Teaching series from John

Receiving the Help of the Holy Spirit

John 15:1-12

Teaching t22491

Introduction

In Jn.14-16, Jesus prepares His disciples for His departure by telling them that this will prepare the way for the coming of the Holy Spirit. He calls the Holy Spirit “the Helper”—not in the sense that He will assist them as they do most of the work—but as the One who does the heavy lifting like Jesus did when He was with them.

Specifically, He can personally assure us of God’s love, so that we live with the confidence that we are His beloved children, and not orphans. He can tutor us in God’s Word, so that it comes alive to us in both meaning and personal relevance. He can enable us to speak effectively about Him to others, by empowering us as we speak and by convicting our hearers that they need Him.

This raises a crucial question: How do we receive His help? Jesus anticipates this question, and answers it in Jn. 15. He uses an extended metaphor that was familiar to them (but not to us). Read 15:1-11. There’s a lot in here, but the main elements of the metaphor are clear enough:

  • Jesus is the Vine, the Source of spiritual life.
  • God the Father is the Vinedresser—the owner of the vineyard, and the One who cares for each branch so that they may bear much fruit for Him.
  • We are the branches, drawing life from Jesus and bearing fruit that brings honor to the Father.
  • What is this fruit? The rest of the New Testament defines it in two ways: we becoming more like Jesus (Gal.5:22,23), and other people being attracted to Jesus through us (implied by 15:16 “go;” Rom.1:13). This is the high purpose of our lives!
  • Where is the Holy Spirit in this metaphor? Appropriately, He is in the background—He is the “sap” that proceeds from the Vine, who bears the life of the Vine into the branches so that we may fulfill our purpose.

Now we’re in a position to focus on the lessons Jesus teaches on how to receive the Spirit’s help...

Be connected to Jesus

It all begins with being connected to Jesus. A branch does not have access to the sap of the Vine unless it is physically connected to (or “in”) the Vine. Since Jesus is the sole Source of the Holy Spirit, we each have to be personally connected to Him! This is why Jesus put each and every one of us into one of two groups: connected to Him or not connected to Him. No one is in both or in some other category.

Those who are connected to Jesus (15:2 – “every branch in Me”) have access to His Spirit and the possibility of bearing fruit.

Those who are not connected to Jesus (15:6 – “everyone who does not abide in Me”) have no potential for fruit-bearing, and will be judged unless they get connected to Him.

So it’s vital to get connected to Jesus. How do you do this? This is where the metaphor breaks down. Branches begin by already being connected to the vine, and can be broken off by outside forces. We are born disconnected from Jesus, but we can make a choice to become permanently connected to Him! You can be connected to Him no matter how much you’ve messed up your life, and this connection will be permanent (quote 6:37b; 10:28b). All you have to do is tell Him that you want to be connected to Him. Have you done this?

Once you are connected to the Vine, you can begin receiving the Spirit’s help to bear fruit. Whereas getting connected to Jesus is something you need do only once, we need to do this continuously. The New Testament also calls this “walking by the Spirit” (Rom.8; Gal.5). “Walk” emphasizes that this is a lifestyle. Jesus says this lifestyle involves three aspects...

“Depend on My power”

Jesus explains the first aspect in 15:4,5 (read). “Abide in Me” obviously means “Depend on My power,” because Jesus twice emphasizes that fruit-bearing is impossible by our power.

Have you ever visited a vineyard? I have. If you listen very carefully, you can hear each branch grunting like weight-lifters as they produce grape clusters. No you can’t! That’s ridiculous! No branch has ever produced fruit “of itself”—by its own effort. The power and life for the fruit comes wholly from the vine; the branches are passive conduits of the vine, which produces its fruit through the branch.

What is intuitive to us with grape vines is counter-intuitive to us as Christians. We assume that we must and can bear fruit “of ourselves.” This is what we talked about for the last two weeks—viewing the Christian life as trying to remember our dead Founder and imitate Him by our own moral will-power. This is religion, and this is a horrible perversion of the Christian life that Jesus is correcting right here!

We are not to be grunting vines! We are not to try to become like Jesus by our own moral will-power. We are not to try to affect others for Jesus by our own force of personality or persuasive powers. We are not to vow each day to “try harder” to do this. Only Jesus has the power to bear this fruit, and He delights to do it through us when we allow Him to. In every situation, we are to consciously agree with Him that we are completely unable to do this, and to agree with Him that He can and will do this through us. Read 2Cor.2:16b; 3:5.

“... in the Christian life, day by day, step by step, we need our supplies from above. (Therefore,) there is nothing so needful as to cultivate that spirit of dependence on (Jesus) and confidence in Him, which refuses to go on without the needed supply of grace and strength.”

“Make My words your focus”

What’s the second aspect? Read 15:7,8. In addition to depending on Jesus’ power, Jesus says, “Let My words abide in you”—this leads to prayer that is informed by His Word—prayer that He answers with His Spirit’s help so that we bear “much fruit.”

To “abide” is to “make one’s home in.” Your “abode” is not a hotel room; it is where you reside, where you spend much of your time, so that you are deeply familiar and comfortable with the rooms and furniture. To have Jesus’ words abide in us, then, does not mean merely going to a weekly Bible study or reading the Bible periodically (those these are good); it means “Make My words your focus.” This is what Francis Schaeffer calls “living in the environment of God’s Word.” It is having a “mental life saturated in scripture.”

There are many ways to develop this, but perhaps the best way is biblical meditation. Notice how similar 15:7,8 is to Ps.1:1-3 (read). Biblical meditation is not rapid informational reading; it is lingering over a passage—memorizing it (especially God’s promises and provisions), then recurrently saying it to yourself and ruminating on it, and turning it into prayer (EXAMPLE). This makes His word abide in you, which unleashes the Spirit to transform your character and attract others to Jesus!

“This sounds too difficult!” Really? You already do this! You have memorized tons of song lyrics, movie dialogues, sports statistics, celebrity names, etc. The only difference is that this hasn’t unleashed the Holy Spirit’s power in you! You ruminate naturally on what possessions you don’t have, what problems might happen in the future, how certain people have offended you, etc. The only difference is that this unleashes the destructive power of greed and anxiety and bitterness into your soul! You are always meditating; you don’t have the ability to not meditate. But you do have the power to choose what you will meditate on.

The best way to build this habit is to do it with others. Find someone in your home group who will do this with you. Pick the same passage, and at the agreed-upon time say recite the passage to each other and share how meditating on it has affected you. Or in your cell group, once every 6-8 weeks, each of you share why you chose your passage, recite it, and then share how meditating on it affected you. You could do this! And you would be amazed how edifying this is (ongoing personal impact; impact on others in the group)!

“Be responsive to My direction”

Now for the third aspect (read 15:9-11). The help of the Holy Spirit is unleashed in our lives as we depend on His power, make His words our focus, and “keep His commandments.” This means: “Be responsive to My direction.”

I’m translating this way because it’s easy to take “Keep My commandments” in ways that Jesus did not intend:

“Keep My commandments” may sound like a threat (“Do what I say—or else!”)—but it is anything but. For one thing, we are permanently connected to Jesus. For another, Jesus says this is an invitation to experience more of His love (15:9) and His joy (15:11).

“Keep My commandments” may sound impersonal (“Just follow the rules!”)—but it is anything but. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep by name (10:3) and leads us personally away from hurtful ways and toward ways that bring health to you and others (EXAMPLES).

“Keep My commandments” may sound like Jesus is urging self-effort (“Try harder!”)—but it is anything but. But remember the grunting vines! Whatever Jesus asks you to do, He will supply the power for (Phil.2:13). So responding to His direction becomes an opportunity to experience His power at work in and through you.

It’s good to ask Jesus for His direction every day and throughout the day! And it’s good to respond to His direction when He gives it (whether you asked for it or not)! Is it possible that you are not experiencing much help from the Spirit because you are resistant to Jesus direction? Don’t be a mule (quote Ps.32:8,9a)!

Do you want good place to start on this? Read 15:12. “This is My commandment” doesn’t mean “This is My only direction;” it means “This is My most important direction.” Appropriating the help of the Holy Spirit is not something we can do consistently on our own. It’s something we do in community with others who also want this!

They will help you to cultivate this lifestyle! They will give you models of depending on Jesus’ power. They will help you learn how to make Jesus’ words your focus. The will help you to recognize Jesus’ personal direction and encourage you to follow it. And you will discover that you can help them in these same ways!

Conclusion

SUMMARIZE the three ways to appropriate the Spirit’s help.

DISCUSSION: Which one of these is God currently emphasizing in your life? Why do you think this?

In 15:2, airo can mean “take away” (cf. Jn.11:48; 16:22) or “lift up” (cf. Jn.5:8,9; 8:59). John uses it in both senses in 11:41. Since viticulture involves both lopping off and raising up unfruitful branches, Jesus could mean either. Based on the overall teaching up the New Testament about the security of those who are in Christ, “lift up” is preferable.

Andrew Murray, Waiting For God (Nisbet & Co., 1898), p.10.