What does it look like to know Jesus?
By Tiffany Atkins
Christians come in all shapes and sizes. The body of Christ is and should be as diverse as the human race itself. So what does it look like to know Jesus? What marks out a believer of the risen Christ and how can we be known as knowers of Jesus?
We could look at multiple bible passages to find the answers to this, but I’m going to start us off with John 15. Here, shortly before his death and resurrection, Jesus is talking to his best friends, those who know him the best on a personal level. Here, Jesus is telling them, and us, what it means to follow him and what to expect as knowers of Jesus.
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. 24 If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’
26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
What does this mean?
Already clean. As followers of Jesus we know we are loved and accepted because he sees his own righteousness when he looks at us. Our own rubbish has been dealt with on the cross. We are already clean, we don’t need to be in the right frame of mind and we don’t need to do certain things in order to come to him. This is our starting point.
Remain in me as I remain in you. We have the Spirit of the living God in us as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance. We are never alone. But as with all relationships, it’s two-way. Remain is a passive verb, we are already there; we must make sure we don’t actively move away or passively drift from Jesus.
Bear fruit. If we remain, we will bear fruit but we can’t do this in our own strength. It is a work of the Holy Spirit in us. And by this fruit we’ll be known. If we know Jesus we will be growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If you’re wondering whether you look like someone who knows Jesus, check which fruit you are growing.
Ask whatever you wish. This is a generous offer! Whatever you wish! But if you check out the previous verses, it’s clear what we should be wishing for. Ask for God’s Spirit, ask not to drift or move away, ask for his love, ask to bear fruit, and if you haven’t asked before, ask to be made clean.
Remain in my love. Jesus is a God of love and it is freely available, without conditions.
Keep my commands. And why wouldn’t we do this? Jesus’s template for living is grounded in love for us. We know that his way is the best way to live. It’s counter-cultural—you’ll look different to the world around you, you’ll be a blessing to others, but you may not be popular. It’s still the best way to live.
Your joy may be complete. And here’s the promise that comes with remaining and keeping his commands. Following Jesus brings joy, deep joy, that surpasses the fleeting euphoria of the world’s ways.
Sacrificial love for others. And what does Jesus’s type of love look like? It’s sacrificial, not the ‘giving you my last rolo’ type of sacrifice but the ‘giving your life’ type, and loving your enemies. It’s a high bar, our love is not to be convenient and half-hearted, but uncomfortable, costly and outward-focussed. We are canvassed with the idea of self-love in our culture, but maybe, just maybe, the best way to love ourselves is to love others first.
We are friends. This just blows me away. God of the universe, sustainer of life, king of kings for all eternity, calls us friends. Knowing Jesus looks like friendship.
Chosen. Not just friends, but a hand-picked friendship at that! Jesus knows us, we are not just names on some heavenly electoral roll (although they are written in heaven in a book of life!) This is personal and tells us that Jesus knows us.
Love for one another. What good is our love for Jesus if we don’t love one another? Our vertical relationship with him is born out in our horizontal relationships with others. Jesus tells us that this is how we will be known in chapter 13 and John reminds us again in his first letter. How often do believers get a bad name when there is division and hatred amongst us? Let us be known for our love for one another. And let’s face it, that’s not always easy because we’re not always very loveable!
Expect persecution. Well this is a bit awkward. Expect persecution. Not expect persecution if you live in a certain part of the world, or if you are in overseas mission. The gospel message is a love-it or hate-it message. Loving Jesus and proclaiming him as the only way, obeying his commands and loving the unlovely will stir up trouble. Followers of Jesus don’t look like people whom everyone thinks are the bees’ knees. They hated Jesus (who is perfect and loves perfectly) so they will hate us. We need to make sure we’re hated for the right reasons.
Testify through the power of the Holy Spirit. When a refugee seeks asylum in the UK on the grounds of being a Christian and facing persecution in their home country because of this, one of the pieces of evidence required of them to prove their genuine conversion is evidence that they share their faith. If we truly know Jesus we will testify about him because the Spirit who lives in us testifies to Jesus. Christians look like people who want to tell others about him.
This is not a ‘to do’ list. These are the things to expect when we remain in the vine. This is what we will look like as people who know Jesus, the true vine. And we look like this because we have Jesus’s promised Spirit living in us. If you don’t feel like this is you, don’t be discouraged!
*When we put our faith in Christ, our struggle with sin does not end. Paul acknowledged that the pull of our own self-indulgent nature (our flesh) is a threat to our spiritual growth. (Galatians 5:17)
We don’t want to summon up enough will-power to behave in a righteous way. We need to depend on the Spirit. When we fail to do this, we begin to run our own lives. If we surrender control of our life to God, if we confess our sin and desire to be directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can live the life Paul talks about in Galatians 2:20 : ”I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
We call this spiritual breathing:
Exhale—confess and turn away from sin, accept God’s forgiveness.
Inhale—surrender control and trust the Holy Spirit to fill you with his presence and power by faith. *
Like breathing, little and often is good!
*Taken from Agapé UK’s ‘The Life’ booklet.
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