Abiding in Christ vs legalism


John 15:7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

John Piper asks, in a sermon “Praying From The Fullness of The Word”

Do I really know—have I really experienced—what Jesus means by the Word abiding in me? Do I experience—do you experience—day in and day out the dynamic relationship between the indwelling Word and answers to prayer? Do you know from experience what this is?

In Prayer Week of 1987 we did a survey at Bethlehem and asked, for example, How much time per week do you spend reading the Bible? 255 people took the survey. 21% said fewer than 15 minutes (a week!). Another 25% said 15-30 minutes a week. So 46% of our people in 1987 were spending fewer than five minutes a day reading God’s Word. When asked about time spent in focused prayer, 62% said they spent fewer than 30 minutes in prayer each week—fewer than five minutes a day.

I doubt that the statistics are very different today. And I would venture to say that many of these people harbor some deep resentments toward God for not answering their prayers. So the question arises: is there anything in their lives—or in my life—that corresponds to John 15:7—”If the Word of God abides in you . . .” Is reading the Word of God five minutes a day what Jesus was referring to when he said, “If my words abide in you”? My own suspicion is that Jesus had something in mind vastly more extensive and more life-shaping than the quick glances that forty percent of our people give to the Word of God each day.

Is This Legalistic?

I know that at this point some people are already throwing up defenses in the name of freedom, and are ready to say that all such talk is infected with legalism and a performance mentality. Well, I plead with you to look at the words of Jesus here in John 15:7 and struggle with me over this. This is not legalism. We are not talking about doing x-number of minutes of Bible reading to earn x-number of answered prayers. We are talking about living out what we value.

For example, suppose a coach prepares a steak dinner for his football team every day and spreads it before them freely, without cost, and says to them: eat and enjoy this rich meal every day and you will have strength to win the championship. And suppose that half the team instead goes to the candy store and the bakery, and week after week eats sweets and pastries. They start to lose games and the coach finds out they are not eating his free steak dinners and rebukes them. Some of them become indignant and say, “Hey we don’t want a legalistic relationship with you. We want to relate to you in freedom and do what comes more naturally for our appetites.”

Now that coach would be justified in saying, “It is not legalism to accept a free gift from me and to trust me that it is better for you than candy and pie.” And so it is with Jesus. It is not legalism to welcome his free gift and infinitely valuable word. It is not legalism to savor it and revel in its preciousness. It is not legalism to believe that without it we get weaker and weaker and more and more worldly.

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