I am a sinner.
I am redeemed.
But I am still a sinner.
Each and every day I fail. Each and every day I fall short. Each and every day I end up feeling terrible about myself because I know that part of sanctification is the mortification of sin.
Yet I still wake each morning facing the reality that the day will present opportunities to do the right thing and to do the wrong thing. I wish I could say that I always choose the right thing. That’s what I know I’m called to as a Christian, right?
When we hear and accept the gospel, the good news of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, as our only hope in this life, it transforms us into a new creation, a new being, some spiritual hybrid enrobed in flesh. And that new spiritual condition is always at war with the flesh. In Romans 7, Paul writes about the struggle between the good his spirit wants to do and the evil his flesh does. It’s a struggle too familiar for my taste.
Recently, I was studying John 15 and the words of Jesus burned my retinas with truth.
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, [the Father] takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (Jn 15:2-5)
It is so incredibly easy to get disheartened as a Christian because we know that, this side of heaven, we cannot ever achieve the holiness God desires of us. But these words of Jesus provide incredible hope and comfort. There is a connection between how we see ourselves in light of our relationship with Christ and our dependence upon him. The more I read scripture, the more I study it and meditate on it, the more I begin to realize that I am utterly unable to succeed in my pursuit of what God wants apart from God.
In these four verses Jesus not only tells us that the key to bearing fruit, to maturing into the people God wants us to be, lies in our connection to him but that any and all subsequent growth comes from remaining in Jesus himself. We’ve all heard Christianity is a relationship and not a religion, but Jesus’s words here to his disciples, some of the last words he shared with them before he was crucified, pile-drive the gospel into my soul.
Any and all fruit that hangs on my branches develops out of abiding in Christ. The buds of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control sprout from remaining in Christ. They cannot spring my own own efforts. I cannot will them into existence. It is only through knowing Jesus that my branches flower and release an aroma pleasing to God which in time will develop into fruit which proves me to be actually connected to Christ. I am utterly barren apart from Christ.
To remain in Christ is to spend time in him. I am reminded of Paul urging those in the church of Philippi, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and it anything is worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Php. 4:8) As believers we must meditate and consider deeply the gospel and all of its implications. It is the antidote to the fears and inadequacies we feel in this life.
When we wake in the morning and feel as though we cannot make it through the day, grace is there in the pages of scripture, calling to us to stop looking down at our brokenness, our failures, our insecurities, our despair, our fear, our self-loathing and to look up toward the glorious God who bought us with the blood of Jesus from that brokenness, failure, insecurity, despair, fear, and self-loathing. We have a God who, while we were still far off, while we were still sinners, while we were still lost, sent Jesus to bring us back home, to lead us through the difficult passage of this life.
When our own nature drags us to the water, threatening to drown us in the misery of abject self-deficiency, remember Jesus. You will never be adequate in your own efforts to save yourself and you don’t have to be.
Remember the gospel.
When you are confronted and ambushed by these fears and feelings, gaze into his glorious face, knowing that Jesus came not to condemn sinners like you and I but to save us.
“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!“