What does mean to abide? (E. Radmacher)

A Series on Sanctification: Part 5

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Author's Bias | Interpretation: conservative | Inclination: dispensational | Seminary: Dallas Theological

1. Study John 15:7. In contrast to the uselessness of the unabiding Christian who is "cast out" by the world, we are called to reach out (see Choices for the Christian…and their consequences…(E. Radmacher)); the abiding Christian receives a major benefit from Jesus, namely, answered prayer. He does this through another conditional sentence. He says here, "If you abide in Me, and you may or may not, and My words abide in you, and they may or may not, then you shall ask whatever you desire, and it shall be done for you." But what does "abiding" mean?

The term menō generally translated "to abide" or "to remain," has a broad range of meaning throughout the New Testament. In the upper room, Jesus uses the term fourteen times and there are two views on how menō should be interpreted: 1) justification or 2) sanctification.

In the justification perspective, commentators argue that John's use of "abiding" conveys the sense of union rather than communion. Abiding in Christ is equivalent to being "in" (einai en) and conveys a "stronger form" of the Pauline concept of "in Christ." (1) It reflects the condition of union associated with the possession of salvation resulting from the "divine indwelling" rather than the expression of a relationship. (2) "'Abide in Me and I in you', does not mean that those who have been cleansed by a similar command on His part must keep themselves in Him." Rather Jesus keeps them and they must simply "remain in continuous union with Him." (3)

In the sanctification perspective, Everett Harrison notes, "Abiding is not to be confused with position. Christ stated the fact of spiritual position before He inculcated the necessity of abiding" (John 14:20; 15:4). Abiding is an activity. It means communion with the person of Christ and submission to the will of Christ. (4) Charles Ryrie defines "abiding" on the basis of 1 John 3:24 as "habitual fellowship maintained by keeping His commandments." (5)

Jesus' use of third class conditional sentences in John 15:6, 7, and 10 to describe the believer's option of abiding or not abiding is very significant in understanding His use of the term. (6) It is clearly optional for the believer and therefore must be relational rather than metaphysical. This is evident also from His abiding in His Father's love through the relationship of obedience. When used figuratively, the term denotes the dynamics of relationship, interaction, and influence rather than the more static justification aspect of position in Christ or possession of life.

Cook explains the sanctification position well:

"Abiding in Christ is to be distinguished from being in Christ, although ideally there should be no practical difference between the two. We may observe the distinction by noting John 15:1-11, where the "in Me" branch of verse 2 is seen to be different from the "abide in Me" branch of verse 4. To be in Christ is to be born again, to be regenerated, to have had forgiveness of sins through Christ. Thus the disciples are in Christ (v. 2) because they have been cleansed of their sins (v. 3). To abide in Christ, however, is to be an obedient follower in fellowship with Christ the Savior and Lord (vv. 4-5, 9-11). An examination of 1 John 3:24 will reveal that obedience is the condition for abiding. Moreover, in John 15:10 our obeying Christ and thus abiding in Him is compared to the Son's obeying the Father by virtue of His sonship, but the Son abided in the Father by obeying Him. We see, then, that just as Christ's abiding in the Father was the maintenance of personal fellowship with the Father, so our abiding in Christ is the maintenance of personal fellowship with Christ… Furthermore, a study of John 15:4-11 will show that abiding is the condition for fruit-bearing (vv.4-5), that abiding brings the confidence of answered prayer (v. 7), and that abiding is commanded of Christians (v. 9). (7)

In addition, since Paul does not use the term to describe the Christian's relationship with God and John does not use "in Christ" (though "in Me" does occur with John) the commonality of meaning is difficult to prove. Further, since the term is used in a theologically significant manner by Jesus in the Upper Room Discourse and then by John in his epistle, those significant uses should be allowed to "set the limits on the meaning communicated" by the term in its passages. (8)

2. How does this mutual abiding take place? What are the mechanics of it? How does this lead to answered prayer?

The Greek grammatical structure of John 15:7 requires that it be understood that those men, clearly believers, clearly disciples, be able not to abide in Him and it must be possible for His words not to abide in them. Thus answered prayer is conditioned on two things: the disciple abiding in Jesus and His words abiding in the disciple. This is another way of saying that the one in complete fellowship with Him can expect answered prayer.

When you read John 15:7 in context, John 15:10 reveals that Jesus defines "abiding" in terms of obedience to His commandment "to love one another;" John 15 is an elaboration of the commandment that Jesus gives in John 13:34-35.

Two things must be true if His commandment is to abide in us:

1) We must know it. This goes beyond mere head knowledge or cognitive input.

2) His words must influence us. God's words must affect our attitudes and decisions. Jesus' word abides in us to the extent that it changes our motives and calls for a response in us.

This is what being a Spirit-filled Christian is all about. The Holy Spirit uses God's word to influence us by affecting our will. He does not speak to us audibly, not does He make us robots when we are "filled" with the Spirit. Rather, when we look at the parallel passages of Ephesians 5:18-20 and Colossians 3:16, we see that being filled with the Spirit is the same as letting Christ's word "richly indwell" us. The Spirit uses the Scriptures that He inspired (2 Pet 1:20-21 and 1 Cor 2:13) to influence us. Our attitudes, motives, discernment, and judgment are affected; the Word influences but is not controlling.

As we come into line with Christ's character through this process, we in turn ask for those things that reflect His desires and values. Then we are said to be asking in His name, according to His character, as a result of our fellowship with Him. Doing this, we can expect Him to answer precisely because we are asking for those things He already wants. As believers behold the glory of God in the Word of God, the Spirit of God transform them into the likeness of Jesus Christ. This is the description of the gradual process of sanctification.

Mitchell also observes that when we abide in Him "His will becomes our will… Being in fellowship with Him, you will know His will. You will know what He wants done, and you will cooperate with God as a partner in revealing His character and His grace." (9) Thus, answered prayer comes as a result of abiding because the abiding believer's motives and thoughts are in line with Jesus' motives and thoughts which are expressed in His words and works and used by the Holy Spirit to effect our inner being as He indwells in us and we study Scripture (cf. 1 Cor 2:13). And, the focus of those answered prayers is likely expressed in what follows of Jesus' conversation, we are praying for fruit. And our prayer for fruit will be answered with fruitfulness. (10)

Dr. Earl Radmacher was born almost seventy years ago in Portland, Oregon just a couple of miles from Western Seminary where, in the providence of God, he would later serve on the theological faculty for thirty-three years (1962-1995) and in administrative positions as Dean of the Faculty (1964-1965), President (1965-1990), and Chancellor (1990-1995). In 1995 he was designated President Emeritus and Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology Emeritus.

His parents, who were immigrants from Romania and Austria, settled in Portland in 1913 where they brought eight children into this world, Earl being the last. The whole family was very active in local churches so every Sunday found Earl spending all day in church-Sunday school, morning worship, potluck lunch at the church, recreation break, youth service, evening service, and after service. Even though he heard the gospel preached Sunday after Sunday, he did not personally receive Christ as his Savior until he was fourteen years of age. He has often stated that sitting in church Sunday after Sunday doesn't make one a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes a car…

At that juncture in his life, Earl came in contact with another Earl-Earl Gile-a faithful Sunday school teacher who lived right across the street from the grade school he had attended, and he opened up his home as an outreach to boys from the school. Mr. Gile's church rented the school gymnasium on Thursday nights and made it available for boys to play basketball if they came to Sunday school on Sundays. That sounded like a good deal, so he went. Shortly after that, the teacher announced a forthcoming boys camps at Twin Rocks Beach, Oregon. He decided to go; and there, at fourteen years of age, he accepted Christ as his Savior.

Although the church preached the gospel faithfully, they didn't go beyond the gospel to build up believers in the faith. He has often said, "As a believer, I didn't need a birth message, but I did need a growth message. That being absent, I tended to flounder, and my growth in Christ was stunted. Thus, the high school years were a disaster as far as the things of Christ and spiritual growth were concerned."

As graduation time neared, he took the normal batch of tests to determine which line of work he should pursue. The tests indicated mathematics or mechanics, so he decided to go the route of mathematics and join it with money by starting a career in a savings and loan institution. He started as a file clerk and worked up to an investment statistician that year.

His plans in the investment business were dramatically interrupted, however, by a visit to Portland of a new evangelist on the scene, Billy Graham, in August of 1950. A friend invited him to go to the meeting and, although he had little spiritual appetite at that time, God seemed to press him toward the affirmative. As the poet Francis Thompson has written: "He tracked me down the corridors of time." As it turned out, Earl not only went that night but every night thereafter for six weeks. The only meeting he missed was the women's meeting (they wouldn't let him in!).

After listening to the powerful preaching of Billy Graham for six weeks, at the conclusion of the last service, he found himself standing on his feet, going forward, grabbing Cliff Barrow's hand, and telling him that God called him to preach. His next question was, "What do I do now?" Cliff said, "You go to college to prepare" and he recommended his alma mater in South Carolina.

Once again, god had a man prepared to help him take the next step. As the tabernacle cleared out, he saw a man he hadn't seen since grade school. In the beautiful providence of God, this man, Jerry Burleson, was going to the same college in South Carolina that Cliff Barrows had recommended, and he was looking for one more rider. Although it was just two weeks before Fall semester, Jerry assured him that they would accept him on probation through his recommendation. He worked nights for two weeks training another person for his job so that he could leave with the good graces of his employer.

Twelve years and four degrees later (together with broad opportunities of experience in preaching and teaching, overseas missions and military chaplainry, local church pastor and parachurch ministries, rural and urban outreaches), he ended up not in the pastorate, but in the training of evangelists, pastors, and teachers at Western Seminary. His years there involved traveling over ten million miles and preaching and teaching over twenty thousand hours in over a thousand Bible conferences and thousands of churches.

Among the numerous books and articles that Dr. Radmacher has authored or edited are the following books: You and your thoughts (1977), The Nature of the Church (1978, 1995), Can We Trust the Bible (1979), What to Expect from the Holy Spirit (1983), Hermeneutics, Inerrancy, and the Bible (1984), The NIV Reconsidered (1990), The Nelson Study Bible (1997), Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Commentary (1999), and Salvation (2000).

Dr. Radmacher has often stated, "In my wildest dreams fifty years ago, I could never have imagined the exciting plans that God, in His sovereign grace, had for me." His life mission is found in 2 Timothy 2:15, "Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." His personal life verse is 2 Corinthians 3:18, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord."

This article was adapted from The Disciplemaker: What Matters Most to Jesus by Gary Derickson and Earl Radmacher (Salem: Charis Press, ©2001) and used by permission from its authors. Drs. Derickson and Radmacher, in their concern about the process of Christian spiritual growth (discipleship), provide much food for thought in this under-emphasized area of Christian living. How do you choose to live for the Lord?


1. Hauck, TDNT, s.v. "μένω." Also seeing the term as equivalent to Paul's έν Xριστŵ are George (Classic Christianity, 204) and Vincent Taylor (Forgiveness and Reconciliation [New York: St. Martin's Press, 1956], 122).

2. Brown, The Epistles of John, 403, 447; Stott, The Letters of John, 146.

3. J. F. Strombeck, Shall Never Perish (Philadelphia: American Bible Conference Association, 1936), 215.

4. Everett F. Harrison, "A Key to the Understanding of First John," Bibliotheca Sacra 3 (1954): 44.

5. Charles C. Ryrie, "1 John" in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, ed. Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), 1468.

6. His use of the first class conditional clause (ει plus the indicative) when describing the certainty of the world's hatred toward believers in verse eighteen is very significant in demonstrating the possibility of believers not abiding.

7. Cook, The Theology of John, 133-34 (italics his).

8. Elliot E. Johnson, Expository Hermeneutics: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 24.

9. Mitchell, An Everlasting Love, 291.

10. My wife, Ruth, and I have greatly appreciated the book by Anne J. Townsend, Prayer Without Pretending (London: Scripture Union, 1973), in the careful way that she handles this very important subject.

Series: Understanding the process of sanctification (Radmacher)
Part 4: Choices for the Christian…and their consequences…

Series: Understanding the process of sanctification (Radmacher)
Part 6: Love for one another…implications to the church…

Related subject:

Topical Index: Salvation>Salvation From the Power of Sin>Sanctification

Related verses:

Scripture Index: The Gospels>John

By author:

Author Index: Radmacher, E.

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