We had a really good discussion in church last night on John 15:1-11, where Jesus tells us that He is the Vine to which we are joined as branches. In this passage (as in many others throughout Scripture) Jesus presents us with a dual concept that we must dilligent to keep in proper balance. Eight times Jesus charges us to “abide.” Six times he uses the phrase “bear fruit.” And so begins the battle of the Abiders and the Bearers, a classic struggle of “being” versus “doing.”
Several of us men hung around for an hour after church to sift through this issue some more, some leaning heavily toward Abiding (sola Abida) and others focusing more heavily on the charge to Bear Fruit (mora Fruta)–Yes, I made up my own Latin there just for kicks. But the balance is difficult, and it is a balance. The charge is completely true that we must rest in Christ as the Author and Perfecter of our faith. We have been saved by grace through faith and not at all of ourselves–it is a gift, leaving room for no man to boast about his works toward salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). Equally true, however, are the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, the Law of Christ, and the Book of James.
Our justification is the work of Christ; our regeneration is the work of the Spirit. Our sanctification is a combined work of Word and Spirit. And yet none of this lets us off the hook in the realm of personal responsibility in the world. It is beyond crucial that we not sever v.10 from Ephesians 2:8-9. “For by grace you have been saved through; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus (wait for it) for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.“ That is a purpose statement, folks. We were saved by grace as a gift without any consideration of our merits, created in Christ Jesus for good works. Who prepared both us and the works we should do? God, absolutely. Who does He commission to undertake the works He has prepared? His own handiwork–you and me.
The charge “apart from me you can do nothing” is an affirmation of the necessity of abiding in Christ. What it is not is a charge to ignore works (“fruit”) altogether. In fact, the implication is that, if being apart from Christ means we can do nothing, then by abiding in Christ we are able to bear fruit. The challenge here is to keep the first thing the first thing. First, abide; then, in the strength of His power which is granted to us by being joined to Him, go out and work; and the power of Christ will enable us to bear fruit.
We must not allow reliance on grace to be come an excuse to us when it comes to the work God has prepared for us to do; nor should abiding in Christ exclude us from going into the world as salt and light, carrying out the very work that He has commanded.
Made clean by our own hands? Surely not. Saved by the works of our hands? Not even close. But were we saved for works? Ephesians 2:10 certainly does not rule it out.