There is in Christianity a singular necessity, so vital to the enterprise that the entire movement is named after it and that fundamental ingredient is nothing less than Christ Himself.
Jesus proclaimed, “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; ESV)”
What did Jesus mean by telling His followers that apart from Himself they could do nothing? The unbeliever likely scoffs at such a statement, pointing, no doubt, to the many achievements of mankind scattered across the globe. Not a few of these achievements were accomplished by men who rejected Christ, from Buddhists to Muslims to Atheists and the like. Was Jesus so vain as to think that men without Him would be incapable of thought, movement, and speech?
Wise as He was, Jesus had to have been aware that in His own lifetime much of the world operated oblivious to His very existence. Even amongst the Jews, while many followed Him, many more did not.
“He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (John 1:10, 11; ESV)”
If then, Jesus was not speaking about all activity as being incapable of being carried out without Him, was He then perhaps suggesting that everyone was already in Him? There is a sense in which all men have a relation with God, as Paul reminded the Athenians, “In Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).” But even then, Paul did not mean all men were saved; to the contrary He urged men to repent and turn to Christ, telling them there was a judgment to come (cf. Acts 17:30-31). And in the context of Jesus own statement, Jesus warned His apostles that a relationship with Him was not guaranteed, but rather, “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned (John 15:6; ESV).”
Jesus was not speaking in generalities, but had a very specific action in mind as being impossible absent His presence: spiritual fruit-bearing. “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.”
This fruit that Jesus desires of us has little to do with the material gains we frequently strife for as a measure of our success. Men may work dutifully in life, building up a portfolio of earthly accomplishments, but apart from Christ all these vainglorious achievements are shown to be fleeting and temporal. The many treasure of the world fade with time and fail to gain us an eternal home. Only through Christ is there life to be had when this life is over. “I am the resurrection and the life,” says Jesus, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, shall yet live (John 11:25)” Furthermore, says Jesus, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man comes to the Father except by me (John 14:6
Jesus is the vine sustaining the branches, and cut off from the vine the branches die, wither and are incapable of producing either meagerly or bountifully. Dead branches are fit for nothing but compose or fire, and bereft of Christ, men are but dead branches.
Being joined to Christ and maintaining that connection is of the greatest importance, and absent such a relationship, Christianity is a hollow and fruitless endeavor. We must be in Christ, and Christ in us. Thus we read, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Romans 13:14; ESV).” And also, “for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Galatians 3:27).”
Being in Christ requires us to put Him on in faith and baptism, rejecting the priorities of the world, seeking instead for a heavenly home. Maintaining that relationship requires us to seek to follow after the teachings of Christ, knowing the Bible teaches us, “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son (2 John vs.9; ESV).
As Christians, we must ever keep our focus on that which is central to our faith: our relationship with Christ, knowing that there is no Christianity without Christ, no harvest without the vine.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.