This year I have made it one of my goals to read through the Bible in a year. I have never done this before, and I felt like it would be a great challenge to take on. Once I got started, I realized that, in my twenty years of professing the Christian faith, I had yet to sit down and read any of the Gospels in their entirety. I have read them, but only in piecemeal, never as a cohesive story, and what really stuck me was the continual promises of Jesus to never leave his disciples alone. Even when he told them it would be necessary for him to die, he promised that he would not abandon them. I cannot imagine, looking at these statements from their perspective, how they could process Jesus’ prediction of his death and this promise to never leave or forsake them. It had to be a mind-boggling statement. Maybe that is why Peter was so quick to go back to fishing once Christ was crucified, he just could not see in faith all that Jesus was to accomplish through them after his death. I was thinking about this today as I read the closing chapters of John and the opening chapters of James. In the very first chapter, James makes a statement that caused me to pause momentarily and take in the fullness of what he was saying. James writes:
“Wherefore lay apart all filthiness, and superfluity of maliciousness, and receive with meekness the word that is grafted in you, which is able to save your souls” (GNV Ja 1.21).
The word that stood out most to me was the word “grafted.” I think that the New International Version’s use of the word “planted” does not do the justice that the Geneva or the King James versions do though the use of the words “grafted” and “engrafted.” Planted just does not have the thrust of something that has become a part of the believer that the word grafted does. It implies that not only does the word exist, but, that by accepting Christ, the living word becomes a part of who we are. It brings home the sense of unity that John writes about as he opens his gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word, and that Word was with God, and that Word was God…and that Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (GNV Jn 1.1, 14).
This is the unity that Christ prayed for both the disciples and all believers to have when he was in Gethsemane. This is the unity of mind, soul, and spirit that we need in order to feel victorious in this life and confident in the one to come.
While the word “engrafted” can have the simple meaning of to join or fasten, it can also mean to “incorporate in a firm or permanent way: implant: they engrafted their principles into the document” (Dictionary.com). To me, this implies taking something and making it such a part of the entity that it is impossible to see where the old being ends and the new principles begin, they are now an integral part of each other. This is what the Old Testament prophets spoke of when they promised that God would grant Israel a new heart and a new spirit. Ezekiel prophesied that God promises he will:
“…give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within their bowels; and I will take the stony heart out of their bodies, and will give them an heart of flesh” (GNV Eze 11.19; 36.26).
Through the prophet Isaiah, God tells his people:
“And I will make this my Covenant with them saith the Lord. My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words, which I put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of the seed of thy seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth even forever” (GNV Is 59.21).
Jeremiah expands on this promise spoken through Isaiah by saying:
“…this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel. After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be my people” (GNV Jer 31.33).
The author of Hebrews speaks of this promise as being a better Testament than the one handed to Moses at Sinai. Referring back to Jeremiah, the author writes that if the first Testament had been blameless, than God would not have said,
“Behold, the days will come, saith the Lord, when I shall make with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah a New Testament…Not like the Testament that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand, to lead them out of the land of Egypt” (GNV Heb 8.7, 8; Jer 31.31-34).
This New Testament, mediated by the Priesthood of Christ Jesus, states:
“For this Testament that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my Laws in their mind, and in their heart I will write them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (GNV Heb 8.10).
The Word of God is a living and active part of who we are as children of God. It is embedded on our hearts and expressed through the giving of a new spirit. We are made whole through this New Testament that came with the shed blood of Christ.
Going back to the word “grafted,” I cannot help but think of John 15 and Jesus referring to himself as the vine and his people the branches. We have been made clean through the the word spoken by Jesus and, in order to live the victorious life Christ promised, we must remain firmly engrafted to the vine (GNV Jn 15.3). Using this analogy, Jesus calls on his disciples to abide in him because:
- We cannot bear fruit on our own
- We can do nothing without Jesus
- If we do not remain on the vine, we risk being cast aside
- As part of the vine, we can ask what we will, and it shall be done (GNV Jn 15.4-7)
It is as we abide in the vine that we can bring glory to the Father by bearing fruit and as we abide in this life-giving vine, we are able to crucify the flesh with all its affections and lust (GVN Jn 15.8; Gal 5.24). As a benefit of abiding in the vine and seeking our nutrients from the outpouring of the Spirit, we are able to feel in an ever-growing abundance:
- Long suffering
- Temperance (GNV Gal 5.22-23)
For as we seek to live by the engrafted Spirit, we will also find our walk filled with that same Spirit (GNV Gal 5.25).
While all of this is such good news, I know that it tends to make me feel a bit overwhelmed. There are days when I just do not feel the fruit of the Spirit pouring through my veins. There are days when I get a bit moody and am rather difficult to get along with. I find myself slipping into old patterns of sin and, I am ashamed to say, content in my backsliding. There are days when I am completely exhausted and consumed with the health-related consequences of my battle with cancer. These are the days when I am ashamed for anyone to think of me as a child of God. As I prayed over the preceding verses, God brought me to the First Epistle of Peter. Here, in Chapter 5, Peter lays down some rather doable principles to follow to keep our hearts firmly engrafted in the vine. He calls us to actively:
- Submit to the Elders and each other
- Inwardly keep a lowliness of mind
- Live humbly under the hand of God
- Cast all our cares on God
- Be sober, and watch (GNV 1 Pe 5.5-8)
Satan, our archenemy, is continually seeking people in which to devour so it is of the utmost importance to be consciously following Peter’s advice to guard the heart and remain firmly implanted on the vine (GNV 1 Pe 5.8). What brings me comfort, however, is the thought in which Peter ends this portion of his letter. He tells his readers to take heart because they are not facing something unusual, but trials and tribulations that their brothers and sisters are facing as well (GNV 1 Pe 5.9). If I am having a particularly hard day and I am finding it difficult to remain engrafted on the vine, I can pick up the phone, call a friend, and have them restore me (GNV Gal 6.1). I do not have to try to walk alone, for the body is there to help one another along path, support one another, admonish one and another, and commiserate with one another in our trials.
This is why I feel this tiny verse in James is so important. It reflects back the unity that is found between Father, Son, and Spirit. It speaks of the unity that Christ prayed for his people to experience. We need to be of one heart, loving and supporting one another. We are going to have trouble in this world so God gave us the family of believers to help us to navigate this life and stay firmly imbedded in the vine that brings true life.