In John 15:4-5, Jesus says:
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.
There are so many commandments in the Bible. Just in the New Testament alone, Jesus gives us commands and leads a life of example that honestly, to me, seems too heavy to bear. How are we supposed to truly love our neighbor? How are we supposed to bear one another’s burdens? And how in the world are we supposed to make disciples of ALL nations? These commands are too big to carry on our own.
The answer is abiding.
Jesus is calling us to do all these things through the power of his Spirit and not on our own strength. He says “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV). He means this. I think today in the Western world it is really tempting to believe we can easily “do ministry” or “love people” on our own because we’ve built a culture for it in the Bible Belt. But as believers, we are called to produce fruit that then produces fruit that then produces fruit. The only way to do that sort of ministry and to truly help set people free is through the VINE.
Mandi and I were missionaries for a year in Chad, Africa. We were working among a completely unreached Muslim people group in a desert village outside the capital. We were on a team, but Mandi and I lived separate from our team on the other side of the village. The neighborhood we were in was a pretty good size, but I was not overwhelmed by it. I remember when we had been in our village for a few weeks, and I decided to go down a new road. It revealed that our neighborhood was even bigger than I had previously thought. That’s when it all hit me- I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR ALL THESE PEOPLE!! I was floored. How can I ever accomplish this? How can I reach all of these people? I remember walking back home and telling Mandi I just needed a minute by myself. The gravity of salvation felt like it was on my shoulders, and when I sat down to pray with a numb mind, I felt the Lord say to me in a voice that was almost audible. Salvation is not yours to give. It is not your responsibility. I am the one who offers salvation.
“Apart from me you can do nothing.”
Our obedience is to abide. And then out of an overflow of that abiding comes fruit. A branch cannot bear fruit on its own, no matter how hard it tries. A branch separated from a life source just shrivels and dies. It needs nourishment, and through that nourishment it can produce fruit and be healthy. In my pride, I was trying to produce fruit on my own. That neighborhood, if left to me, would have been a place worse off then it was before it met me. But through the transforming power of Jesus Christ and his timing, that neighborhood can be transformed.
God wanted to make it clear to me that he is sovereign over all things. I won’t tell you the whole story because we don’t have hours, but God ended up bringing us off of the mission field before we ever thought he would. Soon we were to discover that our second son was born with a serious congenital heart defect called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. Basically that means he only has half of his heart. During this time of hardship and walking our kid through open heart surgeries, God reminded us that we are just as much in need of the gospel as the people we were trying to share it with. We must abide in him no matter the situation, or where we are in our faith. We must press into him at all times so that we can do anything!
So what does abiding look like?
There is an amazing book called Live|Dead by a missionary in Northern Africa. He gives an amazing definition of abiding: “Extravagant daily time with Jesus— this is the center of abiding. Not legalism, not dry discipline, not manufactured spirituality, but joyous soaking in the presence of Jesus, lavish spending of time with him who is most precious, him from whom all life flows. In a world that is over connected yet lonely, frantically busy yet accomplishing little of eternal value, super informed but grossly ignorant on what really matters, abiding is a call to give Jesus the best of our time that he in turn leads us to the best of times.”
Abiding can look different to different people, but it always looks like pushing into the Spirit and resting in the Lord. Sometimes it’s active like Scripture reading, praying, walking with the Lord, and sometimes its passive like just sitting in his presence while he speaks to you or restores your soul.
I love the way the ESV Study Bible puts it: “Abide in me means to continue in daily, personal relationship with Jesus, characterized by trust, prayer, obedience and joy.”
We must trust Jesus, pray continually and walk with joy. I wanted to focus quickly on the obedience part. Let’s read John 15:8-11:
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
As we abide in Jesus, he abides in the Father’s love as well. He says to his disciples, “If you keep my commandments, then you will abide in my love.” What is his commandment?
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (15:12).
As you abide, it must move you to obedience. If you feel like you are abiding, but the Spirit is not moving you to love people, then you are missing something. Sin, especially pride, can definitely get in the way of abiding. Confess your sin. Jesus is FAITHFUL to forgive. Then press into the Spirit and he will move you to do great things in his name and with his power. Abide first and obedience will follow! If you want to do great things for the Lord, start by a small meeting with him and see what fruit flows from that!