If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. (John 15:7)
Pay attention to the phrase “my words remain in you.” This is almost universally construed as a limiter on the rest of the verse, and with a sense of relief. God’s word indeed places restrictions against sin. For example, it says that you must not lust after your neighbor’s wife. But is that the first thing that comes to mind when you read the verse? Then your pastor slams you down with the phrase and you cry, “Oh, shucks! Foiled again!” If this is where you are spiritually, then you do need a limiter. You need all kinds of help.
My complaint is that it is also used as a limiter on the blessings and attainments that are available to us. Somehow the word of God holds you back from things that the same word of God promises. Welcome to the insane world of Christian scholarship. It is a total madhouse in here. If you are new, let me warn you, it is going to be a rough ride. Here is a maxim that can save you from decades of confusion: “God is not schizophrenic, but the scholars are stupid hypocrites.” Keep this in mind. It will help you make sense of a lot of materials in your studies.
Is God someone who holds you back? Satan convinced Eve of this, and for centuries Christians have fallen for the same trick and made it their official doctrine. God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the whole earth, and without demanding hard labor from them, he had food growing out of the ground for them, all over the place. Only one tree was forbidden, and Satan seized upon that as due to some weird insecurity in God, as if God did not want his people to have too much. God said that they could practically take everything, and the first thing Satan said to them was, “Um, so God said you cannot have this?” It is the same trick. It is the same thing! And Christians are falling for it all over again. Sure, now it has a Christian flavor to make it go down easy, and a self-righteous kick for the religionists who wish to get a little tipsy on it, but it is essentially the same trick.
Jesus did not say, “If you remember my restrictions, then you may select from the options that remain, and it will be given to you. Oh, wait, even then you might not get it, because God is sovereign. Enjoy.” Thank you, Jesus? The usual interpretation implies that Jesus should have said it this way. Then we would not need the scholars to tell us that he meant to say this in the first place. But Jesus did not mean it this way. He intended to inspire faith, action, and victory. The next verse says, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit.” God is glorified when we are effective, when we get results. This follows what Jesus said not long before this, that anyone who has faith in him would do the same works that he did, such as his miracles, and even greater works (John 14:12). In this same context, he added, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father” (John 14:13).
Jesus wanted to expand our thinking, not restrict our thinking. He said that his words should remain in us. What are some of his words? What are some of the things he said? He said that all things are possible to him who believes. He said that, if you have faith, you can speak to a mountain, and it would obey you. He said that you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. He said that we will be his witnesses to all nations. God is not someone who holds me back. God is someone who has taught me things that I would have never thought of on my own. God is someone who has promised to do things for me and together with me that I never imagined, that I never thought possible, and that I never thought I would be permitted or qualified to participate in. I was trapped in a dark well, looking up through a tiny hole, but Jesus Christ dragged me up and placed me on the mountain of God, and displayed before me the whole panorama of divine promises and intentions. Then he told me to join in, and to be a co-worker with God. To me, this is what it means to have his words.
Pay attention to what someone draws out of a verse like this. You will discover whether he has conferred with the Almighty, or whether he is just someone struggling to tame a text according to his religious and cultural assumptions. Does he regard Jesus Christ as the Great Benefactor who has opened his eyes, or as some dude in the past who has become a liability to his religion, whose outrageous claims need to be fenced in, explained away, or at best acknowledged in a most patronizing fashion? God’s word is not a limiting factor, but a liberating power, a faith building academy, and a mind-expanding experience. Jesus Christ is not a burden to me, but he is my life and my hope. He is not an embarrassment. He has said nothing too extreme, because no matter how awesome his statements, all of them are true.