Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 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 15:4–5)
Abide in me. Abide in me. Abide in me. In two verses, Jesus repeated this idea three times. What does he mean by abide? According to the dictionary, abide means to remain, continue, or stay. It is a way to describe where one’s abode, dwelling, or residence is. It describes the idea of continuing in a particular condition, attitude, or relationship. To abide in Jesus means to stay with him, to remain close to him, to make him your place of residence and dwelling. This is Jesus’ recipe for a fruitful and productive life: Stay close to me.
According to Jesus, there is only one way to produce fruit. Every other option results in nothing. Twice he made sweeping statements about our inability apart from him: “as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, neither can you” and “apart from me you can do nothing.”
It’s not that abiding in Jesus is the best option among many, as if he were the most efficient way. It’s not like there are other ways of living that just aren’t quite as good as abiding. Jesus was claiming that there is only one way to produce fruit, just as there is only one way the branch will bear fruit: if it’s attached to the source.
“Apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5). You can do nothing. What can you do on your own? What can you accomplish apart from him? Absolutely nothing. This seems ridiculous, because we know that we can actually do quite a lot in our own strength. And that our world is full of people accomplishing really impressive things apart from Christ. So how are we to understand this tension?
Our definition of nothing and Jesus’ definition of it are obviously very different. When I think of doing nothing, I think of lying in bed. That’s me doing nothing. But clearly, Jesus’ definition of nothing is much broader. Building a business might be nothing. A worldwide movement might be nothing. A successful career might be nothing. Gathering a multimillion-person following might be nothing. Raising children might be nothing.
If we are to believe what Jesus said here, that means nothing can look really impressive. Nothing can look like something. And for a time, “doing nothing” may seem to have a really tangible impact and look fruitful. But in the final analysis, before the eyes of the One on the throne of the universe, it will be shown to be as absent of substance as the mist that vanishes by midmorning.
Jesus is the only person capable of accomplishing anything. He alone can effect change in the world. So unless he is part of the equation, everything we do and accomplish and achieve is ineffective nothingness.
And as we stay close to Jesus, our lives become fruitful. As we make knowing him and being known by him our first priority, we are like a branch connected to the source; fruit cannot help but spring up all over. As we make our home in relationship with him, our lives simply overflow with his power, becoming more effective and fruitful than if we had employed all the strategy and skill within our reach.
Adapted from Purposefooled: Why Chasing Your Dreams, Finding Your Calling, and Reaching for Greatness Will Never Be Enough. Copyright © 2023 by Kelly Needham. Published by Thomas Nelson. Available now wherever books are sold.
About the Author:
Kelly Needham is a servant of Jesus Christ, a student of the Bible and COO of her home, where she lives with her husband, Jimmy, and their five children. She is the author of Friendish: Reclaiming Real Friendship in a Culture of Confusion (Thomas Nelson, 2019) and has been a contributing author to many other books, including Faithful
(David C. Cook, 2021) and Beautifully Distinct (Good Book Company, 2020). She has served on staff at multiple churches, serving in youth, college, and women’s ministry. Kelly currently co-leads a women’s teaching program, training women to accurately handle the word of truth, and co-hosts a podcast, Clearly with Jimmy and Kelly Needham. Whether writing or speaking, Kelly’s aim is to convince as many people as possible that nothing compares to knowing Jesus.
Connect with Kelly:
Podcast: clearlypodcast.com – The Clearly Podcast with Jimmy & Kelly Needham