In discipleship we often think of actions, “what would Jesus do?” But the call to “follow me” is not a call to imitation, but to intimacy. The metaphor of the vine and branch emphasizes this intimate union, that disciples cannot do anything until they learn to abide with Christ. The whole gospel of John emphasizes this union as Christ constantly talks of “Father in me, I in the Father, and you in me.”
This call to abiding/being is difficult for us to grasp because we prefer doing over being. For two reasons
- Our belief of identity as accomplishments over relationship.
- Our materialistic worldview. Even as Christians, we tend to reinterpret spiritual reality into practical matters because we automatically think materialism is primary. It is easier to deal with working for justice than to speak of spiritual union with Christ.
But for Paul, the heart of discipleship was this union. Paul’s life flowed out of the confession: “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” When Paul speaks of the Church as the body of Christ, he says he is speaking of a “mystery.” The Body-of-Christ is not a metaphor but a spiritual reality of union.
So what does union of Christ mean?
- It happened in baptism.
- We receive Christ’s identity as our own. Christ as the “ beloved son of God” becomes who we are. This is why abiding in Christ becomes the abiding in the Father. We learn to live in that love and out of that love.
- We live more deeply in that union by remaining in Christ’s Word. This does not mean merely bible study. When John speaks of “Word” he means Christ “In the beginning was the Word.” We practice listening to scripture over studying it. This practice is called lectio divina. It is simply the practice that Christ is speaking directly through the medium of scripture.