John 15:5 says, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”
I know. The words “you can do nothing” throw up a red flag. Why? It’s because we’re all so actively doing something. That’s what I’d like to address. Jesus provided us with a crucial and valuable truth for living a Christ directed life when He said, “…without me you can do nothing.”
It’s a truth that could be viewed in two different ways. First, it can be viewed that we need the Lord’s “help” and strength in order to live the Christian life. This admission certainly has aspects of truth to it but in my opinion it subtly promotes a partnership theology. Allow me to explain. We know that God has saved us when we believed in Jesus Christ and has given us the assurance of eternal life; but now that we are saved we believe we must faithfully do our part by living out the productive Christian life. Whether we admit it or not, we think our acts of obedience merit more of God’s favor. They don’t! We think, with the Lord’s help, we can do it! We’re a team, right? Wrong!
With this mindset full and complete surrender to Jesus Christ is discarded because deep down inside we view ourselves as partners with God in living the Christian life. We never fully acknowledge Christ as our total sufficiency. We fail to understand that grace is God’s unmerited, unearned, and undeserved favor at all times. We would never say this but ultimately we think, “God can’t do it without me.” Some Christians actually become defensive when told they “can do nothing” because they’re so busy doing something!
Second, the truth “you can do nothing” can be understood as a literal or exact truth. In other words, without Christ we cannot perform good deeds. Apart from Christ and His abiding presence we cannot work out our own salvation with fear and trembling as the Bible admonishes us to. We cannot breathe, walk, talk, think, speak, or hear! We cannot think or reason. We cannot plan our work or work our plan. It’s Christ enabling us and doing His work in and through us and we know it. The just shall live by faith and the object of genuine faith is always Jesus Christ.
Here’s the real problem as I see it. Most of us believe that we have contributed something to God and His work. Things like a particular talent, an effort, a great idea, or perhaps even our financial resources. We would never say it of course, but we actually start believing God needs us and requires cooperation on our part in order to accomplish His will. He will certainly use talents, energy, ideas, and financial resources to further His kingdom and minister to the needs of His body but He could do it without us if He chose. That’s the point.
Many people will reject what the Bible clearly teaches and what I’m writing about. But when we truly understand and believe that we can do nothing without Christ it will lead us to a life of complete surrender, to genuine faith, and to the acknowledgement of the sufficiency of Jesus Christ. And we will begin doing all to the glory of God. We actually start believing it. This Bible centered truth proclaims Christ as preeminent in all things. That includes living out the daily Christian life.
Personally, God has used the disease of Multiple Sclerosis as an instrument to teach that I can do nothing at all. Actually, I did not begin to truly understand the practical significance of the word “nothing” until I became weak, feeble, and really couldn’t do anything. God has adjusted the way I think and has changed my opinion on how we Christians actually live the genuine Christian life. Let me remind you, I am not suggesting you need some type of personal illness or catastrophe in your life to learn this truth.
Give careful attention to the words Christ used. When He said, “without me you can do nothing.” In no way was He suggesting we will do nothing. Without Christ we can do nothing. As we begin to understand and receive His sufficiency in all things and then surrender our will to His, our view of how a person lives the daily Christian life changes. We recognize the need to simply abide in Christ, the need of allowing Christ, by faith, to live His life through us, and the need to simply yield the fruit He desires to produce in our lives. We begin to comprehend the true meaning of doing all things through Christ. The burden of trying is removed and the liberty and freedom wrought by trusting is realized. God has equipped you with unique talents, personality, mental capacity, and desires. I exhort you to yield fully to Christ and follow Him. As we consider the Apostle Paul’s life, for example, we recognize that he was fulfilled and victorious as a Christian because he had one single purpose and passion in life. Paul did not find fulfillment as a result of being a positive thinker. He did not measure his success or failure by good health, worldly possessions, or popular demand. Nor was he an ambitious or results-oriented missionary who craved visible marks of success. He did not calculate success by the number of converts or the number of churches he established. He was not fulfilled by receiving the congratulatory praises of others. Paul’s purpose and passion in life was to know, proclaim, and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. He said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). The Apostle Paul lived an exchanged, abundant, and full life as a follower of Christ. Paul was sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and did what Jesus directed him to do. Paul was content regardless of his circumstances in life because his life was Christ (Philippians 4:11–12). That is why he concluded, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).
In addition, we observe in scripture that the daily activities of Paul’s life were not the results of good organizational skills. Self-discipline and resolve didn’t get the job done either. His actions were the result of following Jesus Christ. In other words, it was not his work; it was Christ’s work in him. Paul truly understood that without Christ he could do nothing. Christ directed his life. And so it was with each New Testament saint; Christ was their life.
Let’s carefully examine our understanding of what the genuine Christian life should look like. Should the Christian life be run like a secular corporation? Pause and reflect on what I’m asking. Should we be in the business of planning our work and then working our plan? Be honest. Does God need our intellect, ingenuity, involvement, or inspiration to accomplish His will? Of course, He doesn’t. What am I saying? The Christian should be organized but it is Christ who orchestrates the direction of our lives. The Christian should be confident and positive but our confidence and positive confession should always be centered in Jesus Christ, not some mantra or catchy religious saying. The Christian life is not wrapped up in the things we do, but rather, what and who we are in Christ. The genuine Christian life is the work of Jesus Christ in us. I guess each of us know in our hearts that Christ is the one whose in control of all things but often our personal disciplines and drive end up directing us away from His total sufficiency and squeezes Him out of our life. We mentally abandon the very foundation of our faith and end up floundering in the world of self-effort. We’ve all done it. And we have all felt the stress of attempting to live out the Christian life in our own strength and resolve. Jesus Christ can and will direct our thoughts, words, and actions. His life can be our life. We can live a Christ directed life.