One of the most amazing things about the Christian life is how it seems to run contrary to the conventional wisdom of the day. In particular, I am thinking this week about how we often misunderstand what it means to live the Christian life. Jesus said, in John 15, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser….Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” When he said these words, I wonder if the 12 disciples thought the same kind of things I often think: that I don’t like to be told I can’t do something, that I don’t want to be seen as impotent, that I don’t very often feel like I am really in need of help from anyone. But Jesus points out the foolishness of my own self-reliance when he states the obvious, that a branch cannot bear fruit of itself – it must abide in the vine.
As a Christian, sometimes it is a badge of honor to publicly declare just how weak and ineffective I am, but this can be a defensive mechanism that keeps me from truly admitting my need of Christ on a daily basis. What I mean by that is I will readily admit things which no orthodox believer would deny as a way of deflecting attention away from my true struggle, which is to see Christ Jesus as the necessary and sufficient cause of my spiritual growth and success. I can loudly declare that I am an imperfect husband, while quietly ignoring my need to pray faithfully for my wife. Or I can talk about the times I have blown it as a father, instead of confessing my tendency to try to control my children rather than serve them in love. The point is that my pride continues to get in the way of being open and honest about my frustrating inability to be faithful and obedient to the Lord.
But Jesus challenges us to set all that aside when he says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5) No other message strikes so deep as this, that I am incapable of fulfilling my God-given purpose apart from the life and power of Christ. Only as I abide in him can I experience all that he desires to do in and through me. My confidence must be rooted in my Savior rather than myself, because it is his grace alone that can accomplish the change I so desperately need.
When every voice around us speaks of the importance of independence and self-sufficiency, Jesus calls us to become aware of the greatness of our need. Instead of setting an agenda of self-reformation, we must cry out to the Lord to have his way in us, and in place of a plan to transform our spouse, child, or neighbor according to our own desire we must rely on the Lord to change them and seek his wisdom to serve their need. Jesus’ words are a not-so-gentle reminder that the Christian life is an ongoing struggle between our desire for independence and God’s desire that we trust him in all things. Warren Wiersbe offers this helpful summary: “The sooner we as believers discover that we are but branches, the better we will relate to the Lord; for we will know our own weakness and confess our need for His strength.”