There are four kinds of sermons or Bible studies I have heard over the years. Only two have the potential to do us much good, and only one is fully grounded in reality. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of each kind.
Here is truth.
Here is truth, go do something.
Here is truth, let God do something through you.
Here is truth, let God do something through you, or else.
What Should We Do with Truth?
As you can tell, I belong to an evangelical tradition that prizes truth and sound doctrine. Though we may squabble amongst ourselves over some of the details, we all value what God has to teach us. We read scripture, we pray, and we, hopefully, listen for the Holy Spirit’s leading.
However, sermon A simply aims to give us information. Certain traditions lean more toward this because they believe so strongly that God alone saves us. They’d say our goal is to change our minds and our actions will follow, and therefore new information is sufficient.
The preacher of Sermon B realizes that God’s desire is to change us into his kind of people, but it doesn’t point people to the Holy Spirit’s power in their lives. It skips to the results and forgets the process that brings them about.
That’s where Sermon C comes in. Jesus said to abide in him and we will bear much fruit. Sermon C tells us truth and connects us with God’s power for love, joy, and good works.
Our lives should change. Obedience is very important, but it’s not up to us to make it happen. The “work” we do as branches is abiding in Jesus, our vine. If we want to get results, we don’t focus on producing the results. We focus on the vine.
However, if we stop here, we have missed something key in passages such as John 15.
The Consequences of Disobedience
God’s love and grace is inexhaustible and given to us freely. God forgives and saves anyone who turns away from sin and calls out. However, the goal of saving us is to give us his love and joy, manifesting his coming Kingdom to others and sharing his love.
Obedience is essential. If we run off to do our own thing, there are consequences. At the start of John 15, Jesus mentions the “non-fruitful” branches being cut off—twice.
I’ve grown up in hell-fire fundamentalism. I’m turned off by preaching with threats or dramatic imploring to be saved from the fires of hell or whatever they call it these days.
I don’t like the idea of telling someone, “Resist God long enough and you’ll be cut off the vine! Don’t get mad at me. It’s in the Bible”
But then the words of Jesus are very tricky to preach. He doesn’t give us a chart or a formula for disobedience that tells us when someone will be cut off. He just says it could happen. God’s love is here for us to enjoy, but it can be resisted, ignored, and ultimately lost.
If not for the trauma of my fundamentalist past, I could accept that without too much fuss. This is far from the angry, vengeful God who is crouched behind a corner waiting for me to slip up. This is God the ignored lover who will let us go our own ways if we so choose.
A branch that refuses to be part of the vine will wither plenty on its own. The act of cutting it off is only a final formality. It’s not like God is chopping off partially healthy branches that simply need to be rehabilitated.
As we consider the love of God for us, I pray that we can see God’s generous, unearned, and inexhaustible grace for what it is. I pray that we can abide in the love that Jesus has for us and that our lives will bloom with the fruit of his love and goodness. And lastly, I pray that we’ll remember that there are consequences for persistent disobedience and resistance to this love.
May we be drawn to God by his love and arrive at a place where we can’t imagine another day without it.