By Scott Lawton
“Abide in me, and I in you. 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. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
In John 15:16, Jesus tells the apostles that he chose them and appointed them so that they should go and bear much fruit. If you’ve read the four Gospels, you know that the apostles regularly failed to grasp what Jesus was teaching them, even the essential truths about what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah (most notably, the need for him to die and rise again). They were over-eager and over-zealous. They often looked more like a band of misfit toys than a group that would achieve anything notable. So how were they supposed to bear much fruit? Jesus gave the answer in John 15—through abiding in him.
The same is true for us. If we want to bear fruit, we must abide in Jesus. We are wholly dependent on him. “Apart from me you can do nothing,” Jesus says. Really, Jesus? Nothing? There’s not some small thing that I can do on my own, some little good deed as fruit? Maybe I could at least produce a tiny blueberry (the kind from Maine, not Michigan)? Nope. Nothing.
What does it mean to abide in Jesus? How do we do it? To abide means to stay, to dwell, to remain. There is a sense of permanence and continuity. Jesus gives us the picture of a vine and branches. A branch must always be connected to the vine if it is to stay alive. You can’t remove a branch and glue it to a wall and expect it to live very long; it must stay connected to the vine, because that is the source of its life and nourishment. In the same way, believers must stay connected to Jesus. This doesn’t mean that we need to be physically attached to Jesus, or even physically in the same place. The apostles were physically with Jesus, yet Jesus had already told them in John 14 that it was better for him to depart so that he could send the Holy Spirit.
We abide in Jesus not physically, but spiritually, through his Spirit and the means he has given us—primarily the Word and prayer. In John 15:7, Jesus says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you…” So we abide in him by storing up his Word in our hearts and minds. We must daily be reading our Bibles, meditating on the Word, memorizing it, and praying for ourselves and others; those are the primary ways we are nourished from the vine. If we fail to do those things, just like a branch cut from the vine we will wither and die. But if we hold fast to the true vine, he will bring forth good fruit in us!