Jesus said, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15, NASB). In the hands of a religious person this becomes a conditional statement: You have to keep the commands of Jesus to prove your love. The problem with that, however, is the commands of Jesus are impossible to keep. As we saw in our last post, Jesus said anyone who keeps His commands, “will do what I have been doing and even greater things.” Well Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead. Can you? On your own it’s impossible, but that’s okay because you know what? Jesus has a plan. In the very next verse He begins to tell us what it is:
“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, who will stay with you forever.” (Jn 14:16)
Who is the Helper? He’s the Holy Spirit, the One who empowers us to show and tell the gospel of the kingdom (Rms 15:19). (Note that the Holy Spirit doesn’t come and go. Jesus said He will “be with you forever”!) Jesus then tells the disciples that on the day that the Holy Spirit is given,
This is the most awesome, incredible thing in the world! This is the mystery that Paul sought to make known to the Gentiles – Christ is in you! And you’re in Him! Do you need a picture to help you see this? Then look at the picture on the right…
Jesus said He is the true vine and we are the branches. Look at the picture and draw a mental circle around the vine. Do you see any branches that are not part of the vine? The vine is bigger than any branch but there’s no branch that is not also vine. Touch any branch and you are touching the vine. This is how Hudson Taylor describes it:
“Here, I feel, is the secret: not asking how I am to get sap out of the Vine into myself, but remembering that Jesus is the Vine – the root, stem, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, fruit all indeed… I have not got to make myself a branch. The Lord Jesus tells me I am a branch. I am part of him and I have just to believe it and act upon it.” (Quoted in The Normal Christian Life, pp.56-7)
Now Jesus knows that you can’t bear fruit – “no branch can bear fruit by itself” (Jn 15:4) – but He plans to bear His fruit through us. What’s our part in this? He wants us to abide in Him, which means to dwell or stay put. It means don’t run off and try to do your own thing in your own strength. What’s His part? He plans to live His life through us and go on healing the sick and delivering the oppressed and doing all the other heaven-on-earth things He did when He was here in the flesh (Mk 16:17-18).
Are you a branch with no fruit?
What happens to unfruitful branches? Jesus said the branches that don’t bear fruit are “lifted up” (Jn 15:2). They are not cut off – that is a bad translation that would’ve made no sense to a Mediterranean listener! A viticulturalist would never throw away a branch for that would be like amputating part of the vine. (If you’re thinking of suckers, see my note in the comments below.) Unfruitful branches are lifted out of the dirt and re-dressed so they can be nourished by the sun. Sticking with that metaphor, the reason why some Christians are barren is that they’re facedown in the dirt and not looking at the Son. They’re busy, distracted, stressed, and have wandered from their protos agape, their primary love. When believers lose sight of Christ’s love they tend to become religious, just like the Ephesians. The next thing you know, they’re thinking that they have do stuff like obey His commandments to prove their love or earn His.
What is the remedy for unfruitful branches? God is. He is the Gardener who does the lifting up. He is not there to slash and burn but to prune and lift. As you begin to bear fruit it will be for His glory, not yours. If you’ve been distracted doing the dead works of religion, just stop and come back to your first love which is His love. His love is like food for us. We are energized by it. I might tell myself that I am writing these posts because of my love for Him, but in truth, it’s His love for me that compels me to tell others the good news. I would not love Him except that He has first loved me (1 Jn 4:19).
God believes in you!
When Jesus said, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments,” He was not making a threat but a promise! He was saying, “If you love me you will do the works and greater works that I have done because I’m the one who’s going to do them through you. Trust me! Believe in me! Abide in me!” Why does Jesus say we will do greater works? Because 2000 years ago there was only one Christ, but now there are millions of Little Christs. Back then He was just a tender shoot (Is 53:2), but now He’s a mighty vine with branches reaching into every place. Back then God lived in just one man, but now He lives in millions of men, women and children all around the world and He wants out! What are the greater works? They are the works of Jesus done millions of times over, every day, all over the world by ordinary branches like you and me.
Aren’t you amazed that God operates this way – through people? It’s like God is saying, “I believe in you. I have confidence that you will come to rest in my love and allow me to reveal myself to you and through you.” Carnal religion says it’s all about you and your faith so you’d better perform, but the gospel of grace declares it’s about Him and His faith so rest! Paul understood this which is why he said, “the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me” (Gal 2:20).
Branches can not bear fruit but vines can and do so naturally, without any effort. As a branch you carry the nature of the True Vine in you and He will bear His fruit through you. He promised! Do you believe Him?
At this point you probably want me to tell you what to do. “What’s the takeaway? What must I do?” We Christians are so hung up on working for God that we don’t know what to do with Jesus when He says, “just abide.” Okay, here’s something you can do. Write this down. The next time you’re faced with a problem or trial, take a moment to let Jesus love on you. Allow the Lifter of your head to turn your gaze from the dirt back to Himself and then bask in His love. He is already shining on you. He has already been gracious to you and blessed you and given you His peace. Receive it!
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (Jn 15:9)