Summary: Genuine followers of Christ abide in Him, abound in love, and advance with power.
Greg Laurie tells a story about a woman, who had finished shopping and returned to her car. She found four men inside the car. She dropped her shopping bags, drew a handgun, and screamed, “I have a gun, and I know how to use it! Get out of the car.” Those men did not wait for a second invitation; they got out and ran like crazy.
The woman, somewhat shaken, loaded her shopping bags and then got into the car. But no matter how she tried, she could not get her key into the ignition. Then it dawned on her: her car was parked four or five spaces away! She loaded her grocery bags into her own car and then drove to the police station to turn herself in.
The desk sergeant to whom she told the story nearly fell off his chair laughing. He pointed to the other end of the counter, where four men were reporting a carjacking by an old woman with thick glasses and curly white hair, less than five feet tall, and carrying a large handgun. No charges were filed. (Greg Laurie, “A Time to Worship,” Decision, November 2001; www.PreachingToday.com)
It was a case of mistaken identity. The woman mistook another man’s car for her own. No doubt the two cars looked the same, but they belonged to different people.
In the same way, sometimes it is hard to determine who belongs to Christ or not. A lot of people look the same on the outside, especially religious people. But adversity often brings out a person’s real identity.
So what does a genuine follower of Christ do in difficult times? What are the marks of a true disciple of Christ? What identifies the real Christian in times of adversity? Well, if you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to John 15, John 15, where Jesus describes what His true followers do especially in hard times.
John 15:1-8 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 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. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (ESV)
You prove you’re a genuine follower of Christ when you bear fruit, i.e., when you’re productive even in times of adversity. But you cannot do that on your own. You can’t manufacture the kind of character which truly benefits people in your own strength, no. In order to bear fruit even in times of adversity, you must...
ABIDE IN CHRIST.
You must remain in Him. You must stay connected to Jesus through loving obedience to His Word. That’s what genuine followers of Christ do all the time, but especially in difficult times. They stay close to Christ!
Jesus uses the metaphor of a grapevine and its branches. God, the Father, is the gardener. Jesus, the Son, is the vine, and His followers are the branches.
Now, God expects to see “grapes” when He walks through His vineyard, and if He sees grapes, he prunes those branches (vs.2). He prunes the fruitful branches, so they can bear even more fruit! Did you notice the progression? In verse 2, Jesus talks about “fruit” and “more fruit.” Then in verse 5, Jesus talks about “much fruit.” Now, the pruning process can be painful, but it is well worth it!
A schoolteacher described a peach tree that stood in her back yard. Unpruned, the true grew big and leafy, and it was loaded with peaches, although the fruit was disappointingly small and tasteless.
Then her husband, Larry, was laid off for a year. He had nothing else to do, so he went to work on the tree. When the schoolteacher came home from school one day and saw how far back he had pruned it, she stared in shock. “You’ve killed it,” she cried. “Now we won’t have any peaches at all.”
She was wrong. That spring, the pruned branches burst forth with a beautiful blanketing of pink blossoms. Soon little green peaches replaced the blossoms. “Leave them alone,” she begged. Larry ignored her and thinned the fruit.