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)
No one can be saved by Jesus while keeping him at arm’s distance. No one can expect forgiveness from him who does not also pursue nearness to him. No one will taste the peace, freedom, and happiness of heaven who did not seek after him while they were here on earth. No one ever learns to live, really live, who does not learn to abide.
Jesus did not climb the cross mainly to keep us from hell, but to bring us to God: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). And yet how many of us settle for something less, for a weaker gospel, for a less effective sacrifice? How many want Jesus to deal with our sin but then let us live however we want? How many of us love the saving, but avoid the abiding?
“If anyone does not abide in me,” Jesus warns, “he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6). So, have you been abiding?
The Necessity of Abiding
What makes abiding in Jesus so vital to believing in Jesus? “I am the vine; you are the branches,” Jesus says. “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). Those who do not abide in Jesus can do nothing. Really, nothing? Is that an exaggeration? Nonbelievers do things all day every day.
Jesus did not mean that we would be unable to walk or work or watch Netflix without him. He meant that we would be unable to do anything real or meaningful or lasting — anything that pleases God. We might live for sixty, seventy, or even eighty years, and yet accomplish nothing, live for nothing, die with nothing. Most people do.
But a few won’t try to live on their own anymore. They will believe, abide in the vine, and bear much fruit. In a vineyard, the vine is the source of life, the only hope of fresh grapes. If a branch is separated from the vine, it cannot bear fruit. And so it is with us. Trying to draw grace from Jesus without living in Jesus leaves us as hopeless as we were before we ever heard of Jesus.
The Secret of Abiding
So how does a branch abide? “Abide in my love,” Jesus charges his disciples. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9–10). Abiding in Jesus means trusting Jesus enough to obey Jesus — “to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). The secret to abiding isn’t a secret. To abide in the love of Jesus, we have to abide in the words of Jesus — and not just as hearers, but as doers. That’s how weak and fragile branches draw strength and life from the vine. We listen and we obey.
That means abiding will not always be as sweet and comforting as we might imagine. Sometimes abiding will be painful and costly. As Jesus says these words, remember, he’s preparing to be betrayed, accused, condemned, and crucified in obedience to the Father. “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Sometimes abiding in Christ will feel like dying with Christ. But anyone who dies with Christ — who abides in and obeys the crucified King — will also be exalted with him (Philippians 2:9–11; Ephesians 2:6).
The secret to abiding in Jesus is to obey Jesus, even when it’s hard to obey Jesus. Especially when it’s hard to obey.
The Blessing of Abiding
As hard as it may be to obey at times, no Christian ever sacrifices blessing along the path of obedience. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). If we abide in Jesus, and his words abide in us, not only will he hear our prayers, but he will do them. God loves to answer the prayers of hearts aligned with his (James 5:16).
Those who learn to abide see their prayers answered, in part, because their prayers are less shaped by their anxieties and cravings and more shaped by the words and will of God. They pray, “Thy will be done,” and he gladly agrees. They pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and he provides for all their needs and more. They pray, “Deliver us from temptation,” and he keeps them from sinning. They pray, “Hallowed be your name,” and he makes their lives another burning star for his glory.
King David sounds a similar note: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). So abiding is not only about obedience, but about joy — not only about how we respond to the commands of God, but about whether we experience more and more happiness in God. Jesus says to his disciples, “These things I have spoken to you” — everything he has said about abiding in and obeying him — “that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
That joy, fullness of joy, the very joy of Jesus, is waiting for those who learn to abide in him.