In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes a number of “I am” statements, which point to very important facets of his identity. One of these statements is “I am the Vine, you are the branches.”
When it comes to this particular “I am” statement of Jesus, we can learn a very important truth about our spiritual formation journey – that is we are not just to embark on a journey of “doing” and striving in order to become better people or to somehow justify ourselves before God and the world.
Rather, we are primarily called to abide in Jesus and to allow Jesus to abide in us. We are called to a relationship of profound love with our Lord, the One who seeks us out and desires that we come to Him even before we are aware that He exists. When we learn to abide in Jesus, we draw closer and closer to God, and real, lasting transformation happens in our lives.
Another way to say all this is that we are called to endure, remain, and live in Jesus while allowing him to endure, remain, and live in us. As long as we are living in Jesus and He in us, we can begin to embrace the life that God has for us. As long as his life-giving presence, truth, and love is flowing through us – just as water and nutrients flow through a plant, allowing it to bud, blossom, and bear fruit – we can also grow. As we do so, we move towards greater spiritual maturity, bear the Fruit of the Spirit, and are emboldened to love God and others well.
Falling into Legalism to “Justify” Ourselves
Unfortunately, however, the opposite is true too. When we are cut off from God, like a branch cut off from the vine, we dry up and wither. We get out of balance. We fail to live in the overflow of God’s grace.
When that happens, we often unfortunately fall into two broad kinds of legalisms. The first legalism is, “if I just believe in all the right doctrines and perhaps do all the ‘right things’ and engage in all the right religious practices/spiritual disciplines, then I will be okay with God” and the second is “if I just spend my life radically serving God and others, I will be okay with God”.
These ways of being, however, are not what God desires for us. Sure, God desires that we believe the truth about Him, that we engage disciplines to draw closer to Him, and that we serve Him and others. We do not do these things, however, as a means to justify ourselves before God or others or as ends in themselves. In fact, we can do nothing to justify ourselves; our justification or salvation comes as an unmerited gift from God. Thus, when we do these things, we do them in order to draw closer to God, to uncover that deep longing within us for God and His Kingdom. That is God’s great desire for us. As the fourth century theologian Augustine understood it, our hearts really are restless until they find their rest in God.
So, let us find our rest in God. Let us not be lifeless branches cut off from his love and grace and striving to “justify” ourselves in various ways. Rather, let us be life-giving branches, connected to God and overflowing with His love and grace.
The question that arises for many of us at this point, however, is “How do we do this? How can we be these life-giving branches?”.
How do we abide in Jesus?
The answer is simple yet mysterious. People who embark on the Way of Jesus soon find out an amazing truth about the spiritual life – those who believe in Jesus and put their trust in Him are given the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Third Person of the Trinity comes to indwell in the hearts of believers. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, believers become adopted sons and daughters of God the Father, (See Rom. 8:15-16) and in some mysterious sense are united to Jesus (John 17:23). Thus, our life is sustained and nourished by God’s love and grace flowing into us just as a branch is nourished by the nutrients that flow to it from the vine to which it is attached. Our choice then is to nurture that connection between the Vine and “our branch” or to let our branch go limp. A good part of the spiritual life is about nurturing that connection, and much of this website will talk about how we do that.
Pruning, Bearing Fruit
When we receive the Holy Spirit, we embark on an amazing journey with Jesus – a journey that will be sustained by abiding in Him and will lead to transformation, little by little. We’ll spend much time on this Website talking about this journey of transformation, but let me just mention one aspect of it now because it comes directly from Jesus’ discourse on “I am the Vine, and you are the branches.” (John 15)
When we abide in the Vine, we can expect some pruning from time to time. This may cause some discomfort, but it is for our ultimate good just as pruning a grapevine is for its ultimate good. You see, sometimes a person tending a grapevine will prune its branches, even cutting off some of the grapes already growing on it. While this may not make sense at first, it soon becomes clear why he or she does so. This ultimately allows for a better yield of fruit.
The same is true on the spiritual journey. We are able to bear more “Fruit of the Spirit” – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – when we allow God to prune us of all kind of things that could weigh us down or break “our branch”, such as pride, anger, lust, jealousy, greed, etc, etc.
I’ll say much more about the pruning process on this Website in days to come, but let me end this brief introduction into “abiding with Jesus” with this wonderful image from Rebekah Lyons. She says that when we abide in Jesus and He abides in us, He holds us closely to him; He secures us. Just as a vine wraps around objects with which it comes into contact, Jesus the Vine, grabs hold of those who embrace Him, wrapping them into His arms of love and grace. Throughout our journey, there may be times where we stumble and fall and when God needs to prune us, but we need not fear, because Jesus has got us.
As Andrew Murray says, “There is always the thought of a work that has to be done, and even though . . . [we] pray for help, still the work is . . . [ours]. . . . [We] fail continually, and become hopeless; and the despondency only increases the helplessness. No, wandering one; as it was Jesus who drew you when He spake “Come,” so it is Jesus who keeps you when He says, “Abide.” The grace to come and the grace to abide are alike from Him alone.” So is the grace to continue on the journey.
Page Written by Kristen Yates