I have a number of friends who are real do-it-yourselfers. I consider them absolutely amazing people! They can build houses, remodel rooms, fix their own cars, repair computers, and grow lawns and gardens that are absolutely beautiful! I have none of that in me. Hard as I may try, I just can’t do any of those things. I’m not gifted that way, and I have to admit that at times I am a little envious.
For instance, I brought home a grill not long ago that required some assembly. The store clerks told me they would put it together for $25, but it would be a waste of money; it only takes an hour to do. So I took their advice. But what was supposed to take an hour instead took all day, and it still isn’t quite right. Some of the bolts don’t fit like they should. I just don’t have that touch!
I would venture to say that many of us look up to do-it-yourselfers. We may even aspire to become one for financial reasons, or perhaps for the pride of being able to take care of something myself. Unfortunately, however, some people carry their do-it-yourself attitude into their relationship with God. They try to become do-it-yourselfers in their spiritual life, and that can be very dangerous.
In today’s passage, Jesus tells us that, as His followers, some things we cannot do ourselves. In fact, He basically tells His disciples that they are helpless and dependent when it comes to spiritual matters. It was on the night that Jesus was betrayed by Judas. They had just celebrated the Lord’s Supper in the upper room. Jesus had instructed them on what would happen next. As He walked to the Garden of Gethsemane with the remaining disciples, they perhaps walked past a vineyard, or perhaps He saw some dead branches alongside the street. We don’t know the circumstances, but we do know Jesus launched into this poetic metaphor that He wanted them to hear, understand, and build their lives upon.
Hear these words of Jesus: “I am the true vine.” A couple statements later He says, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just 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. He who abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.”
“Apart from me,” Jesus says, “you can do nothing.” What’s He talking about? The immediate context is about bearing fruit. Apart from me, Jesus says, you (as My disciple) cannot bear spiritual fruit. Jesus is speaking on a spiritual level as He uses this vine-and-branches image to describe our utter dependence on Him. He is actually giving us a serious look at our fallen human nature, and reminding us that on our own we are spiritually helpless. We cannot accomplish anything spiritually speaking apart from Christ. We are helpless when it comes to our salvation. We cannot make ourselves right with God on our own, and consequently we fall short. We are sinful creatures, and we need a Savior.
The good news is that God, in His grace and mercy, provided Jesus to die for our sins at the cross and pay the penalty. This passage tells us that Jesus’ disciples are absolutely dependent on Jesus for their spiritual growth and productivity. Spiritual growth and productivity are not things that we can do ourselves. We cannot change ourselves. We can’t lead other people to Jesus by ourselves. We need Him. It can only happen when we stay connected to Christ. Just as a branch cannot grow grapes if it isn’t connected to a life-giving vine, Jesus says neither can we, as His disciples, bear spiritual fruit in our lives. Apart from Christ, the vital connection is broken that gives life. It’s like unplugging a lamp from the wall socket. The source of power is now denied.
What is this spiritual fruit, then, that Jesus is talking about? One possibility is the fruit of the Spirit that Paul talks about in Galatians chapter 5. He says the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These are wonderful, beautiful qualities to have at work in our personal character. Wouldn’t you like to see them in your relationships such as your marriage, your children, or those with whom you work?
Someone once reminded me that these characteristics really describe the character of Jesus. God wants them to be at work in our lives that we might bear fruit. You cannot produce them yourself. You cannot change yourself. Only by staying connected to Jesus Christ does this fruit come about.
The second idea could be that fruit is also a term used for describing our mission. Leading people to Jesus is referred to as being the fruit of our ministry. The only way this can happen is if we stay connected to Him. In this passage, Jesus is telling the disciples as well as you and me, that we need Him. We are dependent on Him if we are going to bear fruit.
In light of that, then, Jesus speaks with imperative commands: “Abide in me.” Abide in me is a relationship phrase. Other versions of scripture put it this way: Remain in me. Stay with me. Stay connected to me. Be dependent upon me. It is a vital connection that every individual needs.
I am the vine, you’re the branches Jesus says. Branches can’t bear fruit if they are not attached to the vine. “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
Jesus tells us, “Abide in me.” How does a person abide in Christ? I’m glad you asked. We abide in Christ when we abide in His Word. Jesus talks about continuing in His Word, then you are my disciples. You know the truth, and the truth will set you free. This is more than just reading the Bible. It’s getting to know the Bible. Learning it. Studying the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and applying those truths from Jesus into your life. In other words, obeying Christ’s words of life, for He really does know what makes life work best.
To abide in Jesus also means to abide in His community, the church. Perhaps, for you, it’s also a small group of Christians. We need each other. The Holy Spirit works through the community of faith as we live out our faith with one another, leaning on each other, encouraging each other, exhorting each other, taking care of one another, and, yes, most importantly of all, loving one another as Christ has loved us.
Why do you suppose Jesus places so much emphasis upon us abiding in Him? It’s because Jesus knows His disciples. He knows how prone we are to wander and get lost along the way. He knows the world in which we live that teaches philosophy of rugged individualism, a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps mentality. “If it’s to be, it’s up to me” mentality. He knows hard times will hit us along the way.
Sometimes, when a tragedy hits, individuals get upset with God and they walk away and blame Christ. However, what they need is Christ, not isolation from Him. He knows life is busy and filled with distractions that get in the way of paying attention to Him. We get inattentive and go off on rabbit trails in life, away from the life He wants to give us. Jesus knows other vines are out there claiming to be so-called truth. We can be prone to buying into those voices. As we begin nibbling at them like lost sheep, we soon find ourselves lost. Jesus knows our enemy, the devil, wants to destroy us and our relationship with the Lord. So He says, “Abide in me.” You need me. You need me.
Jesus has promised us great things that can bear a lot of fruit when we abide in Christ. One of the blessings I’ve received from my time at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church is to the privilege of seeing many of the babies I baptized grow in their faith. One that comes to mind is a young lady named Alissa. She was brought to the baptismal font as a baby back in the 90s to be adopted into God’s family, grafted onto the vine. Her mom and dad took their baptismal vows seriously as the covenant was established, and they raised Alissa in the faith.
Alissa’s parents prayed over her, and they prayed with her. When she was old enough, they taught her to pray. She received a beginner’s Bible when she was age two or three, and her parents read Bible stories to her from that Bible. They brought her to Sunday school and got her involved in all sorts of activities within the church family. I watched her as she said yes to Jesus on her Confirmation Day. She also took some training to share her faith, and she had a heart to bring friends to Christ. She was in youth groups and mission trips.
Alissa stayed attached to the vine of Jesus Christ, and she today is a beautiful, effective, young Christian woman who has been useful in the hands of God and radiates the love of Christ in her life to those around her.
When she was around sixth grade, her mom gave me something that Alissa wrote. It is a kind of a testimony that she wanted to share with friends to whom she wanted to introduce to Jesus. It touched my heart and I saved it. Here are Alissa’s words:
I have a best friend, and His name is Jesus. Do you know him? If you don’t, these paragraphs I am writing will tell you about Him, and I hope you want to be His friend too.
I think it would be a good idea if you accept Jesus. Why? Well, here are some reasons: He’ll never let you down. He’s constantly there for you. He will continually answer your prayers no matter if the answer is yes, no, or wait. His love is very unconditional, which means no matter what you do, He still loves you very, very much. He died on the cross for you and felt the pain so that you wouldn’t have to die, so you could live eternally. He forgives and forgets about all your sins when you ask Him for forgiveness.
He’s perfect, righteous. We are all sinful. God’s punishment for sin is death. Do you know what sin is? Sin is anything that goes against God’s Word and keeps us apart from God. However, there is good news. God sent His only Son, Jesus who knew no sin to die for our sins so whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
God is Jesus’ Father, but there’s a third person as well. His name is the Holy Spirit; He’s God’s helper. When you accept Jesus in your life, the Holy Spirit helps you.
If you want to meet my best friend, then the first step is pray, and this is how you pray. You fold your hands, close your eyes, bow your head, and say, “Jesus, please come into my heart,” and He will. You can pray other times as well Ð at meals or anytime of the day, and even if you pray in your head, He can hear you.
The second step, then, is to read a fantastic book called the Bible. You should read the Bible as much as you can every day. Even if you read just five minutes a day, it’s better than not reading it all.
This young lady, Alissa, is totally dependent upon Jesus Christ. Even at a young age, she wanted to bring friends to Jesus, and she’s been bearing fruit to His glory over the years. I’ve been watching her lead people to Jesus. She’s totally devoted to Christ. Next year she will head off to college, and I can’t wait to see what God has in store for her as she stays connected to the Vine, Jesus Christ.
Friends, some things in life you cannot do yourself. You cannot save yourself in your relationship with God. You cannot change yourself. Just like me, just like Alissa, you need a dependent relationship with Jesus Christ. We all need Jesus, and He is telling us today to stay connected to Him, for He is the true Vine that gives life. Stay connected.