he tells parables, teaches, and explains -- and eventually assisting in his ministry -- that is the essence of Jesus' disciple-training method.
In a similar way, "hanging out" with the Holy Spirit, learning to walk with him, is the essence of maturing as a Jesus-follower in our day, since the Holy Spirit is Christ's Spirit. Walking with Jesus is walking in the Spirit. Paul encourages us,
"Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." (Galatians 5:25)
In practical terms what does it mean to live in the Spirit, to keep in step with him? In this final lesson we'll consider several passages that describe the process of walking in the Spirit. Then we'll pull together what we've learned.
Jesus doesn't use Paul's phrase "walking in the Spirit" -- though the concept is central to his teaching. Rather he uses the figure of branches "abiding" in the vine. In verse 1, Jesus introduces the metaphor.
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener." (John 15:1)
He talks about pruning to increase fruitfulness, but I want to focus on what he says about abiding.
"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me." (John 15:4, ESV)
"Remain" (NIV), "abide" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is menō, "remain, stay." It can be used of a location, "stay," often in the special sense of, "to live, dwell, lodge." Here, it is in the sense of someone who does not leave a certain realm or sphere: "remain, continue, abide." In John 8:31, the same word is translated, "abide in my word" (ESV), "hold to" (NIV) or "continue in" (NRSV, KJV).
Of course, Jesus' disciples could commune with Jesus in person. But in John 15, Jesus is preparing them for the future when the Spirit, "another Counselor" will come (John 14:16). So when Jesus says, "Abide in me," he intends that we do this through the Holy Spirit.
But "abiding" extends beyond continuing in faith. In this metaphor of the vine and the branches, "abiding" refers to being intimately connected to and receiving nourishment from the vine (John 15:4-5).
Abiding involves a person who
"... remains (menō) in me and I in him." (John 15:5b, NIV)
What are we to do about this astounding truth that the Spirit lives within us? This is your opportunity and mine to really get to know God intimately, to become his Friend. We talk about a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ." What can you and I do to develop this relationship in a personal, ongoing manner? To know God! To abide in Him through the Spirit!
"7 If you remain (menō) in me and my words remain (menō) in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." (John 15:7-8, NIV)
Notice that fruit-bearing is an indicator here of being a disciple of Jesus. True disciples bear fruit -- much fruit, "fruit that will last" (John 15:16c). And this abundance of fruit brings glory to God the Father.
What kind of fruit is Jesus talking about? The word karpos means "fruit," then, "result, outcome, product." A brief survey of karpos in the New Testament indicates that fruit applies to one's way of life, one's actions, to a way of living. Fruit can be positive or negative (Romans 6:21-22; Matthew 7:15b-16a).
Both Jesus and John the Baptist demand repentance. John the Baptist commands the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to his meetings, "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matthew 3:8; 21:43).
A number of verses identify fruit with righteous living (Philippians 1:11; James 3:18; Hebrews 12:11; Ephesians 5:8b-9; James 3:17). In Lesson 7 we saw the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23a) that matures as we "walk in the Spirit," that is "abide in Christ." Abiding in Christ produces the fruit of righteous character -- and especially of love -- that brings glory to God.
Q1. (John 15:1-8) Why do we need to abide in Jesus? The
fruit from branches connected to a vine is the grape. What is the nature of the
fruit that comes from being connected to Jesus? Is it accurate to define fruit
as "souls saved"? What is the danger in this definition?
In place of Jesus' analogy of the branches "abiding" in the vine, Paul uses the example of Moses "beholding" the Lord, and being changed in the process.
To get the context I encourage you to read 2 Corinthians 3:7-18. Paul tells us that Moses communes with Yahweh himself and experiences his glory. When Moses comes back to the people after being with the Lord, his face glows with God's glory, so he covers it with a veil, so as not to frighten them (Exodus 34:29-30, 33-35; 2 Corinthians 3:13). In verses 17-18, Paul gets to the point he is making.
"17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, ESV)
In the New Covenant the Spirit is the active change agent of the Lord. Thus, Paul is saying that the Spirit is the Lord referred to in the Old Testament.
Paul concludes that when we, too, behold the Lord, we will be changed as Moses was. The Greek verb is katoptrizō, formed from the noun katoptron, "mirror." Three possible renderings have been suggested: (1) "to behold as in a mirror" (NRSV, NASB, KJV), (2) "to reflect like a mirror" (NIV, NJB), or (3) "to behold or gaze," with no association with a mirror (ESV, RSV). Of these three, "look at something as in a mirror, contemplate something," seems to fit both the derivation of the word and the understanding of early translations of the Bible.
Paul is saying that as we contemplate God, meditate on him, and commune with him through the Holy Spirit, we are transformed into his likeness. Look at the verse again.
"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV)
As a result of beholding God and communing with him we are "being transformed" (NIV, NRSV), "being changed" (KJV, RSV). The verb is metamorphoō, "to change inwardly in fundamental character or condition, be changed, be transformed." This process of change morphs us into God's "likeness" (NIV, RSV) or "image" (NRSV, KJV). (This is the sanctification we studied in Lesson 7.)
This character change into God's image is our destiny. Paul teaches:
My dear friend, going to church will not transform you. What changes you is worship before the Lord, meditating on him, singing to him, speaking to him, drinking him in through the Word and the Spirit. Just like Moses spent time before the Lord and was transformed by it, you too will be changed as you spend time with the Lord.
This transformation is a gradual process, however, literally "from glory to glory" (KJV) or "from one degree of glory to another" (NRSV). The agent of change is the Holy Spirit. My prayer for you is that you will indeed live your life in his presence such that his Spirit of Holiness will transform your life -- that when people see you, they will not see your imperfections, but the glow of Jesus -- so that people might recognize that "these men had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13).
Q2. (2 Corinthians 3:18) Why is character change directly
related to time deliberately spent in God's presence? Have you noticed a change
in the "degree of glory" you're experiencing now compared to a few years ago?
Why or why not?
The Spirit transforms us through worship. If "beholding the Lord" in meditation refers to personal worship in the Spirit, corporate worship is also important in transforming us. Paul writes:
"18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 5:18-20)
Paul seems to compare the high of being filled with the Spirit to the high one might get from drinking or drugs.
There are times of special filling with the Spirit in our lives. Praise God! But Paul suggests here that as we worship and sing we can sense afresh the Spirit's fullness and joy. God has wired us humans in such a way that music affects us at an emotional level as well as at a spiritual level. Singing worship has a way of bringing us into a renewed sense of God's presence. David wrote:
"Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel." (Psalm 22:3, ESV)
Some teach that God "inhabits" our praises, following the KJV translation. I don't think that is the meaning here, though when we praise God we are suddenly aware anew of his presence with us and with that awareness comes joy. Singing praise is a spiritual act, prompted by the Holy Spirit, a kind of musical "Abba, Father," where the Spirit "testifies with our spirits" once again that we indeed are God's children (Romans 8:15-16) and our spirits respond with joy.
Q3. (Ephesians 5:18-20) How is singing worship linked to
being filled with the Spirit? How is singing worship linked to joy?
Walking and abiding aren't just the warm fuzzies we sometimes feel in personal and corporate worship. When the Spirit lives in us, we're suddenly on the enemy's radar and subject to battles in the spiritual realm.
"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians 6:12)
Paul talks about strapping on elements of a soldier's battle equipment:
- Belt of truth,
- Breastplate of righteousness,
- Feet shod with readiness to run with the gospel,
- Shield of faith to protect us when doubt comes,
- Helmet of salvation to remind us of Christ's finished work on the cross,
- Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, and
- Prayer in the Spirit.
All these involve the Spirit, of course, but the last two mention the Spirit specifically.
"Take ... the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Ephesians 6:17b)
God's word is very powerful. Hebrews 4:12 says it is "living and active," and "sharper than any double-edged sword," since the Holy Spirit is at work to convict and convince people of its truth (John 16:8). We must be prepared to use it. First, in defense against the enemy's lies, as Jesus' did for 40 days in the desert (Luke 4:1-13). Second, so we may assist people to come to Christ and grow in him.
The final instruction in Paul's passage on spiritual armor is verse 18:
"Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests." (Ephesians 6:18a)
A similar exhortation is found in Jude:
"But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit." (Jude 20)
Some have suggested that "praying in the Spirit" means praying in tongues based on Paul's language in 1 Corinthians 14:14-18. It's possible, but I'm not convinced. Certainly a person could pray in tongues in intercessory prayer. That would be okay. Paul isn't writing about tongues in Ephesians 6:18. Rather he is talking about Spirit-led, Spirit-engaged prayer. Consider these verses:
"26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." (Romans 8:26-27)
Again, this could be prayer in tongues, but it sounds to me more like deep intercessory prayer led by the Spirit. People who have a ministry of intercession describe how they ask God how to pray and then are obedient in prayer according to what God shows them. Romans 8:27 uses very similar language to the passage we studied in Lesson 5, where Paul explains that through the Spirit, "We have the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16b).
My mother told a story that took place when she was with the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions in Utah in the 1930s. She was driving a narrow mountain road at night in a blizzard. All of a sudden the car lost traction and was slipping on the ice towards the cliff. Then, all of a sudden, the traction took hold, and the car turned back and continued down the road.
Later, as my mother related this story of God's mercy to supporters, one lady asked her the exact date and time this happened. My mother told her, and then the lady related how God had woken her in the middle of the night -- at exactly the same time -- with the instruction: "Pray for Ruth." The lady responded immediately. Then the burden lifted and she went back to bed. I wouldn't be here without this faithful lady praying in the Spirit "on all occasions."
Q4. (Ephesians 6:18a; Jude 20; Romans 8:26-27) In the
list of elements of the Full Armor of God, where does the Spirit show himself?
Why is Spirit-directed prayer so important for the believer? How have you
experienced this is your life?
This has been a very rich passage, full of important lessons for Jesus' disciples:
- Jesus calls us to "abide" or "remain" in him, maintaining an intimate and continuing connection of faith in and obedience to Jesus (John 15:4).
- We dwell in Christ and he dwells in us -- a mutual indwelling. We are not alone! (John 15:5).
- When we try to accomplish spiritual work in our own strength the result is small. We can do nothing that has a lasting result without relying on Jesus' strength through us. We must practice dependence on him, not independence from him (John 15:5a).
- The fruit the Spirit consists of godly character, as well as effectiveness in whatever mission he calls us to (John 15:8).
- As we keep our eyes on the Lord, the Spirit gradually changes us into his image and grows his character within us (2 Corinthians 3:17-18; Romans 8:29)
- Singing worship is linked to being filled with the Spirit and Christian joy (Ephesians 5:18-20)
- Praying directed by the Holy Spirit is an essential part of spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-18; Jude 20)
Your final growth assignment is two-fold.
- Look back over your life in the last year or two. What changes have you seen in your life that the Holy Spirit has brought about? Ask your spouse (if you have enough courage) or a Christian friend: "What positive changes have you seen in my Christian life in the last year or two?" You may be surprised at the growth others see in you -- and you'll be encouraged. But if your spouse or friends don't really see any change, then its either very good news -- or very bad news. Either (a) you're so mature that any continued growth will be incremental and not very noticeable, or (b) you've backed off yielding to the Holy Spirit in your life, and forward progress has slowed or stopped. After you get some external feedback about your spiritual growth, then ask God to guide you in moving forward in the Spirit.
- Keep on keeping on. Over the past eleven weeks your growth assignments have been designed to help you grow in both your understanding and your experience of God through the Holy Spirit. I encourage you to review the practices suggested and keep on incorporating them into your day in God's presence. Keep on growing. Keep on serving. Keep on loving. And keep on going deeper in the Spirit.
In this lesson we've spent time studying
- Abiding in Jesus through the Spirit and bearing fruit (John 15:1-8)
- Being transformed by beholding the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18)
- The Spirit and worship (Ephesians 5:18-20)
- Praying in the Spirit as part of spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-18)
Let me remind you where we've been the last eleven weeks by reviewing the lesson titles:
- The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament
- The Holy Spirit in Jesus' Ministry
- The Holy Spirit Paraclete (John 14-16)
- Born of the Holy Spirit
- The Holy Spirit Within
- Baptized with the Holy Spirit
- The Holy Spirit versus the Flesh
- Gifts Empowered by the Holy Spirit (part 1)
- Gifts Empowered by the Holy Spirit (part 2)
- Listening for the Holy Spirit's Voice
- Living in the Holy Spirit
I hope that you've begun to understand how vital the Holy Spirit is in our everyday lives. The Holy Spirit within us is what gives us spiritual life, the new birth. The Holy Spirit is our vital connection to the Father, who loves us, and Jesus, who died and rose for us, and who now intercedes for us before the throne of God (Romans 8:34). The Spirit gives us power over the flesh, and gradually transforms us into Christ's image. But this isn't just about us. The Spirit empowers us to be witnesses to the whole earth. Through the Spirit God speaks to us and directs us for his purposes. The Spirit equips us with spiritual gifts so that we can be part of a mighty army to push back the works of darkness and move the Kingdom of God forward during our lifetimes. Indeed, the Spirit is central to God's work in this Age.
I hope you've learned a lot about the Holy Spirit and his work. Yes, He is still a mystery in many ways, as God is mystery. But you know more about Him now. That's good.
Even more, I hope that through the Growth Assignments your personal relationship to the Holy Spirit has deepened and grown richer.
Where do you go from here? You walk by the Spirit day by day and see where He takes you on this adventure of living as Jesus' disciple. You'll see some amazing things along the way -- keep your eyes open. But most of all, enjoy the journey with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is part of God's global plan to provide exponential expansion for the Kingdom of God. At Jesus' birth, the Kingdom rests upon him as David's heir, conceived through, then anointed with the Holy Spirit. He spends three years healing the sick, preaching the Kingdom, and investing in his small band of disciples. He goes to the cross, darkness falls, the Messiah dies, and his followers mourn.
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But on the third day, Jesus rises from the died. The Kingdom is alive after all! And on the Fiftieth Day, Pentecost, he pours out his Spirit from the Father. Now, suddenly, the Spirit of the Kingdom is alive in 120 hearts, then 3,000, then tens of thousands, then millions.
God's vision for the Holy Spirit is a global vision to impact the entire world through the Kingdom of God. Through you. Through me. Through tens of millions of us living in the Holy Spirit, listening for his voice, and ready to do his bidding.
Then one day, it will be time. Come, Lord Jesus. Your Spirit and your bride have been calling the world to you. Now we call to you. Come, Lord Jesus!
Father, thank you for including us in your vine. Help us to accept your pruning with trust. Help us to rely on Jesus so that we bear his fruit and so glorify you. Thank you for the immense privilege of being Jesus' friends and walking in his Spirit. In his holy name, we pray. Amen.
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener." (John 15:1, NIV)
"He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." (John 15:2, NIV)
"Remain in me, and I will 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." (John 15:4, NIV)
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." (John 15:5-6, NIV)
"If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." (John 15:7-8, NIV)
"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:12-13, NIV)
"You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." (John 15:14-15, NIV)
"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit -- fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name." (John 15:16, NIV)
"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, ESV)
"For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." (Romans 8:29)
"Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 5:18-20, NIV)
"Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests." (Ephesians 6:18a, NIV)
"But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit." (Jude 20, NIV)
"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." (Romans 8:26-27, NIV)
 Menō, BDAG 631, 1bβ.
 This phrase intrigues me since Jesus also speaks about his relationship with the Father the same way in a number of places in John's Gospel (John 6:56; 10:38; 14:10, 20, 23; 17:21-23, 26). The Father and Son are the exemplars of what our relationship is to be with Jesus -- constant living together, sharing a deepening relationship of love, and (on our part) obedience.
 "Showing yourself" (NIV) and "so prove" (ESV) is not in the actual Greek text, which is more literally, "that you bear much fruit and be my disciples." (NRSV margin).
 Karpos, BDAG 510, 1b.
 In addition to speaking of the fruit of righteousness, Paul speaks of fruit as people won to Christ on his mission (Romans 1:13; 15:28; Philippians 1:22).
 C.K. Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Harper New Testament Commentaries; Harper & Row, 1973), pp. 200-201. Kruze has it right when he says: "So when under the new covenant they turn to the Lord, they experience him as the Spirit. The expression 'the Lord is the Spirit,' is not a one-to-one identification, but rather a way of saying that under the new covenant the Lord is to us the Spirit" (Colin Kruse, 2 Corinthians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 1987), p. 99. Similarly, Barrett, 2 Corinthians, pp. 122-123).
 Katoptrizō, BDAG 535. So Barrett, 2 Corinthians, p. 125, and Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Commentary on the New Testament; Eerdmans, 1997), pp. 204-206. Barnett sees Philo's phrase (Allegorical Interpretation 3.101), "see ... as in a looking glass," as an apt parallel.
 The idea of reflecting God's glory doesn't appear before Chrysostom.
 Metamorphoō, BDAG 639, 2.
 The noun eikōn here means "that which represents something else in terms of basic form and features, form, appearance" (BDAG 282, 3).
 The word "conformed" in this verse is the adjective symmorphos, "pertaining to having a similar form, nature, or style, similar in form" (BDAG 958).
 There's a similar construction in 2 Corinthians 4:17, literally "from excess to (eis) excess." Eis can carry the idea of a marker of degree, "up to," as well as marker of goals involving affective / abstract / suitability aspects, "into, to," here, of change from one state to another with verbs of changing (BDAG 289, 3 and 4b).
 "Enthroned" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "inhabitist" (KJV) is yāshab, "sit, remain, dwell" (Walter C. Kaiser, TWOT #922).
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