The familiar words of Jesus in John 15 are these: “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” They were spoken in the context of the extended metaphor of the vine and its branches. If you’re connected to the main stem, then you will bear fruit.
The natural consequence of being connected is fruitfulness.
You don’t have to actually DO anything. Just be there. Linked in.
It sounds almost too good, and too passive, to be true. And yet the Bible bears it out across generations of writers separated by hundreds of years. Zechariah prophesied that it was “Not by might, nor by power but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.” That is to say: “It is God’s doing” and “it is marvellous in our sight.” “The battle belongs to the Lord,” after all.
Paul insisted that salvation itself was “not by works, lest anyone should boast” but by faith. “By grace alone.” “God is at work in you…” As I say, the Bible is replete with this concept. Corrie Ten Boom frequently used the illustration of the hand in a glove. This glove is lifeless and inanimate, until it is filled with the hand. The glove is created expressly for this purpose, for this to happen, and it is useless until it does happen!
And yet there is something within me -probably my inner Pharisee?- that rails against inaction. It seems to demean my sense of self that I can contribute absolutely nothing to this fruit-bearing process!
Consequently we contrive a million ways around the issue, until God becomes Santa, making a list to see whether we’ve been naughty or nice, and rewarding us with the blessings of fruitfulness for the latter. Or we confuse the Christian idea of “reaping what you sow” with the Hindu notion of “Karma” -or payback for the things you do. Very popular, that one, these days.
The truth is, however, that there is a great deal to do.
But before it can be accomplished, an important distinction has to be observed. It’s the vital point that clarifies the whole. It’s this: Jesus was not inculcating passivity at all, only understanding the place of humanity in the cosmos. We are not God, but created beings. In the narrative which introduces this idea, in the early chapters of Genesis, the first humans are tempted “to be like God” and to take fruit for themselves. The consequences were horrendous. They were evicted from God’s presence, banished from fruitfulness and all they did became difficult and strained. “Apart from Me” in fact, they accomplished nothing except to make the situation worse and worse.
But once that broken relationship is healed, through Christ, then a whole new lifestyle becomes possible. It even becomes obvious and straightforward. “All things are possible for him that believes.” “If you are in me then ask anything in my name and it shall be done…”
The point is, clearly, that we were never intended to be apart from God. We were created for fellowship, and friendship and partnership – the kind of collaborative rapport that it witnessed in every good marriage. And this union is necessarily reproductive. It bears fruit.
Jesus wasn’t wagging his finger when He said “Apart from me, you can do nothing”, he was shrugging his shoulders. It’s an obvious statement of cause and effect.
So what Do we do?
As I said, a great deal. Every relationship has to maintained through effort, dedication and mutual understanding. Things have to be talked through. Repairs have to be made. Lost ground has to be made up. Broken defences have to be rebuilt. You can’t let things slide.
But within that relationship, all kinds of things become possible. “In Jesus Christ, I am a new creation, the old has passed away and all things become new.” I am walking in God’s garden, enjoying His presence andenjoying all He has for me. I am in love, and out of it I will not go.