“As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” –John 15
These words from Jesus in John 15 were meant to be a comfort to His disciples. These were part of His last words to those who were closest to Him before He was crucified. Jesus knew that the next three days would be confusing for His disciples. He knew that even after the resurrection, they would face persecution and many trials. The task that He would give them, to make disciples of all nations, to go out and bear the fruit of the gospel, would not be easy. So, in the previous chapter, Jesus tells His followers that the Holy Spirit would come in His place to guide them. And here, Jesus reminds them that in order to bear fruit and grow in their relationship with God all they needed to do was abide in Him. Jesus tells them that He is the vine. He is where their strength comes from. If they abide in Jesus, they will bear fruit that pleases God.
Jesus says that a branch that is not part of the whole vine does not produce fruit. It seems so obvious doesn’t it? It seems like common sense. No matter how much the branch believes in itself, unless it is part of the vine, nothing is going to happen. It can’t do anything on its own. The only way for a branch to bear fruit is for it to remain in the rest of the vine, to be part of the vine, to abide in the vine.
But many of us live life as if we have to bear fruit on our own strength, without help from anyone. While we’re growing up we are told over and over and over, all you have to do to succeed, is believe in yourself. We hear it from parents, teachers and coaches, “Just believe in yourself. Know who you are and what you can do, and trust that.” We see it all over social media. You are good enough. You are strong enough, smart enough. We are told to push out any doubts about ourselves and our own abilities. The reason we fail is because we didn’t believe in ourselves enough. We are constantly told to abide in ourselves.
Since this message is all over it’s easy for it to seep into our lives as Christians. We believe that even though God has saved us initially, we have to do the rest on our own. We just have to muster up our own courage, come up with the right strategies, go out and try to bear fruit. Jesus is there for the initial saving part but after that I’m left up to my own devices and my own strength. When I fail that’s too bad. Because ultimately, on my own I will fail. I can believe in myself all I want, but I will always fail myself. And on my own, no matter how much I believe in myself, I will always fail God. I’m just a branch.
But this isn’t the gospel. The Bible doesn’t tell us that we just have to believe in ourselves. Instead, it tells us to believe in Jesus. It tells us that we aren’t capable of bearing fruit on our own. We don’t have the strength or the courage to do what God calls us to do. The only way we can find that strength is if we abide in Him, if we believe in Him, remain close to Him. We are just branches and He is our vine. Apart from Him, we can do nothing.
Abiding in Him means believing in Him. Abiding in Jesus means trusting that He is true and what He says is true. It means that when we face trials and doubts, we turn to God instead of ourselves. It means being close to God, being intimately close to Him.
In Genesis 15 it says that Abraham believed God. Two times in the New Testament we are reminded that Abraham believed God. And if you look through all of these stories in the Bible you’ll see that there is one thing they all have in common. They believed God. And the way that they were able to believe God was because they knew Him. They didn’t just know things about God, they knew Him. In fact, you’ll see that when people started to trust in anything other than God they failed. But when they believed in Him and remained close to Him, God did amazing things.
The people that were close to God, knew exactly who He was and what He was capable of. They also knew how weak they were and how much they needed Him. As they knew Him more they were able to see what He was calling them to do more clearly. They knew where they were going and who they were going with. In Hebrews 12 the author tells us to look to Jesus the “founder and perfecter of our faith”. Jesus is not only the one that our faith is in, but He is also the one that our faith comes from and the one that continues to give us faith.
The ability to bear fruit does not come from the branch itself, but from the vine it is connected to. Here in John 15, we see Jesus telling us that we cannot do anything on our own. But, if we believe in Him, we will bear fruit. If we abide in Jesus, and believe in Him as our vine, we can and will be what He calls us to. How amazing is God that He knows our inability and overcomes it for us? Instead of leaving us to fend for ourselves, He comes and gives us the faith that we need. He allows us to abide in Him.