John 15:4-5 – “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
Remain – stay, linger, continue, live, dwell, inhabit, settle,
To remain, to linger with, to continue with, to live in, to be settled in
United – combined, joined, connected, unified, integrated
Integrated – intimately and inseparably interconnected, to become a whole
Fruit – outgrowth, evidence
Live by the Spirit
“... are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” We all fall into this error at one time or another in some way or other. It may not be as obvious as those believers here addressed who were trying to add the works of the law to their salvation, but we still try to do some things on our own (without God). We start out following the leading of God’s Spirit be it in prayer, study, or any of the disciplines and also in witnessing and positions of leadership. God calls us to something and we begin, knowing that we must rely on Him to guide us and to strengthen us for we can do nothing without Him (John 15:5). But somewhere along the way, what was new and uncertain becomes routine and we begin to think that we can do it on our own. No longer do we rely on God or ask for His help, we begin to rely on human strength and human wisdom to accomplish what we have been called to. We forget that God “does not delight in the strength of the horse nor the legs of man; the Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love (Psalm 147:10-11)”. Why do we think that God will be impressed with our efforts? “He gives us life and breath and everything else (Acts 17:)” Yes, “what do you have that you did not receive (from God)? (1 Corinthians 4:7)” Or else, who are we trying to impress? Others? Ourselves? Sooner or later, our strength runs out and all the human wisdom of the world fails us and we are left; stranded, stressed-out, and disappointed. We find ourselves exerting all our effort and getting nowhere except backwards. So why do we start to rely on our own strength like this, knowing that it must be done in His? Perhaps it is that we know that God is unpredictable. He usually leads us out on a limb or tells us to simply wait, and in general we don’t like either option. So we make our own plans and ask God to bless them, no longer genuinely seeking direction from Him. Perhaps, deep down inside us, we want to feel like it is our accomplishment if we succeed (of course if we don’t, then it’s “God’s fault”). There is a certain level of pride living in all of us and once we have traveled a while down the path of God’s calling, we begin to think that we know what’s coming next and we let go of God’s hand saying in effect “I got this” so that we can be doing something “for” God instead of “with” God.
We can recognize this attitude by asking ourselves, “If this works out, who gets the glory? Me or God?” or we could ask, “Am I doing any of this by faith? Or is it by sight?” (2nd Cor. 5:7). If you are exhausting yourself, as you think, in “God’s service”, more than likely, you are trying to do it in your own strength which will never be enough. Think for a moment about what that little word “effort” really means - exertion, struggle, force, labor, sweat, - no wonder you wind up exhausted! It is this what the writer here calls “ridiculous” - absurd, silly, stupid! Why? Because all that effort – all that striving – is not only unnecessary but it is counterproductive! It won’t get you where you want to go and keeps you from what will. “How ridiculous is this?!” He says to you, “not by might nor by power but by My Spirit (Zechariah 4:6)”. In the same way “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9)”. The whole point of all of this is that we would never boast in ourselves but, “let him who boasts boast in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31)”.
The first step in getting back on track is learning how to wait on God. Scripture says, “Be still in the presence of the Lord and wait patiently for Him to act... (Psalm 37:7)”. Waiting is difficult for most of us these days. There is very little patience in modern society, waiting always feels like a waste of time. But time is exactly the point; that is, it’s all about timing. There is a season for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1). When it comes to doing things God’s way, timing is everything. Of course, God is always busy in the meantime, shaping us and bring things into line. So wait on God, linger in His presence, and let His love fill you with peace and joy and strength.
The second step is to remind yourself that God knows what He’s doing and the best way to do it and has the best ends in mind (Jeremiah 29:11) even if nothing makes sense at the time. Therefore, remembering this, genuinely and consistently seek God’s will in everything you do and then do it, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path (Proverbs 3:5-6)”. Do what He says, even if it flies in the face of all supposed “human wisdom”. For, “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:25)”.
The most important step is this: ask for God’s help and trust Him for the evidence of it in your life. Ask Him to help you learn how to wait on Him and to truly want His will in your life. Ask Him to help you follow Him with all your heart. Ask Him for patience and courage and strength, for His wisdom and discernment, for eyes to see when you begin to rely on your own strength again. You can be sure that God will gladly answer all such prayers. As Scripture says, “You don't have because you don't ask (James 4:2)” however, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to everyone without finding fault, and it will be given to him (James 1:5)” and, “if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And if we know that He hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of Him (1 John 5:14-15)”.
Abide in Him
When we put our faith in Jesus and accept Him as our Savior and Lord, then we are spiritually united with Him in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:5). This union is symbolized and acknowledged by baptism (Col. 2:12, Rom. 6:4). We are able to remain united to Him and He to us through our intentional interaction with Him – by reading and meditating on His word, by prayer, and by allowing/wanting Him to live through us and work through us every day – thus growing spiritually. The more we are connected to Him and experience His life, love, and power flowing through us; the more spiritual fruit we will be able to bear. It will be natural and not difficult or forced. A branch bears fruit as a natural connection to the vine and through any virtue of its own. It is the vine that supplies the life giving nutrients that a branch needs to be able to bear fruit. If that connection to the vine is hindered, there will be less fruit; if the connection is severed, there will be no fruit at all and the branch will eventually die (John 15:6). So it is also with us. Too often we try to do our “religious stuff” in our own strength. We do all the things we think we’re supposed to do to be “good Christians” and wonder why we only seem to exhaust ourselves while getting nowhere. Possibly the most important part of this passage is this; “...you can do nothing without Me. (John 15:5)”.
Notice the word “nothing”. This does not merely apply to whatever we categorize as our “Christian life” but to absolutely every part of our lives. The fruit we are to bear should be evidenced in every area of our lives – church, work, friends, family, and even as a customer at the store; as Scripture says, “whether eating or drinking, do everything for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)” – and it should be something that is evidenced from within us and not simply an act that we put on. More than trying harder, it’s about learning to rest in God and to cry out to Him to change us. We all need to be desperate for God to be at work in us. As Scripture says, “for it is God who is at work in you, giving you the desire to obey Him and the power to do what pleases Him.” (Philippians 2:13). The most important part of your day is the time that you spend strengthening your connection to God. It is not so much the amount of time that you spend, but the position of your heart that matters. It is the heart’s cry that changes everything. Rest in His love and His promise, for He says to you, “Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10). I am the One who calls you and I will do it (1 Thess. 5:24).”
Point to Ponder:
Can you see any area of your life where you have been doing God's work in your own strength? How is that working for you? Do you live in vital connection to God? If not, how much fruit are you really bearing? Do you find your efforts exhausting? God never intended for you to live that way.
And so we pray, “Sovereign God; our fortress, our rock, and our strength – thank You that we can come to You for all our needs. Thank You for drawing us to You and for putting a call on our life to use us in this world. Lord, You know the society we live in where independence and competence are exalted virtues and pride in one’s own accomplishments is encouraged. But God, we know that our ways are not Your ways nor are our thoughts Your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). Therefore, search us and know us, O God, reveal to us the wrong way in which we live and lead us in the right way (Psalm 139:23-24). Lord, we confess to You right now that we have tried to do things on our own - whether completely independent of Your will or in trying to follow Your will and call in our life. Help us to set aside human effort and human wisdom, and help us to seek to know and to follow Your will and direction only. Thank You for uniting us to You in Christ. Help us to remain united to You, keep us in Your hands that never let go. Pour Your life and Your spirit into us that we might bear much fruit to Your glory (John 15:8). May these things be evidenced in our lives; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). Grow us in You and in Your word. Prune from our lives anything that hinders (Hebrews 12:1) or distracts us from bearing fruit for You – even things that might seem good in themselves. We come humbly before You, acknowledging that there is nothing good that we can do without You. So be at work in us, moving our hearts toward obedience, strengthening and enabling us to do Your will. Help us to be united and intimately connected to You. May we desire to follow You every day of our lives and to draw nearer to You with every moment. We are Yours. Lord, give us patience to wait on You, courage to obey You, and wisdom to know the difference between Your directions and our own ideas. Help us throughout the rest of our lives to recognize when we have begun to rely on our own strength and help us to turn to You again. May we remember that everything is for Your glory and so may we live with that end in sight. We thank You that You hear us and answer us. To You, oh God, be the glory and honor, dominion and power, for now and forever (Jude 1:25).Lord Jesus, may Your name be praised in all the earth! Amen.”