Phil Cox

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Apart from me you can do nothing

28th February 2008

That's what Jesus said in John 15v5. But what did he mean?

There is a sense in which we literally can do nothing without God; Without God we wouldn't have water to drink or air to breath. Without God we wouldn't exist. That's true, but I don't think it's what He meant.

It could be suggested that Jesus meant that without a relationship with God we can do nothing. But there are plenty of non-Christians around who can do lots of things. They can work, eat, sleep, talk, watch TV, all sorts of stuff. So Jesus couln't have meant that, either.

As is so often the case, we need to know the context of what Jesus was saying in order to understand it. So here it is:

John 15v1-8
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Fatherís glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."

Jesus describes Himself the True (or Real) Vine and He describes us as vine branches. And the purpose of vine branches is to bear fruit. And a branch that's not joined to the vine can't produce any fruit. When Jesus says "Apart from me you can do nothing" He means "If you're not joined to me, you can't bear any fruit".

The fruit that Jesus is talking about is of (at least) two kinds. First, there's the fruit of the Spirit:

Galatians 5v22-23
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control...

That is, the fruit is godly character. We can work on our own characters, we can try self-discipline or enrol on various self-help programs, but only the Holy Spirit can truly develop godly character in us. That's why it's called the fruit of the Spirit. Of ourselves, we cannot make our characters pleasing to God. As Romans 14v23 teaches us, everything that does not come from faith is sin. And Jesus is saying that, for the Holy Spirit to do His job, we need to be in contact with God.

Secondly, the fruit is new disciples for Jesus - we should reproduce after our own kind.

Now the phrase "apart from" can be understood to mean "without". Those who are without Jesus - those with no relationship with Him - that is, non-Christians - cannot bear spiritual fruit.

But "apart from" can also mean "not close to". And there's a lesson for the Christian as well as the non-Christian here. A Christian can grow apart from Jesus. We can never be totally separated from Him, but our relationship with Him can wither. Just as an uncle that you never visit remains your uncle, but your relationship with him is of little benefit to either of you, so we can neglect prayer and Bible study and worship, to the point that although we are born again, our relatonship with Jesus is such that we derive very little spiritual sustenance from Him. And consequently we bear very little fruit - we develop very little godliness and make very little difference in His service.

Do you find that you are bearing very little fruit these days? Is your character much the same as it was a year ago? Are you having very little impact for Christ on those around you? Ask yourself - have you grown away from Him? Have you neglected your relatiosnhip with the True Vine? The wonderful thing is, He will always welcome you back into intinmate relationship - and you will star to bear "much fruit" once again. Listen:

John 15v8
"This is to my Fatherís glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."

Jesus wants you to be close to Him. He wants to use you for His Father's glory. Turn again to Him, let His Holy Spirit flow into your being. Bear much fruit for your saviour.