This past week I woke up right away thinking about all the things I needed to do. I felt so overwhelmed that I was becoming unmotivated. Yet I was also feeling the urgency to get it all done and a wave of motivation hit again. Moments after, I was feeling the anxiety again because I was remembering I should do that thing I forgot to do yesterday. It’d been 3 minutes since I’d been awake and I was already exhausted. Unfortunately, this didn’t only happen just last week; this is what I experience more often than I’d like to admit.
I can imagine that I’m not alone in this. I wonder if we feel this need to produce from these mental and physical lists we always have. Is it possible that we’re operating out of a lie that says if we produce enough, we will feel loved, fulfilled, and satisfied?
In John 15, Jesus addresses this very issue.
“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.” (John 15:4-5)
This vine imagery is something that first-century people knew very well. In the Old Testament, Israel (the people of God) are often described in a negative way as “the vine.” No matter what they did and how hard they tried, they were never bearing fruit and always falling short.
I had planted you like a choice vine
of sound and reliable stock.
How then did you turn against me
into a corrupt, wild vine? (Jeremiah 2:21)
When Jesus declares He is the vine, there is this shift and Gospel declaration that He’s making and saying “All the things you could never be or do, I will be that for you.”
As Jesus says “abide in me,” He’s reminding us that we cannot produce fruit by offering and completing our checked boxes. There are times where we might need to reflect on our definition of abiding. Are we measuring our abiding in Christ in how many hours we’ve sat in a silent room and had our “quiet time with God?” Maybe we’re measuring it by comparing our faith journey with other people or by how many times we went to church in the last month. Do we believe abiding can even be how much Christian knowledge we’ve acquired? John Piper says it this way, “The essential meaning of our active abiding is receiving and trusting all that God is for us in Christ.”
I wonder how our lives would look if moment by moment we believed that true life can only come from abiding in Christ? What would our interactions look like with the people around us, classmates, friends, family, and strangers? How could this affect how we react when hard circumstances come our way?
This passage is saturated in this cycle of dependence. Too often we get confused and can easily misinterpret. We’re reading the end of this text and saying to ourselves, “Okay, if I obey His commands, then I will abide in His love.” It’s quite the opposite though. Jesus is saying, “If you abide in my love, then you will obey my commands”. When we get this mixed up, this is when we become enslaved to the things we’re doing and not doing.
We are like Israel. They offered sacrifices; we offer checked boxes trying to produce our own fruit. But, Jesus declares He is the True Vine and His Holy Spirit is the only One producing eternal fruit as we imperfectly abide in Him.