One of the most merciful gifts God can give us is a deep, keen awareness of our dependence on him for everything.
Living the Christian life relies on our full dependence upon the grace of God we receive through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said it this way:
“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.” (John 15:5)
Every professing Christian agrees we must abide in Christ. But our agreement is only important to the degree we feel it to be true. The less we feel our need for Christ, the less we will abide in him.
If We Don’t Feel Hungry, We Won’t Eat
I say “feel” because in English this gets closer to the kind of knowledge of our need for Jesus he means us to have. It’s not merely cerebral but experiential knowledge, like knowing we need food.
But it’s one thing to know we need nutrients for our body when we haven’t eaten in 24 hours; it’s another thing to know we need nutrients for our body after we’ve just washed down a bag of potato chips with a 32 oz. soda. We’re not likely to eat food we really need after sating our appetite with junk. If we don’t feel hungry, we won’t eat, especially the kind of food we most need.
The same thing is true of spiritual nutrition. If we don’t feel hunger for God because we’ve been eating spiritual junk, we are not likely to want to eat the food we need most — the food from the Vine.
If We Don’t Abide, We Won’t Survive
When Jesus issued his command that we abide in him, he wasn’t giving us a lofty ideal to shoot for, like an inspirational poster phrase. Nor did he mean it as an option for more serious Christians who want “the deeper life.” He meant we would only survive if we abide. Like physical nutrition, good spiritual nutrition is a matter of life or death. That’s why Jesus went on to say in the next verse,
“If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (John 15:6)
“The less we feel our need for Christ, the less we will abide in him.”
These are serious words. Jesus was just hours away from crucifixion. Everything was about to change radically for his disciples. Jesus was going to die, then rise again, then leave them and ascend to the Father, and then send his Holy Spirit to help them carry on his mission (John 16:4–15). They had learned to depend on him for everything. Now they would have to learn to depend on him for everything without him being physically present.
Their very survival would depend on abiding in him (John 15:4), and by that he meant living (remembering, believing, loving, and banking everything on) his words more than their natural perceptions (John 15:7), just as they had believed in him when he was physically with them. They would have to walk by faith and not by sight in ways that would look foolish and weak to the world (2 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Corinthians 1:18–25). If they didn’t, they would dry up and die.
This is no less true for us. Abiding in Christ our Vine is the only way we can spiritually survive.
How God Increases Our Dependence
Now, if our survival depends on our abiding, and we are only likely to abide in Christ when we feel our need for him — feel hungry for the food only he can provide — then what we really need is a deep, keen awareness of our dependence on him for everything. We must plead with the Vine and the Vinedresser (John 15:1) to do whatever it takes to help us cling to the Vine and prove our connection by the fruit we bear (John 15:3–4).
But when God answers this prayer, what should we expect our increased sense of dependence on him to feel like? What dependence always feels like: weakness and self-helplessness.
Dependence never feels like self-sufficient strength, just like hunger never feels like the self-satisfied acedia after gorging on soda and chips. Increased abiding is the direct result of our increased felt need to abide. The branch most likely to abide in the Vine is the branch that feels its own powerlessness and fears the death that separation would bring.
“Abiding in Christ our Vine is the only way we can spiritually survive.”
If we understand this, we will understand what Paul meant when he said, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). God used these things to push Paul to depend on the grace of Christ instead of himself, and so Paul learned to be grateful for them.
And these are the things our Vinedresser-Father uses to prune off fruitless things and increase our dependency on the Vine-Son (John 15:2). And though at first they don’t feel like great mercies, they are. Because the difference between a branch that abides in the Vine and grows strong and fruitful and a branch that doesn’t is the degree to which a branch knows (believes and feels) that apart from the Vine it can do nothing (John 15:5).
Whatever It Takes, Lord
Every one of us only clings to — abides in — what we really believe gives us life. And that Vine is the one we go to most often for what we find most life-giving. For us, that Vine must be Christ. Abiding in him is a matter of life and death. Therefore, let’s make this our prayer:
Whatever it takes, Lord, increase my awareness of my dependence on you in everything so that I will continually abide in you by faith.