Have you ever felt like living the Christian life was just too hard? I mean, you’re supposed to love everyone, be kind to your enemies, and forgive those who hurt you. Then there’s the command to give generously, pray continually, live righteously, and sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice. How is it possible to do any one of those things, let alone ALL of them consistently? It just seems impossible, doesn’t it?
The good news is that Jesus knew that our tendency would be to read the New Testament and assume His instructions were to be carried out in a similar fashion as the Hebrews tried to carry out the Law from the Old Testament. He also was aware that if the principles of His teachings were interpreted as a spiritual ‘to-do’ list that are expected to be accomplish on our own, we’d live in a constant state of frustration, disappointment and failure.
So right before He was arrested, Christ gathered His disciples together to give them a brand new picture of how they were supposed to live. He wanted to make sure that they knew that it wasn’t their responsibility to keep a set of rules. Instead, walking with the Lord should be defined by a relationship to Him.
I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. ~ John 15:5
In one sentence, Christ succinctly tells us that being rightly related to Him (abiding) is the essential part of living a life that is pleasing to the Lord, ie, one that bears fruit. All our efforts to live righteously apart from dependence on Him will fall flat because fruit isn’t the result of trying hard. It’s not the offshoot of commitment. Or the outgrowth of making promises. The only way to produce fruit, Jesus says, is to abide in Him.
‘Abiding’ can easily be confused as being like some mysterious ritual akin to Eastern meditation, but it’s really more simple than that. The original word really means to ‘remain’ or ‘be at home with’ and is most often used to describe a close friendship. The mystery surrounding this verse evaporates when we think about it in this new light. Jesus wanted us to know that anyone who remains ‘in close contact’ with Him will bear fruit. So our responsibility isn’t to sign up for more activities, to change our behavior, to act how we believe a Christian is supposed to act by the strength of our will. Jesus says if we’re attached to the vine, and put our efforts into on knowing Him through His Word, then fruitfulness will automatically follow.
There’s a verse that parents like to quote to their children when they make questionable associations. “Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Cor. 15:33) It’s a reminder that the people you hang around can negatively affect you. But, companions can also have a positive influence as a far lesser-known proverb says. “He who walks with the wise grows wise.” (Prov. 13:20)
What better company can we choose to positively influence our lives than the God of the universe? And just as it takes time for bad influences to show their effect, it takes time for the positive changes to emerge as well. Though you may not see dramatic alterations right away, when we hang out with the Lord on a regular basis, we can trust that “we will reap a harvest (of good fruit) if we do not give up.” (Gal. 6:9)