Apart From Jesus We Can Do Nothing – John 15:5

Apart From Jesus We Can Do Nothing

Nick Esch, 3/25/2018 Cornerstone Baptist Church

John 15:5

Last week we began working our way through John 15:1-11. We made it through the first four verses, and today we’re really just going to focus on one verse—verse 5. There’s so much here that I want us to take our time and really meditate on God’s Word… Now remember our context: Jesus is addressing His disciples in the Upper Room Discourse the night before His crucifixion. He’s been seeking to encourage them because He knows what’s coming—He knows the cross is coming.

So last week as we started John 15 we saw Jesus begin the last of His “I AM” statements, followed by saying that He is the true vine. By that He meant that He is the true Israel, the true Son of God, because He is the true obedient Israelite, the true and obedient Son of Man, and the only Son of God. He is the true vine, and He also told us that His Father is the vinedresser… The Father prunes the fruitful branches that they might bear more fruit and He cuts away and destroys fruitless branches that aren’t really abiding in the vine, even though they may claim to.

For the last 2,000 years there have been those who have claimed to be in Christ, who may even—on some level—appear to be Christians, but they show themselves not to be Christians because they don’t bear fruit… When Jesus speaks of bearing fruit here, He’s not speaking of mere external results, but of the fruit of the Spirit taking root in a person, and the whole of a person’s life becoming Christ-like, and lived for Christ’s sake… When Jesus spoke of fruit He wasn’t merely referring to numbers… He wasn’t saying, “Every person who doesn’t lead many people to the Lord, or do great things in ministry is not my disciple…” No… In the His Sermon on the Mount Jesus addressed those who did many great things in ministry, even casting out demons, but they weren’t really Christians, they were workers of lawlessness; so on the Day of Judgment they were cast away… They may have been able to point to some numbers, and to some things externally; but love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control weren’t there… The fruit of a holy life wasn’t there…

So the fruitless branches—those who appear to be Christians but aren’t—are cast away, but the fruitful branches are pruned that they might bear more fruit… And we said last week that one defining mark of a true Christian is that when pruning happens, when suffering happens, the true Christian runs to God and not from God… The true Christian trust that any pruning that comes his way is for his good because he trust that the vinedresser is good… But, Jesus makes sure to note that it isn’t what we do, or how we bear fruit or respond to pruning that makes us Christians… It’s what He does that makes us Christians…

He said in verse 3, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” And that word clean has basically the same meaning as pruned, and it’s almost the same word in the Greek… So Christians are already clean because of His Word, because of His gospel, because of His person and work… We are washed clean by the blood of Jesus… And cleaning is a lot like pruning because it removes the things that shouldn’t be there…. By grace through faith in Christ alone, we are washed cleaned, our sin is removed, God’s wrath is satisfied, and we are counted righteous in Christ… We are pruned, as it were… But then God continually prunes us, making us more fruitful, making us more holy, transforming us more and more into who we already are in Christ… That’s how God works… He makes holy the holy, He makes righteous the righteous, He sanctifies the sanctified, He makes those who are in Jesus like Jesus…

This is important to note; it’s actually one of the key differences between Protestants (like us) and Catholics. The Catholic Church teaches that if you are sanctified, if you reach a certain level of holiness, then you will be saved. But God’s Word here is saying that if you are saved, then you will be sanctified. Justification comes first, and then sanctification… And Jesus mentions this here because the reality of who we are in Jesus and who Jesus is and what He has done and will do are what fuel our obedience and our fruit bearing; the victory of Jesus is what enables and motivates our abiding in Jesus… We strive for holiness, not hoping that we’ll be able to do enough to be made right with God, but because Jesus has already done everything to make us right with God. We abide and bear fruit under the umbrella of the finished work of Christ…

So Jesus says in verse 4, “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.” It’s His victory, it’s who He is, it’s His gospel, it’s His mercy and grace, it’s His power that enables us to abide… If not for the sovereign grace of God none of us would be Christians… But if—by His grace—we are Christians, that grace will enable us to abide, to bear fruit, and to trust the vinedresser, come what may… And that’s where we left off last week…

From here, in verse 5 Jesus says, “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.” Now think about what this would have sounded like to a group of first century Jews. Again Jesus here says that He is the great I AM… He says, “εγω ειμι,” which means, “I AM, I AM,” which was a direct claim of Jesus to be the great I AM, to be God in the flesh… And then to top that off when He says that He is the true vine He’s saying that He is the true Israel… God often referred to Israel in the Old Testament as His people, His son, and His vine; but the vine language was typically only used when Israel was disobedient… But Jesus says He’s the true vine, and that’s true because He is always perfectly obedient… He is the true vine, the true Israel who is the true Son—the Son who is the great I Am, who is God… He’s not the Father, for His Father is the vinedresser… But He is the true vine…

So, in other words, Jesus is saying that the nation of Israel is not the true Israel… If patriotism runs deep in Americans, imagine how much deeper if you believe your nation alone is the true people of God… As most of you know, I’ve gotten myself into trouble in the past by telling people that their allegiance to Jesus must be above and beyond their allegiance to America, and that these two things do not coincide; well here Jesus is being far more controversial than I ever have… He’s saying that He is Israel because He is the fulfillment of all that Israel was supposed to be… So essentially He’s saying that ethnic Israel isn’t really the people of God, they’re not really sons of God; only those who abide in Him, the true vine, the true Son, the true Israel are the people of God, are the children of God…

I’ve spoken with people who believe that they are Christians simply because they were born in America or born in Texas, and similarly, many believed they were the people of God simply because they were ethnic Jews, because they were a part of ethnic Israel… But, God’s Word says, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Romans 9:6)… And here, Jesus, God in the flesh is saying, that He is the true Israel, and only those who abide in Him, only those who are linked to Him like branches to a vine are a part of Israel… Only those who are in Christ are true Israelites, because Christ alone is the true Israel… Our ethnicity does not save us… Where we are born does not save us… What family we’re born into does not save us… It is only Jesus who saves… And only those who turn from their sin and trust in Him, only those who surrender to Him and follow Him, only those who are in Him are saved… It is Jesus that makes us children of God, that makes us the people of God… That had to be shocking for His disciples, who were first century Jews, to hear… But, this is what He says…

He says, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Only Christians will abide, only Christians will bear fruit, and only those who are saved by Jesus are Christians… It is Jesus that makes us Christians, that makes us the people of God. Without Him we can do nothing… Now understand, the Greek word for nothing is an interesting word… You see, what it means is nothing… That’s exactly what Jesus means to say… Apart from Him we can do nothing, and apart from Him we are nothing… Nothing but mere wretches anyway… And that’s what Jesus means primarily when He says without Him we can do nothing… We were dead in the trespasses and sins in which we once walked (Ephesians 2:1), and dead people can do nothing… We had no power to save ourselves… We could do nothing to better our spiritual lot… As Romans 8:7-8 tells us, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” And that was all of us before Jesus saved us… We could not please God, we could not bear fruit… Without Jesus we could do nothing… Sure, we might be able to go through the motions, but in and of ourselves we are unable to save ourselves and unable to truly worship God rightly… Today is Palm Sunday, and on that day many cried out as Jesus entered into Jerusalem, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel” (John 12:13)! But they did not abide… It wasn’t true worship… For, in just a few days many of those same people would cry out, “Crucify Him!” And that’s how we all are in our sin… We can’t worship rightly apart from Jesus…

But this is true on a couple of other levels as well. Jesus is God… God’s Word says, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17)… “He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything . . . . In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:25, 28)… Christian or not, without Jesus you can do nothing… Without Jesus we would be nothing… If not for the sovereign grace of God we could not take our next breath… If not for the sovereign grace of God we would literally fall apart… For it is Jesus who holds all things together… He sustains the universe because He is the sovereign King of the universe; and as such He deserves our allegiance and deserves the glory of all of His creation, especial mankind whom He created in His image…

I wonder, are you really aware of that reality? I remember as a teenager a friend of mine told me that if I trusted in Christ I could be saved… I was hostile to him, dismissive, and arrogant… But he told me, “God’s going to get you Nick… He’s sovereign, and I believe He’s after you…” I responded, “He’s sovereign? You think God is in control? God controls nothing, especially not me… I could walk in front of a bus right now and He could do nothing about it… I’m in control of my life, not God…” Oh, what a fool I was… God should have struck me dead right there… I mean He’s the one who was giving me the breath in my lungs that I was using to form the words that I was mocking Him with… I was a rebel… I was hostile… And I was wrong… But my friend was right… God was after me, and God got me, and now here I am as His servant giving my life to making much of Jesus… Here I am all these years later proclaiming to you that God is absolutely in control… He is completely sovereign over everything and everyone… Is God sovereign over your salvation? Of course He is; He’s sovereign over your every breath, over your heart’s every beat… Beloved, without Him we can do nothing… Without Him we are nothing… But He… Oh He is so gracious… He is so good… He is mighty to save, even a hostile, arrogant rebel like me… And friend, if He can save me He can save anyone…

If you’re here today and you have not surrendered your life to this sovereign God, understand that Jesus lived the life that you should be living, He died the death that you should be dying, He had the wrath of God that you deserve poured out upon Himself—the wrath that will be poured out in hell on everyone who does not trust in Jesus for all eternity… He had that wrath poured out upon Himself until God was satisfied, and He died and was put in a grave… But on the third day after His death He rose from the grave in power, showing Himself to truly be the Son of God—the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, so that all who would turn from their sin and trust in Him would be saved and would be reconciled to God and would live forever with God, forever with Jesus in perfect joy… So friend, no matter where you are in life, understand that if you will repent and believe in this gospel you will be saved from hell and reconciled to God… Even if you’re the most arrogant, hostile rebel against God that there is—like I was—God is mighty to save… There is more mercy and grace in Jesus than sin in you… You will never be able to save yourself, for without Jesus you can do nothing… But Jesus has already done everything; you need only surrender to Him… And even that will only happen by His sovereign grace…

But understand, that even after we become Christians, even after we have given Christ our allegiance, we can still do nothing without Him… We have no hope of bearing fruit, of growing in holiness, of living Christ-like lives without Christ… He enables, empowers, and encourages us to live like Him and for Him. If we would bear fruit in this life we must continually look to and depend on Christ… You see, Jesus doesn’t save us and then tell us to go be awesome, to go be amazing, to go bear fruit in our own strength… Bearing fruit is not about us being amazing for Jesus, but us being amazed by Jesus… We are to be so amazed by how awesome Jesus is, by how mighty He is that we cannot help but live for Him… You see, it’s as our amazement grows that we grow… The more we see Jesus for who He is the more we surrender ourselves to Him, the more amazed we are by Him, the more in love we are with Him… So as we know Him more we love Him more, and the more we love Him the more we live for Him…

We can do nothing without Him, but as we depend on Him more and more, and seek to follow Him more and more, all because of His great love for us and our great love for Him, then we bear fruit… So you see, it’s grace from beginning to end… The grace of God in Jesus Christ saves us, and the grace of God in Jesus Christ sustains us, and the grace of God in Jesus Christ grows us… As we look to Jesus then the fruit of the Spirit begins to flourish in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness gentleness, and self-control… These things saturate who we are… And notice the first part of the fruit of the Spirit is love… And that love begins with love for Jesus… And as that love grows so come all the rest… So the more our love for Jesus grows the more Christ-like we become; and the more Christ-like we become the more we will leverage our lives for the glory of God… Which just means we’ll bear more fruit… Apart from Jesus we can do nothing, but in Him and with Him we can bear much fruit…

Now I want to reiterate that the fruit Jesus is speaking of here isn’t necessarily seeing a bunch of converts, or making a bunch of disciples… Part of what Jesus means by fruit is actually just abiding in Him… Lord willing, we’ll look at this more another day, but in verses 9-11 Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Abiding in Jesus means loving Jesus, it means obeying Jesus, and having His joy—full joy in Jesus… This is just like the fruit of the Spirit: love and joy, and we could put faithfulness and self-control under the category of obedience… Abiding in Jesus means all of these things, and these things are fruit, and they are how we bear even more fruit… But the ultimate fruit that every true disciple is to bear is the fruit of faithfulness…

The word abide ultimately means to remain… And to remain somewhere means that we are already there… To remain with Jesus means that we are already with Jesus; which is what He said in verse 3… “Already you are made clean…” Why? Because of the word, because you have repented and believed in the gospel… The gospel is the power of God for salvation, not our abiding… But if we are Christians we will bear the fruit of abiding… We will remain with Jesus… Though we will stumble and fall, the arc of our life will be faithfulness to Jesus… And that’s the fruit we must pursue… That will include us giving ourselves to being disciples who make disciples, but we may not see much if any of the fruit of that labor… As Charles Bridges once wrote, “The seed may lie under the clods till we lie there, and then spring up.” But we should most definitely see the fruit of putting sin to death and pursuing holiness…

Now, with that said, every true Christian wants to see people become Christians… And every true Christian wants to see Christians grow in maturity… And ultimately we want these things because we desire the glory of Christ to be magnified in others coming to know Him, love Him, and live for Him… Our love for Jesus drives these desires… Friend, if you don’t desire these things you might not be a Christian… But if you are, if you have these desires, it can be easy to get discouraged about a lack of these kinds of visible fruit… But understand, that just because we don’t see it doesn’t mean that fruit isn’t there, or that fruit isn’t coming…

This week I was contacted by a guy that I used to work with years ago… He contacted me to tell me that He had surrendered his life to Jesus and had just gotten baptized… He wanted to thank me for planting the seeds of the gospel years ago; he wanting to thank me for telling him about Jesus and being a faithful witness when we worked together… Beloved, that was years ago… Yet, all these years later fruit has grown… It brought tears to my eyes as I heard of how God was working in this brother’s life… But as awesome as that is, that wasn’t the success… Success is not measured by numbers of converts, but by faithfulness… Faithfulness was the fruit that led to the fruit of this brother following Jesus… I planted, another water, but God caused the growth… As God’s Word says, “neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7)… Apart from Jesus we can do nothing… All I did was point this brother to Jesus… God gave the growth…

That said, give your life to planting and watering… But don’t judge the success of your Christian life on the results… The success of the Christian life is measure by our faithfulness to Jesus, by our abiding in Jesus—that’s the fruit we are to focus on… Many Christians and many churches get this wrong, and give everything to trying to do what only God can do… Friends, that leads only to disaster… You might be able to grow a crowd that way, but you can’t grow a church; for it is God and God alone that gives the growth. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18)… Apart from Jesus we can do nothing… But He can bear much fruit in and through us… But that happens through our faithfulness to Him, through our abiding in Him… We are to know Him, love Him, follow Him, and take great joy in Him… not try to be Him… That doesn’t honor Him, that seeks to do away with Him… He is the vine, we are the branches; our calling is to abide, not to replace…

Conclusion

Jesus said, “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.” Beloved, do you want to live a fruitful life? I know I do… If we do then we must abide in Jesus… Apart from Him we can do nothing, so we must give ourselves to Jesus in every way… We must wholly depend on Him… Jesus is the sovereign King of the universe, so He can take you being dependent on Him, He can take you crying out to Him for help, He can take you leaning on Him every second of every day… We are called to be faithful to Him, to follow Him, to live like Him and for Him; but we are not called to be Him… We cannot bear fruit without Him… We can’t do anything without Him… But in Him and with Him we can bear much fruit… So abide…

J. C. Ryle said, “To abide in Christ means to keep up a habit of constant close communion with Him—to be always leaning on Him, resting on Him, pouring out our hearts to Him, and using Him as our Fountain of life and strength, as our chief Companion and best Friend.” Get your mind around that… The One who we once hated and rebelled against in our sin, the One whom we still sin against today is calling us to lean on Him, to rest in Him, to pour out our hearts to Him, to use Him as our Fountain of life and strength, to allow Him to be our chief Companion and best Friend… What a glorious, what a gracious, what a good God He is… Apart from Him we can do nothing… And we deserve to be apart from Him… But instead He makes us true children of God and says abide, remain in me… And as we give ourselves to that, to Him, then we will bear much fruit…