“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 15:5)
As branches, our purpose is to glorify our Vine. We exist to (1) depend on the Vine, (2) draw life from the Vine, and (3) delight in the Vine—this is abiding. Our responsibility is to abide in the Vine. As we abide, Christ abides in us. And because of this, the more earnestly we abide the more fruit we bear.
We would do well to think carefully about this illustration. To better understand the dynamics of bearing fruit, let us consider these six principles:
1. The Source: Christ
If the source of the fruit we bear is Christ, then it is inconceivable to pursue any fruit of Christ apart from Christ. The fruit we bear must be organic—its source must be Christ.
2. The Life: Christ
Absurd is the idea that any physical work could be done apart from the body-animating, life-giving power of God (Acts 17:28). It is no less absurd to imagine that spiritual work could be done apart from the spirit-animating, life-giving power of Christ (Jn 15:5). Apart from the life that God gives, no one can do anything—this principle applies to both physical and spiritual aspects of being.
3. The Power: Christ
Abiding in Christ is our one vital necessity, our definitive responsibility. The disciples were not commissioned to carry on Christ’s work without Him—neither are we. Abiding in Christ is key to His working in and through us. We must abide, because it is Christ who works in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil 2:13).
4. The Fruit: Christ
The fruit that we bear cannot legitimately be constrained to any one particular work or deed. In sum, it is Christlikeness in and through us—it is the presentation of Christlikeness to one another (Jn 15:16-17) and the world (Jn 15:18, 26-27). If the source is Christ, the fruit can be nothing less than all that glorifies and promotes His person.
5. The Commission: Christ
We are particularly commissioned to show Christ—this is our highest service to the world. The only way to show Christ is to pursue Christ.
The world is not in need of merely more charity, more comfort, more ease, more health, more resources, more equality, more sharing, more caring, more justice, more mercy, more kindness, or even more human love. Apart from Christ, all of these will corrupt and perish. What the world needs is Christ. We remain in the world to bear Christ to the world. If the deeds of Christ are given without Him then we are not living as branches, nor are we truly helping the world.
Even the greatest of virtues, namely love, as glorious and divinely wonderful as it is, cannot rightly exist apart from its source and chief expression. Christ is the fullness of love, but love is not the fullness of Christ.
Love in human strength is not what Christ died for. It most certainly is a goodness of God, given through the means of common grace, a testimonial vestige of the image of God purposed in every human being. But Christians are not redeemed to increase and improve upon what they already have. We are given not only common grace, but the grace bought by the precious blood of Christ. We are particularly commissioned to bear Christ, yielding to all that He is and making known His worth—this is our highest service to the world.
6. The Test: Christ
One important test is the goal of the fruit. If the fruit promotes Christ, then it is organic, having the seeds of its own kind within. But if it only promotes morality, humanism, or self, then it is not genuine. If the fruit that we bear does not carry the seed of Christ in it, then it is not the fruit of which Christ speaks.