Without Him We Can Do Nothing
Jesus and his disciples now leave the upper room where they celebrated the Passover (now reinterpreted in the light of Christ) and make their way to the Kidron Valley where the Garden of Gethsemane lies. But before that agonizing prayer in the garden, Jesus still has more to say. And what he says has to do with walking with him in a continuing relationship that is so close as to be not only spiritual but organic. And to illustrate this, Jesus uses a pastoral image the disciples would have known quite well: a vine, its branches, and a vinedresser.
So on the way to a garden, Jesus paints this scene of a vineyard. Perhaps there was such a vineyard in Gethsemane. Now every vineyard has a vine with branches that are supposed to bear fruit. And every vineyard has a vinedresser who looks after the vineyard to see that the branches of the vine are bearing that fruit. Jesus discusses two kinds of branches: those which bear fruit, and those which do not. There is no problem with the vine, which Jesus identifies with himself. The vine is doing all that it must do that the branches may bear fruit. But, nevertheless, some branches rebel against the vine. And what happens to those branches? They are taken away, gathered, and thrown into the fire. To ask what this implies about the doctrine of eternal security is to miss the point. Yes, there are those who are not truly saved who will not bear fruit, such as Judas Iscariot. But the point of the passage is to make us understand that the only way to bear fruit is to abide in the vine, in Christ, for without him, we can do nothing.
It is only by abiding in Christ that we may bear much fruit. Jesus also tells us that “every branch that does bear fruit [the Father] prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Pruning is the act of cutting away that which is superfluous for the health of the branch, that it may bear more fruit. So God works in our lives that we may be fruit-bearers. This is why we experience trials and tribulations, and why Paul can even rejoice in them (Romans 5:3-5). It is through them that we grow those virtues, or fruits, in the Christian life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). These fruits are necessary for both our own growth in godliness and for our witness to others as we show them the fruits that we could never produce in ourselves. Christians are called to look different from the world, to be peculiar. And we can be, but only if we abide in him. And that abiding is here illustrated in an organic way. We live by him and for him, but only if we abide in him.