In John 15, Jesus gives us one of the best metaphors in scripture for the indwelling life of Christ, the vine and branch. “To live is Christ” means that he is the source of our life, like the vine provides life to the branch. We “abide in Christ” and he “abides in us.” This foreshadows our complete union with Christ, which will become the bedrock of the Apostle Paul’s Christology. Jesus hints at this union when he says “apart from me you can do nothing.”
John 15:5. 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.
Fruitfulness is guaranteed by this union. If every Christian has the Spirit of Christ (and they do), then every Christian has the fruitfulness of the Spirit. We can and will do great things by the indwelling life of Christ. We will care for our children and our aging parents. We will love those who are marginalized. We will be faithful in ministry, and kind to neighbors. We will live in hope and die in that same hope. We will pray believing. We will grieve and yet find joy in Christ. We will love even when it makes no sense to love. We will tear down barriers in our churches. We will feel peace in the middle of the storms of life. We will share our hope with others. We will stop lying and stealing and rather we will encourage and build. We will forgive and offer grace over and over again.
Yes, we will do great things by the Spirit of Christ. But so we don’t get a big head, Jesus gives us a warning- “apart from me you can do nothing.” This does not mean that we do nothing physically without Jesus. It does mean that we must live in dependence upon Christ’s indwelling life, just as Jesus lived dependent upon the Father’s life. We can even hear Jesus saying, “apart from the Father, I can do nothing” (of course he did actually say these words). Anything we do apart from the freely given life and love of Christ will not bring glory to the Father.
But we must also set this warning beside the reality of the indwelling life of Christ. For the Christian, this warning becomes a promise. We actually don’t do anything apart from Christ, and our union with him by the Spirit. Our spirit is joined to his Spirit. Therefore it is literally impossible to do anything apart from him. When we do the amazing spiritual acts of faith that we listed above, it is because of that union (never our own mechanical growth). And even when we sin, we bring the Spirit of Christ along with us (1 Corinthians 6:16-17).
In John 15, Jesus, of course, has in view our fruitfulness, not our sin. But nonetheless, the radical reality of our union with Christ remains a truth that has implications for everything a Christian does throughout the day. We truly do not do anything apart from Jesus. And any grace filled, loving thing that we do from the Spirit of God, we do from our union with Christ. That is why Paul could say “to live is Christ.”