How do we live the Christian life? What does it mean for us to be the “Church”? How do we experience continued spiritual growth?
Jesus said this, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5).”
The stark reality for the Christian is that to live the Christian life we must stay deeply connected to Jesus. He uses this beautiful picture of the vine and the branches to paint this picture for us.
Every spring I prune my landscaping. I cut back the branches. I cut down the old growth from the previous year that has withered over the winter. When I’m finished the landscape looks a bit empty. Yet, something amazing happens. In a few days there is new growth and it happens fast. The branches that have been removed dry out over night and become useless.
We as people are just like that. For us to bear fruit we are pruned and we must remain the vine. If we become disconnected from Jesus our faith withers and dies. Yet, if we remain connected to Jesus our life is marked by fruit. This fruit is laid out for us by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (vv 22-23)”
The “do nothing” of Jesus’ statement is related to this fruit. He is not saying that if we are disconnected from him we will become catatonic. Jesus is saying that we will not see this “fruit of the Spirit” developed in us. If we remain in him then we will see “much fruit” developed in our lives.
The idea of the Greek word translated “remain” has the idea of staying with, dwelling, and living with. To “remain” in Jesus is to live with him, in a very real sense to be with him. As we are with Jesus we will see that fruit of the Spirit begin to grow and develop in us.
But how? How do we be with Jesus? How do we keep on being with Jesus?
First, be in community with the people of God. The Scriptures use the metaphor of “body of Christ” for the people who seek to follow him. What better way than to stay connected with Jesus than to be deeply rooted and connected with his body in community? I can’t think of one. This goes well beyond the 90 minute Sunday “experience.” This means living life with one another in community. If your faith community is dislocated from you, then I’d challenge you to consider a community of faith more closely connected to where you physically live.
Second, be in prayer. When we pray we mystically come into the presence of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Prayer is a difficult spiritual discipline. It is awkward and hard. It can feel boring. Yet, when we commit ourselves to prayer we will find a deeper connection to our God because it grounds us in him. How do you start with prayer? Try praying through the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) and dwelling on each line allowing it to direct you.
Finally, be in the Scriptures. When we read the Scriptures they open our minds and hearts to God. We learn about him and ourselves. How do you start with this? First, just read. Start with the Gospel of John and just read. Allow yourself to be immersed into the story. When you are ready to go deeper I have found asking five questions of the text to be helpful:
If we are connected with the people of God, consistently in prayer, and consistently in the Scriptures we will remain in Jesus and we will bear much fruit.