We live in a culture that pushes us to strive, achieve, accomplish, and earn. The metrics of success are geared towards production and, to be fair, geared towards a good portion of our makeup. We want to produce. We want to achieve. We want to prove ourselves.
And then there is Jesus. Who seemed to buck the expectations of others and the culture at every turn. On one particular occasion, as the disciples’ excitement at the possibility of ministry success begin to crest the morning horizon, Jesus sent it falling with just a few words: “Let us go somewhere else.” (Mark 1:38 NIV)
In contrast to achieving and accomplishing, earning and proving, Jesus stands apart. He calls us, first and foremost, to abide. To abide in Him.
John chapter 15 is the centerpiece of this theology of abiding and its location in the narrative is telling — a fundamental truth revealed at a critical moment in the disciples’ journey, just hours before the crucifixion. Hours before a new reality would set in for the remaining eleven disciples.
Even a surface reading reveals the central truths. Jesus is the focal point — He is the true vine that has come into the world. The Father is the One at work in the vineyard to accomplish His purposes. And disciples of Jesus are branches in the vine, whose primary purpose in all of this is to bear fruit.
There’s just one catch in this metaphor and the teaching that follows — Jesus never commands the disciples to bear fruit. Because they can’t. Instead, the command is only and always to abide.
The clear message is that in and of ourselves we cannot produce anything. Jesus drives the point home with these words, “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4b ESV) It was a truth that provoked no debate. Everyone listening that day and everyone reading today knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that a branch detached from anything — be it a vine or a plant or a tree — faces an absolutely fruitless future. It can argue and it can try. But it will only wither and die. Any and all hope of bearing fruit resides only in its remaining intimately, continually, and steadfastly connected to the vine, its source and lifeline.
“Apart from me, you can do nothing,” says Jesus.
The question is…
Do we really believe Him? Do you? Do I?
Let me approach it a different way.
If behavior is the primary indicator of belief, do we really believe that? Is that what our actions day-to-day and week-to-week would reveal?
I grew up in the great state of Nebraska. To me it is home. To others it is flyover country — just something you have to get through to get to where you really want to be.
Too often, that’s how we end up treating John 15 and the call to abide. To Jesus it is home — foundational to who He is. To us, it’s just a flyover passage. A flyover principle. “Yeah, yeah, I know. Abide. Now tell me how to make more disciples. Show me how to multiply our small groups. Give me the secret sauce for getting people to show up or step up.”
Brandon Guindon, Pastor of Real Life Texas in the Houston area, wrote a great handbook on essential practices for disciple-making churches. To his credit, the first chapter is on the importance of abiding in Christ. But I have to confess that I’ve often treated it as a flyover chapter. I want to get on to the good stuff. The stuff that’s going to make a difference. The stuff that will produce.
And Jesus stands apart. Hoping to get my attention. Pointing me towards home.
“Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 ESV
by Troy Hawks – Senior Pastor
Real Life Ministries Arizona