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Wither or Grow

November 2nd, 2015

If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

John 15:6

If ever a verse of scripture could be used to teach that someone could lose their salvation, this verse would be the one, in my opinion. At first glance Christ seems to be describing the possibility of someone, who had at one time been connected to Him the Vine, becoming disconnected and withering and dying and even being thrown into the fire (hell?) and burned.

The problem with this interpretation, however, is with the translation of the Greek word meine with “remain.” The word is better translated “abide,” and whereas “remain” seems to describe a continuation, “abide” describes an orientation. The one who abides is the one who has been at home with the Lord all along. The one who does not abide is the one who has been acquainted only with formal religion or doctrinal propositions, but has never met Christ heart to heart, or face to face. So I believe the person Christ is describing is not the believer who drifted away until he lost his salvation, but the person who never believed in the first place. The verb tense is also punctiliar in nature (aorist) and does not describe a continual abiding, but a single abiding, or a single lack of abiding. It resonates with the words Christ spoke in the Sermon on the Mount, “I never knew you. depart from Me” (Matthew 7:23). Conversion is the spiritual equivalent of a face to face encounter with Christ.

“Wait a minute!” someone might object. “Christ is in heaven, so how can anyone meet Him face to face today?” The Apostle Paul comes to our rescue to clarify the point in 2 Corinthians 4:6:

For it is the God who commanded light to shine out or darkness, who has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Conversion requires this miraculous work of God in our hearts to reveal to us the person of Christ. In the day when Paul was inspired to write these words, the camera had not yet been invented, and even mirrors were crude and blurry. So he described a work that can only be done by the Spirit, that He takes the evangelical message of salvation, and He takes the written Word of God, and He creates in the hearts and minds of the hearers a “face,” a person, one with whom we can connect.

The word picture of a branch withering speaks to us, it depicts the slow decay of someone who at one time seemed full of life. This is what happens with those who only get a touch of religion and not real life from Christ. They may appear impressive and lively at one time in their lives, but slowly they become morose, skeptical, even cynical. They drift further and further away from the things of Christ and from Christians because they were never connected to Him in a vibrant, living relationship.

If, however, that is the meaning – and scriptures can have only one meaning – it does have an application in every believer’s life. We must either grow or wither. If we desire to be used of God we must continue to abide in Christ – in our thoughts, in our hearts, in our devotional attitude, in our words, in our actions, in our association. We will not lose our salvation but we will lose opportunities. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 1:18-20:

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

The biblical story of redemption is littered with people who began well but finished poorly – Samson, Saul, Solomon, Demus, to name a few. Did these lose their salvation? I do not believe so, but they did lose their testimony, their ministry, their influence in the work of God, and their standing among God’s people. With Samson we see redemption at the end. And who knows what happened in the hearts of these others at their last breath?

But the greatest application is for us to simply be sure that we have believed in Christ, that our faith is founded not upon some preacher, or some experience, or even the church itself, but upon the personal faith response to the revelation of God of the Person of Christ. The Christian confession is “Jesus is Lord! The Crucified One is Risen Again!” and it involves repentance and confession of our sins to Him: “That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:47).

So have you trusted in Him? Have you made your spiritual home in Him? Have you abided in Him, and are you still abiding? If so, then continue to in Him. He is your life.


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