Each January, about 150 million Americans will come up with New Year’s resolutions to improve their lives in the year ahead.
Some of the most common resolutions include getting organized, getting out of debt, quitting smoking, and exercising. By the end of the week, a quarter of those 150 million people who began a resolution will have broken it. By the end of the year, only 8% will have been successful.
But that doesn’t mean setting goals isn’t worthwhile, and believers will often look at a new year as an opportunity to grow spiritually.
Many resolve to be more passionate and consistent in our Bible study. We determine to overcome a besetting sin, or be more consistent in prayer. We want to become kinder, more patient, more loving, more selfless, more Christ-like people. We set goals that we hope will deepen our relationship with Jesus.
But as we see in John 15:1-5, the spiritual New Year’s resolutions we set are often backward. Spiritual fruit is not the means of developing an intimate relationship with Christ but is instead the natural result of having one.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
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.
To abide means to live, to remain, to completely depend on. Just as a branch abides on a vine, believers are to abide in Christ.
Bearing fruit is only possible for those “branches” which are attached to the vine. Clearly, the fruit-bearing branches represent Christians. They are attached to the true vine, and as a natural result of this attachment they bear much fruit: spiritual fruit.
What is spiritual fruit? Though it is not exhaustive, a familiar list of spiritual fruit is found in Galatians 5: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;”
Scripture shows that spiritual fruit also includes sacrificial giving, worship, righteous living, and bringing others to Christ.
In short: Spiritual fruit is that which is produced as a result of being in Jesus Christ. Just as the product of the grape vine is grapes, the product of the Christian life is spiritual fruit.
Recall that to abide in Christ means to live in Christ. To utterly depend on Him. Although we do not always do this as fully as we ought, all Christians abide in Christ.
This is such a great illustration of our lives as Christians. A branch cannot produce life in itself, but must draw life from the vine. It cannot simply be near to the vine, but instead must be attached–it must abide on it. This is how it produces fruit.
So too with us; we must abide in Christ so that He can work in and through us to produce spiritual fruit. These things will not come through our own efforts or the strength of our resolve.
“As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”
We must try very hard not to hear “you will grow better fruit if you abide in Christ” or “you’ll grow even more fruit if you remain close to Jesus.” No! Apart from Him we will bear zero fruit.
Just as a branch must remain, or abide, on the vine in order to live and bear fruit, we as believers must abide in Christ.
This is why the resolutions we make each new year often fail. Sadly, we are all inclined to try to develop spiritual disciplines through our own effort and throw in a little prayer or Bible reading for backup. We’ll give it a good try first, and if we get stuck we’ll ask God for some help.
The reality is that Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. As you stand in the entryway of a New Year, know that you cannot be more loving, more patient, more prayerful, less anxious, more diligent in studying Scripture, or firmer in your faith by simply trying harder to do those things.
Spiritual fruit is exclusively the result of abiding in Christ.
If you want to be more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, self-controlled; if you want Jesus Christ to be reflected in your life, you must make abiding in Christ your greatest focus.
Remember, Jesus does not command the branches to bear fruit here, but to abide on the Vine.
How To Abide in Christ
So the branches that bear fruit represent Christians. We all bear fruit, though some are more fruitful than others and we can experience seasons of little fruit. But if you are a Christian, be assured that you are abiding in Christ.
And yet we have an exhortation from our Lord to His disciples. He is repeatedly urging them to abide in Him. So clearly, Christians can fail to abide as fully as we ought and yet we are not severed from the vine. (Those branches that are removed in the next verses represent non-believers).
To borrow from another of our Lord’s common metaphors, the sheep sometimes go astray. Though they still belong to the Shepherd when they do so, they wander to their own hurt.
Abiding in Christ speaks to an intimate, close relationship with Him. And just as there are things that we do to deepen relationships with other people, there are some practical things that believers are called to do to draw near to Jesus.
The study of Scripture, prayer, worship, obedience. These are things that we can and must do in order to walk closely with Jesus.
1 John 2:3-6 says “whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”
So while we cannot bear fruit apart from abiding in Christ, we can abide in Christ by pursuing Him.
Only be certain that you do not pursue prayer, Bible study, or other important things as ends in themselves. Instead, recognize that these are means by which we can draw near to the Lord.
This is really about a change of mindset. If we are seeking to turn over a new spiritual leaf by our own effort, we will be disappointed. Our focus must not primarily be on bearing fruit but instead should be abiding in Christ. Make this the focus of your year–and your life–and the fruit will follow.
So as we continue into the first days of the New Year, may we turn our attention to truly abiding in Christ. For it is by abiding in the True Vine that we will bear much fruit and experience the richness of the Christian life.
So make your resolutions. Set your goals. But resolve that your ultimate purpose in doing so will be to deepen your relationship with Jesus Christ.
Apart from Him, we can do nothing. In Him we can do all things. Abide in Him, and He in you, and you will bear much fruit.