The wonder of Advent is that Christ is enough. Apart from Him, we can produce something resembling fruit, but it will be rotten on the inside.
By Ronnie Martin
Before we can blink, January will arrive, and Christmastime will have faded into memory as the New Year beckons us back to our detached and divided lives. Don’t miss the chance to spend some time reflecting on all the moments God has been near to you over the past year. Maybe it was difficult to trace His heart during some of the more turbulent times you experienced. Maybe you had moments where God seemed aloof and His presence felt obscured because of some heartbreaking occurrences that painted the year with an unwanted depth of sadness and sobriety.
Whatever the moment, God has given us the gift of hindsight to see that, through it all, He was with us in it all. As the hope and promise of Christmas begins its yearly sparkle, look back for a moment so you can look forward in hope to all the unknown moments that are already known by our loving and gracious Lord.
You can do nothing
We absolutely abhor the thought of ourselves being as astonishingly needy as we are, don’t we? The stark but saving revelation of the Christian life is that, in and of ourselves, we don’t possess “the stuff” we need to survive and thrive in our sin-soaked world. We are fragile, feeble, and unfaithful creatures who only took a breath this morning because God graciously decided to provide another moment’s worth of oxygen for our aging lungs.“The stark but saving revelation of the Christian life is that, in and of ourselves, we don’t possess ‘the stuff’ we need to survive and thrive in our sin-soaked world.” — @ronniejmartin Click To Tweet
It is hard for us to imagine that we are really this incapable, this unable, this utterly weak and disturbingly dependent. Perhaps you have had a “capable” year. You hit some of your unachievable markers, achieved some of your impossible to reach goals, and even got around to checking off a bucket list item or two. If this describes you, rejoice to the God of your good fortune! This is certainly not a year to look back on and be ashamed of, but it may be one that requires you to ask yourself just how much self-assurance these achievements have instilled in you as you face the dawning of a new year that may have fewer appealing arrangements in store for you.
Here is what we know about the unimaginable graciousness of Jesus Christ. He doesn’t want us to have an opinion of ourselves that is ultimately going to harm our deception-riddled hearts. Our fiercely fought-for autonomy and rough-hewn individualism do not possess the weight we need to anchor us when the storms of our existence rail against the sails of our self-reliance. Life will eventually turn into tragic novels and illustrate to us that the independence our world (American society, in particular) has held up as the ideal is merely the stuff of myths and legends.
The reality of Jesus
But Jesus tells us something about Himself that is of utmost good for ourselves. We are branches. And not only branches but brittle branches who need a lifelong attachment to a life-sustaining vine. We are not self-sustaining, self-propelling, perpetual-motion machines. On a physical and somewhat hilarious level, none of us can even survive for that many hours without food, water, and shelter of some kind. From rich to poor, famous to anonymous, we all need these essentials to withstand the internal and external elements of our essence.“We need the life vine of Jesus Christ to produce the fruit-bearing branches we were always meant to become since Eden.” — @ronniejmartin Click To Tweet
On a spiritual level, we are no less needy. We need the life vine of Jesus Christ to produce the fruit-bearing branches we were always meant to become since Eden. Apart from Christ, we can produce something that will resemble edible fruit but will be disgustingly rotten on the inside. Hear the words of Jesus whispering softly but assuredly to you right now: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, NIV).
If it was anybody else, you might react with something to the effect of, “Hey, you must think pretty highly of yourself if you think I should be that dependent on you!” And yet, because this is Jesus, we know His words are meant to tell us something important about our reality so that His reality becomes more real to us. Would you consider the simple words of that last sentence again? The reality of Jesus is more real than the sensation you feel on the tips of your fingers when you touch another human being.
Abide in Him
Think of how different the New Year might be if your single greatest pursuit was to abide in the presence of Jesus more fully and wonderfully. To endure, remain, and persevere with the Shepherd of your soul. Think of what the fruit of your life might taste like when you come to the end of the following year. Imagine how the people around you might be affected if you were so affected by this gracious and merciful truth.
You can do nothing.“Think of how different the New Year might be if your single greatest pursuit was to abide in the presence of Jesus more fully and wonderfully.” — @ronniejmartin Click To Tweet
But think of the something you will become as you remain rooted to the vine where His love, grace, mercy, and compassion will strengthen and nourish your spiritual limbs. Think of the something you are becoming when you embrace the everything He is and ever will be for you and in you for all eternity.
That you can do nothing without Him is everything.
Ronnie is the planter and founding pastor of Substance Church in Ashland, Ohio.
Excerpted with permission from The God Who Is With Us by Ronnie Martin. Copyright 2022, B&H Publishing.
For permission to republish this article, please email Marissa Postell Sullivan.