I am the vine. You are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in them will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).
Have you made your New Year’s resolution yet? It’s time! There’s something uniquely motivating about starting a new year. Whatever forms of self-improvement we may have been putting off for months (or years!) suddenly seem within reach. Now that another year has rolled around we’re ready to eat more healthily, to exercise more regularly, to manage our schedules more effectively, to make more time for family and the things that matter most, etc. Even though the likelihood is that nothing has substantially changed about us from 2018 to 2019 (i.e. we have the same habits and tendencies, as well as the same problems and dilemmas), we can feel a renewed buoyancy when the calendar turns over.
I wish you all the best as you seek to harness that optimism in pursuit of a fruitful 2019. But before we get too far into the new year, I hope we’ll all carefully consider how the Lord Jesus defined fruitfulness. According to Jesus, real and lasting fruitfulness is inseparable from faithfulness to him. To our hears, Jesus’ words— “Apart from me you can do nothing”—may sound blunt and possibly even offensive. Our human pride wonders, “Is Jesus questioning the unconquerable human spirit? How dare he insult such a self-evident truth!”
Yet Jesus isn’t saying we aren’t capable of extraordinary achievements. Rather, Jesus is cautioning us against falsely believing we can ever obtain anything of eternal significance apart from him. Unless our fruitfulness derives from a relationship with Christ, it will count for nothing in the end. That means even if somehow we managed to check off all of our New Year’s resolutions, and even if our lives appeared to be marked by prosperity and personal triumph, we might still fail to be fruitful. Our fruitfulness and unfruitfulness in 2019 will be determined by the extent to which we are faithful or unfaithful to Jesus.
So does that mean we shouldn’t bother with resolutions and attempts at self-improvement in 2019? Not at all! Go for it! Just make sure you have your priorities straight. Our relationship with Jesus comes first. Only Jesus can save us, and so real fruitfulness and success must always be measured by our obedience to him. Using any other criteria to measure ourselves, our church, or other people will inevitably lead to misunderstandings and miscalculations. When we stand before the judgement seat of Christ—and we all will—only one thing will suffice, namely, a living and dynamic relationship with Christ. It won’t be our list of accomplishments, no matter how lengthy and impressive.
May the Spirit, therefore, help us cling to Jesus in 2019 and beyond.